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Bob Levis - Barstool Blues

Big Paw Records

Run Time 73:33

The CD spine says that Barstool Blues is an album by Bob Levis, but the liner notes tell a different story.  Big Paw Records executive producer Mark Thompson of the Crossroads Blues Society wanted to showcase Bob Levis’s lead guitar playing, and he’s succeeded here by bringing in a whole stable of credentialed sidemen.

Levis himself is considered to be the ultimate rhythm guitarist, having held that position in the Kingston Mines house band for 17 years; he has also worked and recorded with Otis Rush and Lonnie Brooks. On Barstool Blues he plays lead guitar on all 13 tracks, and you can tell that those years in the background have payed off in a powerful, fluid, distinctive style all his own.

Everything on the album was recorded live in the studio—The Fuse in Rockford—giving the album an authentic sound. And the performances do sound fine, infused with the gritty energy of Chicago blues.

Levis’s tasteful guitar is joined by the guitars of his compatriot in the Barstool Bob Band Dave Wood on 5 tracks, Larry Pendleton on 1 track, and Steve Ditzell—alumnus of the Koko Taylor and Junior Wells/Buddy Guy bands—on 4 cuts.  Lonnie Brooks himself plays and sings on Little Walters’ “Can’t hold out Much Longer.”

Keeping the beats nice and tight are Marty Binder (ex-Albert Collins sideman) or Dennis “Link” Leary on drums and Brother Dave Kaye, bass. Providing the fills are Jimmy Voegeli on piano and organ—the piano is especially impressive and adds that Otis Spann touch to those cuts—and Westside Andy Linderman, Ted Lawrence, and Big Jim Johnson on harmonica.

With the exception of an instrumental penned by Levis and the final number, the jumpin’  “Getting’ Out of Town” by Big Jim Johnson, Barstool Blues is an album of covers, with three by Levis’s mentor Otis Rush (including an appropriately heavy version of “Double Trouble” and the up tempo opener featuring Levis’s searing licks, “It Takes Time”).  The standards “Mystery Train” and “Blues Before Sunrise” get interesting treatment here.

While the instrumentation—especially Levis’s playing—and choice of material is outstanding on Barstool Blues, the vocals are weak throughout, whether sung by Voegeli, Ditzell, Johnson, or Pendleton.  That makes it hard for me to pick a favorite cut or one number that stands out from the rest.  Another drawback is that too often the lead and rhythm guitars are both mixed up front, taking away from the producer’s stated purpose that Levis as a lead guitarist deserves “an opportunity to display his prodigious talent to a wider audience.”

Despite these minor flaws, the deep feeling is there in the music on Barstool Blues. Producer Thompson also notes that he and Levis agreed that “things could be a little ragged but the music always had to be right—had to have that deep feeling, that honest approach that is the hallmark of the finest blues performances.”  The disc is available on-line at  .

Reviewer Karen McFarland is a former officer and long time board member of the Mississippi Valley Blues Society. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Blues Foundation.

Reviewer Ben Cox is a Blues Songwriter, Musician, DJ and Journalist.

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