Zoho Roots music
Mixing four originals with a wide variety of covers, the Jay Willie Blues Band’s fourth release on the Zoho Roots label covers a wide range of musical styles, starting with a straight-forward cover of the Johnny Otis hit, “Willie And The Hand Jive,” that grabs your attention thanks to guest Jason Ricci’s mesmerizing harp blowing. Next up is a cover of “The Horse,” a surprise instrumental hit in 1968 for Cliff Nobles. He recorded a rare vocal version that the band reprises with Malorie Leogrande on lead vocal. Blessed with a voice that can span a five octave range, she exercises some restraint in order to project a sultry attitude while Ricci fills in admirably for the horn section featured on the original. The “bonus” instrumental version of the song at the end of the disc is anti-climatic since it is the same version with the vocal track removed.
Reaching back to the 1950s, a cover of Little Sylvia’s “A Million Tears” features Leogrande’s striking voice with Steve Clarke on bass as the sole accompaniment. Leogrande stars again on the obscure “This Is The Thanks I Get,” utilizing the power of her voice to steadily build the emotional heat. Willie does his best to encourage her with some taut slide guitar licks. Barbara Lynn’s “You”ll Lose A Good Thing” finds Leogrande adopting a more soothing approach while tenor saxophonist Ted Yakush blows some hearty fills. The singer and Ricci work hard on “The Hunter Capture By The Game” to elevate the band’s colorless backing. A heavy-handed rendition of “Take Me To The River” has Willie pushing his voice to the point of breaking. Even Leogrande can’t rescue a disjointed run-through of the soul classic, “You Left The Water Running”.
The band sounds more inspired on “Alive Again,” written by drummer Bobby T. Torello, formerly of Johnny Winter’s band. His growling vocal works well with the tandem guitar attack of the leader on slide and Bob Callahan on rhythm. On his original “Everybody,” Callahan leads listeners through a “Hey,Hey, Yeah” chorus that echoes the Ramones. Those comparisons end once Willie cuts loose with the slide. The title track sports a muscular beat behind Willie’s thin voice. Ricci impresses one more time, inspiring Willie to deliver a fiery slide solo to finish things off. The band delves into some uptown funk on Willie’s “21” as Leogrande becomes the sultry songstress one more time.
When you add it all up, Hell On Wheels has enough compelling tracks to make it worth a listen. If they can come up with more original material – or select lesser-known songs to cover – the Jay Willie Band, with Malorie Leogrande leading the way, have a chance to distinguish themselves in a very crowded field of blues bands struggling to gain traction in the marketplace.