Blues Bytes


August 2023

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Joel Astley
Seattle To Greaseland

Blue Heart

Joel Astley

Joel Astley is a singer / songwriter / harmonica ace from the state of Washington, well-known on his home turf but now ready to break into the national blues scene. If this latest album is any indication of his talents and potential, it may not be long until this cat is known around the world for quality blues.

Perhaps the smartest decision Astley made was to head south to San Jose to record his album at Kid Andersen's red-hot Greaseland studio, with Kid co-producing this collection of 11 original tunes. Judging from the fact that Astley named his latest piece of work Seattle To Greaseland (Blue Heart Records), I'm guessing that he knew how important it was to go to the latest hit maker on the blues scene.

Astley and Andersen assembled a crack team of musicians to provide backing, with the latter playing keyboards and guitar, as well as Johnny Burgin (guitar), June Core (drums), and Randy Bermudes (bass), with Jill Dineen and Marina Crouse providing backing vocals.

Seattle To Greaseland is mostly straight blues with a couple of rockabilly tunes mixed in, and Astley shows his solid songwriting chops with plenty of creative and often humorous originals. The opener, "Born Cryin'," reminds us that the blues have been around since the dawn of time and gives Andersen a chance to show off with a guitar solo dripping with sweat as well putting down the baseline with his organ playing. "Candy Shop" takes a theme done throughout blues history with this up-tempo jumper. Andersen's organ solo is countered by an equally hot harp break from Astley, challenging Kid by saying, "let me give you some, Swede."

The first rockabilly thing here is the fast-paced "Just Right," with Burgin flexing his chops on guitar while Bermudes slaps the bass throughout. The other rockabilly number, "Hot As Hell,"  moves just as quickly, with Burgin again knocking out still another couple of sizzling guitar solos while Astley comes in on harmonica.

Burgin shows his versatility by opening the slow blues "Karma Wheel" with reverberating blues guitar chords, after which Astley sings about the effects of karma on those who eventually get what they deserve. Andersen joins in later with his own guitar solo before Burgin steps back to the front, this time using a slide to great effect.

Astley's tongue-in-cheek humor comes out on the kind of funky, mid-tempo blues "Secondhand Kid," as he sings about how most of what he's had in life was previously-used, even stating that his wife was a secondhand acquisition in that she had a ring on her finger when he first met her.

Another humorous number is "Takin' It With Me," on which Astley is going to ignore the conventional wisdom that you can't take it with you when your time is up. He reminds me of Rick Estrin on this number, both vocally and with the harmonica licks. The rockin' mid-tempo blues "Down To The Rims," with Astley telling about life in the fast lane and that he won't slow down until he rides it to the rims. Andersen tosses in a nice piano solo and Dineen and Crouse join in on backing vocals.

"Work With What You Got" is Astley's stop-time advice to make the best of what you've got, whether you're rich or poor, good looking or ugly. Burgin burns the strings with a smokin' guitar solo before Astley plays the blues on the harmonica. Another solid harp solo opens the heavier blues sound of "Bobby's Place," Astley's tribute to a one-time Seattle blues club, with Burgin going wild with his guitar solo. That man can definitely play, and Andersen supports with nice organ accompaniment.

Closing this very good album is "No Brighter Gold," an up-tempo folkie blues with gospel overtones. Astley summons the spirit of Sonny Terry with his harmonica playing, likely playing through his vocal mic. This trip down to the revival meeting along the riverside seals the deal for me, as I'm now even more convinced that Astley has what it takes to become a blues star.

Joel Astley will soon no longer be Seattle's secret, with the rest of the blues world about to discover this dude. Seattle To Greaseland is one of the best albums of the year. Check it as soon as you can.

--- Bill Mitchell



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