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July 2022

The Phantom Blues Band
Blues For Breakfast
Little Village Foundation

The Phantom Blues Band

The Phantom Blues Band got their start backing Taj Mahal, who gave them their name in the early ’90s. The band, which included Tony Braunagel (drums), Johnny Lee Schell (guitar/vocals), Larry Fulcher (bass/vocals), Joe Sublett (saxophone), Darrell Leonard (trumpet), and Mike Finnigan (keyboards/vocals) helped the blues veteran earn five Grammy nominations, winning two.

The band released their first album, Out Of The Shadows, in 2006 and released three more albums through 2020, with Les Lovitt replacing Leonard on trumpet along the way. Sadly, Finnigan was stricken with cancer in 2020 and passed away last August, but the band recruited Jim Pugh to play keyboards

They recently released a new album, Blues For Breakfast (Little Village Foundation), paying tribute to the late Finnigan. The album features a dozen songs with Fulcher and Schell sharing lead vocals on most cuts, and guest appearances from Ruthie Foster (background vocals), Tony Chin (rhythm guitar), Beth Styne (background vocals), Bonnie Raitt (vocals), Curtis Salgado (harmonica/vocals), and Finnigan’s son Kelly (organ).

The festivities begin with a rousing take on the Stax classic “I Take What I Want,” with Fulcher and Schell exchanging and sharing vocal leads in the Sam & Dave tradition. Fulcher sings the funky “Get Involved,” originally written and recorded by George Soulé for FAME in the early '70s, encouraging listeners to not just sit back and let things happen in the world. Schell takes the mic for a rollicking read of Muddy Waters’ “She’s Into Something,” while Fulcher sings a reggae-based version of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” with support from Schell and Ruthie Foster on backing vocals.

Finnigan, to whom the album is dedicated, actually makes a appearance on vocals and organ on “OK, I Admit It,” a nice parting shot from the late keyboardist extraordinaire. Fulcher and Schell share vocals on the soulful slow burner “Still Be Friends,” before Bonnie Raitt joins Schell for a couple of verses on a cool cover of Freddie King’s “Country Boy.” Singer/harpman Curtis Salgado sits in for a smoldering version of Sam Cooke’s “Laughin’ and Clownin’” and Ike Turner’s “I Know You Don’t Love Me” (featuring Kelly Finnigan on organ) a couple of tracks later.

Jimmy McCracklin’s swaggering West Coast blues “Stepping Up In Class” gets a first-rate treatment from Schell and the band (especially Sublett’s sax and Schell’s guitar solos), while Fulcher turns in a marvelous vocal on Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” (nice to see the late Mr. Campbell’s catalog getting so much love these days). The band really rips into Waters’ “Stuff You Gotta Watch,” with Pugh leading the way on driving barrelhouse piano.

The Phantom Blues Band has backed just about everybody who’s anybody on the blues scene for the past quarter century or so, either as a unit or individually, but they are definitely an awesome band to be reckoned with on their own as well. Blues For Breakfast is a powerhouse effort from this fine group. and I’m pretty sure that the late Mr. Finnigan is smiling down on these guys from that great music hall in the sky.

--- Graham Clarke



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