S.E. Willis and the Willing – Too Much Love | Album Review

S.E. Willis and the Willing – Too Much Love

Mr. Suchensuch Records MS 19008

11 songs – 44 minutes

www.sewillis.com

Although veteran West Coast multi-instrumentalist Steve Willis is better known for his 19 years as a member of Elvin Bishop’s Grammy-winning road band, he’s a powerhouse band leader and songwriter in his own right – as this star-packed CD clearly demonstrates.

It’s been five years since the gifted keyboard, accordion and harmonica player has released a solo album, but it’s well worth the wait for anyone who loves their blues simple, sophisticated and with touches of Americana, country, zydeco and rockabilly.

A 50-year veteran of the music scene who hails originally from West Virginia, Willis began playing harp and keys at age six and was a fixture playing rock in the honkytonks along Route 66 in Arizona. As an adult, he’s spent time in the bands of Roy Gaines, Chuck Berry, Albert King and Meters drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste, among others, and he’s been releasing albums under his own name since the late ‘90s.

Willis is joined here by his longtime rhythm section – drummer/vocalist Bobby Cochran (Tom Fogerty, Edwin Hawkins Singers) and bassist Ruth Davies (Charles Brown, John Lee Hooker, Elvis Costello) — as well as an all-star roster that includes guitarists Kid Andersen, Bob Welsh and Danny Caron. Marina Crouse handles lead vocals on one cut, and Steve’s brother John and Lisa Leuschner Andersen also provide backing vocals.

Steve’s harp opens “Turn Back,” a percussive blues with a gospel feel, which finds him recounting the lessons in life he learned from his parents. Now that’s he’s closer to the end of life, however, he feels uncomfortable with his current position and wishes he could go back in time and make some changes.

The ballad “My Happy Home” follows and comes with a country two-step feel as it describes dancing alone in the dark after a relationship has come to an end. The theme continues in “I Sure Don’t Know Who Does,” a smooth duet shared by Cochran and Crouse. It’s a horn-driven rocker that could have come straight out of the ‘50s or early ‘60s in which Willis makes it known that there’s someone else for him waiting on the horizon.

The sprightly stop-time instrumental, “Apocalypto,” keeps the feel going with some sensational fretwork from Kid before Willis turns to accordion for “Crawl Off and Die,” a slow-and-steady admonishment of the way society worships money after reading the news and seeing the homeless living under overpasses.

Cochran’s back on the mike for the soulful “Let That Be the Reason,” a message to his woman that he doesn’t need any more excuses if their affair has come to an end, while the R&B ballad “Wake Up” describes in third person being lost in wonder if the singer’s marriage is going to survive. Apparently, the answer is yes because, as Cochran states in the song that follows, he has “Too Much Love” to gain.

The pure country “Honky Tonk Romance” features Willis and Wright in vocal harmony. It’s another two-step pleaser propelled by Steve on the squeeze box and harp. The old-school rocker, “I Study the Room,” describes finding Ms. Right – and a couple of Ms. Wrongs – in a crowded room before “Honky Tonkin’ Night and Day” brings the set to a close.

Too Much Love delivers good-time music from the jump. It’s perfect for anyone who loves their blues upbeat and tempered with plenty of traditional feel. Available through most major retailers, it’s an unexpected treasure.

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