Beyond The Blues Horizon is the most recent release by The (L.A.-based) Blowin’ Smoke Rhythm & Blues Band featuring the Fabulous Smokettes. It’s a live concert recorded at B.B. Kings Blues Club in Los Angeles, CA. This 11-person act emphasizes electric rhythm and blues with a touch of funk, rock and Southern soul.
The fourteen track release opens on an appropriate “Intro” which (obviously) features an introduction by MC Johnny Smith. The performance begins with “C.O.D.”, a downbeat R&B track featuring Michael Murphy on Hammond organ and well-known L.A. guitarist Jimmy Delgado on lead guitar. Bandleader and bassist Larry “Fuzzy” Knight sings lead.
The second selection is a mid-tempo, smooth cover of Willie Dixon’s “Built For Comfort”. It’s an enthusiastic performance and an early indication of one of the band’s influences. “Get Your Money Where You Spend Your Time” is the next number.
It’s a cool blend of R&B and jazz and introduces tenor sax player the “Count” Yates who sings lead here. This track includes solid drum work by Lee Campbell and the listener can’t miss the tight horns of Tom Morgan, Jr (tenor saxophone), Johnny Vandenberg (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Chris Jennings (baritone saxophone).
“Don’t Fight It” introduces the Fabulous Smokettes as Carolyn Basley sings lead vocals in this cover of the Sam Cooke classic. It’s a strong track with soulful near Tina Turner-like vocals. Another of the tuneful trio of smoky ladies, Christiana Vierra, delivers an inspired rendition of “Turtle Blues”. She slows the pace just a bit and manages to sound vaguely like Janis Joplin at some point.
But the trio is not yet finished here. Terri Brinegar takes the lead mic on a cover of an Irma Thomas tune “You Can Have My Husband But Please Don’t Mess With My Man”. It’s an up-tempo piece and Brinegar’s bawdy vocals accent a noteworthy, no-nonsense rendition of the long-forgotten classic.
Then it’s back to Vierra and her version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You”. The act remains true to the integrity of the original work and yet makes it their own due in part to some serious vocals and a memorable sax solo. Knight next returns here with expressive vocals on a cover of the classic “Talk To Me Baby” which is fleshed out by The “Count” and company’s strong horns.
The blues-beltin’ babes are back as Basley covers Ike Turner’s “I’m Blue”. It’s a fan favorite followed by Brinegar’s tuneful take on Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips”. It’s got a slightly different arrangement and nice background harmonies on a cut that is nearly stunning and certainly the best of Brinegar’s performances here.
Basley next delivers a great gospel-tinged cover of Otis Redding’s classic soul song “These Arms of Mine”. Vierra quickly follows on one of the best tracks on the disc a memorable cover of The Temptations “Shakey Ground”. This particular version sounds vaguely like something akin to R&B, funk and Herbie Hancock material.
The “Count” comes in again on the closing cut as he leads the way on a refreshing take of Larry Williams’ 1960s sock-hop, frat rock favorite “Bony Maronie”. The band retains the original rhythm but the brass makes it better. All in all, your rockin’ reviewer recommends that you “Don’t Fight It”, boys and girls, and you might really enjoy The Blowin’ Smoke Rhythm & Blues Band’s Beyond The Blues Horizon.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.
(Note: If you’re in the area and would like to see the band live, they will be performing at Harvelles in Santa Monica, CA on April 13 from 9:30 p.m. to 1a.m.)