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The Strata-Tones - Dressed Up To Fess Up

Fruition Records


This California based band delivers an intoxicating blend of rhythm and blues with blues instrumentation. The R&B based songs are slathered in Memphis-soul and blues goodness. The guitar playing of Bruce Krupnik and the harmonica playing of Kevin McCracken can easily hold their own with the best blues players in the business. The crowning jewel is the voice of Valerie Johnson that is heaped in Memphis grit. The similarity to Janis Joplin’s pipes is obvious from the ”git-go”. So much so that at one time she held Janis’ former slot in Big Brother And The Holding Company. Her style is less bombastic and over-the-top than Joplin’s, but the resemblance can’t be denied. The rhythm section and keyboard player are certainly no slouches either. Not to beat a tired cliché into the ground, but this is music that grows on you over repeated listening.

The recording consists of ten band originals and two cover tunes. The first cover curiously enough is “Keep On Cookin’ “, by none other than mister “Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” himself, B.J. Thomas. What I first thought to be sexual innuendo appears to be about “Food is the way to a man’s heart”. It’s delivered in a fine and funky fashion allowing guitar, harmonica and organ time to solo, a practice that is followed throughout. An ode to “struttin’ your stuff” is portrayed in the talked-sung “Be Bop Baby”. Drummer Rick Pittman sounds all Gene Krupa on the tom-tom heavy “Did You Ever”, a swing-styled song. Guitarist Bruce Krupnik’s solo here recalls Anson Funderburgh as he covers many styles over the solo’s course. Tom-tom heavy drums are also used on “Raggedy Annie”. A slow Memphis-style R&B groove graces the romantic slow groove of “Together For Some Time”. All the soloists get their chance to stretch out on the instrumental “T.W.F.S”. The Janis Joplin comparison becomes more evident on a live version of Big Mama Thorton’s “Ball And Chain”, a Joplin signature song, recorded at The Pour House. Valerie just displays a small amount of the histrionics and energy of Janis, but a very fine version.

This band possesses the right tools for the job. A very refreshing, professional and invigorating time is guaranteed for all. The resemblance to a famous icon is no problem here, as there is only the slightest hint of mimicry on the live tune, which can’t be helped and doesn’t seem out of place. This band shows signs of being around for the long haul, all the better for us, the audience.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.

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