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Johnny & the MoTones - Nothin’ to Lose

Altenburgh Records

12 tracks

Based out of Wisconsin, Johnny & the MoTones is a band comprised of veteran musicians, including several who teach at colleges or universities. The leader is John Altenburgh who handles piano and keyboards in addition to writing the arrangements for most of the tunes. He also served as the producer of the project and co-engineered the recordings with guitarist Mitch Viegut.

Filling out the band’s roster is Kevin Moore on lead vocals, Chris O’Keefe on lead guitar, John Greiner on tenor sax, Bob Kase on trumpet, Ryan Korb on drums, Keras Rubka-Nimz on guitar & backing vocals, Bruce Lammers on bass plus Paula Hall, Ellen Altenburgh and Dave Baehr on backing vocals. Baehr is also credited for his work on the cowbell.

The title track starts the disc off with a bang, sparked by Greiner’s fine sax playing. “Baby Don’t Jump” rocks even harder with Moore shouting over the band with Kase, Altenburgh, O’Keefe and Greiner all taking brief solos. O’Keefe wrote “That’s Why I Sing the Blues”, a slow, soulful ballad that has one of Moore’s strongest vocals. The pace picks up on “Runaround” and O’Keefe gets a chance to show off his guitar skills.

Kase is an alumnus of the Air Force Jazz Band and he gets a chance to stretch out on a bit on “Rosie”. Altenburgh’s piano solo has hints of the New Orleans R&B style while Greiner continues to delight with his playing.

The second half of the disc is not as strong. “Maybe Baby” has some fine piano from Altenburgh but the electronic keyboard is distracting and Viegut’s vocal can’t carry the tune. Tracks like “Crazy People”, “Wish We Were Young Again” and “Taste of the Strange” would be right at home on the programming for an MOR rock radio station.

The group covers “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover”, a tune popularized during World War II by Vera Lynn. Their up-tempo version in the jump blues style is musically impressive but loses points for the out-dated lyrics.

I’m not sure that the world needs another version of “Hey Joe” but the MoTones end the set with their version, building to swirling crescendo with guitars and keyboards battling for supremacy. Moore sings with enthusiasm but his interpretation doesn’t offer anything new.

This is definitely a band with plenty of musical firepower. That may be why they explore a wide range of musical styles on this disc. Most blues fans will be interested in the first half of this release. How you feel about the rest of the disc will be a matter of your own musical tastes.

Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL.

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