12 tracks / 54:56
Houston native Annika Chambers did not take the usual journey to arrive at her music career. After singing in church as a youth, her interest in the blues truly blossomed after performing in a talent show in Kosovo during her enlistment in the army. Despite the allure of exotic locales such as Iraq, she mustered out after eight years and returned to her home in Texas where she worked with two producers, Montrose Records’ Richard Cagle (a Houston voodoo blues god) and Grammy Award winner Larry Fulcher, to make her dreams a reality.
Making My Mark is Annika Chambers & The Houston All-Stars’ debut album from Houston’s Montrose Records. “All-Stars” may seem like hyperbole, but this is not just a clever name, as she is backed up on this project by some of the best in the business. Besides Fulcher on bass, other Grammy winners and nominees include Samantha Banks and Tony Braunagel on drums, Skip Nalia and David Delagarza on keys, and Darrell Leonard on trumpet. Besides the folks, there are more talented locals that helped out, such as Barry Seelen and Randy Wall on keyboards, Brad Absher, David Carter and Corey Stoot on guitar, Anthony Terry on sax, and Nicoya Polar and Sheree Howard on backing vocals.
This album was engineered by Cagle and mixed by six-time Grammy winner Joe McGrath. Seven of the twelve tracks on Making My Mark are originals, and the first track, “Move” is one of these, with writing credit going to Chambers, Larry Fulcher and Dominique Fulcher (his daughter). This slow and funky soul song kicks off Annika’s debut album with a light version of her biography that is accompanied by fat bass, a healthy dose of smoking guitars from Stoot and three different sets of keyboards. The overall sound is huge and is an appropriate foundation for Chambers’ strong vocals.
Annika is not afraid to get down and dirty, as proven by the lyrics from “Barnyard Blues and “Lick ‘er,” which have more euphemisms and double entendres than you can shake a stick at. “Barnyard Blues” is a fun shuffle with a walking bass line and tight horns from Leonard and Terry. “Lick ‘er” takes the usual blues drinking song a little further than usual as Chambers lets her man know that what she has does not come from a bottle. Braunagle hammers the funk beat down on the skins while Seelen and Delagarza set the mood on the Hammond and clavinet.
Annika goes off the well-traveled blues and funk path with “That Feel Good,” which was also written by Dominque Fulcher. It starts out as a more conventional funky soul song with Annika digging down deep, but it is flavored with hip-hop as Fulcher adds a light rap vocal that is punctuated by Turner’s sax and a distorted guitar solo from Stoot. It might seem strange when reading this description, but the proof is in the pudding and this track clicks when all of these pieces come together.
Variety is the spice of life, and the covers that were chosen for this album reflect this philosophy. These are a well-rounded group that includes Bobby Charles’ “Jealous Kind,” Average White Band’s “Put It Where You Want It,” Steve Cropper’s “Love’s Sweet Sensation”, Faye Adams’ “It Hurts Me to My Heart” and B.B. King’s “Let’s Get Down to Business.” Of these, “It Hurts Me to My Heart” is the standout piece, and Annika puts a ton of soul into Adams’ 1954 single. She shows an admirable vocal range as well genuine emotion as Carter tinkles the ivories and Carter tears off yet another ultra-clean guitar solo in this New Orleans-flavored song. The end result is a respectfully modern update to a classic tune.
Making My Mark is a strong debut for Annika Chambers & The Houston All-Stars, and her supporting cast has not only proven that not only that they are musicians, but that they are also able to nurture and bring out the best of new talent such as Annika. She has indeed made her mark, and with her talent and positive attitude, the world is hers for the taking!