11 songs – 65 minutes
Little Michael Markowitz first exploded onto the international blues scene at the end of the 1980s, when he and his band, The Tornadoes, appeared on albums backing up the likes of Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin. They also released a series of albums of their own. So it comes as something of a shock to discover that the new album from Little Mike & The Tornadoes is their first since 2003’s How Long?
It isn’t entirely clear when this album was recorded. The (limited) liner notes claim a 2011 copyright, and the band’s website states it was released in 2001 (although I assume is a typo). Equally, however, there is a timeless quality to the music that means it could have been recorded at pretty much any time after the mid-1950s. It is not an album of surprises or novel musical interludes. Rather, it is the sort of good time party music one would hope to find blasting out of a local bar on a cold Friday night.
Opening with “Opelousas Rain”, an upbeat Elmore James-influenced instrumental, the band quickly hits its straps, with Troy Nahumko’s melodic guitar sparring with Sonny Rhodes’ always on-the-money lap steel. It is clear from the first couple of songs that this is an album of straight-ahead electric blues, heavily influenced by the classic Chicago sound.
The band is tight. Apart from Little Mike on vocals and harp and Nahumko on guitar, it also features Cam Robb on drums and Chris Brzezicki on bass. Jim McKaba guests on piano and Warren King also adds some lovely lyrical guitar to “Nuthin I Wouldn’t Do”. A number of songs also have uncredited horns. And Ace Moreland lends an excellent second voice to “Tell Me Baby”, which also features another spicy Rhodes slide solo.
Little Mike’s harmonica, as always, conveys the imprimatur of authenticity, whether backing up the playing of other or laying down some tasty solos, in particular on “Forgive Me Baby”. The bandleader also however provides Nahumko and the guest musicians plenty of room to stretch out themselves. Nahumko in particular plays some fine extended solos, not least on “Walked All The Way”, which also features some excellent piano from McKaba.
All 11 songs are written by the band: nine by Little Mike himself, together with two instrumentals by Nahumko. The album is well-produced by Markowitz, who captures a very natural “live” sound.
Little Mike & The Tornadoes proudly describe themselves as a “working class band” that plays blues with a rock ‘n roll edge, and that is a pretty apt description of this enjoyable album. It will appeal to fans of classic 1950s Chicago blues as well as those who like bands with a slightly broader musical palette, such as The Nighthawks.
Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another ten years for the next one.