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Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat
Tijuana Bible

By James “Skyy Dobro” Walker
16 songs; 71:21 minutes; Library Quality

Tired of this long and cold Midwest winter? Then let’s head to Texas and heat things up – musically, at least. “Texas Blues” is composed of a number of style variations and first occurred in the mid 1920s, featuring acoustic guitar work that mimicked the vocals rather than merely accompanying them. Lyrics relied less on love, unfaithfulness, and heartbreak than other blues forms. After World War II, a fully electric style featured single-string soloing over predominantly horn-driven backing – “Electric” Texas Blues. T-Bone Walker’s Electric Texas Blues represented an uptown sound, but its juke-joint, roadhouse roots became most prominent by the 1970s and 80s, with even more emphasis placed on the lead guitar work and with artists intensely rocking the joint in duos and power trios. The style stays current with performers primarily working in a small combo context sans a horn section.

Texas native Jim Suhler is best known as the lead guitarist for George Thorogood and The Destroyers since 1999. Because of Suhler’s masterful endless-fireworks-approach to slide, lead, and rhythm guitar, he has often been included in “Top Ten Guitarists” lists of various publications. When he is not playing with Thorogood, he tours and records with his own band, Monkey Beat.

Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat have been on the music scene for over fifteen years, and they have built a fan base worldwide through constant touring in both the USA and Europe. The band is well known for its no-holds-barred approach to blues-inspired Rock and Roll and Roots music.

Tijuana Bible is the fifth and newest CD by the Dallas guitar hero and his fiery veteran band: bassist/vocalist Carlton Powell, keyboardist Shawn Phares, and drummer Jimmy Morgan. Produced by Jim Suhler and Tom Hambridge, the album guests are Jimmy Hall (vocals on “Po’ Lightnin’”), Elvin Bishop, Joe Bonamassa (lead guitar on “Deep Water Lullaby”), and Buddy Leach (saxophones on “Border Rock” and “Years of Tears”). Tijuana Bible features 16 songs, thirteen Suhler or Suhler/Hambridge originals and covers of Elvin Bishop’s “Drunken Hearted Boy” (with Elvin on slide guitar), Rory Gallagher’s “I Could've Had Religion” (with Cheryl Arena on harmonica), and AC/DC’s “Up To My Neck In You.”

Title wise (and with an example shown on the front and back CD cover), “The Tijuana Bible” is a name for an old-time pornographic comic book, typically starring famous politicians, film stars, or sports heroes. No one's really sure where they originated, but Tijuana, with its creative approach to all things entertaining, is certainly a good guess.

The first number is the title track with the opening guitar instantly defining the Electric Texas Blues sound. From a devoted study of Texas mythology, Suhler evidently realized the metaphorical value of a lyrical ode to such an art form. It's the sort of attitude and approach that defines Suhler’s work: witty, literate, and cerebral lyrics presented in groove-basted Texas rocking blues with incendiary slide guitar.

Every track is a snow-melting standout, and there is plenty of value with over 70 minutes of music and only one song longer than six minutes. While purchasing this CD, add one more, Live at Blue Cat Blues, recorded with Alan Haynes and featuring Suhler’s live signature cover songs: Louisiana Red’s “Too Poor To Die” plus Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced.”

James “Skyy Dobro” Walker  is a noted Blues writer and Blues Blast contributor

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