Blue Largo – Before The Devil Steals Your Soul | Album Review

Blue Largo – Before The Devil Steals Your Soul

Coffeegrinds Records – 2018

15 tracks; 70 minutes

Guitarist Eric Lieberman and vocalist Alicia Aragon formed Blue Largo in 1999 and the story of how Eric returned to playing after battling valiantly against a crippling condition is told in Rex Bartholomew’s Blues Blast review of their 2016 album Sing Your Own Song.

Now back with their fourth album, Eric and Alicia are again joined by co-producer Nathan James who adds a variety of guitars, percussion and backing vocals to the California recordings. Much of the band remains from the previous CD with Marcus P Bashore on drums, Taryn ‘T-Bird’ Donath on piano, Dave Castel De Oro on sax and Missy Andersen on backing vocals; newcomers Mike ‘Sandalwood’ Jones (bass), Rafael Salmon (organ) and Eddie Croft (tenor and baritone saxes) join in and there are occasional contributions from Johnny Viau (tenor sax on two tracks), Steve Ebner (trumpet on two tracks), Marty Dodson (drums on one track), Mike Tempo (percussion on four tracks) and Nena Anderson (B/Vs on two tracks); a gospel choir of Diane McCalester, Jacqueline Haynes, Nathaniel Greene Jr and Andre Buck contributes to one cut. Eric wrote ten of the songs here (one in collaboration with Nathan) and there are five covers from diverse sources.

A gospel style chorus vocal opens and closes “Wash Away”, a fine uptempo song about “making a new start” before the horns feature strongly on “If I Can Make It To Augusta”, a song inspired by Eric’s bike rides in which he challenges himself to get up ‘just one more hill’. Alicia sings this one particularly well and the sax work is great with Johnny taking the tenor solo and Taryn playing some bar room piano. The accompanying sleeve notes give Eric’s informative commentary about the songs and “Monrovia”, a fictional narrative which sounds like a Tarantino film with a Mexican mariachi soundtrack, turns out to have been inspired by making a wrong turn during a search for a repair shop! “Same Race” discusses the disproportionate number of black victims of shootings and the seeming lack of accountability for those crimes while the title track again uses gospel rhythms and Eric’s lyrics pay tribute to four seminal guitarists and challenges us to identify them – a task that Blues Blast readers should find relatively easy.

Those first five songs are all originals and demonstrate the variety of styles that the band can play. The five covers range widely as Eric takes on two very well-known songs from different backgrounds in “What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted” and “Feeling Good”, the former a good stab at a Motown classic, the latter a fine version of the classic Bricusse/Newley song made famous by Nina Simone and covered by so many artists in recent years, from Lauryn Hill to Joe Bonamassa. The band covers a song by their backing singer Nena (Anderson) Cote which has a jazzy feel, especially in Taryn’s piano work and extends their jazz references with an instrumental version of Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” which appropriately features the two sax players. The final cover is “Bodas De Oro” by Cuban Electo Rosell, an instrumental beautifully played by Eric and Taryn who Eric believes must have been “an old Cuban guy in her previous life”!

The remaining five songs include Eric’s first instrumental composition “Grinder’s Groove”, which has a delightfully retro 50’s feel and a fun bonus track “Lose Your Money” with Eric and Nathan ‘messing around’ on acoustic guitars. Two more songs come from Eric’s very productive bike rides: “Every Time You Call My Name” is a great uptempo track with something of a rockabilly feel and “I’m Alive” celebrates the power of music while “The Long Goodbye” is a more solemn song, a moving tribute to the loss of a friend to Alzheimer’s.

With well-crafted original songs, carefully selected covers and great musicianship throughout this album has a lot to commend it and is just as good as the band’s previous release.

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