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Phantom Blues Band

Delta Groove Productions

By Rob Paullin

You’ve heard of the Phantom Blues Band. Even if you’ve NOT heard of the Handy and Grammy winners, you’ve heard them without even knowing it. Members Mike Finnigan on vocals and keyboards, Larry Fulcher on vocals bass, Johnny Lee Schell on vocals and guitar, Tony Braunagel on drums, and Darrell Leonard and Joe Sublett on a variety of horns, make not only their own great music, but they’ve also made great music with the likes of Buddy Guy and Otis Rush along with Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Taj Mahal.

Their new disk, Footprints, is an outstanding blend of sax and brass, skins, guitar, B3 and bass; with no instrument or voice trying to outdo the others. Musically, Footprints is an energetic collection of everything from gospel and reggae to funk and straight forward blues.

First up is “Look at Granny Run,” a non-stop cover on which Mike Finnigan reminds one of the vocalizations of the late Wilson Pickett. “Granny” is followed… or chased away… by “See See Baby,” which sounds very similar to the old classic rock and roll diddy, “See See Rider.” With Johnny Lee Schell providing the vocals, it works just as well. The funk-driven “Leave Home Girl” is Larry Fulcher’s excellent cover of an old Earl Randle song about love in the shadows.

The Phantom Blues Band changes tempo with Mike Finnigan’s sad but compelling vocal strains on “Cottage For Sale.”  The tempo and theme brighten with the first of two highly danceable “fowl” songs: The cover of the late Mayor of Beale Street, Rufus Thomas’ clever “Fried Chicken,” followed by the first of four originals, Fulcher, Finnigan and Schell’s double entendre tribute to the ones that rule the roost. You’ll get it when you hear it….

There’s a hint of southern gospel in “Your Heartaches Are Over,” a song that promises a new beginning to a lover betrayed, and then a cover of the lyrically clever “ My wife Can’t Cook.” Next, Larry Fulcher drags us through the swamp with the slide guitar powered original, “When Malindy Sings.”

You’ll think of Dr. John or even the Radiators when you listen to “Chills and Fever” then you’ll feel like popping the umbrella for that rainy day on “A Very Blue Day.”

The bluest song on Footprints is the band’s cover of the Ray Charles classic, “A Fool For You,” on which Finnigan pours his heart out for a lover who found pleasure in the arms of another.

The last song on Footprints may be the best: The original, “When the Music Changes,” an upbeat, optimistic, radio-friendly tune with more than a pinch of Bob Marley-style reggae.

As individuals, the members of the Phantom Blues Band have had spectacular careers, if primarily in the shadows of others. Their latest disk, Footprints, shows they have everything it takes to be spectacular as a band. I recommend it highly.

Reviewers Note: Rob Paullin had the pleasure of seeing the then 83-year old Rufus Thomas in one of his last performances at Handy Park in Memphis, and salutes the Phantom Blues Band for paying tribute to this American original. He now looks forward to seeing the Phantom Blues Band.

CLICK HERE to visit the bands website and listen to some sample tracks.


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