The Strongman Blues Remedy – Volume 1 | Album Review

The Strongman Blues Remedy – Volume 1

Stony Plain Records SPCD1462

10 songs – 36 minutes

A super-group that includes 2019 Blues Blast Music awards female vocalist of the year and Blues Music Award nominee Dawn Tyler Watson and several of the most important blues artists in Canada, The Strongman Blues Remedy serves up a mix of swamp, shuffles, ballads and more on their debut CD, delivering an all-original set that will put a spring in your step and a smile on your face, too.

The group was organized by Hamilton, Ont.-based Steve Strongman, a singer/songwriter/producer who’s won both the Albert King Award as the best guitarist at the International Blues Challenge and a JUNO Award, Canada’s version of the Grammys. He penned all ten the tunes on this one, half of which were partnerships with either King, Watson, Marriner, Kennedy or engineer Rob Szabo.

An eight-piece ensemble, the aggregation also features powerhouse songbird Crystal Shawanda, Harrison Kennedy and vocalist/harp player Steve Marriner with backing from Jesse O’Brien on keys, Dave King on drums and Alec Fraser on bass – all of whom figure regularly in the JUNOs and Maple Blues Awards, the Great White North’s top blues honors.

Produced during the pandemic, the artists recorded remotely in Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton and Nashville. The end product delivers an all-original, contemporary set with broad appeal. It’s delivered from multiple points of view but they combine to form a universal message that filling our lives with music, celebrating life and looking forward to a positive outcome is the best cure for the world in which we currently live.

A strong slide guitar hook from Strongman – who also provides harp and bass on some tracks – opens the upbeat “Hard Luck.” A medium-paced shuffle that’s infused with sweet instrumentation, it describes troubles clinging to the singer and following him wherever he might be. But he remains optimist because his position is far better off than it could be despite the frustration it brings.

Marriner’s at the mic for “Swansong,” a droning blues with a positive message and Hill Country appeal, which states that “everybody wants answers, but nobody has ‘em” and that “change takes time but we’re gonna be gone if we don’t begin.” Things slow down as Watson takes command for “Fine Young Man,” a plea for a lover from a woman who believes she’s getting better with age.

Kennedy – an acoustic blues master and perennial BMA nominee – takes charge for the next two tune, “I Don’t Miss You” and “I Like to Ride.” The former is a rich soul-blues delivered from the position of a man who knows he’s lying to himself while the latter is a loping shuffle that celebrates hitting the highway with a good companion at his side. It features some nice call-and-response on the choruses.

A strong guitar flourish opens the cautionary “White Lightnin’,” a Chicago-style blues ballad that finds Strongman always finds himself thinking of his ex every time he takes a sip, before things heat up with “Tell Me I’m Wrong,” a potent blues-rocker that features the powerful pipes of Shawanda, who suspects her relationship has come to a dead end.

Three more interesting pleasers bring the album to a close with Strongman providing vocals. “Gettin’ Stoned” draws similarities to The Coasters’ “Let’s Go Get Stoned” but is delivered with an acoustic, skiffle feel, includes a laundry list of methods and includes a complaint about “lots of politics surroundin’ smokin’ a joint and everybody’s out gettin’ high.” The slow-paced rocker “True to Me” praises a companion before “Love Comin’ Down” ends the action delivered from the position of a man who’s sleepless because he isn’t getting enough romance.

Tired of all the doom and gloom filling the airwaves these days? Spin this one for a little relief. It’ll work wonders.

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