Paul Bonn – At The House Of Blue Lights
10 songs – 34 minutes
Singer/songwriter Paul Bonn has been entertaining audiences in the Midwest for over 50 years now. Based primarily in St. Louis, MO, he and his band, the Bluesmen, have carved out a solid reputation playing a mixture of blues, soul, R&B and Cajun songs. At The House Of Blue Lights is something of a departure for Bonn, however, because, despite being recorded at The House of Blue Lights studio in St. Louis, the album has a distinct Texan edge to it, due in no small part to the musicians who appear on it.
ATHOBL is a relatively short album, clocking in at just over half an hour, but it’s also a vibrant, exciting recording that rewards repeated listening. Bonn has an enticingly rough-edged voice that suggests that not only has he been there and done it, he may also have been the first one to do so. He sings with a winning vulnerability on “Katy” while also sounding like he knows exactly what sugar coated love is on the track of the same name. Featuring three original tracks and seven well-known covers, there was a risk that ATHOBL would come across as a lazy jam, quickly recorded and released. Instead, it comes across as fresh, coruscating and exhilarating.
The core band is absolutely outstanding. The first rate rhythm section of Sal Ruelas on bass and drummer Derek Bonn (who also did a fine job on recording and mixing the album) may be natives of St. Louis, but Chris Ruest is one of the most respected guitarists in Austin, Texas, and the tragically now-departed Gene Taylor lived in the same town for many years, including a 13-year stretch as pianist for the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
ATHOBL is one of Gene Taylor’s last recordings and that makes it worth the purchase price alone. He sprinkles his magic mojo dust over the songs, constantly engaging and delighting the listener. His solo on “Katy” is a case in point but the jaw-dropping jump blues instrumental “Jump And Boogie” shows a man playing with verve, fire and a large slice a humour, which only makes his untimely death all the more heart-breaking.
Taylor and Ruest played together for many years in various different ensembles, and Ruest’s classic jump blues and Gulf Coast guitar tones fit the songs on ATHOBL and Bonn’s voice perfectly, contributing real depth to the sound. His solo on “Rocket 88” is a textbook example of how to play a memorable guitar solo that adds to the song without over-powering it. Like all the great Texas blues guitarists, he plays with a sparse yet deeply emotional approach, always leaving the listener wanting more.
Various guest musicians also contribute mightily to the success of the recording. R.J. Mishco adds harmonica to “Bright Lights, Big City”; Mike Buck and Eve Monsees contribute drums and guitar to four songs; Frank Bauer and Ian Buschmann add sax and Alice Monroe provides backing vocals. One of the many highlights of the album is “Sugar Coated Love”. Buck of course also played drums on the superb T-Birds version of the Lazy Lester classic back in 1980, while the guitar interplay between Monsees and Ruest is enthralling (likewise their entwined guitars on “I Can Tell”). Indeed, early T-Birds is not a bad reference point for the album, with the original “I’m Sorry Baby” being a song that would fit nicely into any set list by the T-Birds, the Solid Senders or early Mike Morgan.
Listening to At The House Of Blues Lights is like wandering into a random club in a small town and having your socks blown off by a band playing classic blues songs with high technical command, deep emotional adherence, and complete commitment. Highly recommended.