Severn Records CD 0071
14 songs – 62 minutes
Like the best show band you’ve ever heard totally jacked up on Red Bull, The Original Blues Brothers Band picks up where they left off, firing out of the gate to deliver the same brand of blues-drenched soul they began delivering as a Saturday Night Live skit 39 years ago.
Sure, John Belushi is long departed, as are bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and trumpet player Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin, but the core group remains as rock solid as they’ve always been, and they’re augmented by appearances by an all-star group of guests, including Memphis soul legend Eddie Floyd, Dr. John and Joe Louis Walker, as well as keyboard player Paul Shaffer, who’s the original band leader, and 87-year-old Matt “Guitar” Murphy, the original guitarist, who played Aretha Franklin’s husband in the first movie. Original horn player Tom “Bones” Malone and Joe Morton, who appeared in Blues Brothers 2000 and sang as Cabel “Cab” Chamberlain, also make appearances.
The core of the band — guitarist Steve “The Colonel” Cropper, saxophonist “Blue” Lou Marini and Dunn, who left us five years ago — were already music legends as members of one of the most successful Memphis bands ever, Booker T. And The MG’s, before the Blues Brothers were born.
Including compilations and tributes, The Last Shade Of Blue Before Black is the 16th release in the Blues Brothers’ catalog, beginning with 1978’s Briefcase Full Of Blues. Though born and raised in the Chicago area, Belushi had only limited exposure to the music until filming Animal House in Eugene, Ore., months earlier, where he witnessed Curtis Salgado and Robert Cray perform regularly as The Nighthawks. It’s well-documented that Curtis schooled John in the music during his time off set and that Belushi based his Joliet Jake character on Salgado. The first Blues Brothers release was dedicated to Curtis.
While the lineup’s changed the sound remains the same. Today’s musical merrymakers include “Smokin'” John Tropea on second guitar, Eric “The Red” Udel on bass, Lee “Funkytime” Finkelstein on drums, Leon “The Lion” Pendarvis and Rusty “Cloudmeister” Cloud on keys with a horn section of Steve “Catfish” Howard (trumpet) and Larry “Trombonius” Farrell (trombone). Rob “The Honeydripper” Paparozzi and Tommy “Pipes” McDonnell provide harmonica and add vocals, along with Bobby “Sweet Soul” Harden. Sax player Baron Raymonde, trombonist Birch Johnson and guitarist David Spinozza also add to the mix.
The album mixes a few tasty originals with several well-chosen/well-worn covers. A quiet guitar line kicks off Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do” and the horns kick in quietly before things explode, featuring Harden, McDonnell and Paparozzi in a lead vocal trio. The band turns Delbert McClinton’s “Cherry Street” into a full-force funk with McConnell on mike before a cover of “On A Saturday Night.” It’s a high-energy fiesta, but should sound familiar because Floyd, who penned the tune with Cropper, had a major hit with the song when it debuted in 1967 and returns to do the tune once more.
The Memphis mood continues with “Itch And Scratch” — made famous by Rufus Thomas — with Harden on mike, before Walker takes over for a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Don’t Go No Further” and Harden returns to cover Dan Penn’s “You Left The Water Running.” Floyd’s featured on another self-penned original, “Don’t Forget About James Brown,” sharing the tune with McDonnell, before Shaffer’s featured on vocal and piano for J.B.’s familiar “Sex Machine,” which gets a pleasing overhaul. The next two numbers, Fats Waller’s classic “Your Feet’s Too Big” and the self-penned “21st Century Baby” spotlight Paparozzi before Cloud steps away from the keyboard to deliver his original, “Blues In My Feet.”
Dr. John is up next, delivering his own tune, the familiar “Qualified,” as only he can before a quartet of vocalists, including Morton, breathe new life into Muddy Waters’ warhorse, “I Got My Mojo Working.” The disc concludes with the title cut, “The Last Shade Of Blue Before Black,” with Marini, who wrote it, in vocal command.
This disc simply smokes from the jump and continues relentlessly to the finish. Available wherever fine albums are sold, and strongly recommended. This one’s going onto my short list for consideration as best album of the year. You’ll probably feel the same way, too!