11 songs – 38 minutes
Dig In is the fourth release by Morry Sochat (pronounced “Socket”) and The Special 20s. It marks the 10 year anniversary of a band who continue to mine the same rich seams of Chicago blues, swing and vintage rock’n’roll as on their 2006 self-titled debut, 2008’s Swingin’ Shufflin’ Smokin’ and 2010’s Eatin’ Dirt.
The front and back cover art of the album features black and white photographs of the musicians in dark suits and narrow ties, adopting a variety of curious poses in front of a backdrop of the WindyCity. On the inner sleeve photo, were it not for the sneakers they all appear to be wearing, they could almost pass for lawyers. There is nothing sober or bromidic about their music, however. Opening with the old-fashioned rock’n’roll of “Pine Box”, Sochat issues slightly disturbing threats about how he is going to put his baby six feet under the ground in a pine box while The Special 20s lay down an irresistibly energetic groove . It is an impressive statement of intent, quickly followed by the softer, jazzier swing of “Little Melody” and the harp-driven Texas shuffle of “Rodeo Gal”. A pretty dramatic set-up that lays a route map for the rest of the album.
“Mary Jane” and “As Long As You’re By My Side” explore the funkier side of the blues. “Big Red Rooster” and “The Honeydripper” both feature Doug Corcoran’s lap steel, giving them a slight country edge. The heart of the album, however, is top quality shuffles such as “The Last Time”, “She’s Got It” and “Baddest Cat Alive”, all of which manage the rare trick of sounding thrillingly contemporary and distinctive even when they are really in pretty standard form. At times, The Special 20s capture that delightful synthesis of Texas and Chicago blues, a la Anson Funderburgh and The Rockets featuring Sam Myers or the Little Elmore Reed Blues Band.
Sochat sings in a strong, clear baritone voice that is sometimes reminiscent of the great Sugar Ray Norcia. The musicianship throughout is absolutely top drawer, with Sochat on vocals and harmonica, Shoji Naito on guitar and harmonica, Chris Neal on saxophone and vocals, Marty Binder on drums, Doug Corcordan on keys, saxophone and lap steel, Billy Flynn on guitar and Ted Beranis on bass. There is a sense that the players really enjoy playing with each other, and producer Tim Bluhm deserves credit for capturing this feeling on tape.
Sochat wrote seven of the songs on the album and Chris Neal contributed two tracks. Of the covers, Joe Liggins’ “The Honeydripper” is given a revitalising update, which electric guitar replacing the pounding piano of the original. The second cover, “The Last Time” is curiously credited to Jimmy Dooley, although it sounds nothing like the song of the same name with which Dooley is generally associated.
Dig In is an album of modern electric blues, played with emotional and technical authority and no little panache. It is also one of the most enjoyable releases this reviewer has had the pleasure of hearing for some time. Highly recommended.