Blind Pig Records – 2015
13 tracks; 44 minutes
‘The Piana From Savannah’ returns with his large band The Wildroots on a first release for Blind Pig (who also issued the Southern Hospitality set in 2013). As always Victor is the larger-than-life frontman on vocals, piano and organ with regulars Stephen Dees on bass, Nick Black on guitar, Billy Dean on drums, Patricia Ann Dees on tenor sax and occasional vocals, Ray Guiser on tenor sax, Charlie DeChant on baritone sax and Stephen Kampa on harmonica. Guests include guitarists Robert ‘Top’ Thomas, Ernie Lancaster and fellow SOHO bandmate JP Soars, Chris Stephenson on Hammond, Beth McKee on backing vocals and Juan Perez on percussion, each of whom are present on one track. The material is all original and was mainly written by Stephen Dees who also produced, arranged and engineered the recordings; Victor co-wrote two tracks and produced one on his own.
The album opens with the title track, Victor on piano and Chris Stephenson on swirling Hammond and the horns beefing up the sound. Victor’s deep and gruff vocals evoke Dr. John as he sings of the boom town where a good night out seems guaranteed. After “raising hell on Saturday night” Victor recommends going to church in “Saturday Night Sunday Morning”, a terrific piece of rock and roll with Victor weighing in with some great boogie piano and the horns offering fine support. Victor then seems to be in some bother with his lady in “Stop Bossin’ Me Baby” as he shares vocal verses with guitarist Nick and then sings some scat along with Nick’s guitar. “If It Ain’t Got Soul” follows and is credited as ‘Part 1’ though no second part appears here – one for a future album? It’s a standout track too as the band conjures up memories of Little Feat in their prime, Victor supplying some tough vocals and twinkling piano, the harp and horns feature and it’s a whole band piece which concludes that “if it ain’t got soul, it don’t roll”. In complete contrast “When The Day Is Done” goes back to the oldest traditions of gospel with a very simple accompaniment of Juan’s percussion, harp, acoustic guitar and bass, Beth McKee’s backing vocals adding a real gospel feel.
A song that might have been perfect for Victor’s other band Southern Hospitality is the very enjoyable “Genuine Southern Hospitality” which rolls in with Ernie Lancaster’s slide, horns and Victor’s great piano. However, as this is one of Stephen’s solo compositions it may not be eligible for SOHO, which is their loss as it’s one of the best tracks here. “Two Lane Blacktop Revisited” is a boogie-woogie tune with Victor singing of his love of Memphis with drummer Billy setting a furious pace that Victor is more than capable of following throughout! “Wildroot Farm” takes things down as Victor shares the vocals with Patricia who has a very pleasant voice which contrasts well with Victor’s gruff tones, harpist Stephen providing a fine back-porch feel to celebrate this fictitious farm. Victor gives us a solo boogie-woogie in “Piana’s Savannah Boogie” which, combined with the earlier duet with his drummer certainly shows the man’s piano talents.
On “The Devil’s Bite” Victor sounds like Tom Waits and the song bears some similarities with Tom’s work as Victor sings of the dangers that lie in wait for the unwary. This is an acoustic tune with JP Soars on lead acoustic and Nick playing the basic rhythm, also on acoustic. The horns return to the fore on the last three cuts: “Reaper’s On The Prowl” finds Victor again in Dr John mode (suiting the rather ominous lyrics) and playing a fine swirling organ solo, the horns adding their support discretely in the background; “Back On Top” is more of a conventional blues with Robert ‘Top’ Thomas being name-checked at the start and the horns taking a larger role on a pleasantly swinging number; the closing instrumental “Wildroot Rumble” has a latin feel and provides an opportunity for everyone to feature – Nick’s rumbling rhythm part is backed by the horns and there are solos for Stephen’s harp, Victor’s piano and, in particular, Nick’s guitar, really the only time he gets to cut loose on the album. Even the rhythm section gets to feature towards the end!
This album is sure to cement Victor’s position in the piano section of the blues world and there are several good tracks though this reviewer would have liked to hear more of the fine horn players who are mainly used in a supporting role. However, all credit to Victor and, in particular, Stephen Dees for having the courage to issue an entirely original set.