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Little Bobby & The Storm - A Night at the Empire DVD
Produced by Paul & Chris Dahlman
Directed by Mark Johnson, Mixed by Jon Borgen
A Frame By Frame Production
Little Bobby & The Storm’s “A Night at the Empire” is a DVD of the band’s May 28, 2009 performance at the Empire Arts Theater in Grand Forks, North Dakota. They’ve been described as a “hard hitting in your face blues band” but that might be a little misleading since they’re more than that. They’re a band whose traditional blues style is rich with soul, passion and audience connectivity. Their jams are moving, tireless and touching.
Little Bobby Houle, a third generation musician, was born on the Red Lake Indian Reservation and is the grandson of Bobby Houle--a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, known for the 60’s hit single "Dream Night". While I’ve never personally met him I was told, and I quote, “He is not little. He’s a big guy and his father is a lot bigger, hence ‘Little Bobby’. Tab Benoit calls him Medium Bobby....”
Bobby (guitar/vocals) is supported by band mates Rod Bondy (Gibson Les Paul guitar), Mike "Axeman" Axvig (bass), Dan Dahlin (drums), and Paul Testa (Hammond B3 organ). I’m not a big supporter of the idea that you have to live a hard life to perform the blues, or we wouldn’t have young acts like Homemade Jamz Blues Band finding such early success. So, what I will say about that is if a performer can get in touch with their personal emotion, then they can get in touch with the blues—and I say this not to diminish the fact that Bobby is considered legally blind and served several years in prison. So I’m sure he has some personal and dark places to pull from. Wherever a performer pulls from emotionally is fine. The test is can they deliver a spell-binding show; and in this DVD, Little Bobby and The Storm DVD do exactly that.
Little Bobby & the Storm have done shows with blues greats such as Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Bo Diddley, Pinetop Perkins. Walter Trout, Johnny Winters, and more and have won numerous awards including being featured on the Beale Street Caravan in October of 2008. Albert King, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy and Jimmy Rogers are just some of their musical influences. The DVD showcases their ability to channel these early influences and even organist Paulie Testa’s Hammond B3 ivory-slapping style is reminiscent of the keyboard player’s style in a 70’s Albert Collins show at Buddy Guy Legends.
Bobby and the band play with as much soul and emotion as I’ve seen and the music has even greater impact when visually teamed with a DVD. Additional interest is added with shots of the flashing marquis, backstage/greenroom footage and scans of the audience. There are also bonus tracks of a younger longer-haired Bobby. You’ll enjoy watching this band as they offer up rather moving blues renditions.
In “If Trouble Was Money”, Bobby sings straight from the diaphragm of his heart. The DVD is worth the buy alone just to watch this one segment—but you’ll want to watch the entire show. Bobby’s note modulation, expression and phrasing are both original and influenced by the greats, all at the same time. The organ solo is as moving as the sax solos in Albert Collins shows of the past; In fact, paired with Little Bobby, it was a heart-bending, tear jerking blues guitar and organ exhibition that had the Empire Arts Theater audience ready to sell their soul to the devil from right there in their seats. And when Bobby hit the floor for some up-close and personal string bending, the guitar lick and organ rifts just didn’t want to stop until he reclaimed the stage to slowly and gently bring the audience out of their hypnotic crossroad state to slowly reclaim their bodies. The entire show was a magic carpet blues ride with the devil himself while the audience never had to leave their chairs. He and the band had them in the palm of their hands. And that’s the power of a good blues performer and band.
With fan favorites like "Six String Telephone", "Little Boy Fly On" and the two bonus videos "Lord I'm Singing The Blues" (Net Jams TV Video of the Year) and "Worried", you’ll be pleased with having this one in your collection. It’s hard to believe a true blues band of this caliber hasn’t been sent to the IBC. But it doesn’t really matter because they’re winners already. You can teach technique but you can’t teach passion and these guys have passion. I was told Bobby will play guitar until his fingers bleed, that he’s a generous person, and loves putting together benefits and fundraisers. So keep your eye on them for future CDs and DVDs; with hundreds of originals in Bobby’s back pocket, they’re currently working on new original material with plans to put out another CD this year. Show ‘em some love and buy the DVD today.
Reviewer Belinda Foster is a Columnist and Contributing Writer for Greenville SC Magazine “Industry Mag” and former manager of Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’Blues. She currently is working with Big Star Media Group as a blogger for their Big Star Live project, streaming Ground Zero Blues Club concerts live Wed-Sat in high def. As a devoted promoter and support of blues root music and history, she makes frequent trips to Clarksdale MS and the Delta Region. Her column “The Upstate Blues Report” can be found on line at www.mega-scene.com
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