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Bees Deluxe - Space Age Bachelor Pad Blues
I don't know where to start my review. I am not usually at a loss for words when listening to and reviewing albums, so let me begin with how Bees Deluxe describe themselves. "Bees Deluxe is a full-tilt, acid blues/funk/rock collective comprised of Boston-based musicians."
So I guess I can begin with who they are. A trio of Boston-based musicians. Patrick Sanders (drums and percussion), Bruce Mattson (keys), and Conrad Warre (guitars) comprise this trio of eclectic fellows. Sanders is from Illinois, did a stint with the Marines, played in their Drum & Bugle Corps, studied at Berklee School of music and graduated in 2005. Mattson teaches at Framingham State University, graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music and studied under and played with a plethora of jazz and music greats. Ware crossed the pond from England and has worked in music with a number of greats including Zappa, Bowie and Yoko, just to name a few artists recognizable only by surname or given names. So we have three guys who have a lot of talent, education and training in the art of music.
The music they play is not blues, per se. It's not any one genre of music. They blend jazz, blues, funk, rock, and more into a very suave and cool sound. One can picture the sounds they make emanating from a grooving bachelor pad or swank hipster joint, and yet there is a realism and purity to the music that makes it transcend from cool background sounds to something to sit up and listen to.
What sort of stuff do they play? Well, their web site answers, "Their unique repertoire include over three sets of floorboard-stomping originals and 60s, 70s, and 80s covers from Little Feat, The Meters, Billie Holiday, Derek Trucks, Donny Hathaway, Steely Dan, B.B.King, ZZ Top, Robben Ford, Muddy Waters, Bonnie Raitt, Curtis Mayfield, Albert King, Bobby 'Blue' Bland, Jimi Hendix, SoulLive, Roy Buchanan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Herbie Hancock, Derek & the Dominoes, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band." Well, that says a lot!
The set list here is predominantly original music. The album opens with "3454 Miles," a short, down tempo, jazzy piece where the organ soulfully blends with drum and cymbal sounds that emulate rain or the rushing sound of wind. Very cool. This leads into "Kidnap," where the guitar opens for a hollow distorted vocal solo and then a more vibrant chorus. It was not clear from the lyrics whether they were planning a kidnapping, that their love was so intense that they wanted to figuratively kidnap their girl or what was going on. I decided it did not matter. It sounded good. I was a little worried, but what the heck?
The big cover is next up. "God Bless the Child" stems from Billy Holliday and moves through Sonny Rollins, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Whitney Houston, to today. The song has had covers galore: soulful, hopeful, and minimal approaches to big time sounds. Given they are a trio, the approach here is closer to the minimalistic approach and there is an eerie ethereal nature to the vocals, sort of like a Steely Dan song, or at least like the style of their vocalist (David Palmer) with a New England twist. I liked, it, though. Not overdone but different. The other cover follows, "Hot Cha." Here the boys take another Massachusetts-based alternative bands' song and turn it into an instrumental; effective, different. They Might Be Giants were eclectic and different and so are these gents.
So by now you can see that a third of the way into the album. The guitar sounds at times like a subdued Mark Knopfler. Add some interesting vocals and a variety of keyboards, mix in some eloquent yet odd lyrics an you have Bees Deluxe. The songs are all good. They mix up a lot of sounds and make it work.
"Not the Sopranos" could be Gregg Allman or someone like him rocking out his B3. I don't understand the Sopranos reference; it does not resemble their theme in any way, shape or form. Another instrumental: "Rooster Shoes;" why roosters and shoes? Who knows? But it all sounds good. Nice funky beat and B3 organ, and the drum and guitar add flavor and interest. "The Girl With Green Hair" is instrumentals with static filled radio sounds; odd, but cool. The CD even ends with an Allman Brothers-escue acoustic guitar song in "Byrdland." It's all over the place, yet the songs and album is very cool and fun to listen to and appreciate.
It is not blues. There are blues riffs here and there is occasionally some bluesy stuff. Jazz predominates, yet the blues, funk and lots of rock are there. If your taste in music is broad and have an open mind to new stuff, you will enjoy this CD as I did. You may not understand it, but I am not sure that understanding it is actually required. One has to go with the flow and accept it; once you do, it's a fun ride.
Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.