Put together by producer Kurt Koenig, who also plays bass throughout, this release shines a spotlight on the Milwaukee blues scene. More than thirty musicians and vocalists made contributions to the twelve tracks that were primarily composed by some of the participants. The opening cut shines the spotlight on Jim Liban, the legendary harp player who once fronted the band, Short Stuff. Joined by his son Matt on drums and Todd Merriweather on Hammond organ, Liban delivers a succinct assessment of life as seen through the rear-view mirror. The noted guitarist, Greg Koch, contributes some stinging licks, then Liban treats listeners to a subtle harp coda. Vocalist John Sieger co-wrote “Voodoo Rain” with Koch, who lays down a twisting, enthralling solo that is a vivid testimonial to his acknowledged guitar skills.
“Do You Duty Judy” was penned by Perry Weber, another veteran currently playing guitar for the Jimmys. His boss, Jimmy Voegeli, adds some rollicking piano on the hearty shuffle that includes another Liban appearance as Weber does his best to convince his wife to give him some good loving. The brothers Pruitt – David & Dick from the BelAirs – turn in a fun vocal duet on a cover of “Farmer John,” urged on by Aaron Gardner and Mike Pauers on saxophone and flute plus Jamie Breiwick on trumpet. Koch shines again on the languid take of Little Richard’s “Directly From My Heart To You,” beautifully sung by Robin Pluer, once a member of the R&B Cadets with Sieger and Paul Cebar. Steve Cohen pulls plenty of sounds out of his harp to wrap around her voice. Named the Best Guitar Player in 2016 by the Sheperd Express Reader’s Choice Awards, Andrew Koenig is compelling on Prince Conley’s dark tale of love’s obsession, “I’m Going Home”.
The second half of the disc offers some widely disparate styles. Bill Camplin utilizes the perfect vocal approach for Cohen’s “Comeuppance,” giving the barroom tearjerker the right amount of country pathos. “Song For Everything” features Sieger and Pluer plus the horns on a track that flows from contemporary R&B through jazz and back. Another highlight is “Spanish Wine,” with the dynamic Susan Julian on vocal plus a robust interlude from Gardner on sax. “Boogie Sol Hoopli” was written by guitarist Pete Roller, who uses his slide guitar to add many dimensions to the standard boogie riff with help from Cohen, Koenig on bass, and Bob Mueller on drums.
Any song that Michael Ledbetter sings typically rises well above the norm as his operatically trained voice commands your attention. On Koch’s “Sho Nuff,” the singer uses his meticulous phrasing and impressive range to create an intimate performance, backed by a swinging small group complete with horns. Equally fine is the closing number, “Recession Blues,” written by Jim Liban, featured on harp. Also contributing is Ledbetter’s former boss, guitarist Nick Moss, and Marc Wilson on percussion. The rhythm section lays down a rolling foundation for the singer, his voice gliding through the taut assessment of the nation’s financial plight. The last three minutes feature Liban at his best, his harp dancing around the melody, saying plenty with just a few notes.
Add it all up and you have a fine celebration of the Milwaukee blues scene and a number of the key players. If most of these names are unfamiliar to you, make a point to get a copy of this one. It holds up over repeated listens – and just might make you add Milwaukee as a musical destination the next time you are traveling through the Midwest.