14 tracks; 44 minutes
The Rhythm Rockets blast off from Chicago and touch down all over Chicagoland and the Midwest. The band is centered on founder/guitarist Dave Downer and vocalist Nicole Kestler, with Mark Fornek on drums, and Mike “Bucko” Bielecki on tenor saxophone. Additional personnel on the album sessions include horn players Marty Gierczyk and Sam Burckhardt on tenor sax, baritone players Ron Dulin, Justin Keirans, and Ed Enright, bassists Michael Quiroz and Lou Marini, with Tony Kidonakis and Brian O’Hern taking turns at the piano. Sam Burckhardt has a Chicago Blues pedigree as a long-time member of Sunnyland Slim’s band and Mark Fornek played with Jimmy Rogers. The band formed in 1996 and has seen some line-up changes over the years, but they have maintained a busy schedule even after the initial late 90’s swing craze fizzled. Their sound was never just swing retreads anyway. They incorporate the styles of Louis Jordan, T. Bone Walker, and Dinah Washington and are equally adept at traditional Chicago Blues shuffles.
Their CD She Swings Blue, Vol. 1: The Joint Is Jumpin’ showcases their Jump Blues and Swing sound and opens with “In the Mood for You,” a rollicking shuffle showing off Downer’s compact and effective guitar style while Kestler seductively croons. Dinah Washington’s “Evil Gal Blues” is a sadly still topical song, with the Evil Gal losing her man to Uncle Sam. “I Got a Feelin’” is a breezy take on Big Maybelle’s original. “Baby, Baby Every Night” features tenor saxophonist “Bucko” Bielecki with the rest of the band joining in on background vocals.
About half-way through the disc the pattern becomes obvious. The band swings and jives through a slew of post-war tracks by Annie Laurie, Peggy Lee, Little Esther, and Big Maybelle. Add a raving sax solo, tight rhythm guitar chords, and Kestler’s sultry croon and you have the album. There are occasionally duet-style vocals when drummer Mark Fornek joins in on “Ain’t Nobody’s Business but My Own” and Dinah Washington & Brook Benton’s “A Rockin’ Good Way.” I realize the theme is jump blues and it’s nice to see a blues-related Chicago band that doesn’t rely on Muddy Waters for its songbook, but after a while the formula wears thin.
“Jumpin’ These Blues” is an original composition by the band and fits in seamlessly with the old songs. Downer plays fluidly, with precision and flawless tone. I’d like to hear more original music from The Rhythm Rockets on a disc that mixes up the styles. The musicians are clearly talented and Nicole Kestler is an evocative singer. She can be smooth, sassy, sultry, or sad and handles the songs of her predecessors adeptly. She Swings Blue Vol. 1: The Joint Is Jumpin’ showcases one dimension of The Rhythm Rockets and therein lays the problem. Ultimately though, their breezy, swinging rhythms and rambunctious horns are an irresistible force and I couldn’t help absorbing the energy while I listened.
Even if you’re stuck in the car on the Kennedy Expressway or squeezed into your seat on the EL, your feet will tap, your legs will bounce and your shoulders will sway until the person next to you requests your departure. If you’re having a party and want to get people moving, She Swings Blue: The Joint Is Jumpin’ Vol. 1 will surely do the trick.