Blues Bytes

Surprise

October / November 2018

Blue Largo
Before The Devil Steals Your Soul
Coffeegrinds Records

Blue Largo

This CD came to me prior before we finalized our previous issue but I just didn't have the time to get to it, instead loading it to my music folder for later listening. As I daily randomize my music to get me through the day, occasionally a song from this album would come up, and I'd be so impressed with the female lead singer that I'd always stop what I was doing to check out what band and what album was playing.

So far that was my introduction to the Southern California-based ensemble Blue Largo, with their new album being Before The Devil Steals Your Soul (Coffeegrinds Records). That female voice that consistently caught my ear is Alicia Aragon, and she's backed by a tight band with lots and lots of big sound. Co-produced by Eric Lieberman and Nathan James, this is an album with something for everyone.

Opening the disc is stirring, eerie gospel vocals before launching into the funky "Wash Away," which then closes with the same vocal chorus that started the song. Next up is a pleasant shuffle, "If I Can Make It To Augusta,' with good horn accompaniment including guest tenor sax man Jonny Viau.

I'm not sure how to describe "Monrovia," because there's a whole lot going on here. There's kind of a mysterious 1950s-era movie soundtrack-ish sound with a cha-cha beat, big horns, and outstanding drumming by Marcus Bashore (coincidentally, a childhood acquaintance of mine who I've seen once in the last 50 years). "Same Race" is notable for its extremely important message. A message that really needs to be echoed by many of our politicians and divisive media figures out there. "... We're the same race, the human race, so please don't tear us apart ..." That line gets repeated throughout the song, and really needs to be chanted on the streets of this divided nation.

The tempo gets kicked into high gear on the title cut, which starts with a female chorus singing down by the riverside and accompanied only by hand clapping, before a short acoustic guitar riff is followed by a rollicking gospel stomper. "Bodas De Oro" is an instrumental that sounds straight out of Havana circa 1955, with pianist Taryn "T-Bird" Donath and guitarist Eric Lieberman both highlighted here. Yeah, you're right --- this album has something for just about everyone.

"I'm Alive" is an upbeat funky blues with a nice guitar solo by Lieberman, good vocals from Ms. Aragon, and tasteful sax playing from Eddie Croft and Dave Castel De Oro. Guaranteed to have you up and dancing around the room. The pace slows considerably for a Ray Charles-esque blues, "The Long Goodbye," with subtle jazzy guitar from Lieberman.

The band goes Motown on us with their very nice version of Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes Of the Brokenhearted." They admit in the liner notes that this one took the whole band out of their respective comfort zones but they really nail it, especially the horns and Ms. Donath's underlying piano accompaniment. Ms Aragon really ramps up her vocals towards the end, pumping in a final shot of energy. She then segues nicely into a slow, jazzy Nina Simone tune, "Feeling Good," with both of these last two tunes showing off her vocal versatility. Lieberman also does a mighty fine job on guitar here.

"Grinder's Groove" is our second instrumental of the album, a slow-paced shuffle spotlighting Lieberman's guitar work and another appearance on tenor sax by Viau. (I'm glad that Lieberman gave credit to the late great Clarence Hollimon in the liner notes for this song, in addition to other guitar influences. Clarence was one of the absolute best, both as a guitarist and as a person, and I miss him very much.) "Five To Eight" again takes us back several decades, a jazzy swing tune with sassy vocals by Ms. Aragon. Ms. Donath is turned loose on the ivories at the midpoint of the song with a nice solo followed by equally-good sax and guitar solos.

"Every Time You Call My Name" is a jumping love song that Lieberman wrote for Ms. Aragon, and it gets presented here with plenty of emotion. And a couple of killer sax solos by Crost and Castel De Oro, too. Closing this very nice album is a jazzy cover of the Nat Adderley classic, "Work Song," presented here as an instrumental romper that gives every band member their place in the spotlight.

Before The Devil Steals Your Soul brings together a lot of diverse styles and lots of different musicians in a tight, cohesive package that will tickle even the most jaded music fan. Highly recommended and certainly worth tracking down.

--- Bill Mitchell

 

 

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