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Back Alley Players  - Beyond The Blues

B.O.N.E. Entertainment

A guitarist who doubles on the mandolin. A drummer who cut his teeth on hip-hop. A vocalist who sounds as if he's the nephew of Barry White.

If you're thinking this could be the recipe for a new blues sound, you're right. Except on Beyond The Blues, The Back Alley Players don't melt those sounds into a new blues brew so much as they deliver one of the tastiest and schizophrenic soul and country blues release since, well, ever. With players born and raised in NYC and steeped in r&b, funk, jazz and hip-hop, the Back Alley Players refreshingly feel little pressure to replicate the Chicago blues sound omnipresent still in 2010.

Beyond The Blues opens with vocalist Umar Conry unleashing his powerful baritone on the horn driven, soulful, funky, yet still bluesy Nothing But The Blues, then evolves into the soul/funk of You Make Me Crazy, the straight up soul/pop of The Jealous Kind and the funk/rock of Can't Get You Out Of My Head. Now if this recording was an LP and you were to flip to side #2, you might not be surprised at what you'd hear next. But Beyond The Blues is one sided, so when percussionist Czar Albion whistles over the light funky percussion laid down by Stix Bones on The Lazy Road Blues, you're likely to double take and wonder if bandleader and guitarist Johnny Turco was watching too many Andy Griffith re-runs before he wrote this funky and catchy head scratcher. From there, the band finishes Beyond The Blues with three acoustic country blues cuts, as Turco unpacks his mandolin on the next two tracks and his Dobro guitar on the final track.

Beyond The Blues is a fantastic and fresh blues debut from a collection of guys who've mostly honed their chops outside the genre. It's obvious from this release that The Back Alley Players enjoy playing with and off one another. One wonders what they have in their bag of tricks for a follow up. I'd love to hear Turco's mandolin backing the horn section, but as creative as this unit is, I'm guessing they'll come up with something even they haven't thought of yet.

Reviewer Jon Norton is Music Director at WGLT Public Radio station in Normal, IL.

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