Big Frank & The Healers: Sparky’s Lounge (Lost World Music)
Big Frank Mirra hails from Staten Island, the forgotten borough of the quintet that makes up NYC. Used to be ya had to take a ferry there, back in the quaint days, now we got the Verrazano Bridge and they are exploding the highways to let more and more people use it as the cut through to NJ (it seems). Yet I actually lived on Staten Island and I’ll be darned never found cats like Big Frank while I was there, but then again that;s probably cause I was busy doing the two-three hours commute to NYC to hold down my day job as Artistic Creative Director for several companies back in the day…….
On to “Sparky’s Lounge” – I tell ya what, I wish this place was close by cos I’d be a regular there. The title cut floats in on a wave of cymbals and mellows down easy into spoken slow hand tour of what has to be the hippest spot on SI. Frank soft pedals spoken word lyrics as Matt Cowan rides the sax underneath and Kid Java (now there’s a name outta the forties) blows spot on thru the harp. Throw back but go back this is a super track.
I know ya recall I spoke of the Ferry that took people back and forth – well it still does, and its a floating meat wagon for sure, packed just like the subway but at least there’s a breeze to quell the smell. So when Frank breaks out ‘Ferryboat Blues‘ I knew I’d dig it. His take is the real deal as he sings about the cloak of invisibility that exists when humanity is placed in such quarters. To a rolling beat, him and the band works their way around the boat carefully avoids cliches as well as wet seats that are all too often unavoidable. There is a fine bass line being laid down on this cut (as well as others) by Ms. Margey Peters, a full time resident with Brad Vickers & The Vestapolitans.
This release serves as a Blues Travel Log – with such transit related titles as ‘Ride This Bus’ which has a swing feel to it, and the aforementioned Kid Java blowing good smoke from that harp. In a front porch treatment of Rural NYC Blues he treats us to ‘Toll Booth Woman’ . Big Frank brings to light the pain that resides in everyone’s heart when they hit those exorbitant toll booths coming into NYC from afar. Working the resonator and slide with just a slight edge to it, he slaps and coerces from it the grit and pulse of the daily delay and cost of living in the city that never sleeps. Yet let’s not forget that he is hoping for a little bit more than just driving thru, as he flat out states that he would “slow on down just to talk with you” and “shift down to neutral just to idle a while with you” Hell yeah.
When we walked in this door Sparky’s was laid back and mellow, but a later visit finds us in the midst of ‘Sparky’s Stomp’. Upbeat and what I might say contains NYC surf music flair we get the ‘schwang’ on as Carl Snyder rides the B3 that recalls the old Jersey hang out ‘Palisades Park’.
So stop by “Sparky’s Lounge” grab a beer and a shot and relax, but be ready to kick out the jams when called upon cos if you don’t then your not family anymore.
I met Franc Robert last year at the IBC’s in Memphis, first saw him sitting jamming away late at night, and he could play that lap steel pretty well. So when I got this release I jumped at it to hear what he would do with a full band of his own.
Straight outta the box he hits the ground running with ‘Let’s Go Jukin”. A tribute to the quality and variety of Blues clubs down in Georgia & Florida he names names and the band rolls and thunders straight through. Smokin Joe Sadowski on harp and Lee Pons tickling those 88’s create a great wall of sound that makes ya wanna jump AirTran and get yourself down there.= to get with the jukin’.
Franc knows the Blues Highway really well. We get a glimpse of riding the rails in ‘Coal Burnin Locomotive’ where we are reminded that no hobos allowed. With a beat and feel of said locomotive but with a Foghat familiarity he sets the rails afire with some nasty slide work over top of the chug-a-chug drum beat of Dave Simmons. Train songs in the Blues can be overdone but not here, this is a honest expose of life on the rails well done by Franc and the band.
The Blues used to rule Memphis town, yeh but now it’s a tad different. Yes there are still Blues in the clubs and some damn fine stuff too, but its not where the money is for a lot of clubs – sad but glad there are still some Blues clubs out there. Mr. Robert addresses this in a sweet Blues number called “Beale Street Memories” lyrics that are a roll-call of the Blues artists that ruled the Memphis streets. Displaying some tasty work on his trusty six-string he cuts a wide path and in doing so opens the clubs and the streets once again to all Blues performers. Nicely done.
The title track is a country flavored swing, chicken lickin’-finger pickin’ call to all to take all of life’s disappointments, troubles and bad times and stick them in that pot of “Mulligan Stew”. Good thought, just don’t eat too much (just sayin’).
In a nice minor blues number ‘Your Crying Eyes’ Franc’s guitar duels with himself as Lee Pons fills the background with some tasty keyboard work.
This all original twelve track release shows us that Mr. Robert is indeed familiar with the road and that it has a place in his blood as a working musician he tells us the story of that life and in doing so helps to find his inner voice. The road is long and he seems capable of handling the twists and turns of that road and progressing nicely in the future.
The Muddy Sons consist of Madman Sam on guitar & Vocals and Jeff ‘Drummerboy’ Hayes on drums. Jeff is the former drummer of Becki Sue & Her Big Rockin’ Daddies (where we first met) and Sam is, plain and simply, a Madman out of Portland.
Loud, brash in your face vocals is what Mr. Sam brings to the forefront. In the style of Blues shouters of days past, he forcefully blasts his vocals into the world and lets them settle where they may. His guitar work is an amalgam of acoustic finger picking and hard edged rock blues. Mr. Hates on the drums has a unique dynamic bent to it, one might think these two similar approaches would fight for attention, but they do not – they blend together to create a no holds barred attack that transfers to ‘vinyl’ and must be killer live.
In ‘I’s Bound To Travel’ we are given a full Monty of what these boys bring to the stage. Straight ahead amped up guitar work over syncopated drum runs that creates an aural 5 hour energy drink for the ears (or a Jaegerbomb).
Gotta love the title ‘Two Cigarettes And A Half-Pint’. A fierce track that is steeped in Mississippi Hill Country sound, Sam flails at the guitar neck with slide firmly stuck on his finger. Occasionally you can hear it scream at the abuse it takes, but the punishment is good for it as it spews out some visceral sounds. Mr. Hayes drumming keeps the beat in a frantic but controlled chaos that works as a rail would to a runaway train, keeping it upright and on course but always just a sneeze away from derailing.
What might get overlooked in this raucous cacophony is the songwriting skills of Mr. Sam. With his roots firmly in the soil of the Blues he has branched out to bring them to the present without forsaking the feel and theory of the older songs. Case in point ‘Like That’s Gonna Stop Me’ where he sings of waking in the morning and having mad up his mind to travel on. Not unusual in the Blues world, but the pancakes and fruit for breakfast and the seemingly sub urban lifestyle with it’s trappings is not usual. Where the old school cats would hit the rails for a better life, seeking more from it than they had available, here we find Sam rejected the fur-lined cuff links of said better life and going off to seek a more fulfilling one elsewhere. A very modern look at our times, bravo for going there.
The final track (of ten originals) is a front page depiction of his woman’s penchant for non-stop talking. She Talks Too Much’ is funny, witty and probably politically incorrect but who cares. It’s about the song writing and presentation of ideas here, and it scores well. Oh, I think I know her sister.
The Muddy Sons will be representing the Cascade Blues Association at the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis this coming January. This speaks volumes about their ability to ‘bring it’ on stage and their originality of vision, I for one will be front and center for that.
So we have a look at some of the many bands that are out there playing local, gaining experience and getting recognition. Remember the saying that “if it weren’t for local bands, there would be no national bands” . Support local musicians, see their shows, buy their CD’s and show ‘em some love.
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
Photos: Courtesy of Artists
Where Blues Thrives