16 songs – 60 minutes
Blue Lunch Special is a compilation album celebrating Blue Lunch’s 30th anniversary. It collects 16 songs from six previous Blue Lunch albums, spanning 15 years from 1999’s Eyes Wide Open to 2012’s Saxophone Shootout II . And it is a credit to the high level of consistency attained by the Cleveland-based band that, if you didn’t know it was a compilation, you might think all the songs had been recorded at the same time.
Displaying a wide variety of influences, from 1940s jump blues and 1950s New Orleans R’n’B, to doo-wop harmonies, straight-ahead jazz and classic Chicago blues, Blue Lunch Special is a highly enjoyable album that manages to honor its forebears without ever sounded dated. The songs are well-produced and played with a tremendous vibrancy and energy. Even the live tracks like “Cuttin’ Out” have a clarity that shames many studio recordings.
Blue Lunch is an eight piece band, featuring Pete London on harmonica and vocals, Bob Frank on guitar and vocals, Ramond DeForest on bass and vocals, Scott Flowers on drums, Mike Sands on piano, Mick Rubin on trumpet, Bob Michael on trombone and Chris Bruge on tenor sax. A number of other musicians also make appearances on Blue Lunch Special, which is not surprising, given that the time period over which the songs were collected. The quality of the players throughout is consistently impressive, however, offering subtle support when others are in the spotlight, or demonstrating a finely-honed melodic sense when taking solos. Chris Bruge and Bob Frank in particular turn in some superb sax and guitar solos respectively.
Nine of the songs were written by the band (primarily by Frank, but also by Pete London) and seven are well-chosen covers. The covers range from Jackie Brenston’s early rock ‘n’ roll classic “Leo The Louse” to Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor Madness” (which features Chris Bruge giving it some with two former Blue Lunch tenor players, Keith McKelley and Tony Koussa). The 5 Royales are clearly a strong influence on Blue Lunch, and this is nicely acknowledged in the cover of “Monkey Hips & Rice”. The band also turns in a tightly-nuanced version of Robert Lockwood Jr’s “Little Boy Blue” (sans horns).
The majority of the songs on the album are up-beat, foot-tapping pieces that suggest that Blue Lunch must be a superb proposition live. When they slow the pace, however, for example on Percy Mayfield’s “The Lonely One”, they carry it off with aplomb, with melancholy horns delicately accentuating the sadness of the lyrics. Blue Lunch Special also features a number of instrumentals, such as “Sideswiped” or the harmonica showpiece “The Fidget”, which give all the musicians the chance to stretch out.
If you like the horn-driven, jump-blues of Roomful of Blues and you haven’t come across Blue Lunch before, this is a great starting place. There is a lot going on in this very enjoyable release. Check it out.