CD: 12 Songs, 36:09 Minutes
Styles: Chicago Blues, Blues Covers, Harmonica Blues, Mono Recording
“You’ve never met this kind of music”, says the tagline of Tonite is the Night, the sophomore CD from Chicago’s Jesus on a Tortilla. No, that wasn’t a typo, and yours truly doesn’t have aphasia. That’s really the name of this energetic but unseasoned band, presenting four original songs and eight popular covers. The good news is that JOAT shines on instrumentals. The bad news? It can be summed up in two words: “mono recording.” This is intentional, according to their webpage: “Through the choice of our instrumentation and recording techniques, we tried to faithfully reproduce the typical sound of the early electric blues recordings. You will hear a true mono live recording, like a blues ensemble would have done at that time.”
Okay, but that’s only half the story. The other half is that modern musicians know mono is very tricky to pull off. If a band’s overall sound isn’t full-bodied enough, the results sound tinny and imbalanced. My headphones, which still Beexcellent™, proved this point. I had to turn the volume almost all the way up, because I forgot this CD wasn’t recorded in stereo. My ears are ringing at this moment. I could hear the great harmonica loud and clear, though, even on my headphones’ lowest setting, so that’s a plus. The heavily-accented vocals and their deadpan, conversational tone might make one think something got lost in this translation of classic blues. You’ll hear “BB Boogie”, “I’m Leaving You” by Howlin’ Wolf, and “Flying Saucer” by Little Walter, among other standards, but these renditions could leave you blinking in bewilderment.
Their bio on the Web says, “Jesus On A Tortilla is a project born in 2011. Across time, thanks to the growth of the group members, we embraced the Chicago Blues style, reproducing as closely as possible the main lines of the genre. The tracks selected for this album have been carefully chosen and represent a true example of the postwar Chicago blues scene from late 40’s to 50’s.” JOAT’s promotional info sheet reveals that they’ve played in clubs in Italy, France and Switzerland, and have performed as an opening act for such blues greats as Lurrie Bell, Hein Meijer and Marco Pandolfi.
Jesus on a Tortilla is a quirky quartet consisting of Lorenzo “Mumbles” Albai on vocals and harmonica; Kevin “Blind Lemon” Clementi on guitars; Matteo “Evans” Ferrario on drums, and Massimiliano “Ximi” Chiara on double bass. Special guest Henry Carpaneto stars on piano.
The following song is one of the band’s original instrumental tracks, displaying their chops.
Track 05: “Marvellous Swing” – “Mumbles” Albai is killer on the harmonica, as yours truly stated earlier. Even through the mono recording’s limitations, it shines through with brassy brilliance. “Ximi” Chiara is also fantastic on the double bass, which adds a unique touch to this number. Sometimes in the blues, the bass doesn’t get enough credit for the hard work it does.
Hopefully, with vocal training and more experience, Jesus on a Tortilla will be to more fans’ taste. Alas, to answer the claim that “you’ve never met this kind of music,” the truth is that, if you’re an aficionado of the blues – yes, you have, and from more polished ensembles. Tonite is the Night to give them a listen, for sure, but will they merit multiple play-throughs? You decide.