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Mariella Tirotto & The Blues Federation - Dare To Stand Out
Not many Dutch bands come out from the Netherlands with an insightful take on the blues. Very few catch a glimpse on this side of the waters.
Mariella Tirotto and The Blues Federation are fortunate that some members of the press are getting exposure to their music. The release of their second cd Dare To Stand Out might be their strongest attempt in getting radio airplay on blues stations across America.
Tirotto’s whiskey-soaked vocals front an outfit of musicians who mix a hodgepodge of jazz, blues and funk in the mix to make for a refreshing take on things.
And let’s not forget a dash of rock ‘n’ roll. A twisted Van Halenized guitar hook leads into opening cut “Drifting” that coasts on an ominous groove with Michel de Kok’s harp lines blending the histrionics of Charlie Musselwhite and John Popper. More or less Kok’s harp playing carries the songs sailing on a range of waters. The harmonica coaxes “Marked For Life” to romp on a New Orleans platter of funk and soul only to detour on side-roads of short psychedelia with airy solos by harpist Kok and guitarist Harold Koll.
Tirotto and Koll seem to be the resident songwriters at large. All the material is original which sets the band apart from some contemporaries who rather become traveling jukeboxes overplaying old standards to the point of ear fatigue.
Just because the band hasn’t traveled to the deepest south, doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate the back-porch ethics from which the music emerged. Koll and Tirotto’s “Lover’s Dance” with its dark Dobro playing is a spooky piece of imagery of Robert Johnson, Son House and Charlie Patton meeting after midnight by the crossroads. It’s as foreboding as sexy undermined by Tirotto’s lustful vocalizations that add pleasure to pain to music recorded six feet in the mud. The band is quiet but you can feel their evil presence. With Onny Tuhumena’s percussion and Tirotto’s spoken phrases, the overall effect is of being lost in an alcoholic nightmare.
As weirdly content you are to live in this space, that mood disappears. It’s up to the title track itself written by Tirotto to electrify the house. Koll’s guitar comes to the front leading the band through its funk rock nuances with Kok’s dancing harp lines. The atmosphere gets more cheerful in Tirotto original “Night Owl” that is so Paul Butterfield influenced you swear it was recorded in Chicago with its sweet upbeat shuffle.
And let’s not overlook the rhythm section. Mariella’s bass player/piano husband Heins Greten and drummer John Kakiay work like clockwork to provide a solid musical foundation to which the hot rhythmic soul floats over like steam.
Traditional song “Black Coffee” is the only song not an original. With Heins Greten ‘s gentle touch piano playing and Triotto’s enticing vocals, the song travails on a smoky jazz landscape reaching for the back alleys in Chicago and New York City with Kok once again adding soothing harmonica playing.
It seems the Federation cut this music to reach out to everybody. There is a little of everything for the purists, the rockers, the jazzers and party crowd. And though the band likes to maybe stretch songs into strange places best suited for today’s jams bands, at least soloing is kept in check so Mariella doesn’t have to wait long to sing.
The energy ebbs and flows throughout the remainder of the CD. Though some tracks could have been left off for the next album, the Blues Federation proves you don’t have to be a one-trick pony playing hard rock blues only. Credit the Federation for willingness to craft a piece of work touching on various aspects of a genre that needs fresh blood.
Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.