10 tracks / 52:09
Anthony Charles was born in New York City where he received formal training as a musician and he has been playing out in some way or another since the 1960s. His musical path in life led to one of the more obscure expressions of the art form when he worked as a jingle singer for commercials, but the blues had a strong hold on this man. A few years back he decided to learn blues harmonica, and after two years of work in the studio we now have the first album from Anthony Charles and the Blues Dolphins, Blues on the Kino Border. It turns out he is a fine blues singer and songwriter, and is pretty good on the harp, too!
Now based out of Columbia, South Carolina, Anthony got a group of fine musicians together to cut eight original songs and a couple of cool covers for this album. The main personnel for this project include Rick Ramsey on bass, James Casey on drums, Shrimp City Slim on piano, and John Hartness on guitar. A few guest artists pitched in as well, including guitar work from Warren Scott, who passed away during production; this album is dedicated to his memory.
The songs on Blues from the Kino Border mostly follow traditional blues structures, but many of the lyrics come from situations and issues of today. The first song in the set, “Highwater Stomp,” is a shuffle about the effects of hurricanes Sandy and Isaac in 2012. You will hear that Charles has a strong tenor voice, and a nice touch on the guitar. The backline is stout as Ramsey’s bass parts really pops, and Casey is a human metronome on the drums. On this song, guest artists Brittany Turnipseed and Ashley Kent also provide sweet backing vocals as needed.
After the opener, the band picks the tempo up for another shuffle, “Bad Neighbor Blues.” On this track Shrimp City Slim provides a cool background of barroom piano and pulls off a rough and ready solo before Anthony takes the next break on his harp. This is a subject that most everybody can relate to, and the same can be said about the relationship woes that are described in “Kennel Cough Blues” and “Password Blues.” Charles uses vivid imagery and witty exaggeration to bring the lyrics home on these fun tunes.
But it is not all fun and games here, and things get real with “Kino Border Blues.” This song honors the Jesuit priest Peter McNeely who has worked for the humane treatment of migrants in the Nogales area. Anthony howls the lyrics with gusto, and there is a slick Latin feel to this song courtesy of Casey’s steady work on the toms, as well as healthy doses of violin and mandolin from James Graddick. There is also a glimpse at the fragility of our bodies and the need to take better care of ourselves in the slow-rolling “Heart Stoppin’ Blues.” But, most sobering of all is “Transubstantiation Blues,” which takes a hard look at the troubling institutionalized violence that plagues the United States.
There is also a pair of cover songs that the band included to honor musicians that have inspired them. Bessie Smith’s “Jailhouse Blues” is a harmonica-heavy tune that captures the spirit of the original, and the guitar parts of The Reverend Marv Ward and Warren Scott are spot on. There is also “Something in the Milk Ain’t Clean,” a song that was originally done by one of their favorite local artists, Drink Small. This tune closes out the album, and it is wonderfully performed with multiple guitar tracks and fabulous piano from Shrimp City Slim.
Blues from the Kino Border is a solid first effort from Anthony Charles and the Blues Dolphins. This record checks all of the boxes, with thoughtful lyrics, good songs, and strong musicianship. Give it a listen for yourself, and be sure to like their Facebook page so you can keep up on their gig schedule. If you find yourself in South Carolina it would be worth your time to check out one of their shows!