Howl with the Wolf

Studebaker John

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Howl with the Wolf Review

by Hal Horowitz

A bluesman from Chicago who doesn't perform any covers is a rarity indeed, but John Grimaldi, aka Studebaker John, has stuck to his guns throughout his career, and this 2001 release is a good indication why. While his melodies are serviceable, the guitarist/harpist/singer writes sharp, smart lyrics that are far more provocative than what most contemporary bluesmen churn out. Add tough vocals that place him between Darrell Nulisch and Stevie Ray Vaughan and a sizzling attack that never seems phoned in for a 50-minute set, and you wonder what more it would take for this gutsy, obviously inspired bluesman to get traction, even in a market saturated by talented players. Along with his other talents, Grimaldi also produced this disc, and the stripped-down yet full sound is raw and driven yet accessible. Songs such as the opening "Burned by Love" and "Rich Man" boast melodies that are far more creative and dramatically arranged than the genre exercises most bluesmen work in. He blows serious Little Walter-inspired amplified harp on the "Juke"-styled instrumental "Harpology," and the driving Bo Diddley beat of "Nothing Comes Easy" pushes this disc into the red zone. The slow, sexy grind of "Lock & Chain" gives Grimaldi a chance to display his impressive vocals and a slide guitar tone with Elmore James nuances. A few by-the-numbers party boogie burners such as "Don't You Take It" sound like warmed-over Fabulous Thunderbirds, but Grimaldi plays everything with enough enthusiasm and warmth to make listeners forget that they may have heard some of these tunes done by other bands, just with different titles. Regardless, there is plenty here for blues lovers to sink their teeth into, and the best moments are terrific examples of contemporary blues at its most propulsive.

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