Ben Racine Band – Live à Montréal | Album Review

Ben Racine Band – Live à Montréal

Self-produced CD

15 songs – 64 minutes

One of the most respected groups from North of the Border, the Ben Racine Band returns home to Montreal to celebrate their tenth anniversary as they deliver this set of deep-in-the-pocket, horn-driven, soul-drenched blues.

Since releasing their first CD, One of a Kind, in 2013, the band has been in the forefront of the music scene despite issuing only one other disc, A Grand New Brew, in 2015 before this one. They’re remained firmly in the spotlight, however, as the backing unit for Dawn Tyler Watson — the queen of Canadian blues and reigning Blues Blast Music Awards female artist of the year – on her two most recent, award-winning albums.

They’re led by guitarist Ben Racine, a pleasant tenor who would have been a comfortable fit fronting an R&B band in the ‘50s. Their influences include Jr. Walker & the Allstars, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder and Clarence Carter, among others. And they captured top honors at the 2017 International Blues Challenge with Racine walking away with the Albert King Award as the event’s top fret master.

The lineup has evolved through the years, but the one constant has been Mathieu “Moose” Mousseau, the baritone sax player who was formerly a fixture in the Kevin Mark Blues Band. He’s joined by Kaven Jalbert on tenor sax and Charles Trudel on keys with Franҫois Dubé (bass) and Nicky Estor (drums) holding down the bottom.

Consisting of 11 Racine originals and four well-chosen covers and partially funded through a Kickstarter campaign, this more than hour-long CD was recorded and produced by Estor and Nicolas Boutay and captured at two venues – Maison de la Culture Montreal-Nord and Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill – in the City of Saints. All four of the covers and two of the originals are fresh entries in the band’s recorded catalog.

A driving, unhurried cover of Duke Robillard’s “Addiction” opens the action with a delivery reminiscent of Roomful of Blues, but the attack from the horns is somewhat darker and heavier in tone, while “Too Busy Being Pretty” swings from the jump as it describes a lady with nice moves, but someone who’s probably not right in the head. It features an extended sax/organ/six-string solo.

The action heads up slightly for the debut of “Contagious,” a Latin-flavored pleaser that advises a lady not to get too close on the dance floor, before a percussive horn line drives “Modus Operandi,” which gives Racine room for a tasty solo as he warns that he might not be the right person to ask for advice. A redo of Billy “The Kid” Emerson’s 1957 B-side hit for Vee Jay, “The Pleasure’s All Mine,” follows before the band slows down Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s familiar “Cuttin’ In” — which first appeared on King in 1961 – as an emotional slow blues ballad.

The band’s on overdrive for the original, “One of a Kind,” which describes someone who simply knocks folks dead with a smile, and “Southbound Girl” before yielding to the funky “No Smoke Without Fire,” penned by British soul-blues superstar James Hunter. Beginning with “Grand New Brew,” the musical delights come in waves during the six originals that bring the action to a close. The highlights include “Bootprint,” which is laid down atop an interesting, plodding beat, “Mighty Good Time,” a call-and-response that swings with a ‘50s feel, and “Move On,” an easy/greasy number that makes its recording debut.

Available from multiple online outlets, the Ben Racine Band delivers on all counts if your tastes run toward old-school, blues-infused soul. This one’s perfect for dancing the night away!

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