Tas Cru – Simmered & Stewed
What Tas Cru presents here is, well, 11 old and recycled Tas Cru songs. That would not be so cool except here we have 11 tunes he did on prior solo albums in a very minimalistic manner. The cuts here are a full production with backing and arrangements. What Tas has done is taking the sound he achieved and loved off his last album in December 2014 and recreating that with some of the stuff he still does at his shows that he’d released on solo albums. He says, “Finally, after five albums everything fell into place- the songwriting, the performance, and production.” He doesn’t have inventory to sell those old CDs so he figured why not take the stuff he still plays and create a bigger and better sounding version of it? I must agree. He’s done a fine job here!
Tas Cru is based in Upstate New York and has been a fixture as a solo artist and as a blues educator. He was the 2014 Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award (KBA) for Blues Education. His success as a blues educator is noteworthy as is his music. Also, in 2009 he was named by Blues Festival Guide Magazine as their 2009 Blues Artist on the Rise. So Tas is renowned and has been a superb musician for many a year. What’s different is his approach. Drums, bass guitars, harmonicas, backing vocalists pianos, and organs were used in the production of these cuts. Tas wrote all but one of the tunes here and produced the album. It was recorded in three locations in Upstate New York.
“Dat Maybe” starts things off. It’s got a driving beat and blasts off smartly with a big harp (Dick Earl Erickson on all tracks) and Tas on electric guitar delivering a high energy, rocking blues sound. Chip Lamson is on piano here, but it’s on the second track where we see him featured. “Grizzle and Bone” has him doing some mean solo and backing work. The harp also comes in for a nice solo and the organ (Guy Nirelli on tracks 1 and 2) is effective in support. This is a hopping and fun cut and Tas does a great job on vocals and guitar.”Feel I’m Falling” opens to resonator guitar and then the thump of a foot pedaled drum. It builds and builds with haunting backing vocals and slide as Taz testifies. The full band joins in and finishes things off in a cacophony of sound until things end and go out with the wind. “Time and Time” is a slow ballad with a mournful harp that counters Cru’s vocals. Thoughtful guitar and a deep bass line by Mike Lawrence also impressed me. A funky boogie gets things going with “Road to My Obsession.” It’s interesting and cool as Tas bounces through the lyrics. Tas fantasizes over his baby’s “Bisquit” that he misses in another driving and upbeat cut. Guitar, piano (David Liddy this time) and the rest of the band all shine in this one. There is even some slide to satisfy the slide lovers.
“Cover My Love” is next. Has a lot of percussive sounds along with witty lyrics and a host of cool sounds as the band and Cru weave their way through another uptempo cut. Liddy’s piano and the harp blowing complement the guitar and vocals nicely. “Woman Won’t You Love Me” has a longish intro. It’s a big, slow country blues with Cru pretty much begging his woman for some love. Slide and harp take us down home and Lamson’s piano adds well to the mix. “Just Let It Happen” is a is a fun song where Cru instructs us to be loose and just do what the song title says. He picks out some guitar for us and Lamson’s piano keeps pace. It’s a bouncy little ditty. Things get darker and dirtier in “Tired of Bluesmen Cryin’” and then Cru lets loose on his compatriots by basically telling them in a tongue and cheek way to man up and stop complaining about losing loves, families and homes. Lamson offers some interesting and dark twists to boogie woogie piano. “Higher and Higher” closes the CD, the only non-Tas Cru cut. Tas takes this way down in tempo, making it almost into a slow spiritual. The organ sets the tone (Lamson again), and Cru builds things from his opening resonator guitar into electric and then with his slide work. He and the backing vocalists increase the intensity as they and the band make this into an interesting cover.
Ron Keck does percussion throughout. Mary Anne Casale and Alice “Honeybea” Erickson are backing on vocals throughout, too. 13 other artists fill in on the other tracks. They all contribute well and make Cru’s more sparse original recordings into new sounding production cuts.
Cru is shown on the album cover mixing a big pot of something in an industrial kitchen, symbolizing his chef work in taking his solo stuff and cooking them up in a new and intriguing way. I like Cru’s acoustic stuff but I like his stuff here, too. He’s done a fine job finding a new angle and way to make his old songs new and cool. I liked the album and enjoyed each of the cuts. It there is any complaint I might offer the backing vocals were very big at times throughout the album. I think that was the intent, but it almost seemed to me they were the featured vocals. Despite this small comment, this is cool and fun stuff. I think his fans will like it and I think blues fans in general will like the well produced and integrated cuts with lots of keys and guitar and harp blended with vocals to make some fresh and interesting music. Well done!