9 songs – 42 minutes
San Francisco-based producer Neil Barnes came up with the idea for this concept album, which features gospel-tinged blues as it fuses together some of the best musical talent the Bay Area has to offer.
A skilled, but under-recorded harmonica player, Barnes fell in love with all of the tunes contained here and assembled the talent to put them out for the world to hear. A student of Charlie Musselwhite, he fronted the band Bar-B-Q Barnes and the Rib Tones in the ‘80s before an acoustic duo career, but he’s remained primarily in the background.
He’s acquired some pretty powerful friends along the way, however. He recruited three-time Grammy nominated vocalist/keyboardist Lady Bianca, former John Lee Hooker bandleader Ron Thompson, a guitarist with seven stellar CDs of his own, and West Coast soul blues superstar Earl Thomas to join him in the famed Hyde Street Studio — where James Brown, Green Day, Herbie Hancock and the Grateful Dead all laid down tracks — to bring this work to fruition.
They’re aided by the Rev. Paul Smith — who’s worked with Ike and Tina Turner, Bill Withers and Natalie Cole — on organ and a top-notch rhythm section: Oshmin Oden on bass and Winfred Williams on drums. Tia Carroll, another Bay Area treasure, provides backing vocals on two songs while Barnes adds harp throughout.
Available through CDBaby and iTunes, the disc opens with Bianca and Thomas sharing vocals for the powerful “Don’t Let The Devil Ride.” Penned by the Rev. Oris Mays, it may be familiar to some blues fans, having been previously covered by Lurrie Bell. The steady shuffle provides a good clue as to what will follow: A heaping helping of solid blues with a positive message. Thomas takes command for the slow tempo “Heart Like A Locomotive,” a Joe Droukas original, which delivers a message of faith brimming with positive images of love in a relationship affected by separation.
Next up, Thomas and Bianca team to deliver “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” an uptempo number first delivered by the rock band Cage The Elephant, before the band put their own spin on the Simon and Garfunkel ‘60s chart-topper, “A Song For Jill (Bridge Over Troubled Water).” The harmonica-and-keyboard lead-in take it straight to church with Bianca leading the choir. The first of two Allen Toussaint tunes on the CD, “When Can I Come Home,” Allen Toussaint follows with Thomas taking command.
He yields vocals to guitarist Thompson for the familiar “Shake A Hand,” giving a churchy feel to what was a hit for Faye Adams in 1953. The ensemble dips into the catalog of Malaco/Atlanta International Records gospel superstar, the Rev. F.C. Barnes for “Rough Side Of The Mountain” before the Thomas original, “Just One Word.” Another Toussaint standard, the syncopated, uptempo “Tears, Tears And More Tears,” concludes the set.
This is a great CD on many levels. The musicianship and messages shine. And if you’re not a religious or spiritual person, have no fear: Despite the gospel flavor, the religious message always bubbles beneath the surface in a way certain not to offend. Play it loud and enjoy!