CD: 10 songs; 43:00 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues and Blues Rock
When it comes to music CD’s, sometimes the cover art catches listeners’ eyes before the songs catch their ears. Case in point: “Betsy’s Kitchen” by the Springfield, Illinois artists collectively known as Back Pack Jones. Featuring a cover graphic of a va-va-voom polka-dot dress, reminiscent of Linda Ronstadt’s on her 1982 album “Get Closer,” this great release promises ‘hot dishes’ when it comes to the blues. It certainly delivers, showcasing the talents of Michael “Big Mike” Wallace on vocals and percussion, guitarist Kirk Lonbom, Michael Baier on bass and vocals, keyboardist Wendell Day, and Harvey Horton on drums and vocals. Within a year of this band’s formation in 2012, they’d made their mark on Memphis’ Beale Street and had festival-goers singing along to their first original number, “Riptide Baby.” After finishing in the top third of blues bands from around the world competing in 2013’s International Blues Challenge, they were again chosen to bring their magic back to Memphis. To enhance their resume, they’ve opened for genre icons such as B.B. King (in November 2013) and Jimmy Thackery.
Momentum this strong is almost impossible to stop, as “Betsy’s Kitchen” clearly shows. Out of the ten original songs on it, several with a full horn section, the following three have the best chance to sway crowds and judges:
Track 01: “Riptide Baby” – It’s plain to see why blues lovers on Beale Street love this sizzling song. Mixing a timeless lyrical style with contemporary instrumentation, this tale of woe comes with one of 2014’s catchiest choruses: “You’re a riptide, baby. You’re breaking me down. You’re a riptide, baby; you’re making me drown! You’re a riptide, baby – you open the gates. You’re a riptide, baby: it may be too late!” Wendell Day’s wicked-good keyboard solo is a deluge of delightful notes, calling the 1950’s to mind.
Track 03: “Fixin’ to Leave” – Akin to scrumptious meat and potatoes, track three is the most traditional entrée offered in “Betsy’s Kitchen”. It’s comfort food for those who grew up listening to masters such as B.B. King, and for those new to blues, it will fill them up with appreciation for the classic sound of the genre. On trumpet are Jim Culbertson and “AJ” Good, accompanied by Jarrod Hill on tenor sax, Archer Logan on alto sax, and Lawrence Niehaus on bass trombone.
Track 05: “The End” – Cool as a cucumber, “The End” combines atmospheric piano keyboards and contemplative guitar with the album’s best vocals. It’s a thought-provoking examination of life from different perspectives: “The sad man hates the days and nights, but the glad man’s happy while the time is right. But as the day goes on and the years pass by, soon their lives will end. But if they see their fates and change their minds, with love their hearts will mend.”
Hungry for contemporary electric blues and full band dynamics? Come to “Betsy’s Kitchen” and savor the flavor!