(4 / 5)
Really cool and classy live blues album, and a five camera high-definition live DVD; featuring the equal talents of harmonica player Sonny Charles and Kid Royal’s blistering guitar skills.
One of Florida’s longest-running and most accomplished bands, The Backtrack Blues Band has performed high-energy, Chicago-style blues continuously since its founding in 1980. Establishing a strong reputation for creative songwriting through five previous CDs and one DVD of original music – all of which charted on the U.S. blues radio charts.
The quintet’s latest album, captures Sonny, Kid and their three mates Little Johnny Walter on rhythm guitar, Joe Bencomo on drums and Stick Davis on bass – on the stage of the Palladium Theatre in their hometown of St. Petersburg on January 6th, 2017.
The set list ranges from classics from B.B. King: “Woke Up This Morning,” Sonny Boy Williamson II: “Your Funeral and My Trial,” T-Bone Walker: “T-Bone Shuffle” to Sonny Charles originals such as “Heavy Built Woman,” “Shoot My Rooster” and the title track.
It is an authentic and relaxed Chicago and Texas blues sound, and in Sonny Charles we have a man who channels the likes of Little Walter, Paul Butterfield, Lazy Lester and Kim Wilson. In Kid Royal, his style was influenced by the great Texas guitar players. He also sings lead vocals on two cuts; BB King’s “Woke Up This Morning” and the T-Bone Walker-penned “T-Bone Shuffle”.
Joe Bencomo is an exceptional drummer who has played in Tampa Bay blues and jazz bands for 40 years; Little Johnny Walter adds solid rhythm guitar and backup vocals; and bassist Stick Davis was a founding member of the Amazing Rhythm Aces (of “Third Rate Romance” fame).
On this very decent record, their sixth album, there’s no gimmicks or studio enhancements. No overdubs or studio edits. “An honest and authentic live recording” they say. The kind of performance that evolves from many years of playing together, in a band that has palpable chemistry it seems, from this hearing.
For the first couple of tracks, I wasn’t quite sure if the lead vocal from Sonny matched the quality of the harp, the guitar and the overall ensemble sound. But when I got used to his vocal tone and style, it clicked into place. Kid Royal does an OK job on the two he sings.
The Backtrack Blues Band have appeared with legendary blues artists from B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Gregg Allman, Robert Cray, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Johnny Winter, and have performed at major blues festivals in America and Canada.
The band also travels to the Caribbean for shows, and Charles keeps a home on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The album’s penultimate song of the nine cuts, “Shoot My Rooster,” was derived from his island experiences.
On St John, lots of wild animals roam the island – donkeys, goats, iguanas and chickens. At Sonny’s place, a feral rooster hangs out and crows loudly every morning. A friend suggested Sonny should shoot the noisy rooster. He has never pulled the trigger, but it did inspire him to write this new tune for the album.
The album is raw, raunchy, the mix of covers and originals delivers an even listen. The performances are spot on. Both Sonny Charles as a harp player, and Kid Royal as a guitarist are masters of their art and will delight UK blues fans who have not yet made their acquaintance.
Blues festival programmers in the UK and Europe should take a listen and get ’em over for summer 2018.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’