Seattle To Greaseland
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
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
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