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Alex Wilson - Tell Me Why
Running Time 46:28

“They have a wide mix of sounds,” says BMA-winning harmonica wizard Charlie Musselwhite of the debut disc of Alex Wilson. Wilson’s broad range and styles hits you in the chest as well as between the ears with this new release. Not akin to many newcomers, Wilson’s mixture and blend of genre and style keeps you on the edge of your seat, wondering what he’s going to do next. Blending rock, jazz, and ultimately blues Wilson shows maturity beyond his 20-something demeanor. You, however, if you knew him would expect nothing less. Wilson’s family has a long blood line of outstanding musicians. I’ll leave you to do the research and let this disc speak for itself.

From Track 1’s “I Like to Play,” rocks us off with some good ole blues rock that isn’t boring and isn’t another stick in the fire of blues-rock warble. It borders on Albert Collins’ shuffle at times to Johnny Winter blitz. Then, Wilson, effortlessly shifts pace easily to a jazzy-shuffle on “Come Back Baby” and then rollicks easily into one of the apt and not-oft covered “Rockinitis” of Billy Boy Arnold fame, with a searing harmonica nothing short of Arnold’s finesse from Madison Slim, one of the many fine-tuned musicians in Wilson’s backing band.

“Take It Easy Babe” finds itself rooted in the Chief sides of Magic Sam, but the band and the voice is all Wilson’s, not giving a tired reading of a master he later conveys again in a rare cover of “Lookin’ Good on track nine of the disc. However, Wilson shifts the pacing of the song near the middle dropping off a solo reminiscent of “Tin Pan Alley” by SRV and with the smoothest and reverb-drenched turnarounds of a younger Luther Allison.

“I Wish I Had My Baby Back” sounds like it was recorded in a back room at a bar in Chicago somewhere. Again, Madison Slim turns in a great backing harmonica track and the rollicking rhythm guitar sounds like it’s straight from the book of Jimmy Rogers.

“When We Get So Close” seems to be the only misplaced track on the disc, as it borders on camp with the overdubbed vocals that tries to pull from early 50s doo-wop and R&B of the Drifters. Yet, it comes off as weak and tired. The sound of the track, however, would’ve worked better as an instrumental track. “The Moon Is Shinin” sounds its ripped from the nasty edge of an Elmore James tune, lacking Elmo’s slide, but still with full punch of the band. Note again Madison Slim’s great harp layering and phrasing that gives the guitar and bass the punch it needs to fill out the sound on this track.

“Sacred and Untrue” rings a little out of a rollicking barrelhouse feel with great piano and a Stray Cats’-esque riff and Jim Lihan’s unplugged harmonica adding the phrasing. Again, tracks like this scattered throughout the disc display Wilson’s depth of musical taste and aptitude.

The great parts of this is coupled in Wilson’s great songwriting skills (he writes every track but 2 out of 11 on the disc), his great backing band that’s not over-the-top or flashy, and his guitar playing which also rides the same boat as the band’s, the vocals are in tune, on time, and surprisingly soulful at times, and the never-a-dull-moment switch-on-a-dime style of the tracks make this noteworthy for a newcomer to the scene of blues. And as Charlie Musselwhite writes on the back of the disc’s sleeve, “Not just another blues band.”

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By Ben Cox  -  3.5 out 5 ranking

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