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The Steve Miller Band - Bingo!

Space Cowboy/Loud and Proud/Roadrunner Records

10 tracks (14 on the Special Edition)

The Steve Miller Band - Let Your Hair Down

Space Cowboy/Loud and Proud/Roadrunner Records

10 tracks

The 2011 Blues Music Award Rock Blues Album nominee Bingo! and the companion piece Let Your Hair Down come from the same session where Miller returns to the blues roots he was firmly entrenched in prior to moving to San Francisco in thelate 60’s. After his psychedelic period discovered he could parlay his blues, masterful guitar and echo filled vocals into legendary pop rock music. His big selling album 1974 to 1978 Greatest Hits still sells well and attests that he was able to turn out tune after tune that could sell millions of copies in a mere five year period. But a 17 year hiatus took Miller away from the studio and record releases and the Gangster of Love that some call Maurice kind of disappeared from the music scene except for the occasional summer tour. Now the Space Cowboy is back, he’s come full circle to his roots and has released two sets of tunes that are a tribute to the music he grew up on and with. And while I was skeptical at first, the more I listen, the more I say, “What the hell; it’s good, it’s fun and it is well done”.

Steve Miller learned guitar at a young age and was influenced by many, including family friend Les Paul. He was very hot on blues music as a youth, but after wandering through the psychedelic world he eventually developed the pop sound that would allow him to sell over 30 million records. He began to return to the blues in the 1980’s where he did some less well received albums, and even strayed into jazz a bit. Now he has returned and is only doing covers of traditional cuts that he loved and still loves. He hooked up with Sonny Charles in 2008 and with him laid down the tracks that make up these two albums. Also on the CDs is Norton Buffalo, the eternally great harp player, session man and vocalist who passed away of lung cancer shortly after laying down these songs. Steve shares the microphone with Charles, so don’t expect every vocal to be the echo box sounding Space Cowboy lamenting and baring his soul to you, but that does not matter. Charles is also convincing in delivering his songs. His vocals are similar to Millers’ in some ways and they trade off nicely, with Miller doing his trademark vocal sound while Charles lays off the effects and does his more with a straight up sound.

Last year I told myself, “How can this aging superstar release a CD of pretty famous and over played covers and make it worth my while to listen?”, so I first ignored Bingo!. Then Bill Wax played some cuts on Sirius/XM Bluesvilles and my mind opened a bit. I sampled the CD on line and liked what I heard. Then Blues Blast assigns me the new CD to review, so what could I do but get the first CD together with it and write about them together? After all, they are really one big, long session of music. And while I still ask myself, “Why is Steve Miller doing this?” the answer seems to be, “Because he likes it and is good at it.” It’s not going to sell millions like he used to nor is it going to get him on the mainstream radio, but I doubt Steve is looking for that anymore as he approaches being 68 years young. He is touring extensively each summer, playing and singing what he likes and packing large halls and festivals while giving them both the famous pop they expect and his very old and newly re-done blues.

Bingo! Features classic blues cuts like “Rock Me Baby”, “Ooh Poo Pah Doo”, “Tramp”, “All Your Love (I Miss Loving), Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)” and others, while Let Your Hair Down has “Snatch It Back and Hold It”, “The Walk”, “Can’t Be Satisfied”, “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Love the Life I Live” and more. I feared that Bingo! Would be the great songs and Hair a bunch of left-overs but that was not the case. Both CDs exude great guitar work, clean and cool vocals by Miller and Charles and nice harp and vocals by Buffalo. Kenny Lee Lewis plays rhythm guitar and sings, Joseph Wooten adds B3, piano and keys and some vocals, Gordy Knudsen plays drums and Billy Peterson is on bass and vocals. Joe Satriani adds his stratospheric guitar on a couple of cuts for Bingo! (including “Rock Me Baby”) yet is somewhat restrained and humbled by Miller and does justice to both songs. Michael Carabello adds some congas and percussion on both while Adrian Areas adds timbales and percussion. Cover art on both is quite nice, too; Storm Thorgerson who did many a Pink Floyd album cover gives us two very cool ones for Miller.

Miller sums it all up on the opening song to Bingo! , which is Jimmie Vaughn’s and Paul Henry Ray’s “Hey Yeah”: “Hey everyone, I think I’ll take this time to have some fun. I know we’ve just begun I think I’ll go ahead and play my guitar some.” That’s just what he’s doing on both of these CDs. He serves up some of his traditionally cool vocals, lays out some eminently wicker guitar licks and just lets it hang out. Miller’s pop fans will like this and his early fans should eat this stuff up, too- we have a storied blues rocker showing us in the studio and on the road that he can still wail and groove with the best of them. Lucky for us blues fans he’s doing that in his old neighborhood of the blues. He works over the music with that sound that made him a star, but it never sounds cheap or tawdry. It’s simple –it’s just Space Cowboy blues!

Reviewer  Steve Jones is secretary of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program.

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