Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers – Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers
8 tracks / 40:12
There are no shortage of fine blues bands from the Midwest and over the past few years there have been some fabulous new albums coming from Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. In kèeping with this tradition, the Cornhusker State has sent another winner our way via Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers. This highly-talented group recently self-released their debut CD, and it is a fun and refreshing blend of blues, soul and funk with a sound that is uniquely their own.
This band was formed in 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska and is fronted by Josh Hoyer, an in-demand session man who had successfully fronted award-winning local groups including the marvelous Son of ’76 and the Watchmen. His nine-piece crew is made up of musicians that have proven themselves through years of touring, teaching, and session work, and it has turned out to be a symbiotic relationship that has the power to create something truly special!
For this eponymous album, Josh takes on the vocals, keys and baritone sax, as well as writing and arranging all eight of the songs. He is joined by Benny Kushner on guitar, Justin G. Jones on drums, and Brian Morrow on bass (plus all three contribute vocals). There are also a pair of fine horn players (Tommy Van Den Berg on trombone and Mike Dee on tenor sax) and three wonderful vocalists: Hanna Bendler, Kim Moser and Megan Spain.
The band hits hard right from the start with “Shadowboxer” a smooth yet funky R&B piece. The horns lead the way, with a little extra oomph from guest artist Russell Zimmer on the trumpet. The backline holds down a rock steady beat without getting too fancy, letting the horns and backing singers set the melody. Josh lets his organ work take a back seat to his great vocal range, and his emotional delivery is full of soul as he implores the listener to stay strong in this discouraging world.
Hoyer keeps this theme up with the next few tracks as “Close Your Eyes” and “Illusion” examine the fast pace that people try to keep up with and the politicians that cannot help but continually disappoint the public. “Close Your Eyes” is my favorite of these, as it is a super-slickly written soul song that brings the organ to the forefront as Morrow’s driving bass line keeps things moving along.
The pacing of the CD is good, as before things get too gloomy the subject turns to the blues standby – all the ways that love can go wrong! After the dramatic funk revue of “Everyday and Everynight” (complete with a cool trombone solo from Van Der Berg) the band tears off the standout track from Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers, “Just Call Me (I’ll be Sure to Let you Down).” Hoyer channels the Reverend Al Green in this melodic R&B song with fat walking bass lines and an innovative tenor sax solo from Mike Dee.
The Shadowboxers cover a Son of ’76 and the Watchmen tune, “Til She’s Lovin’ Someone Else” from the 2010 release Letters from Shangri-La. Josh pulls out some wonderful New Orleans barroom-style piano work as the horns punch out the funky beat in this slow roller. Jones hits the drums hard throughout this one and it is a pleasure to hear his fills as well as Kushner’s raw guitar solo. This was a neat song to start with and it turned out just as well the second time around.
The set comes around full circle and ends up with “Dirty World,” and you pretty much know where it is going from the title, but this one is asking what can be done to make it better and it encourages the listener to make a difference. Musically, this one is almost like a drum solo with a funky song happening on top of it. The Shadowboxers went all out for the finale and it is a cool way to bring this project to a close.
Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers is a very good album, and the fact that it is their first is a makes it all the better. The songs are original and well-written, and the performance and production values meet the high standards set by the material. If you are looking for fresh new blues and soul you should check It out for yourself, and hopefully Hoyer is writing up a new batch of songs so they can bring on even more of their funky message!