Madtown Mannish Boys – Live at the Knuckle Down Saloon
Regional Blues bands are a vital part of the Blues ecosystem. They keep our music alive and keep audiences involved and vibrant. Grinding out a tightrope act of bar band bravado, real deal Blues cred and cover-friendly drinking party music, most of the musicians in these bands burn the candle at both ends holding down day jobs. Equally important are music venues that value the bands, give them regular gigs and cultivate the community. In Madison, WI the local bar flies and Blues boppers are lucky to have the Madtown Mannish Boys laying down their greasy stone-cold Blues at fine establishments like the Knuckle Down Saloon. This 2018 live recording lets the rest of us in on the party.
The Madtown Mannish Boys are a dual lead vocal/harp band, a unique vibe for sure. Paul Schwoerer and Andy Smith are the yin and yang of the impassioned James Cotton and Junior Wells schools of harp singers. Schwoerer has the gruff Cotton growl in his voice and handles the more bare knuckle material such as “Big Boss Man,” “Hound Dog” and “Mojo Working” while Smith has a smoother slicker delivery on R&B numbers such as “Tennessee Whiskey/I’d Rather Go Blind,” “Tell Me Mama” and the original “Hey Baby.” Nate Meronek on drums, Tim Payne on bass, Adam Pryor on keys and Jesse Steinberg on guitar or a solid Blues band. These guys have paid attention to their history and know how to create the real Chicago vibe of old Chess, Delmark and Cobra records. A hot horn section rounds out this big ensemble with Merle Bailey and Dan Resnick on saxs and Jason Schultz on trombone. As if these guys weren’t enough, for this special night at the Knuckle Down a host of guests joined on a song or two each: Westside Andy Linderman – harp, Radka Kasparcova – guitar, Johnny Watson – drums, Bill Anderson – keys, Rick Hauser – trumpet, Tall Paul Sabel – harp, Jesse Olson – keys.
Live at the Knuckle Down Saloon is a solid enjoyable listen. The stage banter between songs makes this record a fun straight through listening experience. The music is traditional Chicago Blues executed cleanly. While the material is not especially varied, the diversity created by the two singers switching off gives the set variety and keeps everything engaging. This live record has a looser and more immediate feel than the Madtown’ers 2017 fine studio album Old Dog, another set full of classic covers with only the Freddie King signature piece “Love Her With a Feeling” making an appearance on both discs. This is a great Summer listen for the Blues fiend and perfect for background at a BBQ. These guys play all over Madtown and, as is illustrated on Live at the Knuckle Down, are a killer band to catch at fine Wisconsin watering holes.