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The Latvian Blues Band - Unreal

Blue Skunk Music

14 tracks

Latvia is a Baltic State sandwiched between Estonia to the North and Lithuania to the South. The Russian Federation sits to its’ East and Belarus to their Southeast. Independent since 1991, it is the third poorest country in the European Union. It is a tiny and poor country so given their predicament why not also be a hot bed for the blues? The blues got exported to England and Western Europe in the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s. The Stones, Beatles and others reintroduced American crowds to the blues in some of their early work. The fall of the Soviet Union allowed the delayed introduction of the blues to the former Warsaw Pact and satellite states, but it has taken hold and is represented so very well by this band that I’ve had the pleasure to review.

The Latvian Blues Band is four young men who musically are quite exceptional. Janis Bukovskis on vocals and guitar, Roland Saulietis on drums, Reinus Ozolins on bass and Rihards Berzins on piano and organ make up the band. Produced by Duke Robillard (he is featured on two tracks), the sound is very funky and tight. They have an excellent groove that they maintain that gets you out of your seat and listening. 9 original songs and 4 others are featured here. I don’t usually cover every track but this is ground breaking stuff and warrants the deep dive into their music.

They whet your appetite with a funky and horn-filled cover of Willie Dixon’s “Evil”. Bukovskis vocals are well done here and throughout- he’s a pleasure to listen to. The four-piece horn section featured here and on three other tracks is superb. All Latvian friends of theirs, they and the band really supply a great groove to get down with. Robillard’s guitar solo is, of course, impeccable as is Janis Kalnins on guitar here. I was sold on these guys with the first track alone with its’ jumping jive; a great and different take on this immortal Willie Dixon song!

As they get into their own groove, these four young gents really sound outstanding. H.R Byrd’s “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand” is the second offering and it is another well done piece that sounds especially good with both Bukovskis’ vocals and dobro solo. The next four cuts are originals and if you closed your eyes you could be in a Chicago blues club. Bukovskis opens with a really nice guitar solo on “Confused”. “Feel Like Cryin” takes the tempo way down with some nice jazzy interplay between Bukovskis’ guitar and Berzins’ piano. “Unreal” gives us Bukovskis showing us his slide and “Wake Up” goes more into a jazzy ethereal blues sound. Nice variety here and Bukovskis vocals are solid, solid, solid!

Janis Kalnins reprises his guitar work from track one with a great solo on “Let the Door Hit You”. He and the band boogie through this cut very well. The horn section returns on the original cut “Nut Shuffle”; they provide the lead into the song and Bukiovskis takes the helm with more solid vocals. Artis Locmelis and Zintis Zvarts are on sax, Uldis Ziedins is on trombone and Sandris Skeranskis is on trumpet and they are an outstanding and quite together quartet. They also help close the CD on the last two tracks, “Lost” and “Are You Ready”. The former is an upbeat and brassy funk song while the latter is pure blues. Kalnins is on guitar again here in the final cut and he picks his way from the South to the North Side of Chicago. Bukovskis vocals are authentic and consistent. Classy stuff once again and the horn section is again superb.

The prior four tracks are the band with little other help. “Live Your Own Life” is nice funky blues number where Robillard returns to help out. “5 Minutes Too Late” is a soft, toned down ballad with Bukovskis on bass and vocals, Saulietis on drums and Kalnins on guitar. A big departure from the tracks with the horn section, it seems even sedate compared to other tracks. A soulful guitar solo and beautiful vocals really make this ballad a great number to listen to. “Take That” returns to the funky groove and bigger vocal sound. Lastly, “No More Doggin” is a slow, traditional blues with the slide featured once again. This is all really great stuff.

The world is a big place. The blues can live anywhere, as evidence here in this truly fine album. The CD was cut in Latvia and mixed in Rhode Island- it sounds great. The engineering is well done throughout. I was really pleased to get this one to review. There are no holes here; 14 really fine tracks done with feeling and great musicality. Go and listen to these guys on You Tube. Every blues fan who does will want to buy this CD ASAP. The blues are truly as alive in Eastern Europe as they are here at home!

Reviewer Steve Jones is secretary of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL

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