Nick Schnebelen – Crazy All By Myself
VizzTone Label Group VT-NSB-03
13 songs – 55 minutes
After two well-received live albums, guitarist/vocalist Nick Schnebelen knocks it out of the park with this studio release, which was produced by Grammy-winning percussionist Tony Braunagel and captured in the studio owned by Johnny Lee Schell, his playing partner in the Taj Mahal/Phantom Blues Band.
But that should come as no surprise to blues lovers. A powerful singer in his own right, Schnebelen made up one-third of the family band, Trampled Under Foot, which captured the International Blues Challenge in 2008, during which Nick won the Albert King Award as best guitar player in the competition.
Since disbanding after winning band and album of the year in the 2014 Blues Music Awards – bass-player sister Danielle Nicole launching what would become a superstar solo career and percussionist brother Chris traveling the world in support of several top acts, Nick’s built a major national and European following in his own right.
A follow-up to an EP and full-length CD recorded on his home turf at Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City, Crazy All By Myself was produced at Ultratone Studios in Culver City, Calif., and includes an all-star lineup. The core unit features Schnebelen on guitar and potent baritone vocals throughout aided by Braunagel on drums, Mike Finnigan (Taj/Phantom/Bonnie Raitt) on keys and Hutch Hutchinson (Neil Diamond/Colin James) on bass with Schell adding rhythm guitar on three cuts.
They’re augmented by harmonica wizards Jason Ricci and Dustin Arbuckle, keyboard player Jeff Paris (Keb’ Mo’/Coco Montoya), bassist Reggie McBride, guitarist Davy Knowles and violinists Lionel Young and Ada Pasternak. Backing vocals are provided by Melodye Perry and 2018 Blues Blast Music Awards Sean Costello Rising Star winner Heather Newman.
Schnebelen composed eight of the 13 cuts, all of which come across as intensely soulful, modern blues. “Lil’ Death,” penned by J.J. Holiday of Imperial Crowns fame, powers out of the gate to open as it announces to a lady that the singer’s on his way and ready for action – the way he wants to die. A guitar and drum hook introduce “It Ain’t Me,” which finds Nick returning from a hard day’s work, discovers his woman’s been with a so-called friend and knows instinctively that he’s no longer the one she wants.
The uptempo “Ain’t Got Time For The Blues” continues the theme, stating that he’s got a new lady and a brand new groove before troubles return for the stop-time title cut, “Crazy All By Myself,” in which Schnebelen makes it perfectly clear that he doesn’t need any assistance when it comes to going nuts. “Altar Of Love,” written by fellow Imperial Crown Jimmie Wood, roars out of the gate aided by Ricci as it reflects on better times atop a driving shuffle.
The disc quiets for the ballad “Bad Disposition With The Blues” before getting funky for “Bad Dream,” in which the singer is in the midst of a divorce and his missus’ lawyer is making outrageous demands. The mood brightens dramatically for the expressive “Soul Magic” with a new lover on scene before picking up steam again with a cover of Dave Duncan’s “I’m A Fatboy,” an ode to riding Harleys.
“I Leaned My Heart On You,” another bittersweet ballad about a troubled romance, precedes updated covers of Magic Sam’s “Out Of Bad Luck” and Delbert McClinton’s “Monkey Around” before Schnebelen delivers the sweetest melody in the closer, “Holding On,” which finds the singer in a bar and watching his ex with another man as he realizes he stayed in the relationship too long.
Crazy All By Myself is a winner on all counts despite themes that deal primarily with the down side of romance. As you probably figured out from the lineup, the musicianship here is stellar throughout, and all of the tunes sing from the heart with deep emotion. Available through most major retailers and strongly recommended. I’m putting this one aside to consider for album of the year. It’s that good.