11 songs – 53 minutes
The Cesar Crespo who leads The Pinball’s Blues Party is not the same person as the former second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles. Instead, he is a rather tasty modern electric blues guitar player hailing from Madrid, Spain. He formed The Pinball’s Blues Party in November 2012 and Guitar Player is their first album, recorded in February 2014.
Featuring five songs written by Crespo himself, one by guest guitarist Iker Piris, and an intelligent selection of minor classics by the likes of Big Walter, Duke Robillard, T-Bone Walker and Ronnie Earl, Guitar Player covers all the bases expected of a contemporary blues album, from Robillard’s jazzy jump blues of “”Jumpin’ Beans” and T-Bone’s mournful “Here In The Dark” to the bouncing instrumental of “La Siesta De La Tortuga”.
As one might expect from an album entitled Guitar Player and featuring a cover photograph of Crespo spanking his plank with abandon, this is an album with a heavy focus on the band-leader’s electric guitar skills. However, to Crespo’s credit, he does not let the guitar playing overwhelm the songs. His first rate band are given space to play, in particular the harmonica of Fernando Jimenez on songs such as “Sometimes”. Guitarist Roman Mateo, drummer Carlos Arsuaga and bassist Diego de la Torre lay down a solid rhythmic foundation over which Javier Diaz adds subtle piano and organ. Iker Piris guests on guitar and vocals on “Sometimes” and “La Siesta De La Tortuga.” Ricardo Avila, Emilio Arsuaga and Benito Diaz also contribute. Interestingly, given that Crespo’s influences appear to be primarily the up-town East and West Coast players, at times the band’s playing sounds more influenced by the classic British blues bands like Fleetwood Mac.
Guitar Player is something of a “traditional/modern” blues album, in that it takes advantage of today’s recording techniques, but the music itself could have been recorded 40 years ago. The band plays with genuine authenticity but they never over-play. Indeed, given that Crespo came to the blues from a background in garage rock and hardcore thrash metal bands, his own restraint and control are particularly impressive. He has a very pure, clean tone to his playing, which sounds very much like a Stratocaster plugged straight into a Fender amp a la Ronnie Earl or Anson Funderburgh.
The major weakness in the album is Crespo’s voice, which is somewhat thin and reedy. A weak voice of course is not in itself a bad thing. However, whether it is the fact that he is singing in his second language or whether it is simply a lack of experience, there is a lack of confidence and assertiveness in his vocals that undermines the emotional impact of the lyrics.
Notwithstanding this, Guitar Player is a very enjoyable first album from a band that features some top class blues musicians. There is obviously a lot of talent on board, but the suspicion remains that there is a lot more to come from The Pinball’s Blues Party.