Thursday, February 18, 2016
Supersonic Blues Machine - West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco - The Blues Rock Record To Beat For 2016
Supersonic Blues Machine is that rarest of beasts, a cameo packed blues rock album on which the core band and the tunes actually supersede the weight of the heavies who stop by to lend their support. And now, let me raise the stakes even higher - every cameo is worthy of being on the guests's own albums, nobody here brought anything except their A-game.This just might be the blues rock album to beat in 2016.
The core band is made up of Fabrizio Grossi, the project's visionary bassist/songwriter/producer, Texas guitar legend/vocalist Lance Lopez, and everybody's drummer of choice Kenny Aronoff. The list of guests is a who's who of musical legends, starting with The Righteous Reverend Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top, Warren Haynes, Robben Ford, Eric Gales, Walter Trout, and Chris Duarté. Grossi has done the near impossible in creating an album with a tremendously diverse cast that never sounds like anything less than a band. In a day and age in which budgets and time constraints often cause projects such as this to go off the rails, this one surfs high up on the waves of glory.
The lion's share of the tunes were composed by Grossi, and his writing partner Serge Simic, and it is their finely honed song craft that makes this more than an all star lineup - it's a great record no matter how you slice it. Grossi and Kenny Aronoff never for a moment go by rote, they are laying down the rhythms like they mean it, and they do. The drums often surprise you with their unexpected twists and turns and choices, and Grossi's bass is a joy to experience. There's no pattern play going on here, these fellows are stretching and working their considerable chops and taste into each tune.
I have to toss in a disclaimer at this point with another disclaimer to go with that. I've been a part of the assemblage of this project since it began (in a very small way), but this in no way changes what I have to say about the end product - I couldn't lie about music if I wanted to, it's just not in my genetic makeup, and this is a very, very cool record by any measure.
Whiskey Time is Billy Gibbons's contribution, and it's a co-write with Grossi, and super bassist Tal Wilkenfeld that would not sound out of place on any modern ZZ Top record. It is track three on the record, following in the footsteps of two Lance Lopez sang scorchers - Miracle Man kicks things off, and it's a southern rock foot stomper which is followed by I Ain't Fallin', a tune that takes you back to the days when The Doobie Brothers so successfully combined blue eyed soul with greasy guitar rock, and when you hear Lopez rip into his tour de force guitar solo this will all make great sense to the listener. Melody, tunefulness, taste, and sincerity - remember those guys? All on display in spades here. And, Lopez sings the hell out of these songs.
Don't think you're going to get a break, either. Warren Haynes is on deck for track four, Remedy, and he unleashes what to my ears is the best track he's been a part of since he gifted us with Soulshine in his prime years with The Allman Brothers Band. Aficionados will take note when I say that this reminds me of the criminally unheralded Raging Slab, a band that should have owned the nineties, but who just didn't play ball with the industry. This one is a true family outing as Grossi brings on his wife Francis Benitez, and their daughter Andrea for some soulful harmonies that cozy up next to Haynes's smooth baritone like a cognac on a winter's night. Lopez and Haynes whip out some nice guitar harmonies, and all is right in the world.
Things get tougher for track five with Grossi's Bone Bucket Blues, a title he claimed on a cold night in Brooklyn at a local juke and rib joint, and while it was born in Brooklyn, it's soul is down in Texas. Lance Lopez? He arrived a long time ago, but this might be his ticket to the mainstream. He knocks everything he does on this record out of the park, and to shine so brightly in such company as this is no mean feat, but he's more than up to the task. This is what they call a star turn.
Let It Be is a smooth soul scorcher that consists of the core band and their backup singers laying it down. Again, the ensemble play on tap is what takes a cool tune and thrusts it into the stratosphere. Blues rock stalwart Chris Duarté is up next, and he throttles his Strat as always with his signature tone and style. That's My Way is another Grossi tune that Lopez sings like he owns it as Duarté punctuates the verses with stinging efficiency. This moves and grooves, then moves and grooves some more.
Ain't No Love (In The Heart Of The City) is the Bobby "Blue" Bland tune that got its rock chops from the true glory days of David Coverdale's Whitesnake, and I'm going to have to send a copy of this to my pals DC and Mickey Moody - they're going to like what's been done to their old chestnut. I haven't mentioned Grossi's superb production, but its a beautiful thing to experience. Everything sounds just right, the mix is perfect, and you never have to lean into anything to hear a detail or to pick out a part - this is how it's done kids, and I will also mention the mastering job done by Pete Doell, who knows that "Everything louder than everything else may work for Motorhead, but most music isn't Motorhead - this is a magnificent example of what a record should sound like. A master class.
Eric Gales. If you've ever read much of what I've written, it's hard to miss my love for all things Gales, and hearing him aligned with his old pal Lance Lopez is a spiritual moment. Nobody does anything but make it work, and in a scenario that could have come off like the shootout at the OK Corral, instead we have a beautiful stew of what this music is supposed to sound like. Grossi's bass is a marvel to experience as it growls, slides, and pops with stunning tone and precision. Nightmares And Dreams is lovely.
Can't Take It is Walter Trout's turn to shine, and it's so great to hear Walter back in the saddle after his life threatening liver transplant nearly derailed his train, and he and Lopez duet wonderfully on voice and guitars. Supersonic Blues Machine then takes a couple of minutes to sharpen their swords on a bit of instrumental madness that evokes the spirit of Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan's classic riffing, but we have the good reverend Wille G. emoting over the top - cool stuff, kids.
We finally get a chance to breathe and relax as Robben Ford jumps onboard for the piano lead Let's Call It A Day, and it's an AOR instant classic. Lopez sings it like a hymn, and the band supports him grandly as Ford weaves his magic around the whole thing. Things get wrapped up with the shucking and jiving Whatchagonnado, and it's a great place to leave the first chapter of the Supersonic Blues Machine's debut, a record that I hope is just the beginning for this bunch of savvy veterans.
Yeah, this is THE blues rock record to beat for 2016. Get running world, it's going to be hard to catch this one....