Head Honchos – Blues Alliance
CD: 11 Songs, 43 Minutes
Styles: Hard Rock, Guitar Monster Blues
Question: Does including songs such as “Evil” by Willie Dixon and “I’m a Ram” by Al Green and Mabon Hodges morph a hard rock album into a blues album? In the case of Blues Alliance, the new CD from Valparaiso, Indiana’s Head Honchos, the answer is no. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a blistering, searing, scorching guitar spectacular that will leave your ears reeling for hours, even days if you’re wearing headphones or earbuds. The band’s vocals are also far above average, both lead and backup/harmony. The thing is, in trying to appeal to rock and traditional blues audiences, they lean too far in one direction and not enough in the other. The imbalance will irk blues purists, while rock devotees might wonder why a Willie Dixon cover was featured and not a White Stripes tune. Constant Listener, if you’re not picky about the distinction between the two genres, party on.
The Head Honchos’ credentials are certainly impeccable. Its front man, Rocco Calipari, Sr., is a veteran of the rock scene, a skilled guitar teacher, and the lead guitarist for Howard and the White Boys since 1995, recording with Buddy Guy on that band’s CD The Big Score. Additionally, he has played with Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Carl Weathersby, Son Seals, and many more famous artists. As one of Chicago’s great contemporary blues guitarists, Rocco has played in 40 states and 12 countries around the world. His son, Rocco Jr., first sat in with Howard and the White Boys when he was 15 years old. He attended the Guitar Institute in L.A. where he studied with Carl Verheyen (“Super Tramp”), jazz/blues great Scott Henderson, and the famed blues instructor/writer Keith Wyatt. His approach to the guitar, while grounded in rock and blues, is keenly aimed at a postmodern interpretation of American roots music. Bassist Mike Boyle wrote and composed the album’s eighth track, “Midnight Ride.” Will Wyatt rounds out the quartet on drums, percussion, harmonica, and backing vocals. Special guest star Mark Landes steps up on keyboards for “She Got That Thang.”
The opening number is a rip-roaring roller coaster ride with a puzzling name: “Stuck Between the Middle.” Are you an English teacher? Your head might explode reading that. The rest of you? Dig the Caliparis’ sizzling shredders instead of trying to parse it. This song should come with a volume alert and a lyrics translation. The only part I could figure out was “Stuck between the middle, no end in sight.” Sounds like all of 2020, doesn’t it? “Mr. Bad” and “Number One” are ambitious in terms of both fretwork and flair. Truth be told, that’s the case in all the songs, each trying to top the previous one. This album is like a bullet train consisting entirely of bullets, zinging one after the other in a relentless barrage. What’s the climax, the standout hit? “Midnight Ride,” perhaps. It has the most grit, the most potential to be featured in the soundtrack of the latest drag racing movie.
There are no slow songs, no ballads that invite you to grab a partner. No matter. Blues Alliance is a shot of guitar adrenaline that’ll wake you up in the morning – or the middle of the night!