Studebaker John

Old School Rockin'

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Following his previous '50s-'60s set of rootsy Chicago blues, Studebaker John Grimaldi applies the same no-frills approach to boogie-happy blues-rocking on this long but satisfying set. As usual, Grimaldi writes all his material, but the style is so well etched in the genre's history that his songs don't deviate musically, or even lyrically, from what has come before. He recorded the basic tracks in one day, which gives this a crackling, almost live-in-the-studio feel that keeps the sound fresh even if the melodies, riffs, and general approach aren't unique. Regardless, tunes such as the swampy "Disease Called Love" and "Deal with the Devil" make the most of the three-piece format with tough guitar overdubs and creative arrangements that don't take the easy way out. Grimaldi sounds consistently devoted to this material. His energy and commitment go a long way to pushing these songs up a few notches from the typical boogie fare of Savoy Brown, Foghat, and others who have made a career out of this style. When he adds his electrified harp to the mix on the slow swamp shuffle "Dark Night" and others, the result brings a dangerous edge to music that could easily get lost in its own good intentions. Rather than pandering to the hard-drinking crowd impervious to subtleties, Grimaldi and his two-piece pull back and make the music breathe with innovative playing far above the bar-band levels this could easily have descended to. At 14 longish tracks clocking in at nearly 74 minutes, a few edits of some of the weaker material would have made for one terrific disc, but even John's second-tier material trumps most groups' best stuff. Add his energized vocals, sizzling slide work, and bone-chilling harmonica and even the less stellar tracks jump out of the speakers with a passion and intensity clearly showing that, even after over a dozen releases since 1994, Grimaldi might just now be hitting his stride.

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