Nick Schnebelen – Live In Kansas City | Album review

Nick Schnebelen – Live In Kansas City

VizzTone Label Group VT-NSB02

10 songs — 52 minutes

Nick Schnebelen exploded onto the blues scene in 2008 when his family band, Trampled Under Foot, walked away winners at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and he was bestowed the Albert King Award as best guitar player in the competition. With Tennessee in his tail lights, however, he’s pretty much remained out of the spotlight in the years that followed, with his sister, Danielle Nicole, serving as the face of the group and establishing herself as one of the top vocalists and bass players on the planet.

TUF won 2014 Blues Music Awards for band and album of the year, but disbanded months later — something you’d expect from siblings who’ve played together since their teen years. Nick’s brother Kris left first, spent time with Albert Castiglia, Amanda Fish and Lauren Anderson before settling into the drummer’s seat behind Sean Chambers, and his older siblings eventually decided it was time to start bands of their own, albeit with occasional breaks for TUF reunions.

Captured on stage last Dec. 3 at the famed Knuckleheads Saloon before launching a world tour, Nick makes his recording debut as a band leader with Live In Kansas City, fronting a power blues trio in the format fans know him for. Rounding out the lineup are the highly respected rhythm section of drummer Adam Hagerman — who’s toured with a who’s who of blues and country acts, including Junior Watson, Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King, Junior Watson and Big Bill Morganfield — and bassist Cliff Moore, who backed Michael Burks for years.

A powerful left-handed guitar player, Nick’s also a strong singer in his own right, and his vocals cut like a knife atop the music throughout this enjoyable set, which features four of his own originals, two of Danielle’s and four covers, most of which deal with relationship themes. The self-penned “Fool” kicks off the action. A brief guitar run precedes an extended vocal that resembles a field holler as Schnebelen sings about the agony he endures by being addicted to love. The rhythm section doesn’t join in to heat things up until mid-tune.

Another solid original, “Pain In My Mind,” carries the message forward. This time the pain originates from the memory of experiencing a broken heart. Nick updates Muddy Waters’ “Herbert Harper’s Free Press News,” introduced with an extended drum solo, before “You Call That Love,” written by Danielle and a mainstay in the TUF catalog. It’s a slow-blues burner of the first order that features a searing guitar solo.

Written by drummer/producer Tony Braunagel, a mainstay in the Taj Mahal/Phantom Blues Band, “Bad Woman Blues” changes the mood with its syncopated and uptempo beat. Schnebelen’s on slide as he wonders why a lady would cheat on a good man. The tune leads effortlessly into a version of Johnny Winter’s Mean Town Blues.”

Another TUF fan favorite, “Jonny Cheat,” follows before the Nick original, “Bad Disposition,” which details sleepless nights and torment after falling for a woman with a mean attitude. “Schoolnight,” written by Chris Schultz, and the original, “Conformity Blues,” show off Schnebelen’s jazz chops to bring the album to a close.

Live In Kansas City is a rock-solid debut by someone who deserves your ear and attention. Available through most online retailers, it’s a showcase for a star on the ascendant. If you like TUF, you’ll love this. And good news: Nick’s already got another album in the planning stages.

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