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Mitch Woods – Blues Beyond Borders: Live in Istanbul

Club 88 Records 2012

CD: 14 Tracks; 70 minutes; DVD 18 tracks; 73 minutes + extras

This is a bumper package of Mitch Woods and his fine band the Rocket 88s recorded live in Istanbul during an extended tour the band undertook in Turkey in October 2010 alongside Kenny Neal’s Family Band. Kenny’s band is not featured musically though they are involved in some of the footage from the tour that is included on the DVD. The CD is an excellent example of the band’s command of the boogie, swing and jump styles and the DVD gives a visual representation of those performances plus some interesting insights into the band’s experiences of Turkish life and culture. There are no additional music tracks on the DVD.

The Rocket 88s are Larry Vann on drums, Cornell Williams on bass and occasional vocals, Adam Gabriel on guitar and b/v, with Mitch on piano and vocals. Mitch blends his own material with classics from the blues and boogie repertoire. The concert opens with Mitch’s “Solid Gold Cadillac” which gives all the band good exposure on a mid-paced swinger. “Down Boy Down” swings mightily with sax player Amadee Castenell featured strongly. Two more original tunes follow: “Mojo Mambo” is typical NO material with that underlying funk groove and twinkling piano playing; “Boogie Woogie Bar-B-Q” is a fun tune extolling the virtues of Texas BBQ, with more great sax playing and a foot-tapping rhythm. “I Got A New Car” by Erin Groves Jr. drops the pace a little but is also amusing as Mitch explains how his new car left him broke! Roy Milton’s “What Can I Do” is a short but sweet piece of jump blues before Mitch’s “Queen Bee” delivers a loping blues beat and plenty of strong sax. The band then returns to Louisiana with “Crawfishin’”, with plenty of opportunity for the enthusiastic audience to join in on the chorus.

Mitch’s “Long Lean & Lanky” is a real rocker with a tongue-twisting lyric and solo spots for piano and guitar. After that the band probably needed a rest and the extended slow blues of Eddie Boyd’s “Third Degree” is the perfect vehicle. Cornell sings lead here with some clear gospel influences on his style and there is an extended guitar solo from Adam. “Rocket 88” is always a good tune live and as the band bears the same name they really should do it justice, as indeed they do, all three front-line players working well together.

The band worked up a Turkish song to include in their concerts and here “Lambaya Puf De” (described by Mitch on the DVD as “sort of like a Barry White seduction song in Turkish”) is incorporated into Professor Longhair’s “In The Night”, making a very interesting pairing! Mitch demonstrates his piano skills and there are short solo spots for bass and drums before Adam’s guitar introduces the Turkish song which is sung by Mitch and certainly has a middle-eastern flavour from the drum pattern and the sax and guitar stylings before they return to “In The Night”. Needless to say, the crowd goes nuts to hear and see the band tackle a Turkish song! How to follow that must have been an issue and the band sensibly returns to boogie woogie with “House Of Blue Lights”, a hit for the Andrews Sisters as long ago as 1946. It’s a solid finale with plenty of Mitch’s rocking piano and another clear hit with the crowd.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable package and a generous helping of what Mitch and the Rocket 88s have to offer. I am sure that fans of the band will rush to get it but for those who are not so familiar with Mitch’s music this is a good place to start. Recommended.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.

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