Various Artists – Blues Alive in the Valley: Lockdown Sessions
23 songs – 101 minutes
Despite joining the ranks of the Blues Foundation a little more than a year ago, the Hudson Valley Blues Society — based an hour or so north of Manhattan –have been busy beavers during the coronavirus shutdown. Originally planning to celebrate their second anniversary party and jams prior to entering a band in the 2021 International Blues Challenge, their world spun to a halt, and they shifted gears. This beefy CD is the result.
Spanning two CDs and 101 minutes, it’s a major achievement — and even more so when you learn that the HVBS board of directors recruited 23 Upstate artists – ranging from local talent to some of the biggest names in the industry – all of whom contributed an original song to the project.
All of the artists involved – including Dion, Professor Louie and the Crowmatix, Vaneese Thomas, Alexis P. Suter, Taz Cru and others – retain rights to their material while the non-profit’s using all funds they raise to support their burgeoning operation.
Aided by guitarist Joe Menza, Dion opens the action with “Kicking Child,” updating a tune he first recorded in 1965 after having been a chart-topper with The Belmonts. The Johnny Feds Band’s “Axe to Grind,” a searing, six-string powered promise of revenge, is up next before Phil Buttà — a New York Blues Hall of Famer — delivers the quiet ballad, “True to You,” and Professor Louie – a Grammy winning keyboard player/producer with The Band – heats things up with the classy, stop-time “Passion in My Life.”
The Menza Madison Band’s blues-rocker, “Preacherman,” precedes the Robert Hill Band’s “Slide on Rye,” a tune that earned the front man first place in a six-string competition co-sponsored by Guitar Player magazine. HVBS president Paul Toscano teams with Tom “The Suit” Forst for “Turn Up the Heat” before Vaneese Thomas takes you to church with the passionate “Mean World.”
Union Stockyard & Transit Company delivers “US Funk,” a free-form instrumental, before keyboard player Dave Keyes – best known for his work with Poppa Chubby – soars with “It’s 7 O’Clock Somewhere,” a tune he dedicates to frontline healthcare workers. Local favorite Willa Vincitore’s “Mama Needs Some Company” adds fuel to the fire before Petey Hop closes the first disc with “Oh Lord,” a stripped-down plea for heavenly assistance.
The second set opens on a bright note as melismatic vocalist Chris Raabe goes solo and dazzles on fingerpicked guitar through “Pity Party” before yielding to the four-piece ensemble Cross Purpose for “He’d Already Told Me So.” Forst returns with full band format for the haunting, propulsive “Late Night Train” then yields Chris Bergson Band, a regional favorite for decades, for the horn-fueled and classy “Fall Changes.”
Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers reinvent ‘60s the rock-country blues hybrid with “How Many Roads” next. Then vocalist Alexis P. Suter puts her baritone pipes to work in the emotion-packed “Empty Promises.” Then things get funky again with Wyld Blue’s “Jackpot 14” before Jaxx Cafe suffers through a confession about being a love bandit in “Getting Even.”
Fronting one of the hardest working bands on the national circuit, Tas Cru teams with his longtime drummer, Sonny Rock, for the hard-rocking “Kinda Mess” before two more tunes — The Full Stop Blues Band’s swinging “May May” and the Roadhouse Roosters’ Delta-flavored “The Train” – conclude the action.
Sure, there are some inconsistencies here — the talent level varies, and sound levels are problematic on a couple of cuts — but there’s a heaping helping of positive spins that make this project a keeper. Available through the HVBS website (address above), and well worth the price.