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Todd Wolfe Band - Stripped Down at the Bang Palace

Bluesleaf Records

13 tracks

Sometimes I am a little naïve when it comes to record reviews. Todd Wolfe was not in my blues and rock vocabulary, so when I encounter an artist that is new to me I first just pop the CD in and listen without doing any research, let alone reading liner notes or any other promo material that may come with the review CD copy. I listened straight through this and said, “Whoa Nellie!,” in my finest imitation of Keith Jackson calling an Ohio State and Michigan game. This is a serious guitar player with some equally serious talent.

As it turns our, Todd was Sheryl Crow’s lead guitarist from 1992 to 1998. He and Sheryl toured with the Stones, Dylan, the Eagles, Page & Plant and Elton John. Before that and also now after that stint, he plays what he calls “bluesadelic”, a 1960’s styled blend of psychedelic blues rock. The band features Todd on guitars, vocals and Mandola, Suavek Zaniesienko on bass and BG Vox, and Roger Voss on drums and percussion. These guys are tight and hot.

Recorded live with minimal overdubs, Wolfe and company deliver huge performances of some original and some quite interesting covered material. Wolfe begins with original acoustic blues in “Wing of a Dove”. His vocals and playing here are strong, swamp filled blues. It’s a great song but in no way does it prepare the listener for the mega roller coaster ride of electric guitar work that follows. Elmore James “Stranger Blues” follows, and the guitar gets fully amped up and fuzzed out. He shuffles through Eddie Taylor’s “Bad Boy” in convincing style and with great restraint that gives the cut a very cool blues shuffle sound. He goes back to the Delta with Robert Johnson’s “Come On in My Kitchen” and gives this old standard new life.

Willie Dixon’s “Evil” gets a hot and greasy play from Wolfe as does “Three O’Clock Blues”, played with a full force guitar lead that will impress you. These are songs we all know and love and Wolfe picks and plays through them with reverence. "It's All Over Now" is a sweet rendition of this Bobby Womack number, and in the midst of a big guitar solo he breaks into an homage to the Allman Brothers with the riffs from "One Way Out" blended in before he closes out with a big finish. The CD ends with Howlin’ Wolf’s “Wreck My Life”. When I played it the song reminded me of the Doors doing the Wolf; when I opened the promo stuff that came with the CD it touts the tracks as “Doors-esque”, so I guess I am on the same page as his publicist!

If I had to have some small criticism it would be with the vocals. While mostly very strong, they do falter a bit at times. Where they least appeal to me is in a very cool National Steel slide guitar (perhaps it's his slide mandola?) cover of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen”. The guitar is smooth and sweet but the vocals are a little uneven. The other rough spot is in Muddy's "She's Nineteen Years Old". He covers these tracks in his own style, which is fresh and very cool; it's just that he seems a little uneven on the vocal lines. But this is minor and the huge guitar presence and very tight sound of this band make this a hot CD for the rocking blues lover. One can hear the influences of the Stones, Doors, Cream, Derek and the Dominos along with the older blues masters in Todd's guitar style. Wolfe is a great guitar player that folks need to sit up and listen to. This CD, his sixth, showcases a guy who can really make the guitar wail!

Reviewer Steve Jones is secretary of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL.

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