Paul Kaye And The Blues Cartel – Playin’ It Cool | Album Review

paulkayecdPaul Kaye And The Blues Cartel – Playin’ It Cool

self release

10 songs time-45:42

This is what I’m talking about! This band delivers blues that has one foot in the past and one foot in their own zone and does it so darn well. The music is at times sloppy-funky good and at other times put together in a more regimented and traditional way. Whatever they are doing, it’s SO good! Transplanted New Yorker Paul Kaye relocated to Chicago in 1989 and primarily focused on the East Coast/Piedmont tradition of acoustic blues. In 2005 he formed The Blues Cartel to focus on the electric blues style that he had been honing over the years he spent as a veteran sideman. On this, The Blues Cartel’s first release, we find that the wait was surely well worth it. Paul’s amazing vocabulary on the guitar is a blues joy to behold. His rough hewn voice with its’ off hand delivery meld well with the music. You slip into his music like your favorite pair of worn-in slippers. Having Grammy winning drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith (drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith’s son) along with Grammy Nominated Harlan Terson on bass seals the deal. These dudes need no outside help.

At first hearing Paul’s voice it immediately brings to my mind the voice and cool cat attitude of the late singer-harmonica player Rock Bottom (David C. York). The narrator declares his innocence of a crime on “11th and State”. It features some cool and jazzy guitar and an off hand delivery, but the lyrics get a tad too repetitive for taste…But a good song none-the-less. The title track is a jazzy and cool instrumental, just as the title implies. “Ramblin’ Ramblin” contains some clever lyrics, catchy blues guitar and a casual vocal delivery.

Paul takes a little liberty with the lyrics to Big Bill Broonzy’s “Feel So Good”. Harlan Terson adds a nifty bass riff as Paul veers off into the blues-meets-Chuck Berry on the guitar. The traditional “Catfish” receives a slower treatment than usual. This version holds one’s attention as Paul chances on guitar and vocals. At one point you think his vocal is going to lose it, then he brings it back in line. This is a very nicely unique adaptation of this old blues chestnut.

The band’s take on “Hawaiian Boogie” owes more to Hound Dog Taylor’s version than the one from its’ originator Elmore James. It gets the requisite gonzo slide delivery. Kenny and Harlan follow the leader in a nicely loose fashion. Paul pretty much emulates Magic Sam’s guitar tone on Sam’s “Out of Bad Luck”. A really nice take on traditional Chicago blues brought into the here and now. The original instrumental “Strollin’ With Uncle Floyd” swings along quite nicely, thank you. The band does a lot with just the three players, with the bass being up front for support and you just can’t go wrong with Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on the drum kit.

Tommy Johnson’s “Big Fat Mama” was a signature tune for the late Pinetop Perkins receives a slower treatment here to good effect as the guitar underpins the vocal. The appropriately titled instrumental “Thank You…Goodnight” brings things to a close in swinging fashion. This will get you up and shakin’ what you got.

These guys got the blues feeling down without sounding like a museum piece. Paul’s rough vocals may be an acquired taste for some, but for me it gels right in with the music to take you to your own imaginary juke joint. Boy Howdy, This Is Good Stuff!

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