The Halley DeVestern Band – Fabbo! Boffo! Smasho! | Album Review

Halley DeVestern CD CoverHalley DeVestern Band – Fabbo! Boffo! Smasho!

8 tracks; 37 minutes

Halley DeVestern is often compared to Janis Joplin and she did spend some time touring with Big Brother & The Holding Company singing Janis’ songs. But DeVestern is more than just a Janis clone. When she names her influences it it no surprise to find singers Aretha Frankin, James Brown, Al Green or ’70’s soul acts The Ojays, Ohio Players, and Earth Wind and Fire. Halley has slowly but surely been making her own mark in the greater New York City area and is now poised to break out nationally.

The band features seasoned professionals from a full range of musical styles. All the songs were written with bassist Tom Heinig who has played with Lamont Cranston band and Mill City Band. Guitarist David Patterson played with Shawn Mullins, and drummer Rich Kulsar spent time in Zen Tricksters, The Toasters and Mickey Dolenz band. Their experiences are eclectic to say the least and it makes their music an exotic gumbo.

The opening track “Muscle Memory” sets the tone of Fabbo! Boffo! Smasho! with a funky workout. DeVestern sounds a bit like Joplin but without the rasp. Her voice is more refined and doesn’t crack as she hits the higher notes, and the band is slick and tight.  “Kangaroo Momma” has strange lyrics but it seems to be about finding comfort in a special place. I suppose I get it but with “When I need comfort and a place to crouch/I jump all up inside my mama’s pouch” it’s an uncomfortable metaphor for comfort.

“Money Ain’t Time” features simmering organ and impassioned vocals. DeVestern takes on rich fat cats, encouraging them to think about all the time they’ll be dead and what little good their money will do them in the afterlife. It could equally be about sacrificing time in your life for money; time that would be better spent making human connections and sharing yourself with others instead of chasing the payday at all costs. This song has been featured in the TV Show Dance Moms. 

“American Pain” is a gospel tinged ballad that lyrically takes on economic inequality in the United States but also takes aim at those with the casino mentality, hoping to strike it rich by gambling. “Tore Up (From The Floor Up)” is bad disco at best.  “Code 9” is about the texting indicator for change of subject when an authority figure has arrived.  It’s another song with some bizarre lyrics but it is musically solid with extra funk added by the CNP Horns – Thomas Hutchings on sax, Indofunk Satish on Trumpet and Flugelhorn, and Matt MacDonald on trombone.  Bassist Heinig creates a fat groove, guest keyboardist Mark Mancini stands out on electric piano and guitarist David Patterson cuts loose with stinging guitar lines.

The clearest message of any song on Fabbo! Boffo! Smasho! is found in “The Jesus I Know.” Halley admirably takes to task those who have twisted the story of Jesus to fit their own needs. The tune is an upbeat R&B Gospel tune, with big backing vocals and organ fills.  The Jesus she knows had a dark complexion, cared about healing, fed the hungry, helped the blind to see, promised the world to the meek, and got lynched for telling the truth. Amen, Halley. Amen.

Yes, Halley DeVestern has a powerful voice. She has sung with Big Brother And The Holding Company, drawn comparisons to Janis Joplin, and garnered compliments from Bonnie Bramlett. Her lyrics may not always make perfect sense but they sound good and she sings with conviction. However, I can’t say I like this record. The songs are good, and the band is tight and plays well but I don’t like the style. Halley and her band have played on blues stages and made the local blues charts but these things do not make a band a blues band. To their credit, the band labels itself as Blues, Funk, and Rock.  Fabbo! Boffo! Smasho!  is New York City funk rock. It will get people moving in the clubs and I’m sure many blues fans would enjoy it, but if you’re looking for blues this is not your record. If you want some upbeat, funky grooves played on real instruments by talented human beings give Fabbo! Boffo! Smasho!  a listen.

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