Heads Up HUI-37996-02
14 songs – 74 minutes
This sensational live recording pairs two of the strongest acts in contemporary American music: Mindi Abair a two-time Grammy nominee saxophone player who spent two years on American Idol and toured with Aerosmith and Max Weinberg and worked with Paul Schaffer on the Late Show With David Letterman, and The Boneshakers, the electrifying Detroit roots ensemble lead by guitarist Randy Jacobs and featuring Sweetpea Atkinson on vocals. The end result is a product that will keep you moving on the dance floor.
The daughter of a touring musician and granddaughter of an opera singer, Abair spend her first few years on the road before settling in St. Petersburg, Florida. She picked up the horn at age eight and eventually graduated magna cum laude from Berklee College Of Music, along with Julliard one of the most prestigious music school in the U.S. Despite her feminine appearance, she attacks the sax in a style akin to King Curtis and Junior Walker, but totally her own. She’s released seven soulful albums that have produced ten No. 1 hits on radio and achieved two No. 1 spots on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz album charts.
The Boneshakers, meanwhile, came into being when Jacobs, a veteran of Was (Not Was) and work with Willie Nelson, Mitch Ryder, Steven Bruton and Bonnie Raitt, met Atkinson, who’s worked with Neil Diamond, Raitt, Bob Segar and Keb Mo’, and hit it off in a recording studio. The half-dozen or solo albums they’ve released so far feature everything from James Brown funk and hard soul to jazzy R&B.
They decided to work together after Abair sat in with The Boneshakers at the Newport Beach (Calif.) Jazz Festival a couple of summers ago. This performance was recorded live at Jazz Alley last Valentine’s Day weekend and includes Rodney Lee on keyboards and a rhythm section of drummer Third Richardson and bassist Derek Frank, both of whom provide vocals. The disc features 11 originals and two novel covers.
A brief 69-second introduction, entitled “Here She Comes,” brings Mindi to the stage before the music explodes with the instrumental “Wild Heart,” the title song off her most recent previous album. Propelled by the band’s throbbing rhythm pattern and putting Abair’s fat tone on display for the first time, it flows effortlessly into “Haute Sauce,” a rapid-paced, soulful seven-minute shuffle that quiets down to allow Lee a jazzy mid-song solo before pulsating to the finish.
Mindi provides a vocal intro before launching into a rap-flavored vocal on the funky “I Can’t Lose,” which delivers a message to be positive in life and celebrate victories rather than dwelling on defeats. Atkinson takes the stage for the first time during a brief intro, entitled “Bring Him On,” before launching into “Ball And Chain,” a swinging blues that features rock-steady stop-time rhythms. It’s a song of obsessive love in which the singer knows the object of his affection will never leave her current man.
“Be Beautiful” follows with Mindi delivering a tune she wrote as an anthem to help fight breast cancer, but speaks to everyone because its message is not to be fixated on your physical flaws and live free. Sweetpea provides vocal support on this one and “Gone,” one of three new tunes in the set, in which Abair she announces the end of a relationship to a lover who’s been totally oblivious that the end was coming. Next up, “Make It Happen” is the debut of song Mindi wrote with the legendary Booker T. Jones. It’s an easy-flowing, bluesy, instrumental rocker that becomes more powerful as it progresses.
Jacobs’ guitar comes to the fore for “Bloom” before the band delivers a taste of Memphis with “I’ll Be Your Home” and then a cover of the classic “Summertime.” A guitar-lead funk, “Flirt,” precedes a fiery, blues flavored take on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” which concludes the set.
Consider yourself fortunate if your tastes favor modern R&B with strong blues overtones. The Abair-Boneshakers partnership has produced one of the best live performance albums this reviewer’s heard in a long time.