Blues Bytes


March 2014

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Jim Suhler
Panther Burn
Underworld Records

Jim SuhlerI’ve been waiting a long time for a new disc from Jim Suhler, so I was very happy when a copy of Panther Burn came in the mail. Tijuana Bible was such a seminal disc that I’m glad Jim didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, he rounded up Monkey Beat and some very good friends to put out a very enjoyable disc that is at once new and fresh to my ears. Great job, Jim! Let’s give Panther Burn a listen.

The band starts out with the title track, “Panther Burn,” and I love the slow burning intensity right out of the block. There’s a picture on the inside of the disc of Panther Burn, Mississippi, and perhaps this is the town that Jim finds himself returning to. At least it’s not the glass of Panther Burn Whiskey on the cover! “I’m tired of the road…and the one night stands…I’ll burn your bread…I’ll turn your damper down…pour the water…and shake em’ on down…I shall return y’all…going back to Panther Burn.” Jim’s had enough of the road and it’s time for him to take a much needed break.

“I Declare” starts out brightly with Kim Wilson sitting in and blowing harp in the intro. Jim’s evidently had a woman in his life and that situation has run its course. “I declare…I declare…the blues has come to call…she’s got four speeds forward…man, she don’t ever stop…I declare…I declare…the blues has come to call.” Our next cut, “Across the Brazos,” has a very stark sound to it with deliberate picking as Jim swims for his life. “Carry me Lord…won’t you see me through…if this is the last thing…I ever do….cross the Brazos…to the other side.” I’m hoping Jim makes the swim, but you just never know. Tim Alexander kicks in with a bit of accordion and we can tell that Jim is feeling just a little bit desperate.

An up tempo shuffle, “Leave My Blues Behind,” is up next and Jim’s searching for a way out and what to do next. “Place I wanna go…well, everything is free…I don’t have to try…be one of me…'til I find that place…I’ll keep on asking why…Lord…I got to leave my blues behind.” Jim breaks out the cigar box guitar to go with Tim’s accordion as he tells us of a woman he can’t get off his mind in “I See You”. “I see you…in the lights…of the cars that…pass in the night…everywhere that I turn…I wait in vain…for your return…I stay worried…everywhere I go.” While her memory is haunting Jim, is he worried that she’s gone for good or might come back? I’m honestly not sure.

Up next is an instrumental version of “Remember Mama” from To Kill a Mockingbird. Jim’s version is very dark with Tim on the organ and Buddy Mohmed on the bass and I love the reverb in the tune. We move on to happier days and Jim’s tune, “Texassippi,” an ode to Texas and Mississippi. “Driving in the moonlight…down low in the car…stars are in the sky…bar fly in a jar…I come from Texassippi.” Wherever Texassippi is, it’s a definitely a place that Jim loves to call home.

The driving backbeats of Jimmy Morgan on drums and Jamal Mohmed on percussion give “Sky’s Full of Crows” a feel that harkens me back to Jim’s last disc. “Begging for forgiveness…I’ve been preaching to the choir…kicking and fighting…I’ve been cast into the fire…being re-born…you first must die…don’t ask me…cuz, I don’t know why…cursing my idols from the bottom of my toes….a roach is in the ashtray…and the sky’s full of crows.” I love Jim’s imagery in his tunes and this is probably my favorite song on the disc.

Jason Elmore delivers a blistering lead guitar and Jim and the band tackle our next cut, “Between Midnight and Day.” “Oh…I do my best work…between midnight and day…yes, I do." Jim is reflecting back on a woman in his life and he’s evidently doomed to hell for treating her wrong. A road song, “Dinosaur Wine,” is up next and Jim’s in the car chewing up long stretches of highway. “Nothing’s going to change…when it’s said and done…wheels got to turn…engine’s got to run…put the pedal to the metal…show me a sign…eating up the road and drinking dinosaur wine.” We’ve got Kevin Schermerhorn hitting the pots and pans on this one and keeping the car rolling.

Tim provides an organ intro with Jim on guitar and the two of them are alone on the next cut, “Amen Corner.” Instrumentally it segues right into “All God’s Children Get the Blues Sometime” and features Carolyn Wonderland and Ray Benson on the vocals with Jim. “All God’s children get the blues sometime…you got yours and I got mine.” Indeed!

“Jump Up, Sister" is next and starts out sounding like an old 33 1/3 LP. “Come here, baby, quick…this medicine’s made me sick…don’t feel dying…dying by myself…jump up, sister…jump.” Jim’s afraid to die alone and is imploring the good sister to be there with him in his dying breaths.

We close with the up tempo “Worldwide Hoodoo,” and Shawn Phares is on the organ this time. “Speak in tongues…bad...bad…juju…I will conjure…worldwide hoodoo.” Careful y’all, Jim Suhler just might cast a spell on you with Panther Burn!

All in all, this is another great disc from Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and it’s a disc that will return quite often to my CD player as the year goes on. I’ve yet to see Jim and Monkey Beat perform live and I hope to do that this year. Jim’s on the road so much with George Thorogood, but I’m glad to see some Monkey Beat dates on his calendar. The easiest place to grab a copy of Panther Burn is from Jim’s website,, and I would strongly encourage you to do so. Sit back, grab a drink and enjoy!

--- Kyle Deibler

Guitarist Jim Suhler was influenced by myriad sources during his formative years as a musician, like the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Johnny Winter, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Ramones, and AC/DC. Since the mid ’80s, he’s played in hard rock bands, straight blues bands, and, most notably, has served as guitarist in George Thorogood’s band since 1999. In 1991, Suhler formed Monkey Beat and has recorded five albums, including the latest, Panther Burn (Underworld Records).

Suhler’s new disc is loaded with great songs such as the ominous opener, which is loaded with swampy atmosphere. “I Declare” is a hard rocking Texas shuffle punctuated by Kim Wilson’s harmonica, and “Across the Brazos” has a droning country blues rhythm. “Leave My Blues Behind” is a shuffle with a jazzy feel, thanks to a sharp horn section (Ron Jones – sax, Galen Jeter – trumpet) and some smooth keyboards from Shawn Phares. “I See You” is a haunting tune based on Suhler’s young daughter, who was killed in an automobile accident, and “Remember Mama” is a lovely, but brief instrumental taken from the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, with some fine slide playing from Suhler.

“Texasisppi” is one of my favorite tracks on the disc, a smooth and gentle country blues that pays tribute to a pair of states with deep blues roots. Suhler fills this song with some really vivid imagery that almost takes you there. “Sky Full of Crows” is a churning boogie track that continues the country backdrop with some splendid slide and some pretty fine picking as well. Jason Elmore guests on “Between Midnight and Day,” a churning blues-rocker. “Dinosaur Wine,” a tune about the endless consumption of fossil fuels, keeps up the pace.

“Amen Corner,” another instrumental, takes it to the church with Suhler playing over Tim Alexander’s inspirational work on organ, and leads into “All God’s Children Get The Blues Sometimes,” a toe-tapper with Suhler’s acoustic slide and seasoned vocals, supported with backing vocals from Carolyn Wonderland. “Jump Up, Sister” is another Gulf Coast boogie track that will get you on your feet with some driving percussion from Beau Chadwell and accordion from Alexander. The album closes with the relentlessly funky rocker, “Worldwide Hoodoo.”

Panther Burn is Jim Suhler’s best release yet, which is  really saying something, based on his previous efforts. There hasn’t been any doubt about his guitar for a long time, but he’s really come into his own as a composer with this effort and has developed a sound that is uniquely his.

--- Graham Clarke
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