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Blues International - Smooth and Slippery at Atlantis

Blues International (Australia)

13 tracks - Total time: 53:28

Melbourne, Australia’s Blues International takes its name from the multi-country origins of its members: guitarist/vocalist Tommy Blank is Swedish, guitarist/vocalist Chris Dawes in British, and both drummer/vocalist Les Oldman and bassist John Dynon are Aussies. The group’s live-in-the-studio debut CD, Smooth and Slippery at Atlantis, takes its title from its recording at Atlantis Sound—hence the rather unusual name. A good part of the strength of Blues International is the versatility of its personnel; three vocalists, and two guitarists who are able to alternate on both rhythm and lead. In addition, two of its members, Les Oldman and Chris Dawes, are also songwriters, having together penned seven of the CD’s 13 tracks. All four musicians comprising Blues International are long-time veterans of Australia’s pop and blues music scene.

Also know for his custom-made guitars and amps, Tommy Blank credits the late British blues guitarist Peter Green as his chief influence, and Green is further given special thanks by the band as a whole on the CD jacket. The CD features three Peter Green compositions, with Blank taking lead roles on two. These are track 1, the lyrical non-blues instrumental “Albatross,” and track 5, the blues-rock “Oh Well,” two well-known songs quite familiar to listeners of classic rock radio. Needless to say, Tommy Blank takes the guitar lead on the lyrical non-blues instrumental, “Albatross,” and half-talks the vocals and does lead guitar on the blues-rock “Oh Well,” done here essentially as an extended instrumental with vocal breaks, each of them highlighting two different verses. The third Peter Green number, track 10’s “Watch-Out,” is a lesser-known traditional Chicago-style boogie shuffle, with Chris Dawes on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Tommy Blank again on lead.

Three other songs on the CD are also non-band originals. Track7, “Need Your Love So Bad,” sung by Chris Dawes, is a slow, insistent, blues ballad whose theme is nicely summed up in the title; track 9, also sung by Dawes, is an up-tempo blues lament again summed up by its title, the loneliness of living in a “Cold, Cold World.” Les Oldman does the vocals on the last non-band original, track 13’s magnificent contemporary medium-tempo blues of money problems and promises to creditors to take care of them, as the title proclaims, “Soon as I Get Paid.” Oldman also joined with three other non-band members to compose the lone instrumental here, the drum-showcase “Show Off,” track 8, where his chops are amply displayed amidst a simple, direct, riffing tune.

Chris Dawes contributes two originals, and Les Oldman four originals and is fitting, each sings his own tune. Dawes has the honors on track 3, “Help Yourself,” a rocking soul number that takes from both Motown and Stax influences; and again on track 11, “Raisin’ Hell,” with its mid-50s blues, even rockabilly, feel. Les Oldman enters on track 2, the rocking philosophical number of fooling others for a time but being found out, “Smooth or Slippery,” and does another rocker on track 4, “Lovin’s Got Me.” He switches to more traditional blues approaches on the Jimmy Rogers-reminiscent jump, “Gotta Go,” track 6, and the contemporary-sounding song of shyness getting in the way, “Old Time Me.”
Tommy Blank and Chris Dawes complement each other nicely as the group’s dual guitarists, and there’s a nice separation on the recording that displays each well: Dawes comes out of the right speaker facing the listener, and Blank the left. While Dawes’ favorite groove is playing rhythm guitar in tandem with the rhythm section, but he is an able soloist as well, and his mellower, lower-register lead approach melds nicely with Blank’s crisper, more often high-note, lead attack. Blank also fills in nicely as a rhythm player when Dawes is playing lead, and each has ample lead space. The same complementariness graces the diverse vocalists as well. Blues International demonstrates with strength that is an accomplished ensemble that can draw from several versatile, skilled performers, each of whom contributes unselfishly to the total sound, yet where each also has his own space to work things his way.

Lastly, despite the CD’s length it flows seamlessly and well throughout, and never leaves the listener with an irritated desire to glance at his watch. Even though several of the numbers contain longish, extended instrumental approaches, there is never a sense with the listener of any track being overlong, or of being undermined by gratuitous overplaying. Which is to recommend both Blues International and Smooth and Slippery at Atlantis as more fine offerings from a bourgeoning and creative Australian blues scene that literally spans this island continent from Harper’s and Dave Hole’s Perth on one end to Tasmania’s Pete Cornelius and Melbourne’s Blues International on the other.

Reviewer George "Blues Fin Tuna" Fish hails from Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr. He has written a regular music column for several years. He wrote the liner notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has been a blues and pop music contributor for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy.

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