the very best contemporary blues

Midnight Screams (Rollin' & Tumblin')
Rusty Spoon Blues Band

By Michael Campbell

Let's get one topic out of the way right now. The title cut of this recording is among the very best of contemporary blues this year. Strong songwriting, inspired playing and over-the-top vocals converge to maximum advantage, on this song specifically and generally throughout the album.

The quality of songwriting is impressive, especially so considering that all but the Joe Tex-like grooved "Funny Stuff" was penned by the RSBB. The inherent conviction expressed in "What Is This Thing Called Love" transcends its point/counterpoint lyrical structure, to wit: "It drives you to drink/'Cause it hurts to be sober/You're glad when it's started/And relieved when it's over."

"AT&T Blues" starts as a generic I-IV-V scheme, but manages to strongly claim its own identity. "Spend My Life Alone" tips a hat to Big Bill Broonzy, while the dreamy "Somebody's Got to Pay" would be a logical pick for Robert Cray (that's a pitch hint).

And the playing . . . this is a guitar band; Rusty Ends and Dave Witherspoon employ very different approaches, but are complementary to the point that if one of them broke wind, the other would stink. Grungy analogies aside, the result is tasty. The Kaiser/Kelly rhythm section provides steady support and, most importantly, space for the other ingredients to simmer and sizzle.

Simmer and sizzle are just two of many vocal moves that Curtis Gaines displays on this recording. His fresh, gospel-based approach to this strong material helps to set the RSBB apart from the pack of country blues traditionalists and Chicago wannabes. The versatility of the band is enhanced by the vocals of Rusty Ends and Fred Kaiser, enabling a good-time reading of "I May Be Old" and, with help from Susan Robillard, a Delaney & Bonnie-flavored rocker, "I Love the Blues."

Producer Scott Mullins has previously demonstrated his ability to match talent and material with last year's Santa Is a Blues Man compilation. The focus on one band this band confirms that ability. After many listens, I conclude that the strongest material on this recording is based on minor keys. I don't pretend to understand why but why ask why? Both this promising debut recording and their live performances offer Louisville blues fans a lot to be thankful for and to look forward to.