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
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
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
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.