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Mark Slim Band - Katrina


14 tracks/44:19

On first glance, one might wonder why a guitar player from Italy would be moved to dedicate his latest work to the suffering Katrina caused for the people of New Orleans. And do we really need any more songs about that natural disaster?

Fortunately Mark Slim limits his NO references to the title track, which sports a bouncy rhythm that would seem at odds with the subject. The leader's clean guitar lines are a delight while Luca Dell 'Aquila on bass and Marco Manassero on drums lay down a strong backbeat. The final band member is Martino Repetto, who handles the rhythm guitar parts on most tracks and gets a chance to solo on three cuts.

Slim is a serious student of the music, making numerous extensive trips to the U.S.A. to soak up the music and play with as many blues musicians as he could find. His travels have taken him to Memphis, Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis and the Mississippi delta. He also has spent a lot of time in the Texas cities of Houston and Austin, learning from the likes of Texas Johnny Brown, Big Walter Price and Rich Del Grosso. It is apparent right from the start that Slim learned his lessons well as he nails a tribute to Lightnin' Hopkins on “Back Door Friend”, recreating the blues legend's laid-back electric style.

Another influence is T-Bone Walker and Slim pays homage to him on two instrumental numbers. The title says it all on “Mark Slim Shuffle” as the leader's guitar picking is never forced and void of any rock influences. His rendition of Walker's tune “Hard Way” features another dose of Slim's fluid guitar style. Guitarist Pee Wee Crayton is another of Slim's favorites and his fleet-fingered West Coast style is covered on “Mark Slim Boogie” and “Bop Hop”. Slim credits Son House as an the inspiration for “North-East Blues” but the arrangement featuring slide guitar has more of a classic 50's Chicago-style sound.

The group's cover of Tommy Johnson's “Big Road Blues” retains the country blues flavor over a furious shuffle beat. “Jimmie Vaughan Shuffle” is another obvious tribute with Slim capturing the famous guitar sound of Stevie Ray's older brother. The pace slows on “Hard Time Blues”, a Slim original that laments the monotony of a life without love. The disc closes with a musical celebration of Slim's cousin and her victory over cancer on “Blues for Sabrina”.

The one issue with this recording is Slim's vocal abilities. He has a higher pitched, thin voice that tends to warble a bit. He also struggles a bit to clearly enunciated the lyrics, perhaps due to singing in English rather than his native tongue. His efforts aren't helped by his voice being buried deeper in the mix, which hampers efforts to understand what he is singing at times. The issues are most apparent on “Tell Me, What Have I Done Wrong”, a jazzy tune that features a brief solo from Repetto.

Even with that caveat, there is still plenty of reasons to recommend that you check this one out. Mark Slim is a talented guitarist backed by a solid band playing straight-ahead blues without a hint of rock influences or over-driven guitars. This is one of those recordings that grows on you with repeated listens.!

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

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