Sterling Koch Trio – Place Your Bets | Album Review

sterlingkochtriocdSterling Koch Trio – Place Your Bets

Full Force Music FFM120

11 songs – 49 minutes

As lovers of modern acoustic blues already are aware after a career that’s spanned about 30 years and included more than a dozen CD releases, Sterling Koch is one heck of a lap steel guitar player. He demonstrates his talents once again in this relatively understated collection of 10 familiar covers and one original.

Hailing from Pottstown, Pa., and like the great Freddie Roulette before him, Koch is a proponent of Chicago-style slide guitar, adding modern interpretations of techniques laid down first decades ago. His two previous releases – Slide Ruler in 2011 with Tommy Shannon of Double Trouble and Chet McCracken of the Doobie Brothers and Let It Slide in 2013 — were in electrified band format. Here, he returns to an acoustic trio format, aided by Jack Kulp on harmonica and backing vocals and Gene Babula bass. Guitar artists Joe Ciarvella and Jennifer Dierwechter add percussion and backing vocals.

A solo guitar line beneath Koch’s clear, crisp vocals kicks off a retro version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “The House Is Rockin’” before Kulp adds background vocals, then a harp solo, giving the tune the feeling that it had been written long before SRV walked the earth. Hound Dog Taylor’s “It’s Alright,” which follows, takes on a country blues feel. It’s devoid of the distortion Taylor created by overpowering an amplifier with a cracked cone, which contributed to his unique sound.

Jimmy Reed’s “Dizzy” becomes a sweet stop-time swinger in Koch’s hands, while ZZ Top’s “Tube Snake Boogie” takes on a completely different with female backup singing and the guitarist playing acoustic rather than rocketing riffs off the rafters. A harp solo introduces Albert King’s “Down Don’t Bother Me.” While Koch’s guitar work is consistently solid, his strong, confident vocal delivery presents an odd counterpoint to a tune that deals with human suffering.

Harp and guitar share the load for Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Checkin’ Up On My Baby” before a straightforward take on John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples” and a country blues version of Otis Rush’s “My Baby (She’s a Good ‘Un).” Covers of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “Blue On Black” and Peter Green’s “Oh Well” sandwich the only original tune, “Nothin’ But The Blues,” to conclude the set.

Available through all the major online marketers, you’ll probably like it if you prefer acoustic blues. If you’re looking for flashy fretwork and pyrotechnics, however, look elsewhere. And the presentation could have been amped up by the addition of more new music instead of a steady stream of old warhorses.

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