Blues Bytes


May 2018

Rockwell Avenue Blues Band
Back To Chicago
Delmark Records

Rockwell Avenue

When five of America’s best and most prolific blues journeymen are brought back to Chicago for a reunion, including Steve Freund and Tad Robinson, you have the ingredients for an exciting, innovative CD that brings it all back home which is exactly what happens on Back To Chicago by the Rockwell Avenue Blues Band on the Delmark label.

The idea came from radio presenter Ken Saydak who has played piano, organ and accordion on over 60 albums and was sidesman to numerous hard-core Chicago blues artists including Johnny Winter and Lonnie Brooks. Completing the line up, bassist Harlan Terson and drummer Marty Binder have been active on the Chicago scene for decades. Sometimes these guys are referred to as ‘session’ musicians, but this term belittles their status as they are troubadours and stalwarts of the blues, the unsung heroes who have spent their lives performing mainly in small venues.

I watched guitarist Steve Freund play an amazing set in a Brussels bar a couple of years ago; he had travelled thousands of miles from his home in San Francisco to tour Europe. Steve began his career in Chicago as a second guitar behind Hubert Sumlin and spent two years with Big Walter Horton, learning the deep blues and the idiosyncrasies that are part of the art before becoming Sunnyland Slim's main guitarist. In Belgium, playing to an audience of around 20 souls, Steve gave a master class in clever, measured and intricate guitar work drawing on material from his excellent solo album, Come On In This House.

Indeed, Freund steals the show on Back To Chicago with his virtuoso guitar interludes, notably on the slow burning “Lonesome Flight,” “Hey Big Bill,” and “Blues For Hard Times” where he duels brilliantly with Saydack. Steve’s immense vocal delivery on “Boogie In The Rain” and “Have You Ever Told Yourself A Lie.” On Elmore James’ “Stranger Blues” Freund proves that he is at the top of his game.

Similarly, Tad Robinson excels both vocally and on harmonica on his song “Rich Man” as well as Saydack’s “Free To Love Again” and also the title track. One of the many highlights is “That Face,” with Saydack playing piano and Tad on harmonica, their vocal harmony a delight. Saydack’s vocals are also impressive on his self-penned, upbeat “Chariot Gate” and “For A Reason,” whilst it is the sumptuous “Dream” which fittingly concludes the set.

Overall, this joyous album is an unexpected bonus, a cornucopia of Chicago blues in its most raw, unpretentious and purest form; definitely a collector’s item.

--- Dave Scott



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