I've Got A Mind To Ramble
By Susan O'Neil

Toad Strangler Live at Stevie Rays and Live In The Rain

The first time I had the pleasure of hearing Toad Strangler was at Stevie Ray's. They were on the bill with the bands that gathered one evening to raise money to send Lamont Gillispie and 100 Proof and the Joe Debow duo to Memphis for the International Blues Competition.

There were lots of good bands playing at the benefit that evening, the best of the best in Louisville, for sure, so when Toad Strangler took the stage, I was expecting 'good' at the very least. What I got was jaw-dropping, awesome entertainment in the form of a larger-than-life female, harmonica-playing vocalist backed up by a group of music veterans who knew their way around a hard-driving blues groove.

I was immediately in love with this group of musicians and knew that I would be digging deeper into the marvel that is Toad Strangler. That evening they delivered a head-bobbing set of originals from their debut CD, Live In The Rain,"and a few covers, including a stellar rendition of Led Zepplin's "Misty Mountain Hop."

Lead singer Andrea Tanaro touted their CD by generously offering to give a few up to anyone who wanted to put $10 in the tip jar, which would go to benefit the IBC cause. It didn't take long for fans to ramble to the stage to pick up a copy and make a donation.

Once their set was over, I approached Steve Sanders, guitar player for Toad Strangler about getting a copy of Live In The Rain. No surprise, they were out but he informed me that they would be back in Louisville to play at Stevie Rays on March 8 and I could get one then. I think he saw the disappointment on my face and graciously offered to send me a copy through the mail, which he did.

When it arrived, I unwrapped it and listened several times, enthralled with the sound of Andrea's voice, which is sweet and deeply soulful. She can play the harmonica as well as anyone I've ever heard. I knew after repeatedly listening to this CD that I would be at Stevie Ray's for their return show, and I was.

That night, they were in charge. Andrea is a force to be reckoned with; she is an expert musician and is endlessly entertaining. I cried as she poured out her soul in song and laughed until my sides hurt at her 'take-no-prisoners' attitude and antics throughout the evening.

The band itself performed seamlessly and played expertly as they moved their way through the set. Steve Sanders and Tony Tanaro alternated playing lead and rhythm guitar, joined by Randy Thomas on bass and Fenner Castner on drums backing Andrea's vocal, harmonica and keyboard as if they were born to play music together. They were there to entertain and have some fun, which is exactly what they did.

For me it was a most enjoyable evening and from what I could tell everyone else enjoyed himself or herself too. This sealed the deal for me I just had to find out what makes these folks tick.

The love of music, plain and simple, that's what. I went about gathering information by contacting Steve Sanders through Facebook. Since Toad Strangler hails from the Bowling Green, Kentucky area, I sent a list of questions for them to answer instead of a face-to-face interview.

In answer to my question about who their major influences are, they answered individually: Ray Charles, the Allman Brothers, Clapton, Hendrix, Jimmy Page and my favorite, "everything I've ever heard." All answers rang true, especially the "everything I've ever heard," since in my mind we are all the sum of everything we have experienced throughout our lives.

When asked if they were full-time musicians, it was no surprise that they aspire to be. I don't know why it surprised me that Andrea is a Deputy Sheriff in Hart County, Kentucky after watching her fierceness and enthusiastic approach on stage.

They also sent me some links, www.toad-strangler.com, http://youtu.be/Mim4m_9K14E and http://www.facebook.com/toad.strangler.7, which I checked out. Check out Andy and the Rockers and the radio interview where Andrea sings a country song she wrote about her mother-in-law and Alzheimer's disease. "Taking Care of Mama," is a heartfelt and a strong showing of Andrea's vocal abilities and songwriting talents. It is an incredible tribute to her mother-in-law's struggle with Alzheimer's and to Andrea since all money raised from the sale of the single goes to the Alzheimer's Association. "Taking Care of Mama" is definitely worth a listen and will certainly inspire contributions to the Alzheimer's cause. However, you won't find it on the Toad Strangler Live In The Rain CD.

I learned that the copy of Live In The Rain that has been distributed is incomplete and that Toad Strangler will be back in the studio first of April to complete their album and sign with V Groove Records. They will also have a video to release when the label gives them a release date.

The incomplete CD is no longer being distributed, pending the release of the completed version. However, I am taking the liberty of jumping in ahead of time on a couple of the tunes that are on the version that I have, sort of a pre-review if you will.

The incomplete version of Live In The Rain was recorded live at Barrick Recording Studio in Glasgow and is hopping with the lively authentic, high-quality sound that is Toad Strangler's.

Andrea is skillful in her ability to cut through the wall between a live show and a recorded track, which is most evident to me on "I Can't Sleep,"and "Black Widow Spiderwoman," Her band mates match that proficiency with equal aptitude and provide a solid rocking blues sound.

One thing I noticed about the credits on the CD was that Toad Strangler wrote all of the original songs collectively. To me, this is part of what makes for a great group of musicians to see perform and to listen to. It is not about any individual in the band but about the group as a whole, which is why this is such a good CD.

It looks like Toad Strangler is going for it, because a 2013 tour to promote Live In The Rain is in the works. Like the saying goes, "the cream of the crop rises to the top." I believe these folks are going to rise to the top of the pond and gain the recognition they deserve for their original sound and expert musical abilities.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy a heaping helping of the incomplete Live In The Rain and if I discover that they are coming anywhere close to Louisville, it will be a road trip for sure.

I am looking forward to the release of the complete Live In The Rain CD because I am positive that it will be brimming with soulful blues originals, and I am looking forward to the video because Toad Strangler is so much fun to watch.

I cannot wait until they come back to Stevie Rays so I can have another Toad Strangler live experience. They are pure entertainment. In the meantime, they have what looks like a few fun gigs coming up in the near future.

Toad Strangler is playing the Clemson Blues Festival in Clemson SC, South Carolina on April 20, at 1 p.m. for the 2013 "The Year of the Harp" celebration. The festival will focus on musicians who play the harmonica. It is a four-day festival that kicks off on April 18 and ends Sunday, April 21. Cost of the festival is $10 per carload.

To prove what a hard-working, hard-driving band Toad Strangler is, they follow up their appearance at the festival with a show at the Westville Pub in Ashville, NC that same evening at 10 p.m.

They do have a couple of gigs coming up a little closer to home: Berlenz on Saturday, May 4 in Bowling Green and on June 8 at the Vet Jam at the Ernie Wagoner Farm in Glasgow.

I urge everyone to check Toad Strangler out online and seek out their live performances. I cannot say enough about how much I have enjoyed discovering the musical phenomena that is Toad Strangler.

As always hippies, Peace, Love and The Blues.