A collection of central Virginia’s finest blues musicians makes up Jon Spear’s Band and I must say they sound pretty darn good. Mixing blues with funk and swing, Spear (guitar) is joined by Dara James (harp and guitar), Andy Burdetsky (bass) and John Stubblefield (drums). Recorded live at the Southern Café and Music Hall in Charlottesville, Va. Last November 27th, these Central Virginia Blues Society members are a tight and well honed group.
Spear’s street credibility go back to opening for the Isley Brothers decades ago. He was a mentor to Hollywood fats and Debbie Davies. Drummer Stubblefield has been playing since the Beatles arrived here. Burdetsky grew up in DC with the Nighthawks and Danny Gatton as influences while in junior high. James is the young’un of the bunch, singing and playing guitar since age 14. The four of them offer up a cool live album of blues rock.
Beginning with “Devil’s Highway,” the band sets the bar high. Big guitar solos and some nice vocals by James get the crowd into it. The extended second guitar solo was a little too much long in my mind to open a set with, but that appears to be their modus operandi and the crowd ate it up. “Nothing to Nobody” takes things down a bit and features solos by James and then Spear doing this Robben Ford cut. Adrian Duke provides some nice organ work and Haywood Giles appears on sax. The guitar solos contrast nicely; James slings his way through stratospherically while Spear is more workman-like and gutsy in his tone. Both were good. Duke plays piano and Giles returns on sax for “Shake Your Boogie” with Spear fronting the band and James is on harp. The band swings and gets bluesy on this Hollywood Fats song as the harp and guitar set the pace before Giles comes in for a gritty solo. After another verse Duke gets his turn and gives us a dirty solo of his own before James comes in for his; he’s quite adept on the Mississippi saxophone. “Before the Bullets Fly” is a 1988 song written by Warren Haynes for an album of the same name by Greg Allman that was perhaps not as well received as his prior, but this was a great song and Haynes includes it in his show. Spear and then James take turns again soloing and do another great job. The bass line is really out front and quite big here, making for a driving, primal beat.
They go down to NOLA to cover the classic Neville Brothers instrumental tune “Cissy Strut.” The bass is big again here and we have Duke on organ and Giles on sax to add flavor. James does a huge solo up front and then Giles does an extended one, too. Spear follows with a very cool and funky tone and then it’s Duke’s turn. This is a little different approach than the Nevilles; rocking blues versus their sound makes for an interesting cover. The classic “Have You ever Loved a Woman” gets a fresh cover with some well done vocals (which answered by the guitar) by James. Thoughtfully done! “Old Soul” brings us back to original music by Spear with James in the soulful lead and Giles doing another big sax solo. Delbert McClinton’s “Blues About You Baby” is a rollicking ride with Spear growling the vocal line and offering the lead guitar and first stinging solo. James also solos nicely here, too.
The band goes a little honky tonk on “I Love My Skin,” with Duke in front on vocals and playing piano. He’s got a nice country blues approach to his singing. Giles gets another solo here and plays well against the piano. “Paid in Full” is one of those slow rocking anthem songs that begins low keyed and builds into a major guitar attack. James provides the lead guitar and vocals here. Not blues but it’s a big song. The Blue Devils cut “Beginner at the Blues” (a song Coco Montoya often plays) follows. James does a nice job with it. The CD concludes with Spear’s title track. Spear is out front and takes the first solo. He swings and testifies to the point that live music is better. Spear, Duke, Giles and James all take turns soloing and the band goes out together for their finale. It was fun.
This is a good album of live blues and rock. Jon Spear makes things interesting and he and Dara James seem to have a good time playing off each other. The mix is big on the low end for most of the CD, making the rock stuff rockier and driving. It’s a clean live recording with an energized band and crowd all enjoying themselves.
I’d heard Spear’s Old Soul album with many of the same cuts. That has a very clean studio sound to it. There is more feeling to the music here in the live album. It’s worth a spin. Check this album out!