Phantom Blues Band

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Footprints Review

by Hal Horowitz

This affable follow-up to Taj Mahal's on-again/off-again band's successful 2006 debut as its own entity is a genial trawl through some soulful, relatively obscure covers with a few similarly styled originals. It's a relaxed, good-time romp kicked up a few notches by the sextet's impressive talents and careers as studio cats for hire supporting acts as varied as Peter Tosh and B.B. King. The presence of ace roots producer John Porter (who also produced the group's first album) pretty much guarantees that this is no half-baked project, and the results, while not being revelatory, show the Phantom Blues Band to have a solid grasp on Southern-fried, retro soul and R&B. It's a loose, amiable set that connects precisely because it doesn't try too hard, and the players clearly have this music in their blood. Darrell Leonard on trumpet and sax veteran Joe Sublett swing their parts like the Memphis horns and the group's three relatively strong vocalists -- guitarist Johnny Lee Schell, bassist Larry Fulcher, and Mike Finnegan on keyboards -- keep the approach fresh with slightly different styles. They latch onto soul singer Paul Kelly's "Chills and Fever," a relic from the Dial label, transforming it into a gospel rave-up only hinted at in the original. Mike Finnegan digs into his best Ray Charles impression on a version of Brother Ray's "A Fool for You" that perfectly taps into the song's gospel, R&B, and blues roots and even gives Charles' take serious competition. The band's camaraderie, contagious sense of enjoyment, and dedication to playing dated music they obviously love helps elevate the performances, all of which are jaunty, heartfelt, and above all unpretentious.

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