Dennis Brennan & The White Owls – Live At Electric Andyland | Album Review

Dennis Brennan & The White Owls – Live At Electric Andyland

VizzTone Label Group VT-DB-01

12 songs – 46 minutes

Vocalist/harp player Dennis Brennan has been a fixture on the Boston music scene as a roots rocker for decades, but has always been deeply influenced by the blues – as this release with his regular band, The White Owls clearly demonstrates.

A native of Berlin, Mass., his professional career began with The Paranoids, a high school band that severed as opening act for The Remains and The Barbarians, two of the top bands of the garage rock era, and he toured the Eastern Seaboard for years as lead singer with Push Push, The Martells and others before launching his own self-named group in 1992.

A songwriter of note, his tunes have appeared in such films as Sylvester Stallone’s Copland, Lisa Kudrow’s Clockwatchers and Stockard Channing’s The Matthew Shepherd Story. His recording history began with Push Push on Tone Cool in 1989 before releasing two CDs under his own name on Rounder Records’ Upstart imprint in the mid-‘90s, earning four NEMO Awards nominations and top honors for Outstanding Roots Rock Band.

This release is Brennan’s fifth solo effort and first since his Engagement CD on the Hi-N-Dry label in 2006. Recorded and produced by Andrew Plaisted at his Electric Andyland studio, it’s an all-blues effort that features Dennis’ powerful, and acrobatic tenor throughout atop a mix that gives him plenty of space to shine. A collection of three originals and nine covers, the band includes Tim Gearan and Stephen Sadler on guitars, David Westner on organ, Jim Haggarty on bass and Plaisted on percussion.

Brennan shines vocally on a slow version of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Cuttin’ In” aided by stellar six-string accompaniment before launching into an uptempo version of Detroit bluesman Bobo Jenkins’ “Nothin’ But Love.” It’s a straight-ahead, medium-fast shuffle that gives Dennis space to put his rich, traditional harp chops on display.

Next up, Brennan dips into the catalog of Big Al Downing, one of few African-Americans who made a name for himself in rockabilly, for the rapid-fire “Yes I’m Loving You.” “End Of The Blues,” a slow-dance pleaser penned by Gearan, comes across with a traditional feel as it assures a loved one that the singer will be there waiting to help celebrate the good times ahead.

Dennis puts his own stamp on Jimmy Reed’s “Good Lover,” eschewing Reed’s familiar high-end harp for a steady-swinging delivery and licks of his own, before he takes on “The (New) Call Of The Freaks,” a song first recorded by Luis Russell and his orchestra in 1929. You’ll recognize it from it’s familiar lyrics: “Stick out your can/Here comes the garbage man.” It starts with a stiff, military drumbeat, but quickly starts to swing.

It flows into the Brennan-Plaisted-Haggarty original, “Tangle,” in which the singer takes full blame for having a hard head and being the cause of his own troubles, before the Sadler penned “Three Kind Of Blues,” an old-school ballad that finds Dennis in search of “lovesick blues, heartsick blues and one of my very own.

A quartet of covers — Willie Dixon’s “I Live The Life I Love,” Mose Allison’s “Foolkiller,” Leadbelly’s “I’m On My Last Go Round” and The Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations” – bring the disc to a conclusion.

Live At Electric Andyland is comfortable and relaxed, delivering the feel you’ll probably get if you catch this group in person – as the title suggests. The originals are rock solid, and the covers are far more than note-for-note re-dos. Available through most major retailers and fun throughout.

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