14 tracks / 60:44
The story behind the third Blue Largo album, Sing Your Own Blues, is inspiring, to say the least. This San Diego, California group has been together since 1999, fronted by Alicia Aragon on vocals with Eric Lieberman on guitar. They have a passion for the sounds of the 1940s and 1950s, and their first two albums were tributes to classic blues tunes. Eric had a major setback in 2006 when a disorder seriously hindered his ability to play guitar, but by practicing five hours a day for over eight years he was able to re-train himself how to play again, which is inspiring no matter how you look at it.
As their previous albums were recorded around the turn of the century, Alicia and Eric decided it was time to return to the studio. But in their back pocket they had seven original songs that Lieberman had written, so this time they are indeed singing their own songs. They were joined in the Oceanside studio by quite a crew of musicians, including their regular members: Jonny Viau on sax, Taryn Donah on piano, and Art Kraatz on the bass. But there are also plenty of guest artists, and with this roster the vibe is big and bouncy.
The set kicks off with four of these original tunes, and the first one, “Walkin’ on a Tightrope” a hopping 12-bar blues song with smoky vocals from Aragon and some fabulous roadhouse piano from Donah. This is followed up by “Kindness Love and Understanding,” an up-tempo song with a tasteful guitar break from Lieberman, and “Sing Your Own Song,” which has the feel of a gospel revival. Then, “Tears of Joy” tugs at the heartstrings with its heartfelt message of hope over an easygoing island beat. These latter three songs include Rafael Salmon on organ and backing vocals from San Diego’s Missy Anderson, a Blues Blast Music Award nominee from 2015.
The cover tunes are also cool, with a smoky jazz club rendition of “Evening,” which was previously recorded by artists as diverse as T-Bone Walker and Tony Bennett. Alicia proves to be quite the chanteuse, and Eric trades reverb-soaked guitar licks with Viau’s aggressive sax. In a similar vein, there is Willie Dixon’s “You Know My Love,” which was also recorded very well by Otis Rush in 1960. But the standout of the re-dos is Magic Sam’s “I Need You so Bad” from the late 1960s. Lieberman can rock out on the guitar just fine, so he does this song justice, but it is Aragon’s vocals that take this song to the next level, as she gives the tune a whole different character to this song of longing.
Proving that he last lost nothing in the chops department, Lieberman’s guitar takes center stage on three instrumentals. From 1957 there is “Guitar Rhumba” by Earl “Zeb” Hooker, which starts with a slick Latin beat and transforms into a cool surf rock odyssey. There is also the “Okie Dokie Stomp” as done by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, with some nice punctuation from Viau’s sax and Joey Jazdzewski’s double bass. And lastly, Herb Remington’s “Remington Ride” is presented as a rollicking classic country tune (just like Freddie King did it!) with some awesome barroom piano from Donath and a little help on rhythm guitar from Nathan James. By the way, James also acted as co-producer, recording engineer, and mixer for this project, besides filling in on backing vocals and bass where needed.
After all of this, the album closes out with Walter Vinson’s blues standard, “Sitting on Top of the World,” a neat acoustic track with a Delta/roots vibe. Once again, Aragon takes the lead, this time with call and response backing vocals from Lieberman. Eric handles the acoustic guitar (including a nicely finger-picked solo), with James providing a healthy dose of his slide talent on a resonator guitar. This song has a completely different sound than the rest of the tracks on the album, but the feel is the same and it is a neat way to finish up the set.
It took thirteen years to get a new album from Blue Largo album, and Sing Your Own Blues was worth the wait. Their new songs are very good, and the classic tunes they chose are not ones that other bands usually cover. The end result is an hour of positive messages with a cool vintage vibe, and after hearing it you might wish you lived on the left coast so would be in a better position to catch one of their shows!