Groove Ready Records
12 songs – 52 minutes
With a sound that’s halfway between the Holmes Brothers and the Phantom Blues Band, the Kingdom Brothers are a five-piece unit out of St. Louis that simply smoke with a traditional, yet totally modern electric sound.
Formed by bass player Bob Walther in 2005 in an attempt to provide something different in the music rich shadows of the Gateway Arch, the Kingdoms sound is rooted in Albert King, Muddy Waters and Otis Rush, but infused with a strong dose of the gospel harmonies of the Dixie Hummingbirds and Blind Boys Of Alabama.
Fronting the group are vocalists Chris Shepherd, who handles rhythm guitar duties, and keyboard player Stan Gill. Ron Roskowske holds down lead and slide guitar responsibilities, and Joe Warmbrodt handles percussion. They’re augmented here by the Dogtown Horns – Richard Zempel on tenor sax, Kevin Rauscher on trumpet and John Covelli on trombone – and the Kingdom Sisters – a chorus comprised of Pam Camp, Linsey Morgan, Beth Tuttle and Pam Warmbrodt.
A follow-up to the band’s 2008 release, Shine A Light, and partially funded by an Indiegogo campaign, this CD features material that’s original and uplifting as it deals with matters that affect the life of everyone. If you’d been fortunate to visit the new National Blues Museum in St. Louis, this album plays regularly in the background. And the title cut, “Times Hard”, is featured in the movie “Cronies,” one of three films produced by Academy Award winning director Spike Lee in 2015.
The album kicks off with “The Blues Don’t Have To Be Sad,” a tune that puts into words what every fan of the music knows but outsiders sometimes often can’t comprehend. It’s a sprightly shuffle fueled by Gill and accented with a catchy guitar hook. “It Won’t Be Me” features Roskowske’s stellar picking on a relaxed blues that serves as a response to a lady who’s in search of someone to be her fool.
The feel continues for “Not Gonna Worry,” about life’s pitfalls, before things heat up with the cautionary fast shuffle, “Reap What You Sow.” The slow blues “Little Things” offers an aural break as it delivers a bittersweet apology for the many small lies in a relationship that add up to hurt like hell. The horns come to the fore in “Come Back,” a suggestion to return to your first love when things were good.
“Better Man” is the realization of someone who finally understands he could have done much more with his life, while “Doin’ What You Want” is a slow, steady funk that asks why a woman’s treating her man so bad. The rocker “All I Want” sings the virtue of not being a one-night stand before Roskowske’s slide guitar burns for “Tell The World,” offers praise for spiritual lessons from above. The instrumental “Gateway Shuffle” concludes the set.
Available from Amazon or other online marketers, Times Hard is a warm-feeling toe-tapper from beginning to end. Strongly recommended and hard to put down.