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Reverend Raven And The Smokin’ Altar Boys – Shake Your Boogie

Nevermore Records

13 tracks; 62.04 minutes

The Reverend spent 15 years serving in the Navy where one of his duties was to counsel sailors who found themselves in hot water. His charges gave him the nickname Reverend and it stuck. The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys sounds like it was a natural addition, especially once you hear the hot blues these guys serve up!

The band began in 1996 and this is their fourth CD. They are a very hard working band whose gig list is already pretty full right through 2011. They are based in Wisconsin, but tour extensively, with Florida, Canada and the Virgin Islands on their gig list for next year.

The music on this CD is excellent, well played and recorded, with variety but most importantly a fair degree of excitement. The core of the band is Reverend Raven on guitar and vocals, PT Pedersen on bass, Bobby Lee Sellers on drums (and vocals on two cuts) and Big Al Groth on sax. Madison Slim provides harp and vocals on four tracks, where an alternative rhythm section of Andre Maritato on bass and Spencer Panosh on drums sit in and the sax is absent. Piano and organ are provided by either Mickey Larson or Danny Moore on most tracks. Reverend Raven wrote three of the songs, with the sole instrumental being from the pen of the bass player. Gerry Hundt, former member of Nick Moss’ Fliptops is the author of two tracks and covers come from Hound Dog Taylor, Slim Harpo, Little Milton, St Louis Jimmy Oden, Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson. The album was recorded live on stage in Milwaukee, but from the absence of any crowd noise I assume that it was ‘live’ without an audience.

The CD starts off with a strong quartet of songs, two being Reverend Raven originals. Opener “Looking For Love” features Big Al’s sax over a riff not far away from “Checking Up On My Baby”. The Rev’s vocals are clear and well suited to this mid-paced swinger where his lady is encouraged to “put it on a train, put it on a truck, put it on a plane, put it on a bus, first stop Chicago, I need your love”. Second track is Gerry Hundt’s “Stomping And Shouting”, a slide driven tune with powerhouse drumming and classic piano supporting The Rev’s Elmore style playing. Once again, the sax break is right on the money.

Next up is the second Reverend original “You Didn’t Even Say Goodbye” which features some nice sax/guitar ensemble playing and excellent solos from both lead players. Little Milton’s “Just Count The Days” is a slow blues with drummer Bobby Lee Sellers singing, lovely rolling piano from Mickey Larson and a sax solo that builds from a slow, sinuous beginning to a real storming climax.

There is a different feel to the material recorded with Madison Slim. Track 5 is an energetic take on St Louis Jimmy’s “She’s Murder”, with fast paced drumming pushing the beat along. The harp playing is strong here and Madsion Slim’s voice is a little less smooth than The Reverend’s. All these features make it an excellent choice to spread the four tunes recoded with that ensemble through the album as it affords more variety.

Next up is the second track sung by Bobby Lee Sellers, Robert Nighthawk’s “Bricks In My Pillow”, the stop/start rhythm on the drums is assisted by piano and that provides a good cushion for an exuberant guitar break. Track 7 “Like Wolf”, again performed by the alternate group with Madison Slim, is by SBW and the low down harp intro sets the tone for a classic Chicago sound. Hound Dog Taylor’s “The Woman I Love” follows, naturally with plenty of slide but also the sax soaring out of the mix to blend with the guitar, overall making for an exciting ride along the longest track on the CD.

After that we need a change of pace and it is provided by the final original “I Can Do You Right”, a slow blues with a melancholy tale of love gone cold. An elegant and emotional sax solo sonically locates us in the same sad place as the lyric. Instrumental tune “PT’s Home Cooking” follows, offering solo opportunities for everyone which are keenly taken on a tune that is almost rock n’ roll.

The alternate band reappears on a take of Slim Harpo’s “Mailbox Blues” which features The Reverend’s guitar strongly, even including a bit of the “chicken scratch” rhythm. “Walking To Chicago” is the final cut of the main band and the second from the pen of Gerry Hundt. A strong guitar solo and the final appearance of Big Al’s sax make this an enjoyable track. The last track is again from the alternate band, a fast paced romp through Big Joe Williams’ “Shake Your Boogie” which provides the title of the CD. Some nice piano features here, as well as strong harp and guitar.

Overall I really enjoyed this CD and recommend it highly. I see that Reverend Raven And The Smokin’ Altar Boys are playing at the pre-cruise party for the January Blues Cruise in Fort Lauderdale, so I very much look forward to the opportunity of seeing them live. I do not expect to be disappointed!

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He recently attended the Blues Blast Awards in Chicago and had a great time! Back in the USA for the January 2011 Blues Cruise!

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