West Side Joe & The Men Of Soul – Keep On Climbin’
Self-Release – 2021
12 tracks; 49 minutes
Frontman, guitarist and songwriter Joe Schicke had a long history as a sideman in Memphis, but is now based in Colorado and this is the debut release from his new band. West Side Joe & The Men Of Soul is a trio, with Taylor Tesler on bass and Steve Amedee on drums, but the sound is far greater than that as keys appear on most tracks and horns are added to four. The guest musicians include John Magnie, Al Gamble and Brian Keller on keys, Al Chesis on harp, Lionel Young and Vi Wickam on violin, Russick Smith on cello and a three person horn section, Phuong Nguyen on sax, Greta Cornett on trumpet and John Giordanengo on trombone; Saja Butler is on vocals on three tracks and adds banjo to another, Bevin Luna adds vocals to three and Stella Schicke sings on one cut.
The music ranges widely, the first four tracks showing the versatility of the band. The title track “Keep On Climbin’” bounces along with gospel harmonies and excellent slide guitar as Joe sets out his positive attitude to life; “Vacate My Heart” is a full-tilt rocker with thrilling guitar work over a busy first appearance from the horn section who stay on board for “Found You”, a Memphis soul tune in which Joe pays tribute to the love of his life, whilst “Easier Than You Think” is R&B with a strong bass line. Saja Butler takes the lead vocals on “Come Thru”, leaving Joe to play some delicate guitar fills and “Man Down” builds into a statement of female empowerment aided by the female vocalists who tear it up on the outro. On “Raindrop Don’t Care” it’s Stella Schicke on lead, a ballad with more fine accompaniment on guitar and keys. The attractive ballad “Give Love For Free” has fine horns (particularly the trombone) and an engaging guitar solo, the whole having something of a Tedeschi-Trucks feel to these ears.
After that run of gentler tracks we get right back to the blues with “Colorado Mama”, the classic Elmore James slide riff present and correct and harmonica further upping the blues quotient on a tribute to the person who brought Joe to his adopted state. Joe’s short, semi-acoustic, country-tinged “I Got A Letter” precedes the rolling Rn’B of “When You Get The Chance” which has a New Orleans feel from the horns and Joe’s Earl King style guitar work. The album closes with a classic slow blues in “I Can’t Lose”, six minutes long and plenty of space for Joe’s stylish guitar work, this time more in a BB King style.
This is a very impressive debut album, good songs, well produced and plenty of variety to enjoy, so no surprise that it is one of the nominations for New Artist Debut in this year’s Blues Blast Music Awards. Definitely one to look out for!