Jonny T-Bird & the MPs – Hot Stuff
11 songs/53 minutes
The Blues is a music best appreciated live and in person. The nature of our beloved genre is finding solace and support in community; sharing hard truths about the world so we don’t feel alone. That’s why unlike in other genres, all live Blues albums are good to great. It’s like pizza or sex, even when it’s not mind-blowing its still pretty good. This axiom only applies to Blues albums; that endless 35 minute jam band track popping up in your shuffle! Lucky for fans of Milwaukee natives Jonny T-Bird & the MPs, Hot Stuff is a good live record that shows off this strong swinging Blues band in front of a warm receptive crowd.
Recorded live at Red Dot in Wauwatosa, WI, Hot Stuff highlights Jonny T’s classy guitar chops. In the vein of 80’s renaissance slingers like Ronnie Earl or Duke Robillard, T-Bird plays swinging old-school Chicago style through a clean Stratocaster sound. Also adept at slide, using a freaky USA map guitar, Jonny T-Bird delivers the real deal uncut six string magic. It is right that this record be credited to the MPs because like all good traditional Blues, the band is essential. “Cadillac” Craig Carter on bass and Marcus “MG” Gibbons on drums infuse these Blues with funk, drum triggered digital beats and slapped booty shakin’ low end. This solid rhythm section helps to add variety and inventiveness into the swing, which lesser musicians often make boring and hackneyed. The secret weapon is Danny Moore on keys. An unassuming player, Moore colors the edges of the music with flourish and foundation.
When Jonny T-Bird and the MPs are in it, they scorch. “Me & My Baby,” sung by Cadillac Craig, highlights the bassist’s super funk. Slapping like Johnny B. Gayden over live drums and triggered digital beats, Craig delivers this feel good testimony to love and companionship with a throaty drawl. T-Bird stabs at the rhythm unencumbered by his lead vocal role and unleashes a torrent of note flurries. Guest key tickler Jimmy Voegeli sprinkles a clavinet sounding solo onto the mix creating the high point of this album.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ first two records are the high water mark for the type of swinger cool Blues that Jonny T-Bird and company are trying to lay down so it is no surprise that they cover the T-Bird’s cover of “Why Get Up?” (hmm, Jonny T-Bird – Fabulous T-Birds). With a great call and response vocal performance and reverential arrangement, “Get Up” is one of Jonny T’s strongest vocal outings. The hypnotic syncopated, faintly New Orleans-y, groove pops along and again shows how this band can get down when the material they are performing is right for them.
As good as Jonny T-Bird is when he is in full guitar flight, his vocal skills cannot carry all of the material on this record. A song like “Someday Baby,” a variant on the classic “Sittin’ On Top of the World” form, falls literally flat with T-Bird’s spoken word vocals. Exceptional slide work and the ever locked in band keep this song moving and probably made it fun to watch live but as a strictly auditory experience it is not in the same league as the above mentioned performances. Jonny writes 5 of the 11 tracks on this record and the writing is inconsistent. Swingers like “Stupid Cupid” and “It Is What It Is” are great musical performances but the lyrics are clunky and don’t flow. “Greens & Dough” and “Laura” are better written but the music is to directly referenced to Howlin’ Wolf songs, “Killing Floor” and “Spoonful” respectively, to feel fresh or original.
Jonny T-Bird and the MPs are a hard swinging band of highly skilled technicians. They lock in, they play reverentially and with innovative flair within a very classic style. They must be a blast to see live and Hot Stuff is a good document. Like with all Blues live records their is heart, fire and a community of people gathering together to celebrate life and laugh at the hardships.