Blue Kitty Music
11 songs – 42 minutes
Veteran vocalist Liz Mandeville used the marquee of one of the few motor inns remaining on the city’s North Side for her previous album, Heart ‘O’ Chicago, but the theme’s gotten far more personal for The Stars Motel, which involves her collaboration with four other guitarist/songwriters.
The residence in the crosshairs this time is a place off the beaten path even though the sign depicted on the cover is from another real and ill-fated motel that’s now torn down. The title actually refers to the basement of Liz’s home, which doubles as a recording studio as well a haven for out-of-town guests. The concept began to emerge in 2013 when Scott Ellison needed a room when touring from his base in Tulsa, Okla., and every hotel room in the city had already been booked. Mandeville agreed to put him up – under the condition that they write and record three new songs during his stay.
The following year, guitarist Dario Lombardo, a former member of Phil Guy’s band, arrived from Turin, Italy, to play the Chicago Blues Fest only to find that his reservations had been cancelled. That fall, former International Blues Challenge semi-finalist Rachelle Coba dropped in from Miami en route to the Blues Blast Music Awards. And six more songs were born.
Still short of an album, she teamed with Japanese string-bender Minoru Maruyama, who’d worked with her previously, for two songs, and Florida-based Detroit native Doug Deming for another. All five guitarists play on this disc and provide backing vocals. The album is a major departure for Mandeville, who usually writes all of her own material.
It’s produced by Jim Godsey, who contributes percussion, and features about 20 musicians, including Joan Gand (keyboards), Andy Sutton, John Parris and Robbie Armstrong (drums), Matt Cartwright, Heather Tackett-Faludo, Darryl Wright and Matt Kohl (bass), Dizzy Bolinsky (harmonica) and a horn section composed of Steve Hart (tuba) Charlie Kimble (sax), Jeannie Tanner (trumpet) and Johnny Cotton and Alex Leong (trombone). Liz also adds guitar and washboard.
Ellison’s guitar solo introduces “Too Hot For Love” before Liz’s full-bodied alto delivers the saucy lyrics familiar to folks who’ve known her since emerging on the Windy City scene in the ’80s. In this one, she advises her man to hold off on his heat until wintertime because it’s simply too warm in the summer for romance. Mandeville takes the lead on guitar with Lombardo on rhythm for the new, but familiar “Blues Is My Boss” before she teams with Coba for the catchy “Everybody Knew But Me.” It’s a Latin-flavored send-up with Cajun overtones about a love cheat.
The mood slows for the ballad “One Dance,” about longing for a married man, but vowing never to reveal her desire. The mid-tune single-note solo from Maruyama burns with emotion. Liz’s attitude takes a 180-degree turn for “Try Me,” which boasts “I’ve got a whole lot of soul/In my jellyroll” as she sets her sights on a new guy.
Mandeville demands the “Truth” when a lover gives her mixed signals and sings praise for “Reefer And A Glass Of Wine,” a fine jump blues that features Deming on the six-string, before getting introspective again for the slow blues “What Could Have Been,” a regret about having been so messed up, she’d missed the queues from a male admirer.
“Bad Blues Habit” compares the music to heroin: “Need it every day/Gotta have it every night./Without my blues shot/I just don’t feel right” – a great call-and-response song number. “River Of Blood,” a haunting flashback about slavery, and “What Do Blues Men Like?” – you guessed it: women of all types – bring the release to a close.
Available through CDBaby or direct through the artist’s website, it’s definitely worth a stay at The Stars Motel – especially if you like modern Chicago blues that’s as comfortable as a broken-in pair of shoes.