Tré & The Blue Knights – Back To The Future
Wolf Records – 2022
13 tracks; 65 minutes
Tré is the son of the late Chicago bluesman LV Banks (1932-2011). He made his recording debut on the British JSP label back in 1996 and since then he has released two albums on Wolf (2008 and 2013), and was one of the artists on their 2010 collection From The Country To The City, alongside Harmonica Hinds and the late Eddie Taylor Jr. This album was actually recorded before both those albums, in 2006 in Lyon, France, with a group of French musicians led by Fred Brousse on guitar/harmonica, alongside Luc Blackstone on bass and Cedric San Juan on drums; Tré is on guitar and vocals. Fred explains in the sleeve notes that Tré told him that he wanted to play some Chicago classics alongside some of his originals and this set, recorded as a demo while they were touring in Europe, follows that pattern, with material that we all know and love from some of the all-time greats, plus four Tré originals.
The album opens with a run of five stonewall classics. The band lopes into a shuffle for “Everyday I Have The Blues”, Tré singing solidly and sharing solos with Fred, before “The Thrill Is Gone”, his guitar fills sounding good. The pace quickens with Wolf’s “Killing Floor” with some fine picking from both guitarists before a return to BB King territory with “Sweet Sixteen”. In contrast to that slow blues, Tré rocks out on the slide-driven “Dust My Broom”, a first dip into the Robert Johnson songbook, with some additional lyrics from Tré. That is soon followed by a relaxed take on “Sweet Home Chicago”, the two RJ tunes split by the first original. There are three more covers here: Jerry Beach’s “I’ll Play The Blues For You” became an Albert King anthem and is played in a respectful version that is close to the original; we also get funky versions of Chuck Willis’ “Feel So Bad” and Junior Walker’s “Shotgun”, the cover that strays furthest from the original with skittering guitar work to substitute for the absent sax. All these covers are decent but add little to the originals, they were presumably part of Tré’s live act at the time.
The four originals are quite different to the covers; indeed, if the sleeve notes did not state that all these tracks were recorded on the same day you might think that they come from an entirely different session. “Church Bells” is a duo performance with Tré’s lonely guitar and Fred’s down-home harp while “2 My Lady” is a gentle, soulful ballad with gently plucked chords over minimal rhythm section support; the ethereal harmony vocals are not credited, but may well be Tré multi-tracked. “Shot My Baby” is a longer track, again a guitar/harp duo yet still having a menacing tone that fits the lyrics which are familiar from other blues which end in tragedy; Fred proves himself to be a pretty good harp player here! The album closes on “Heartache”, another soulful song with Tré’s vocals rather far back in the mix.
One suspects that this album was not released at the time because there were only four originals alongside some very familiar covers. Does the world need more versions of these classics? Probably not, but Tré and his French friends do a decent job on them.