Every now and then I get a collection of tunes that are infused with nitroglycerin. Chris Daniels and The Kings with Freddi Gowdy is one such incendiary delight. “Blues with Horns, Volume 1” is quite a recipe for jumping out of your skin and dancing around in your bones.
I thought it would be just another attempt at rehashing the blues with some clever clean guitar licks we’ve heard a thousand times, and lyrics about whiskey and women. But no, no, no. That’s not what Daniels’ has in store here. Quite the contrary.
Out of the starting gate is a catchy guitar-piano crunch of the Chris Daniels' penned “Sweet Memphis.” It features crisp horns that blare to punctuate the tight arrangement. Daniels’ vocals are J. Geils/Peter Wolf /Southside Johnny enticing. The horns are as dramatic and full bodied in a blues-sense as a 1970’s band known as SCRA (Southern Contemporary Rock Assembly) who had a gorgeous Atlantic Record album (“The Ship Album”) with a great track “Midnight,” that used their horns and guitars like daggers. Stabbing away with powerful chords and brass. Much the same as this spirited unit.
SCRA's lead singer was in a little higher register than Daniels and possessed far more angst than Chris Daniels but that doesn’t diminish Chris’ effort here. Not in the least. SCRA had the benefit of a soulful choir that was bluesy and spiritual. Instead, Chris Daniels pieces his creativity together in a separate diversified form and nevertheless renders his blues totally original. Yet, the bands are distant cousins.
This new album is reminiscent of the finest blues-brass artists of the last fifty years. If you enjoyed Janis Joplin as she navigated through the “Kozmic Blues,” or Genya Ravan and Ten Wheel Drive (“Morning Much Better”) – then you’re going to drool over this finely polished collection. “Fried Food/Hard Liquor” – track two slides into your ears with some deep-rooted harmonica underpinned by the brass (that’s different). It’s filled with a slinky, sensual mood. Daniels has his necessary backup singers and they are something Otis Redding would have appreciated. Daniels’ album is blues marketed but what he has captured here is a hybrid soul that has a rich vein running through it – especially this track. And his band has mastered it all.
This is Chris Daniels’ 15th album – so we are not dealing with a greenhorn or a wannabe. The horns are always well arranged and sewn through with nice guitar runs and a steady heavy drum beat that does not intrude on the instrumentation. While many young blacks are preoccupied with hip-hop and rap, and some of the older blues artists are still running through the standards in countless arrangements that do not veer too far from their originals – Chris Daniels and his cohorts lay down some creative directions in a genre that is already a hundred years old. But here...it somehow all sounds fresh. And that alone would recommend it.
Wonder where soul music went? I give you Chris Daniels and The Kings with Freddi Gowdy.
Somehow, with inspiration and their god given talent this unit (with help from Freddi Gowdy on lead vocals as well) spews some incredible blues and soul flavors despite their uh…primarily Caucasian upbringing. The vocal unison between Daniels and Gowdy is impeccable. Proof positive that there’s more to black and white than damn politics. These men imbue a brotherhood of voices and don’t tell me it doesn’t work on a higher plane. It does here and it’s a thrill.
Now, while the album is supposed to be primarily blues and track two was more in a soulful groove, track three is bonafide funk in a Bar-Kays (“Soul Finger”) tradition, a touch of Arthur Connelly (“Sweet Soul Music”) -- with a dash of Archie Bell and the Drells (“Tighten Up”). This track has nice dance floor voodoo that spirals around. “Get Up Off the Funk,” – a Larry Wilkins composition. It’s a wonderfully creative and confident arrangement that certainly delivers the goods. Dance shoes will smoke on this one and it’s most definitely a nice stroll down memory lane for those who remember these types of songs in the 70’s. Just leave the polyester bell-bottoms home. There is nothing nostalgic here really – the tune is performed with renewed 21st Century energy and is sincere in its blistering and blaring punctuated notes.
Falling back into a more soulful rhythm and blues beat is Sam Cooke’s “Soothe Me Baby,” and it’s rendered in such a cool steady manner. What’s old is new again. The uniform brass arrangement is a solid wall of exuberantly smooth, contemporary modernist retro soul. Is that even possible? Though I can still hear Sam Cooke's voice in every line Chris manages to encapsulate a little of Otis Redding’s volley and Al Green spirituality. This is – or could have been jukebox fodder and kept on replay. Goes well with a burger and fried onions and an ice-cold Coke.
Nice steady 60’s beat and vocal pour from the dual vocals of Chris and Freddi on “Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)” – a cover but in the hands of this band, it’s gold. Unfortunately, maybe 50 years too late because this would have been dynamite in the 60’s. But…better late than never. I am enthralled by how well this collection holds itself together in 2018 without sounding old hat.
Up next is Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Baby’s in Love with the Radio,” and this spills a little into the Fabulous Thunderbirds territory. Rock and roll spiced with tight soulful brass and bluesy solid-state beats. It’s all laid down seamlessly. The way the band performs these nuggets nothing is really “old fashioned” whatsoever. Music is that way. If done correctly an old chestnut can be brought back to life with the energy of a youngster in a playground. That’s what this band has done – they are the playground for lots of old tunes and those tunes are running around again.
Elvin Bishop had a hand in the writing of “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right,” and it has that typical Bishop bop and grinds. This is 70’s – Little Feat, Grateful Dead, Delaney and Bonnie, Area Code 615, Ballin’ Jack (“Hold On”), Dreams, The Flock. Bands like that. I like the vocals on this feel-good track – three and a half minutes of just feelin’ good with a Mason jar of shine and a hound dog at your heel.
I am surprised but not so surprised that virtually every track has something to recommend it.
I guess the true test came with the cover of the classic Buddy Miles’ track “Them Changes.” Here, it has been shot with vitamin B12. It has a fire but it doesn’t overplay its hand. The brass is smooth and holds the curves of the aggression the brass is required to display with ease on such a number as this. Drummer Randy Amen cooks and the vocals are embedded in the groove. They too hold the road tight on this musical road of curves. Nice 70’s-oriented guitar solo keeps the tradition in check. The entire song still possesses its original potency and I know…I know somewhere Buddy Miles is smiling. This is performed with so much respect for the original band and arrangement. It’s a little thrill. It’s renewed, fresh and it’s still a wonderfully challenging and catchy song.
Track ten is “Rain Check” a quietly played piano driven and acoustic guitar ballad. A really nice change of pace. A Chris Daniels original with tender lyrics and a nice little tale with little touches that are what makes a good album even better. Daniels has something to say, whether its in a well-chosen cover song or an original. He has the grit, proper pacing and his ambition is appreciated. Good for him and all his musicians. I wish them well with this 42-minute collection – they deserve to be listened to and I am sure they play live equally well.
Chris Daniels sings, plays guitar, slide guitar, synth guitar, and guest vocalist Freddi Gowdi joins them all for the second time on an entire album. Randy Amen hits the skins, Kevin Lege thumps on the bass strings and adds vocals, Colin “Bones” Jones plays lead guitar, Jim Waddell blows alto and tenor saxes and Darryl Abrahamson toots the trumpet. All contribute to a few backup vocals. Surprising guests include slide guitarist Sonny Landreth; keyboards are manned by both John Magni and Doug Krause; Hazel Miller and Coco Brown backup on vocals; Bob Rebhoz adds his tenor sax and wrote horn arrangements; Daren Krammer slides the trombone and added horn arrangements and Jacob Davis provided the bass vocals.
The album art is quite ambitious (by Greg Carr & Chris Daniels) but maybe a little too much. It’s a die-cut scored accordion paneled CD that opens and opens and opens. A bit of a nice novelty. Took awhile to find the CD but I did. I can’t spite them for trying to be different. That – they succeeded with.
The entire album was produced with care by Chris Daniels and I am looking forward to Volume 2.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review/commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as a reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / February 2018