Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys – Live at The Big Bull
Reverend Raven and his smoking charges hit the stage clockin’ and a rockin’ on the Earl Hooker composition, “Hot And Heavy.” The pace is thus set for the band’s set at the 2014, 23rd annual Big Bull Falls Blues Festival, Wisconsin’s longest running Blues Festival where 80 per cent of this album was recorded at. Two of the ten tracks were recorded at Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall in Milwaukee.
Born & bred on Chicago’s south side, the Reverend migrated to Milwaukee and assembled the Alter Boys and have been lauded by the Wisconsin Area Music Industry as best Blues band, a charmed seven times as well as WAMI’s People’s Choice Award three times. They’ve also acquired a Grammy nomination and several Blues Blast Music Award nominations over the years.
Uptempo danceable blues is the order of the day here. Harmonica heavy and guitar driven Reverend Raven and the Altar Boys cook throughout. The lineup on this date is Rev Raven on guitar and vocals, Robert Lee Sellers on drums and vocals, Danny Moore on keys, Benny Rickun on harmonica (tracks 4,5,6,8 and 10), Grammy nominated Westside Andy Linderman on harmonica (tracks 1, 2, 3, 7 and 9) and Big Al Groth on saxophone (track 8).
In addition to the aforementioned opening track, the band covers material from Elmore James, Sleepy John Estes, Muddy Waters and Bobby Rush. Two songs are written by Gerry Hundt and three by Raven himself.
The band delivers a nonstop, driving set and the crowd’s enthusiasm is evident throughout the auditory experience. Searching for visual of the band’s impact during the recording of this project yields a YouTube video of track 6 that is shortened on the album, the Gerry Hundt penned, “Stompin & A Shouting.” In the full video, recorded also on 8/15/14, Raven intersperses a colorful monologue regarding the exploits of the legendary Hound Dog Taylor, Pinetop Perkins and Big Walter Horton with his own mean, tasty slide guitar riffs, juxtaposed against the percussive counterpoint boogie poundings of keyboardist Danny Moore. Benny Rickman adds a nice touch on the harp. The video puts me there with the crowd. We’re diggin’ it!
Other standout tracks include the Muddy tune, track 9, “She’s Ninteen Years Old,” and the loping Bobby Rush composition, “Chicken Heads.” Raven’s songwriting skills are also credible. Check out Track 10, “Looking For Love.”