10 songs – 41 minutes
Nashville, Tennessee, based Big Shoes describe themselves as a “progressive” blues band, combining traditional blues influences such as B.B King and Ray Charles with more modern influences, including The Allman Brothers’ Band, Bonnie Raitt and the Neville Brothers. The impressive results can be heard on their new album, Shoes’ Blues.
Big Shoes’ members have variously played and recorded with Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Delbert McClinton, Taj Mahal, Etta James, Bobby Blue Bland and many other blues oriented pop artists. And their combined experience is evident in the unruffled professionalism of the playing.
BB King’s “You Upset Me Baby” may not be the most left-field choice of opener, but the band gets away with it due to the élan with which they address the song, somehow managing that neat trick of sounding at the same time both traditional (in the horn parts and economical-yet-swinging rhythm section) and modern (in the tone of the lightly overdriven lead guitar and the Allmans-esque harmony guitar at the very end of the song). The Allman Brothers’ influence is also discernable in the harmony guitars and duelling solo guitars of “Long Burning Highway”, which has a verse structure not dissimilar to a Little Feat progression. Indeed, echoes of the great Feat can be detected in a number of songs, such as the humorously funky “There Ain’t No Honey” which also contains some glorious Lowell-esque slide guitar.
Big Shoes comprises Rick Huckaby on vocals and guitars, Will McFarlane and Kenne Cramer on guitars, Tom Szell on bass, Andy Peake on drums and vocals and Mark T. Jordan on keyboards. A number of guest also feature, including superb Vickie Carrico on backing vocals (and lead vocals on “There Ain’t No Honey”), Jack Pearson on guitar on “Lonely Avenue”, John Cowan on vocals on “Wrapped Up In Love” and a very impressive horn section dubbed the “Shoe Horns” (Kenny Anderson and Steve Herrman), whose contribution to tracks like “Wrapped Up In Love Again” is outstanding.
Shoes’ Blues features a nice mixture of covers and originals, with Szell, Jordan, Huckaby, Cramer and McFarlane all writing or co-writing songs seven of the songs on offer. The variety of different approaches the various writers take helps to contribute to the overall texture and character of the album.
The three covers are “You Upset Me Baby”, “Wrapped Up In Love Again” and an interestingly rushed version of Doc Pomus’s “Lonely Avenue”, which features a glorious saxophone solo from Michael Gutierrez.
Given the presence of three guitar players in the band, it is impossible from the recording alone to identify which player takes which solos. It is possible however to say that there are a number of top drawer solos, including the beautiful B.B. King flavoured lead on “Hey Baby” (which also features another cracking sax solo from Gutierrez).
It could be argued that Big Shoes aren’t offering anything new with Shoes’ Blues. It is straight-forward modern electric blues. The counter-argument of course is that not enough bands today are producing albums of well-written, well-played and well-produced blues. Shoes’ Blues is such an album.