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Dennis Mitchell Band - Highway Kind Of Life

Panhead Records

On my blues radio show, I try and play a very wide variety of music that loosely falls under the ‘blues’ umbrella. There is so much music out there that has that bluesy feel, or music that uses blues chord changes or turnarounds, so there’s lots to choose from. And let’s face it, most popular music is somehow based on the blues. “Highway Kind Of Life” , the energetic release by The Dennis Mitchell Band, wouldn’t be considered a ‘blues’ album by a blues purist, but is an example of music that crosses the boundaries of the genre. Producers Scott Kindt and Dennis Mitchell have succeeded in creating an impressive and high quality recording of the band with excellent horn and vocal arrangements.

The opening track, “Don’t Forget Me” reminds me of Bad Company! The groove and the style of the song are steeped in that 70’s guitar rock sound, and Mitchell’s high pitched voice only adds to that vibe. “Sometime”, the album’s second track, has an Allman Brothers feel and showcases some of the truly great sax work on this release. On “Opposites Attract”, the distorted lead guitar track hints at the band’s harder rock influences, while “Keep On Killing Me” has the main guitar doubling the bass line which is very effective in forming a funky pocket. The organ track heard on “Sister Susie” helps add spice to the Metal flavor of this foot stomping rocker. “You” a funky pop-soul rocker, reminds me of Huey Lewis in his prime, only with a harder edge, and is very well executed. “What To Do” is one of the bluesier songs on the album, and features an old school R&B chord progression, gospel tinged background vocals and a very cool bridge which elevates the song beyond just another visit to the great music of the 50’s. On “I Love Cars” the band showcases their Rock & Roll chops and energy! This song could be included in a “Road Songs” compilation as it has all the necessary elements, including catchy lyrics by Mitchell, who in fact wrote all the songs on this album. “Payback Blues” is a cool blues number with some great harp licks by Satellite Malone, more tight horn section work, a hot sax solo and really a great song arrangement all around. With “Running Away”, the listener knows rock is alive and well, and this riff based song effectively tickles the dance-bone. I like where the producers placed the second–to-last cut on the album, “What’s It Going To Take?”, probably my favorite cut on the album and maybe the best example of how good this group is. The strong lead vocal part, the stellar back-up vocals, the kick-butt drum track, the precision bass thumping, the tasty piano licks, and once again a strong arrangement all combine to make this a must listen

(I immediately added it to one of my favorite playlists!). “Highway Kind Of Life”, the title track, epitomizes the strengths of The Dennis Mitchell Band. The song starts out with a very cool single note guitar pattern brought to life on top of a classical sounding organ riff, that really becomes the hook. Later in the song, two guitars are intricately laced together in a perfect complement to the one another, and other instruments are carefully revealed and woven together masterfully. This must have been a fun mix-down as it must have become apparent that in this effort they were achieving engineering perfection, and actually this entire album sounds outstanding from that perspective.
I think this record will appeal to a broad range of listeners, from blues-lovers, to rockers, and certainly anyone who dug Bad Company, or the vocal vibe of Journey or Boston. The use of well orchestrated horns over a backdrop of semi-heavy rock instruments and a high pitched lead vocalist reminds the listener of Styx, but this music is more rooted in blues, rock & roll and old R&B, and there are no anthem-like ballads on this album. All the songs on “Highway Kind Of Life” grab you in some way, and some of the songs will remind you of some musical memory of the past.

Somehow, the producers captured an almost live energy in the studio, which is easier said than done, and one gets the impression that this band has improved the songs on the road over time, until they reached their full maturity. I know I’m going to be playing “What’s It Going To Take” on my next radio show, even though it’s not really a “blues” song, but like I said….The blues umbrella is large and this is Dennis Mitchell blues! And this album rocks! Check it out! .

Reviewer Bruce Williams is seasoned Blues musician (Junior Wells, Lefty Dizz and The Chicago Fire, Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins, Mark Hannon Blues Band). He  learned the blues from some of Chicago’s masters and has shared the stage with legends such as Willie Dixon, Jimmy Rogers, Sammy Lawhorn, Hound Dog Taylor and Jimmy Johnson. His band appears at clubs and festivals throughout the Midwest. He hosts a weekly radio program on WRLR FM Public Radio and produces music out of his home based Highland Lake Records.

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