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Big Nick and the Gila Monsters - Shaken Not Stirred & Working Without A Net

Monster Tone Records

11 and 10 tracks respectively

Big Nick and the Gila Monsters? Catchy name! Their double CD set Shaken’ Not Stirred and Working Without A Net are a twin packaged set of CDs, the first recorded in a studio and the latter recorded live. Packaged in a case with art work to attract (as my brother would say) “Hipsters, Tikiphiles, Lounge Lizards, Ultra-Mods, Swanksters, and other Jetsetters”. The music does not totally fit that model in my eyes, but it is very, very good none the less. Elements of swing and rockabilly with call and response push in that direction but the elements of the more bluesy sounds with harp overblows move it back into the realm of the blues. In any case, there is a smorgasboard of music to listen to here from this hot Southwestern band!

Shaken opens with a nice instrumental called “Catalina Cruise” with distorted harp blowing and slick guitar work. The bridge from the verse to the chorus and the entire cut hearkens back the 50’s. “Rockin’ Chair” also features some big harp sounds, too. John “Big Nick” Samora is the harp player and lead vocalist and he is quite dirty with his sound here. Mike “el Ray” Lewis is on guitar and his tone and sound are excellent. James “Muddy” Mason and Bobby “White Shoes” Bowley are the back line on bass and drums and are also very solid. Hailing from the Phoenix area, this guys are a big time band with a great sound. The boys have some fun with “The Rib” where the bands does some responses to Big Nicks calls about Adam asking Eve to “Gimme back my rib”. It’s got some fun lyrics a nice groove. Rockabilly fans will love “A-Bomb Baby” and “Walkin’ After Midnight” will give the Southwest country sound fans a thrill- very much like Junior Brown, but perhaps one octave higher. The finish up the studio set with “Horn and Headlights”, a cool acoustic track with more catchy lyrics. Big Nicks got the horn, but his baby’s got the headlights! 11 great original tracks- all of them are nicely done and fun to listen to.

The live set Workin’ Without A Net shows us the band doing some classic covers along with a pair of their own tunes. They open with a Willie Dixon song of Muddy Waters’ fame (“I’m Ready”), shift gears with the gritty “She’s Dynamite” with the bass player fronting the band admirably, and then the drummer leads them in “Framed”. They give these covers a good treatment, the last with their signature call and response that the crowd loved. Then they broke into an original cut, “Dancin’ With My Baby” which appears to have had the crowd dancin’ with their babies as Big Nick crooned out the lead. They then pay homage to Jimmy Vaughn (“Can’t Say No”), Chuck Berry (“Brown Eyed Handsome Man”), JJ Hawkins (“I Put A spell On You”) and Lightnin’ Hopkins (Play With Your Poodle”). Down and up and down and up in tempo with those songs gave the crowd a great ride and the band was obviously into it. I am impressed with Big Nick’s vocals and harp and el Ray on guitar, but Muddy and White Shoes also add their style to some of the cuts and give us a slightly different look on their leads. They then go into “Horn and Headlights Part 2”, a revisit of the studio cut but with a little different approach to the beat and style. They close with Clarence Carter’s “Ain’t Got You” sung by Mike Lewis. He handles the lead pretty well, but the harp punctuating the vocals and Lewis’ guitar really sell this.

These guys are real crowd pleasers and appear regularly at Bob Corritore’s club in Phoenix. With a little luck and exposure to these great CDs, hopefully you will get to see them on the road or at festivals. I really enjoyed this two CD set and think that anyone looking for some swinging stuff with a fresh clean sound will enjoy them, too!

Reviewer Steve Jones is secretary 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, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program.

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