The Terraplanes

Well Tuned

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This Ann Arbor, MI-based blues band serves up a variety of authentic and traditional blues, led by vocalist/guitarist Jerry Mack. He has a tough-toned baritone voice that works well in its range, somewhat reminiscent of George Thorogood. The Terraplanes band, who have gone through a few personnel changes before settling into this lineup, has an excellent lead guitar voice in Loren Hsieh, very fine harmonica inserts courtesy of Eric Pinaud and especially Dale Minus, and a sound different than the rest via the trumpet playing of Dave Cavendar. Solid rhythm comes from bassist John Allesee and drummer Alan Powelson, while Martin Simmons and Phil Ryski switch off on piano. Mack wrote most of these selections, and they generally amount to as original a blues as anyone can muster. He's written some clever lyrics on the boogie swing "All of the Above," and refers to the "queen of denial" during the exceptional, deliberately slow "Startin' to Feel Bad" with Simmons' lean piano and Cavendar's boppish trumpet. On "Old Black Jacket," Mack sings in a lower bass, relating his sly stories regarding the coat, then heads into voodoo territory for the Screamin' Jay Hawkins-influenced "Under the Spell," and goes more acoustic with Rollie Tussing III on a deft slide in back-porch fashion during a choogling "Hand Me Down Some of Your Blues." Minus is a real plus and a welcome second on "Jacket," "Spell," "Hand Me Down," and "So Hard to Let Go," a hard-edged, no-nonsense 12-bar blues. There are also tributes to sweethearts in "Killin' Floor"-mode from the band, during the mostly talking blues "She Loves Me" with Pinaud's repeated, insistent lines, the Earl King good-time tune "Always a First Time" with Cavendar's brash trumpet or Allman-like twin guitar coda, and the instrumental blues to swing "Shiftin' Gears" where the inventiveness of Hsieh comes shining through. In addition, there's a New Orleans shuffle on Solomon Burke's "Cry to Me," a classic Willie Dixon swinger "29 Ways," and the jump blues originals "The Best Ones" and classic "Choo Choo Ch-Boogie" with background vocals. Cavendar injects jazzy solos and single-man backing horn charts that sound much larger in tandem with guitars or bass. The Terraplanes offer up an evenly fired, well-paced program that hums right along; a completists' view of blues without rock hyperbole; and many good tunes with new lyrical twists on well-established, familiar themes. They show much promise for taking this style of music to a higher level. Recommended.