10 songs – 57 minutes
Silver Street Records
The winters are long, cold and brutal in the Midwest, but Josh Hoyer And The Shadowboxers are doing their best to heat things up for anyone with courage enough to venture out and catch their red-hot blend of blues, soul and jazz.
Hoyer was a nominee for Best New Artist at last year’s Blues Blast Awards. He and his tight ensemble emerged from the Plains two years ago at the Las Vegas Blues and Rhythm Revival festival at the Riviera Hotel and Casino, and they’ve been burning a path wherever they’ve gone since, performing original music that’s hints of sounds of the past while delivering a message of social consciousness.
A Nebraska native who works out of a home base in Lincoln, Hoyer’s musical journey includes several years on the road in the Pacific Northwest, a long stint in New Orleans, where he developed his chops, and a return home, where he spent years working with the homeless and acquired a different outlook on the world, complete with all of its joys and blemishes. His musical influences range from John Coltrane and Miles Davis to Ray Charles, James Brown and Otis Redding. A family man, he took a leap of faith not long ago and started hitting the road fulltime.
In their full alignment, the Shadowboxers are a throwback to the past: a full band complete with horn section and backup singers. A strong tenor vocally, Hoyer doubles on keyboards and saxophone as he fronts the group for their second release, a follow-up to last year’s self-titled debut album. Josh wrote and produced all the material you’ll hear here. Benny Kushner, who’s toured with The Millions and the Mescal Brothers, handles guitar, backed by a rhythm section of veteran road warrior Justin G. Jones on drums and 19-year-old phenom Joshua Barger on bass. Sax player Mike Dee and trombonist Tommy Van Den Berg round out the sound, aided by vocalists Hanna Bendler, Kim Moser and Megan Spain. Brian Morrow sits in on flute for this session.
The soulful “Living By The Minute,” a jazz-tinged statement about living from check to check, kicks off the disc with a complaint that most working folks can relate to: Not having enough time for the woman who holds down the top spot in your heart and thoughts. The horn- and organ-driven “Misfit Children” is a hard-hitting funk with jazz overtones about folks turning a blind eye to suffering. Hoyer’s vow is to keep working forward as he urges society to compromise despite their differences and make the right choices. The theme about social inequity continues for the minor-key “Over The City.” The city looks peaceful from a distance, but teams with problems on closer inspection.
“I write about what I think about and see in the world,” Josh says. “Not all of that is happy…but the groove is!”
That’s true about the next tune — “A Man Who Believes His Own Lies” – too, as Hoyer and his backup singers trade riffs as he vows to love his woman longer and stronger after hurting her in some unspoken way. It’s an upbeat pleaser that swings from the jump and remains full of hope despite the theme. The pace heats up for “Let It Out,” a rapid-fire lesson to take a lesson from the rock-‘in’-roll generation and release your frustrations, and then slows down dramatically again for “The First One,” a straight-ahead love song that’s a cross between Macon and Memphis soul. Hoyer’s relaxed delivery powers the number and allows him the opportunity to show his vocal prowess full-force, aided by a sensual sax solo.
The hard-driving “Real Time” is an observation about people losing grip on doing their best as they struggle and toil through the day. The horn section gets to step out mid-song. A staccato rhythm kicks off “11:11 333,” the message of which has spiritual significance. Living in 333 synthesizes mind, body and spirit with angels loving, surrounding and protecting you, while 11:11 signifies a conscious spiritual journey in which you’re aware of things in your life that others dismiss. “Blood And Bone,” a tune about living together, and “Don’t Turn Away,” a message to be responsible in the choices you make because they’ll affect your children.
It’s not old-school Memphis, Detroit or Chicago, but modern soul blues for modern times. Hoyer delivers on all counts: Fresh tunes, solid rhythms and a message worthy of being heard.