Presidio Records – 2015
13 tracks; 53 minutes
Sid Whelan gave up playing for a decade and only picked up a guitar when asked to fill for his niece’s band. Reinvigorated and full of new songs, Sid set up the eponymous band Whelan and released “Flood Waters Rising” in 2013. Always intended to be the first disc of an Americana trilogy, things were put on hold as Sid’s next batch of songs veered more towards the sort of blues and soul which would suit the addition of a horn section. Sid is based in NYC and horns were added there to three tracks by Ron Horton but Sid also made good use of an old contact by recruiting the great trombonist Fred Wesley to arrange horns from his home base of North Carolina on most of the other tracks. As a consequence there are a lot of musicians on the disc: Whelan is Sid on guitar and lead vocals, Richard Huntley on drums, Mark Manczuk on all manner of percussion instruments, Marco Panaska on bass and Jerry Z on keys; Fred Wesley, Alan Ferber and Victor Wesley play trombone, Eleazer Shafer and Ron Horton play trumpet, Phillip Whack, Michael Blake and Michael Lee Breaux play sax and Randy Weinstein harmonica; backing vocals are by Sid, Capathia Jenkins, Robbi Hall Kumalo and Darryl Tookes who arranged the vocal sessions.
Only two tracks on the disc are without horns: “Every Time I See Her” pays tribute to Sid’s wife in a sparse arrangement with some nice finger-picking and “Too Cold Ohio Blues” is Sid’s reminiscences about his time in Ohio: “it rained for forty days, snowed for forty nights, so dark in the daytime people never turned off their lights”. This one is an acoustic shuffle with excellent harp that recalls Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Elsewhere the horns under Fred Wesley’s guidance provide some great accompaniment and offer a variety of styles for Sid to explore.
In the liner notes Sid states that during these sessions he was listening to some classic blues albums (BB King “Live At The Regal”, Albert King “Born Under A Bad Sign” and T-Bone Walker) and it shows! Opener “Nothin’ But The Blues” has a definite Albert King vibe with a sensational horn arrangement by Fred as Sid sings about the perils of depression in his solid baritone voice. The BB influence shows through clearly on a lovely slow blues “Long Lonely Night” with Sid playing some stinging leads over a subtle horn arrangement that suits the song perfectly. “Rainmaker” is a jazzy piece with a great sax solo and some cynical lyrics about corrupt business practices while “Steak For Two” swings from start to finish (undoubtedly the T-Bone influence), Sid sharing vocals with Robbie Hall Kumalo.
“Down The Line” has something of a rockabilly feel with twangy guitar and the horns sticking to reinforcing the main tune. Two songs are linked by reference to the album’s title character: Ike first appears in Sid’s tale of being conned in New Orleans, “That Lil’ Face”. In that song Ike is a disagreeable biker with a prison record but the reasons for that are further explored in the title track which points the finger at the abuse of power by the police in post-Katrina NO, all done to a basic Bo Diddley beat punctuated by stabbing horns.
“Ice Water” is Sid’s song about the crooked bankers who created the financial crisis: he imagines that they will all go to hell but will then crave ice water! Musically the song takes an old-school soul approach with a well-judged sax solo.
The three songs with NYC horn arrangements are “Blues Said: “Old Man…” in which the blues is “standing in the doorway with a smile on his face”, a slow, jazzy blues with superb trumpet work throughout; “Down To The River” is a complete contrast, a funky tune with soulful backing vocals and a pounding beat over which Sid recounts a conversation between a drinker and a womaniser; album closer “Lighten Up” is a reprise from Sid’s earlier Americana album and here is played in a New Orleans style with fine piano, subtle background vocals and a rasping sax solo, an ode to enjoying the moment and not getting too serious.
This is a thoroughly engaging album with lots of styles covered. All the material is original, excellently recorded and the horn charts are superb throughout. This is a disc that deserves to be heard and is recommended.