The Set Up Kings – Live on Frenchmen Street
11 songs, 59 minutes
New Orleans’ music scene is so hip and so legit that even their bar bands are first rate and unique. Case in point The Set Up Kings, captured live here on their second release. This quartet of Mark Appleford on vocals and harp, Tony DeFelice on guitar, Dr. Jack Carter on bass and Willie Panker on drums harken back to the hard driving strutting swing of 60’s Chicago Blues. This tight unit sounds like what would have happened if Junior Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues sessions continued on indefinitely. With a set list full of Blues standards, Live on Frenchmen Street is a fun propulsive party.
Lead Set Up King Mark Appleford is a great harp player. Out front and center, Appleford’s scraggly voice rasps while his harp chops expand and blow. His extended solo on Little Walter’s “Up the Line” with some chromatic runs and Middle Eastern modal substitutions elevates. Guitarist DeFelice is an economical player with a clean authentic guitar sound. No big distorted stadium sized shredding. DeFelice’s solo breaks on the well tread “You Don’t Love Me” surprise. Instead of mimicking the seminal licks of Duane Allman or Jessie Ed Davis, DeFelice uses his own clean stinging single not jangle more in a Rick Holmstom or Duke Robillard vein.
A band can’t play 60’s Chicago Blues with the clean alternating restrain and fire needed to sound as good as The Set Up Kings without a great rhythm section. Dr. Carter and Panker are in perfect sync. Sounding like the reincarnation of Jack Meyers and Fred Below, this crew slaps, thumps, boogies and shuffles with flexibility and dynamics.
When in medium to medium-fast tempo and shuffling hard, The Set Up Kings shine. Songs like “Kiddio” with it’s swinging throb, the Johnny Dyer/Holmstrom penned “Big Leg Woman” with it’s descending insistent riff and the King’s original Latin Blues “Black Coffee, Black Cherry” all land and highlight the band’s skill. Some of the material here is a little over wrought though. The only ballad of the set, another original, “The Last You’ll See of Me” doesn’t quite hold together. Appleford’s voice is just a bit too rough for this, just missing the Louis Armstrong ballad gruff. Some of the war torn covers like “Further on Up the Road,” and “Snatch It Back and Hold It” don’t really add to the cosmic legacy of these songs. Fine interpretations but not as dazzling as for example the set closer an impassioned reading of Otis Rush’s “Keep On Loving Me Baby.”
The Set Up Kings are a band you want to go see live in an intimate New Orleans bar, off the beaten path. Released pre-pandemic this album sparks nostalgia for going to see incredibly talented regional bands do their thing. If you need a pick me up to get through, some inspiration for things to come, crack a beer, crank this record and dance in your living room like it was 2019.