Delta Wires – Born In Oakland | Album Review

Delta Wires –¬†Born In Oakland

Mudslide Records MSCD 1706

10 songs – 42 minutes

The Delta Wires have been thrilling fans for more than 30 years with their own brand of horn- and harmonica-driven West Coast blues, and this album finds them at the top of their game as they deliver a collection of seven thoroughly modern originals and three covers.

A seven-piece ensemble, the band was formed by bandleader Ernie Pinata. An Oakland, Calif., native and student at California College Of Arts And Crafts at the time, where he earned a master of fine arts degree, he’d been playing harp in jams around the Bay Area since age 16.

At the time, the local music scene was nothing like it is today. It was dominated by artists that included L.C. “Good Rockin'” Robinson and Hi-Fi Harris, who delivered traditional blues. It was enhanced by propulsive horn bands — led by Tower Of Power and local favorites Syndicate Of Soul — as well as the recent arrivals of two established legends, John Lee Hooker and Charlie Musselwhite.

Pinata decided to deliver a college paper that traced the history of music from the Mississippi Delta to the South Side of Chicago. He gathered a group of musicians for a performance that would bring his words to life. In so doing, the Delta Wires — a name that ties together blues roots and the modern, electric sound — was born.

Known for their tight, energetic arrangements and versatile sound, the unit are 2008 International Blues Challenge finalists and might remind some folks of their Bay Area predecessors or hint of ’60s powerhouse Blood, Sweat & Tears, but they’re decidedly original.

Led by Pinata on harp and vocals, the lineup includes childhood friend Tom Gerrits on bass and backing vocals, percussionist Tony Huszar, a bandmate for 17 years, and Richard Healy, who joined full-time on guitar three years later. The horn section features Gerry Jonutz, a founding member of the band Cold Blood, on saxes, David Bowman, a former member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, on trombone and John Christensen, a music educator who’s recorded with Kenny G., on trumpet.

The horn section kicks off the original “Sunny Day,” which settles down quickly as Pinata sings praise to the easy-living lifestyle of summer in which you can hang out free of worry in your backyard all day. His tenor vocals are silky smooth. A cover of Billy “The Kid” Emerson’s “Fine And Healthy Thing” is up next with a smooth arrangement that would put a smile on the originator’s face. It’s amplified by a tasty, but brief, mid-tune harp solo as the horns swing throughout.

A rapid-fire guitar run kicks off “Vacation,” an uptempo complaint about having to deal with rush-hour traffic that adds to the drain of working a day job and realizing that the city is so expensive, it’s impossible to live within one’s means. The action tames for the jazzy “Your Eyes,” with Gerrits featured as Pinata delivers a love song that deals with feelings of separation after being away from the lady for just a few days. The tune gives Christensen and Bowman space to stretch out.

“Days Of The Week” — a steady-tempo walking blues — and “Devil’s In My Headset” keep the message going forward. Another original, “Fun Time,” follows before a pair of covers: “I Don’t Care” and “In The Middle,” the latter an instrumental written by horn master Pee Wee Ellis. Another syncopated original, “All I Have To Give,” revisits the love theme described above and brings the CD to a close.

Funded through a Kickstarter program and available from CDBaby, iTunes and Amazon, Born In Oakland is welcome addition to your collection if, like me, you love the big sound of a horn band that possesses major skills.

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