Susie Blue & the Lonesome Fellas – Blue Train
Seraphic Records 8644-361
16 songs – 53 minutes
Fronted by vocalist Solitaire Miles and founded in Chicago in the mid-‘90s, Susie Blue & the Lonesome Fellas turn back the clock and dig deep into the musical archives on their latest CD as they put a new spin on 16 forgotten treasures from the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s a mix of classy blues, jazz, swing and more that evokes the cocktail-lounge aura of bygone eras.
While mainstream blues fans might not be familiar with this 13-piece ensemble, the music they play consistently crosses genres while remaining thoroughly azure throughout. They swing from the hip in lockstep in every cut, demonstrating why they’ve regularly received nominations from the Academy of Western Artists, which presented them with its Will Rogers Award in 2015 for the song “Love Is a Lingering Thing,” a Western swing number that gained international airplay.
Like that tune, all of the music here walks on the razor’s edge of blues despite being culled from mixed media. All of the folks in this lineup – which includes harmonica genius Howard Levy, a co-founder of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones – are all world-class musicians. Described by DownBeat magazine as a “winning blend of Patsy Cline and Billie Holiday,” Miles’ rich vocals have provided counterpoint to several of the Windy City’s top jazz and swing bandleaders, including Johnny Frigo, Von Freeman, Doc Cheatham and Willie Pickens.
She and Levy are joined here by guitarist Neal Alger, keyboard players Don Stille and Tom Hope and a horn section composed of Eric Schneider (sax) and Jack Gallagher (trombone). They’re anchored by Chris Bernhardt (bass), Phil Gratteau (drums) and Paul Abella (cajon) with Jen Zias and Mike Harvey providing backing vocals. And Dominic Halpin guests with Solitaire for one duet.
A follow-up to the AWA Award winning 2020 CD, Bye Bye Blues, this one was co-produced by Miles and John Robertson and was recorded by Steve Yates in Chicago. None of the tunes are credited in the barebones packaging. “I Wanna Rock” sets the tone for what’s to come. A stop-time pleaser with a steady beat and plenty of sweet horn accents that yield for a tasty mid-tune six-string solo, it gives way to “Big Sweet Baby” — a reworking of the Big Maybelle 1961 Savoy number, “Going Home Baby” which – features understated fills from Levy and the horns.
“Lucky Lips” – an early hit for Ruth Brown penned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller – precedes the duet “Forever Yours,” a 1957 hit for Carl Perkins on Sun Records that features a dazzling harp solo. The action heats up for “Love and Kisses,” a rocker penned by Janis Martin that served as the title song in a 1965 film starring Ricky Nelson. Miles does justice to “Hummin’ to Myself” – a tune that debuted in the ‘30s and a hit for Kay Starr 20 years later — before “Blue Train” picks up steam as it takes the singer’s love away.
The theme continues from a lady’s point of view with a cover of “She’ll Be Gone” before welcome revisits to Ronnie Love’s “Chills and Fever,” Neil Sedaka’s “One Way Ticket to the Blues” and “How Could I Help But Love You,” a 1967 hit for Aaron Neville. Alger shines on the rocker “Give Up That Honey” before a cover of The Contours’ early Motown hit, “Do You Love Me?” Three more moldy oldies — “In the Palm of Your Hand,” Frank Sinatra’s “Oh How I Miss You Tonight” and Henry Mancini’s “The Peter Gunn Theme” – bring the disc to a close.
Put on your poodle skirt, slip on your saddle shoes and pin on a brooch or two for this one. It’s a whole lot of fun!