Hot off her Blues Caravan 2015 “Girls With Guitars” tour, Heather Crosse launches her solo debut with soulful and R&B stuff that is more to her liking. Heavy Suga’ & The SweeTones has been Heather Crosse’s band since 2007 when they began in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 2007. She moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 2008 and added drummer Lee Williamson drums and Mark Yacovone on keys to the band. Her guitar player Jerry Jines passed away and harp and trumpet player Greg Batterton became too ill to play and tour, so she added a new guitar player; here she has Dan Smith as her newest one and he does a great job. Crosse has been a soul and R&B fan since she was a kid and this album is heavy into that. Recorded and engineered by Jim Gaines, the album has a solid sound to it.
Heather begins the CD with “My Man Called Me,” a swinging and updated version of this classic. Her band supports her well as she belts out a great tune as the guitar picks out a gritty accompaniment. A biographical “Why Does a Woman Need a Bass Guitar” follows; Crosse tells us of her “love affair” with her instrument in this R&B cut. The 1975 R&B standard “Rockin’ Chair” is next and Heather does a good job with it. She sings with feeling as she scales the production back and eliminates the moaning backing vocals from the original. The original “Clarksdale Shuffle” has some lyrics that seem a little forced at times as Crosse sings a travelogue about Clarksdale. Nice guitar and piano work prop it up and the call and response are fun. “Hurrying Up to Relax” follows, showing Heather’s soul and R&B side again. A nice, original ballad that could easily have been a 1970’s R&B hit. Another well done and restrained guitar solo here, too. Another original follows, “Walking in Their Shoes.” Slide guitar greases things up well as does the piano while Heather sings the blues for us.
More blues are next with “Damn Your Eyes,” an Etta James song, and Heather does a good job with it. “Steppin’ Up Strong” has a little country lilt to it as Heather sings this original R&B tune. Dan Smith’s guitar is once again solid and Mark Yacovone’s organ work is also strong. “Bad Boy Kiss” is a Lisa Lambert cut, the blonde bluegrass and country performer. Crosse jazzes things up with a little bluesy soul added to this Mississippi country tune. “Call on Me” was written by for Heather by Scott Arivett and she does another good job. The tune has more of a country feel to it as the guitar and organ take us to church. The closer is “You Don’t Move Me No More” where Heather growls and shows a fiercer side. She closes as she opened; Big Mama Thornton is in Heather’s wheelhouse as she sings with grit and emotion. One final big guitar and piano solo each sweeten the pot, too.
This is a good album and I enjoyed it more than the “Girls with Guitars” effort where Crosse seemed somewhat uncomfortable trying to be a rocker (I’m not a fan of the “Girls With Guitars” stuff in general, but IMHO the latest version was forced and not up to par with the earlier one). The album is listed as a solo effort but the band is a rekindling of her old band, Heavy Suga’ & The SweeTones. Greg Batterton and Jerry Jines are no longer with her but she pays tribute to them in the liner notes. This band that she has backing her is outstanding. If I have one criticism it would be that the original songs seem a little metered and repetitious in their presentation; they all have the same sort of forced beat to the lyrics. That aside, this is a well done album that showcases this 31 year old singer and bass player well. She’s got a voice and can deliver the goods. It is well worth a listen.