10 Tracks; 53 minutes
This CD was written, performed and recorded by a busy, working, blues band. Their website attests to their weekly Friday and Saturday night gigs at a casino in their hometown of Bangor, Maine. It can be tough for a local band that earns its reputation every week as a live act to make the transition to the recording studio.
Juke Rockets start out very well. They write their own songs. In fact every song on this release is original except “Summertime.” The songs are pretty good and a couple are standouts. Their musicianship, while not virtuoso, is capable and serves their music well.
The band has a good rhythm section, which is tasked with maintaining energy and intensity. This can be tough, especially on the slow songs but drummer Tim Woitowitz keeps the band driving forward on every track. With the contribution of bassist Steve Mellor, the rhythm section is particularly strong on the very engaging “We Threw Our Love Away”.
Lead singer, Carlene Thornton, is quite good, especially on the softer, moodier numbers – good phrasing, full resonance and very good expression. She also likes to belt, and she can really let go. But it is the tracks where she explores a more subtle dynamic range where her voice really shines.
The band gets props for writing their own songs. The opening track, “American Train” smokes along at a good clip and has a nice, fresh approach to laying down a driving train rhythm. “Hungry Soul” is the title track, and this is one of those softer songs where Carlene Thornton’s voice seems most at home, with nice harmonies from Woitowitz and bassist Steve Mellor.
“Mister 7”, the best track on the album, is a sultry, slow blues number where Ms. Thornton sings with depth and sensitivity. The guitar work on the track by Ron Casillo is strong too, with a rich tone and smooth solo.
They should have kept to original songs, or at least not have chosen to include a cultural icon. “Summertime”, written by George Gershwin, one of America’s greatest composers, for his masterpiece opera “Porgy And Bess”, has been covered by Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Janis Joplin, among many, many, many others. It is remarkably difficult to bring originality to it after so many great artists have sung it. You can also hear this cover just about anywhere there’s a woman blues singer, and it has been destroyed in Karaoke bars around the world.
The Juke Rockets try to deliver a fresh arrangement, but neither the arrangement nor the vocal performance are quite successful at delivering the emotional truth of this American classic. Perhaps, it is simply that the song is overdone and needs to be retired, or least to take a long hiatus, from set lists everywhere.
There are bands like the Juke Rockets in clubs, pubs, bars and tents in every corner of the USA and Canada. Some show great promise with innovative, original approaches to existing songs as well as their own compositions. Others are the amateurish weekend warriors, barely capable of playing their instruments, that too many bar owners are booking these days.
Juke Rockets are somewhere in the middle. This CD is uneven, but if they build their future recordings on the strong foundation of “Mister 7”, they will be on the right track. In the meantime, “Hungry Soul” is a solid journeyman effort from a working, journeyman blues band.