The Hightones – Crossin’ The Blue Line
Wholly Roman Empire Records
11 songs – 48 minutes
Chicago’s Hightones are celebrating their 20th anniversary with the release of their new album, Crossin’ The Blue Line. Featuring 10 self-written tracks and two choice covers, Crossin’ The Blue Line contains some blues, some rock, and even some early pop and rock’n’roll. And because their own songs are written by four different band members, there is an engaging variety to the material, whilst still maintaining an overall thematic consistency.
Opening with the minor key “Strange Things Creep In The Night”, Barbara Gillies’ baritone sax solo immediately grabs the listener’s attention, as do the powerful backing vocals (courtesy of the Cocktails, Jacqueline Sylvie and Peggy Meskin – in addition to the four lead singers in the band). They immediately follow up with a raucous cover of Big Maybelle’s “Ocean Of Tears” which contains another great solo from Gillies as well as a formidable vocal performance from bassist, Evelyn Bremner. Bremner also sings lead on the other cover on the album, Little Johnny Taylor’s classic “If You Love Me Like You Say” as well as her own “Lonesome Sad & Blue”. Interestingly, the band shaves off the funkier edges from “If You Love Like You Say”, playing it with a much straighter feel.
The slower “Blues Hwy” sees the vocal mic turned over to guitarist, Lee D’budda and highlights the harmonica playing of guest Frank Raven, as he weaves between D’budda’s vocal lines. D’budda also contributes his tribute to the late BB King on “The King Is Gone”, while Raven co-wrote “Welcome To The House Of The Blues” with original Hightones singer, Jim Desmond. His playing on this minor key slow blues is outstanding.
Drummer Roman Zabicki takes the vocals on the swinging Buzzin'” as well as the closing song, “When That Twister Comes”, which goes down a pop-rock route, with heavily distorted guitar riffs in the verse, a threatening slide guitar solo from D’budda, but a gloriously uplifting chorus enhanced by some massed backing vocals. Guitarist Bill Pekoc sings on his “Last Band Standing” and the toe-tapping early rock’n’roll of “Boulevard”.
Crossin’ The Blue Line was recorded by Bill Kavanagh at Bobdob Studios in Oak Park, IL and, as might be inferred by the album title, it is not a straight a blues album, with the band happily incorporating early pop and rock’n’roll into their sound as well as rock and soul. The blues however is evident in everything the band does. The songs are all well written and excellently played. The variety of styles, together with the playing of Gillies and guest Rawl Hardman (another former member of the band who adds tenor saxophone to “Blues Hwy” and “Boulevard”) as well as the powerful backing vocals help to distinguish the Hightones from many other bands and make Crossin’ The Blue Line a very enjoyable listen.
The band holds down a monthly residency at Moe’s Tavern on Chicago’s Northwest Side and, on the evidence of this album, their live shows must be an absolute riot.