The Phantom Blues Band – Blues for Breakfast | Album Review

The Phantom Blues Band – Blues for Breakfast

Little Village Foundation

12 songs – 44 minutes

When beloved keyboard player Mike Finnigan succumbed to cancer last year the world lost one of the most soulful musicians and vocalists ever to walk the planet, leaving a major hole in the lineup of Phantom Blues Band, a group who are stars in their own right while also serving as the Taj Mahal Band for decades. But the unit will have you grooving from the jump of this album, which serves as a tribute and much, much more.

It’s a superstar affair that includes Ruthie Foster, Bonnie Raitt, Curtis Salgado, Finnigan’s son Kelly – lead vocalist of the Monophonics, the Bay Area-based R&B powerhouse – and even Mike himself in one of his final recordings. And all of the proceeds from the CD will be donated to The Mike Finnigan School of Music at Stiefel Theatre in Salina, Kan.

A musical family of first-call session players who’ve worked with everyone from Etta James and Robert Cray to Joe Cocker and Bob Marley, the group took shape in the early ‘90s when Taj recorded his Phantom Blues album. Their enduring relationship has produced two Grammys and dozens of nominations and wins in the Blues Music Awards, and the ensemble has enjoyed a highly successful career on their own since 2007, when they released both the Out of the Shadows and Footprints CDs.

The fifth release in their solo career, this one features contributions from five of the six founding members: Finnigan, drummer Tony Braunagel, bassist/vocalist Larry Fulcher, guitarist/vocalist Johnny Lee Schell and sax player Joe Sublett. Longtime trumpet player Darrell Leonard left the group in recent years with the talented Les Lovitt taking his place.

Grammy-winning keyboard player/Little Village Foundation creator Jim Pugh assumes Finnigan seat at the 88s, a seemingly impossible task but one that he handles flawlessly. Rhythm guitarist Tony Chin and background vocalist Beth Styne each make an appearance on a single track.

An uptempo take on Sam & Dave’s “I’ll Take What I Want” features Fulcher and Schell in tandem vocals before trading verses to kick the action into high gear aided by horn runs and a blazing six-string solo. George Soulé’s 1973 call to political activism, “Get Involved,” is up next as the band delivers a thinly veiled tribute to their fallen bandmate – a man with a deep social conscience who was never shy about speaking his mind himself and calling others to action.

Penned by Carl Wright and first recorded by Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland and Cray on their Showdown album, “She’s Into Something” gives Schell space to work his magic before Ruthie joins the action for Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up,” which is delivered with a rock-steady reggae beat. The spotlight shines on Finnigan for a final time next with the funky “OK, I Admit It.” If you’re a fan, his warm tenor will put a smile on your face and a tear in your eye as he professes love and asks for forgiveness.

The poignant ballad, “Still Be Friends,” follows, announcing that “this could be the last time I see you for a while…but for all time, we will still be friends.” The mood brightens quickly for a funked-up cover of Freddie King’s “Country Boy” with Bonnie sharing vocals with Schell before Salgado fills Sam Cooke’s shoes – and blows a little harp, too — for a molasses-slow take on “Laughin’ & Clownin’.”

Phantom gets to stretch out West Coast-style for a classy reworking of Jimmy McCracklin’s 1965 hit, “Steppin’ Up in Class,” before Curtis returns and keeps the heat on with Ike Turner’s “I Know You Don’t Love Me” enhanced by Kelly Finnigan on organ. Takes on Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” and Muddy’s “Stuff You Gotta Watch” bring the disc to an upbeat close.

Great music for a great cause. Pick up this one. I loved it and know you will, too!

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