VizzTone Label Group
12 tracks / 48:45
It is appropriate that D.A. Foster titled his new album The Real Thing, because if anybody is the real thing, he is. He was the heart of The Shaboo Inn of Connecticut from 1971 to 1982, and during that time the 1000-seat venue hosted almost 3000 concerts, featuring young and upcoming acts that included the likes of Aerosmith, AC/DC, Journey, Cheap Trick, and the Police. It was like a 1980s rocker’s dream come true! But a lot of great blues acts made their appearance there too, such as John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, T-Bone Walker, Buddy Guy, and a probably a few hundred more. After the club closed its doors (thanks to the scourge of the disco era), a few months later it was destroyed in a fire.
But the story does not end there, as D.A. had a lot left in his tank. He started a production company and ran his own band with luminaries such as Matt “Guitar” Murphy” and Harvey Brooks. Foster brought his fine blues vocals to the table with this project to continue on with a performance career that has been brewing since 1979. Over the past 35 years, everybody under the sun has joined him onstage, including Keith Richards, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. You would be hard-pressed to find a better pedigree than his.
Moving forward to 2015, D.A. has cut a fine disc, The Real Thing, which has its own roster of strong personnel; all of them are first-call musicians. Besides D.A.’s vocals, there is the Grammy-winning Phantom Blues Band to contend with, including Mike Finnigan (Big Brother and the Holding Company) on the keys, Tony Braunagel (Robert Cray, and many more) behind the drum kit, Larry Fulcher on bass and Bonnie Raitt’s Johnny Lee Schell on guitar. Other Phantom alumni to be found here are Darrell Leonard (trumpet), Joe Sublett (sax), and Lenny Castro (percussion). Braunagle and Finnigan produced this effort, and it is a polished piece of work, to be sure!
The twelve tracks span classic rhythm and blues and jazz ground as well as a few lesser-known covers, starting off with Dave Steen’s “Good Man Bad Thing.” This is a straight-up funky R&B tune which is a nice intro to Foster’s soulful voice, backed by some excellent B-3 work from Finnigan, sweet backing vocals from Julie Delgado and Nita Whitaker, and horns aplenty.
Not surprisingly, there are a few tunes by Don Robey, who was one of the most prolific R&B writers of the 1950s and 1960s. “Ain’t Doing Too Bad” puts the horns in the spotlight, and Schell brings a little more funk to the party with his syncopated rhythm guitar work, as well a rocking solo. The other Robey contribution is “This Time I’m Gone for Good” which shows off more of Foster’s impressive vocal range.
For pure fun, Eddie Hinton’s “Super Lover” takes first prize. It brings a little bit of everything to the table: fun lyrics, offbeat percussion (courtesy of Castro), machine-gun horn arrangements, and seductive backing vocals. This one should definitely go into your next party mix!
A different line-up was used for three of the songs, with uber-versatile Grammy-winner Josh Sklair on guitar and the hard-working veteran David Garfield on piano. With Josh’s leads and David’s subtle chording, “We All Fall Down” ends up with more of a jazz-rock feel. Bill Withers’ 1985 ballad, “You Just Can’t Smile it Away,” puts Garfield more forward in the mix, and gives guest artist Lee Thornberg a chance to shine on a beautifully muted trumpet (or is that flugelhorn?) solo. And the band’s remake of the oft-covered “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You” provides room for FInnigan to take over a bit on his Hammond, lending it a gospel/roadhouse feel.
The album closes out all too soon with George Henry Jackson’s “Down Home Blues,” which is the grittiest and most traditional blues track to be found on this disc. For this one, D.A. pushes his voice into the raspy range, which is a lovely contrast with the backing vocals of Delgado and Whitaker. The backline of Braunagel and Fulcher hold tight in the pocket as this awesome songs ends things on a killer note.
If you were a fan of the good old days at The Shaboo Inn or if you just like solid rhythm and blues, D.A. Foster’s The Real Thing would certainly be a wise investment. Check it out and see for yourself!