11 tracks / 65:14
Manhattan Blues Connection out of Brooklyn is a relatively new band on the New York City scene, but do not think for a second that these guys are wet behind the ears, as all of the members are seasoned professionals with an uncanny feel for the blues. The band is led by its founder and drummer, Les Chalimon, and he is joined by Andy Story on vocals and guitar, Darius Reza on bass and Billy “Blue” Blend on keyboards and saxophone. Blend was also responsible for recording this disc at his Blendini Studios, and he mixed it alongside Reza, making this a truly home-brewed project.
Cadillac Blues is their first release, and after two original tracks that were written by Story and Reza, this quartet tears out nine traditional blues songs, all of them in a style that would make it easy to assume this album is a product of the south side of Chicago (though if you listen closely there is also a 1970s NYC influence in there too). It is guitar-heavy music with rich keyboards, smooth horns and a whiskey-voiced frontman that can hang with the best of them.
“Good Loving Woman” is the first track, and it definitely sticks with this theme. Andy Story wrote this one, and it perfectly suits his throaty voice and deft guitar licks. Billy Blend hammers the piano throughout, punctuating the mood with well-placed organ chords and riffs. “You Don’t Know” is the other original, this time penned by Darius Reza. This song has a catchy riff and, once again, Blend kept extra busy behind the mixing board adding multiple layers of sax and keyboards.
The cover tunes are a murderer’s row of blues classics, starting off with “The Things I Used to Do,” which was originally put into the limelight by Guitar Slim back in 1953. Manhattan Blues Connection’s take on it makes it one of the more laid-back versions of this song, with a decidedly smooth (almost jazz-like) vibe. It is fun to hear a more traditional version of this song after years of hearing the Hendrix and Stevie Ray renditions. The band also kicks out a funky version of “Black Cat Bone” that gives the Albert Collins/Robert Cray 1980s hit a good run for the money.
“Driving Wheel” is a straightforward 12-bar blues that highlights the rhythm section of Chalimon and Reza, which is possible due to the fine work that Blend did in recording and mixing Cadillac Blues. Sadly, the run time for this song is under three minutes, but you will not have to go far to find another good song, as there are no bad ones to be found on this disc. In fact, “Black Jack Game,” the next track up, features tasteful interplay between Blend’s honky-tonk piano and Story’s vocals and lead guitar noodling.
The three standout tracks are slow-burning blues songs: Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happening,” Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s Alright” and Jessie Mae Robinson’s “Cold, Cold Feeling.” Andy Story’s guitar is the star of these tunes and the listener can hear that he is more than the usual axe-slinger – he has a natural style and a genuine feel for the blues. Of course, it does not hurt that he is accompanied by a first-rate backline with rock solid-drums and bass.
Manhattan Blues Connection’s Cadillac Blues provides over an hour of traditional good-times Chicago blues, and the band’s respect for the history of the blues is evident in the collection of really cool songs that they put together for this project. They are gigging around NYC, so check them out if you are in town, and in the meantime we can only hope that they are back in the studio writing some new music as a follow-up to this solid debut!