Jake Curtis Blues Band – Tales From The South Side
Blue Lotus Recordings – 2019
9 tracks; 42 minutes
Born in Decatur, IL, Jake Curtis calls St Louis, Missouri home these days. His trio won the right to represent St Louis at the IBCs in 2020 and he runs the regular jam at the National Blues Museum downtown. This is his debut release, recorded for local record label Blue Lotus whose head Paul Niehaus IV adds Hammond organ here. Jake calls the Beano album (John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton) his starting point though you can hear the influence of a certain Jimi Hendrix in his playing too. However, the good news is that this is mainly a blues album, not a rock album with a hint of blues, and is all the better for it. Jake wrote five songs for the disc and adds four covers, two from the blues world, two from rock. The band is Jake on guitar and vocals, Dylan Roussel on bass, Juan Abair on drums and Paul Niehaus on keyboards.
“Let Me Whisper In Your Ear” opens the album, a short rocking shuffle in which Jake is clearly very taken with the girl, his lead guitar overdubbed on to his rhythm work. Slim Harpo’s “(I’m A) Kingbee” is given a solid treatment with slide and Jake’s clear vocals work well here. There is then a run of four originals, two fast, two slow: “I Need Love” brings Jake’s wah-wah pedal into action over a choppy rhythm while “Iodine And Antifreeze” has some fine slide playing over a boogie rhythm, a song that lyrically sits alongside Muddy’s “Iodine In My Coffee”, Jake adopting a more aggressive vocal tone that suits the lyrics. “What Am I Supposed To Do” is a classic slow blues with Paul’s Hammond adding to the lush arrangement. Jake plays and sings well as he is completely in thrall to the girl who continues to reject his advances, even her mother tells him he is “living in a dream; while you’re sitting talking to me, your baby is out running around with every man she sees”. “Leaving In The Morning” is a seven minute long blues that opens with gentle chords over the Hammond wash and builds into a wah-drenched solo that matches the angst of the lyrics.
Three diverse covers close out the album. Paul’s Hammond states the familiar riff of Jagger/Richards’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and Jake snarls the familiar lyrics over plenty of wah-wah. Bumble Bee Slim wrote “If The Blues Was Whiskey” (though Jake may have picked the song up from Luther Johnson’s 1994 cover); Jake’s version is played solo on resonator and is a good change of gear from the electric material. The album then closes with Dylan’s “(All Along The) Watchtower”, a song that, famously, Dylan never again played in its original acoustic form after hearing Hendrix’s electric version. The song has been covered so many times that it is hard to find a new angle; Jake’s elegant guitar at the beginning is very pleasing to the ear though his overuse of the wah-wah as the song develops did nothing for this reviewer.
Overall this is a promising debut disc, Jake showing that he has a range of styles at his disposal and the ability to produce original music alongside covers that no doubt appeal to a live audience.