Self Release – 2014
12 tracks; 46 minutes
Raoul Bhaneja is both actor and musician, spending time in California when acting and leading his band The Big Time back home in Canada. The band has been around for some years and consists of Darren Gallen on guitar, Terry Wilkins on bass, and Tom Bona on drums, Raoul singing and playing harp. However, although the album is credited to the band that ensemble only appears on four tracks, the remaining tracks feature Raoul with two different sets of West Coast stalwarts: Rick Holmstrom, guitar, Jeff Turmes, bass, Stephen Hodges, drums and Danny Gerrard, backing vocals appear on three cuts; Junior Watson, guitar, Larry Taylor, bass, Richard Innes, drums and Fred Kaplan, piano appear on five. Various special guests also sit in, including Curtis Salgado, Johnny Sansone, Rusty Zinn and Franck Goldwasser.
Raoul wrote eight of the tracks here, has an OK voice and is a good harp player. The four tracks with The Big Time take in three of the four covers. On Allan Toussaint’s “Get Out Of My Life Woman” Rusty Zinn adds some nice guitar flourishes and a horn section of Pat Carey and Alison Young on sax and Jake Wilkinson on trumpet pushes the song along well. Tyler Yarema adds piano and Mark Mariash is at the drum stool instead of Tom Bona.
The horn section is also present on “Someday”, a song recorded most famously by Bobby Bland, with Franck Goldwasser trilling on guitar. The cover works well but Raoul’s voice is not quite strong enough for the song. Album closer “In The Shadow Of The Pine” is a traditional bluegrass song done in acoustic style with Johnny Sansone’s accordion and John Showman’s violin supported just by Terry Wilkins’ upright bass and Raoul’s acoustic guitar. The song is very different to the rest of the album but works well. “Curtis Charm” is an original instrumental which provides the opportunity for Raoul to duel harps with Curtis Salgado on a slow blues on which Tyler Yarema’s piano is also excellent.
The tracks with the Rick Holmstrom group include (perhaps not surprisingly, given their present employment as avis Staples’ backing band) a Staples Singers classic in “Why Am I Treated So Bad?” Raoul gives us a little history lesson about the song at the beginning as the band creates a really swampy feel, especially in Rick’s reverb-drenched guitar.
The instrumental “Amphetamine” is a definite highlight with Rick and Raoul going head to head from the off, a really catchy piece. Opening track “Nothin’ Gonna Take Me Down” is autobiographical as Raoul recounts his father’s early experiences as an immigrant and how he went from “having a dollar in his hand” to making a good living for his family – but Raoul will not be distracted from his own chosen path. The track also suits Raoul’s voice well and he produces one of his most convincing vocals on this cut.
Junior Watson’s plucked style on guitar is immediately recognisable and nowhere is that better demonstrated than on “High Roller”, a cautionary tale of a guy whose life is heading down the drain. Title track “Hollywood Boulevard” finds Raoul in fine form on harp and some laid-back piano from Fred Kaplan. The jump instrumental “Left Coast Fred” is just terrific with a bouncing rhythm section, twinkling piano from Fred, Junior’s dextrous runs on guitar and Raoul’s harp work.
“Tired” is the longest track here, a slow blues with chromatic harp from Raoul set against Junior’s percolating picking and Fred’s languid hands at the keyboard. The final track from this ensemble is “Spoken For”, another jump tune which bounces along superbly, the bass really driving it along as Junior and Fred embellish the tune.
The best cuts on this album are certainly the instrumentals but the musicianship throughout is excellent. This is a fun album to hear and is worth investigating.