Nick Schnebelen Band – Live at Knuckleheads vol. 1
12 tracks/49:37 minutes
Some bands release live recordings as filler between albums, but others release live albums simply because they best capture the band’s energy in ways that a studio album can never do. Nick Schnebelen Band is a kill ’em and ‘leave ’em group of musicians that leaves it all on the stage every time they perform, so we’re damn lucky that they’ve given us a live album as their initial effort. Nick Schnebelen is familiar as the co-founder of Trampled Under Foot, but he left that band last year and has emerged with this new group. A versatile instrumentalist, Schnebelen is at as home behind the traps as he is delivering some scalding lap steel or lead riffs, and it’s his guitar on which he shines in this new band; he’s joined by the stunning vocalist and rhythm player Heather Newman, bassist Cliff Moore, and drummer Joe Voye. The album was recorded earlier this year—on February 20, 2016—in The Gospel Lounge and Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City.
The album opens with the jive blues, jumpin’ jazz of “I’m Goin’,” which features Schnebelen’s Alvin Lee-like lead guitar riffs; it’s the perfect song to get people out of their seats and onto the dance floor; it delivers an energetic promise of a night of fun and straight-to-the-soul music.
Newman turns in a soulful version of Melody Gardot’s “Who Will Comfort Me,” which in the band’s treatment becomes the just-right combination of soul weariness and heart hopefulness. Newman cannily and stirringly bends the notes as she blends scat vocals with blues phrasing.
Willie Dixon’s bare blues lament, “Spoonful,” may be the closest to a blues anthem we have, and it’s of course been recorded by every blues guitarist trying to find his or her own way in the blues world, from Howlin’ Wolf to Eric Clapton. Nick Schnebelen Band turns the song into a chugging, call-and-response with Schnebelen’s slinky, slithering lead guitar moving us toward the mournful character of the song. Clapton’s lead on this song is almost too pure and technically correct, but Schnebelen’s captures the rough yet redemptive character of the song.
With a phrase-for-phrase precision on his lap steel, Schnebelen reproduces the mournful lethargy of Santo & Johnny’s famous instrumental, “Sleep Walk.” The band sandwiches the tune between “Spoonful” and “Jolene,” the Dolly Parton tune. Heather Newman turns this tune into a bright shuffle that’s punctuated by Schnebelen’s capering lead riffs on the bridge that echo Brain Setzer’s jazz riffs.
The band closes this set with Gary U.S. Bonds “New Orleans,” which kicks off with a fuzz tone heavy guitar and reels off some scalding slide work on the bridge. The band’s version of this tune delivers such pure energy and fun that we’re left panting for an encore. By the end of the song, the band sounds like it’s having so much fun that it doesn’t want to stop, either.
After these stunning performances that range so capably over so many styles, we can’t wait to hear volume 2.