Big Joe & The Dynaflows – Rockhouse Party | Album Review

Big Joe & The Dynaflows – Rockhouse Party

Severn Records CD 0074

13 songs – 48 minutes

Big Joe Maher has been one of the top drummers and vocalists in the business since emerging from the Washington, D.C., area in the 1960s, and this album, which was produced by Nashville heavyweight Kevin McKendree, clearly demonstrates he hasn’t lost a step.

A Maryland native, Big Joe cut his teeth listening to Louis Jordan and other blues and R&B greats, influences who’ve remained his inspiration since forming his own trio after graduating from high school. He spent most of the 1980s managing and playing with The Uptown Rhythm Kings, a nine-piece swing band, before joining legendary guitarist Tom Principato’s ensemble.

He formed the Dynaflows as a five-piece unit late in the decade and spent most of the ‘90s serving as musical director of Mick Fleetwood’s eponymous nightclub in Alexandria, Va., when not touring with his own band. A three-time winner of the Washington Area Music Awards, the Dynaflows released their first album in 1990 and include successful releases on Ichiban, Black Top, Tramp and Severn, where they’ve returned after an eight-year absence.

Delivering an old-school mix of blues and R&B, the album takes its name from McKendree’s Rockhouse Studio in suburban Franklin, Tenn., and features Mookie Brill, the multiple Blues Music Award-winning bass player, holding down the bottom throughout and sharing vocals with Big Joe. McKendree contributes keyboards throughout. They’re joined by Robert Frahm and Kevin’s 17-year-old son, Yates, on guitars with a guest appearance by Erin Coburn who provides backing vocals on two cuts and contributes six-string on another.

The disc contains five originals – four by Maher and one by Yates – and eight covers and opens with unhurried, guitar-fueled take on Roosevelt Sykes’ “Driving Wheel,” once a major hit for Junior Parker. A percussive shuffle, it swings comfortably into Little Milton’s stop-time classic, “So Mean To Me,” with Brill taking command of the vocals. He remains in charge for another R&B stunner, O.V. Wright’s “8 Men 4 Women,” which follows.

Big Joe’s back in charge for Dave Bartholomew’s “Go On Fool” and “World Gone Wrong,” the first new tune in the set. It’s a tasty ballad that features McKendree on keys and deals with the realization that things simply aren’t the way they used to be. An understated political statement, it focuses on how folks are much angrier than they used to be.

Nappy Brown’s “If You Need Some Lovin’” is up next, followed by “Overdrive,” an uptempo instrumental rocker that gives the guitars space to shine. Fenton Robinson’s “Tennessee Woman” follows before a pair of originals: the stop-time “Go With The Flow,” about picking up a lady in a brand new Dynaflow, and the loping “I’m A Country Boy,” which sings about the perils of city life.

“Vibrate,” first performed in the ‘60s by rockabilly keyboard player Mack Self, gets new life before the jazzy “Sleepy Joe.” Penned by Yates McKendree, it’s a well-paced instrumental that features all three guitarists with the lead lines jumping between channels. The Percy Mayfield ballad “Two Years Of Torture” brings the disc to a close.

While Rockhouse Party doesn’t cut much new ground, it’s as comfortable as an old pair of slippers and perfect for any blues lover with old-school sensibilities. Available through most major online retailers.

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