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The R&B Bombers - The R&B Bombers

This self-titled CD, The R&B Bombers, is an exuberant, well-produced recording of horn and keyboard-driven blues, jump and R&B with vocals that also incorporates guitar and harmonica. It is a nice melding of genres and styles that incorporates 1940s big-band swing, modern blues, piano boogie, and ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s R&B. The four-man horn section of three saxes and a trombone is especially vibrant on this CD, and regales the listener with solid R&B riffing, re-creation of the full-throated big-band swing sound, and strong sax solos that are solidly in a blues/R&B groove with just a tinge of modern jazz. The R&B Bombers has 14 tracks, six of them originals, and one track, “Blow Wind Blow,” given as a traditional number. Noteworthy here are the horn arrangements that nicely combine 1940s swing with 1950s R&B.

The CD sleeve notes give a history of The R&B Bombers, a Southern California band that formed in the 1980s and had many successes before breaking apart and is now reconstituted. The R&B Bombers issued an LP in its earlier days that was touted by producer Terry Melcher as a “complete and well-produced work.” This CD incorporates tracks from that LP along with previously unreleased material, and the personnel here are comprised of The R&B Bombers’ original members. The nine-member R&B Bombers featured here are the late Larry Nass, guitar; Steve Nelson, bass; Tom Lackner, drums and percussion; Ken Strange, piano and organ; Joe Wilson, vocals and harp; and the horn section of Craig Woods, trombone; Craig Thomas, alto and tenor saxes, and vocals; Dave Tolegian, baritone, alto and tenor saxes; and Jim Hochanadel, tenor sax and vocals on “Everytime I Hear That Mellow Saxophone.” All three sax men do solos.

Running thematically through The R&B Bombers is the big-band sound that, as noted above, is a melding of 1940s swing with 1950s R&B. This big-band sound courses through 12 of the 14 tracks. The two original blues, “Can’t Help Myself” and “Since I Found You” feature it along with Joe Wilson’s harp, and it fully infuses Doug Sahm’s “Someday.” The original “Karla” combines swing with early 1950s R&B, while four songs long familiar with aficionados—Nappy Brown’s “Don’t Be Angry,” Louis Jordan’s “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” and two B.B. King numbers, “Get Out Of Here” and “You Upsets Me”—while partaking of the original arrangements, augment these with a big-band sound. The rock-tempo “Everytime I Hear That Mellow Saxophone” and “Blow Wind Blow” have Latin beats, and the originals, “Gotta Get Next To You” and “Hurry On Back,” and the final cut, “Any Other Way,” are 1960s R&B with horn riffing. The lone instrumental, “Ken’s Boogie,” written by keyboardist Ken Strange, is a traditional piano boogie that also incorporates horns and the amplified harp of guest Mitch Kashmar. Tasty guitar solos from Larry Nass are featured on “Since I Found You,” “Hurry On Back,” “You Upsets Me” and “Any Other Way.” Ken Strange’s organ and piano are an integral part of the group’s sound, and drive the music in tandem with the very dynamic horn section. The vocals of Joe Wilson on 11 of the tracks, those of Craig Thomas on two, with co-lead on one, and Jim Hochanadel are expressive and properly emotive.

I would recommend The R&B Bombers to all those who like horn-driven blues and R&B, big-band fans, and also to those who want to listen to a well-crafted CD that’s something different.

Reviewer George Fish lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr, and writes a regular music column, “Blues and More” for the online Bloomington (IN) Alternative. He’s also published in the regional Indiana blues and alternative presses as well as Living Blues and Blues Access, and wrote the notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has also published on blues and pop music for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy, as well as the online Political Affairs and MRZine.

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