Big Mike Aguirre & The Blu City All Stars – Mississippi Stew
St. Louis bluesman Big Mike Aguirre’s debut album recorded in the studio earlier this year comes with a lot of time to practice the new songs. In March of 2020, Aguirre put together a string of shows on the Caribbean island of Anguilla. Mike’s love of the Caribbean drew him to do a short tour there as he’d done for the six years prior. Unfortunately, the pandemic restrictions not only closed down the airport but also ferry service and Mike and his band quarantined on the island with it’s 15,000 residents for nine full months. I could think of far worse places to be stuck than a tropical paradise. They “toughed” it out and came back to the states with a bunch of material which evolved into this new studio album for this 41 year old bluesman, his first in his 20 year career.
Aguirre handles the electric guitar and lead vocals. The Blu-City All-Stars are Andy Coco on bass guitar and vocals, Nathan Hershey on organ, clavinet, Rhodes, keys and vocals and Kevin Bowers on drums and percussion. This quartet is a tight and very hot ensemble of musicians and their three-part harmonies are exceptional. They all hail from St. Louis and it’s deep blues music tradition. Aguirre also adds a three piece horn section to great effect; they are Charlie Cerpa (Tenor), Matt McKeever (Alto) and Derick Tramel (Baritone).
Opening the album is the slick instrumental “Hot Plate.” The organ intro is cool and Aguirre’s guitar work is excellent, a rousing opener. The classic “Stagger Lee” follows, a ramping and fun musical ride with great guitar, keys and vocals. “Be Thankful For What You Got Going” has a funky groove uses the keyboards and organ to provide a big sound and the horn section are superbly intertwined. Aguirre sings with passion and reminds me a little of Boz Skaggs here in this William DeVaughn cut. Up next is “Deal With The Devil” which begins with a big sounding instrumental mash up and then shifts gears to a fast driving beat with gravelly vocals and guitar, horns and organ blazing. “My Dog” is next, a cut where Mike gives us a little funk as he talks about his relationship with dog and how his dog looks him in the eye. There is even some cool trombone thrown in for fun here. “Didn’t I” turns down the heat a bit with a slow, cool, funky ballad done is a slick falsetto, similar to the original by Darondo from the 1970’s but with Big Mike’s stamp on it. Subdued guitar and organ provide the main accompaniment.
“It Won’t Be Long” is a take you to church sort of song with Aguirre testifying with a big organ and horn sound supporting his vocals and guitar. Up next is another swinging tune entitled “Two Out Of Three.” Horns, guitar, piano and hand claps help drive the tune along vibrantly. “Free Yourself” features a big guitar and organ presence along with nice horn work and more great vocals in a rousing song with a heavy beat. “Get Away” continues the high energy pace with another jumping style. Aguirre grinds out the vocals, the band plays with controlled frenzy and the overall sound is delightfully hot and energized. A ringing guitar solo compliments the piece nicely. The album concludes with the title track. The pace is slower and the feel is jazzier as the guitar and piano offer the listener a change of pace from the last few tracks; a pretty and cool instrumental that takes the listener home sweetly.
I was impressed with Aguirre and his band makes. These younger St. Louis musicians are the real deal- they do a wonderful job delivering contemporary blues that grab the listener and won’t let go. Eight originals and three nice covers makes for a special album that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend!