Various Artists

The Story of Tone Cool, Vol. 1

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Founded in the mid-'80s, the Massachusetts Tone-Cool label has largely been devoted to blues and blues-based releases, though eventually it went into other kinds of music too. Blues and R&B are the styles on this two-CD, 24-track compilation, though. Not many of the performers have a big national reputation; the only ones who might be readily familiar to the casual blues fan are Rod Piazza, zydeco singer Terrance Simien, and maybe Susan Tedeschi. There's a reasonable diversity on this anthology, but the overall aura of bar band competence starts to make you feel as though you're listening to a series of tapes by artists trying to land support slots at a club with upcoming gigs by Buddy Guy, Dr. John, and the J. Geils Band. The acts are better than demo standard, true, but they share a good-natured, unmemorable, professional amiability, and the material is only average. The Little Walter-styled harmonica of Piazza on "Who Knows What's Goin' On" is a highlight, as is the gutsy singing of Tedeschi on "It Hurt So Bad." The cut that stretches blues conventions the most is Rick Holmstrom's jump blues-shuffle instrumental "Pee Wee's Nightmare," which has some really weird and eerily unclassifiable reverb and electronic effects.

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