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Tip of the Top - Rock Tonight

Delta King Records

13 songs; 48:12 minutes; Splendid

Styles: Traditional Ensemble Blues; 1950s Rock and Roll

Tip of the Top is on their way to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, February 1-5. Last November, this band won the Bay Area IBC Qualifying Finals (sponsored by the Golden Gate Blues Society) by topping other finalist Bay Area talent: Wendy Dewitt, Twice as Good, and J.C. Smith.

Good luck to them because navigating the IBC and their judges is trickier than finding a book in Braille in a nudist colony library. However, Tip of the Top’s chances for success are good because, for starters, the quartet is a real band and has the chops, as proven in their great sophomore release, “Rock Tonight.”

Fellow Blues Blast reviewer Mark Thompson told readers in his review of their debut CD “Depot Street Blues” back on February 25, 2010, “Tip of the Top shows that even oft-covered blues tunes can gain new life when the band listens to each other and plays as an ensemble, eschewing endless solos and screaming guitars.”

The IBC scoring criteria categories include: Blues Content, Vocals, Talent, Originality, and Stage Presence.

1. Blues Content: Everyone has his or her own interpretation of what is and is not Blues. “Rock Tonight” is a solid mix of Blues and 1950s inspired Rockin’ Ryhthm so refreshing in its content that even a Blues purist couldn’t quibble. This category should be no problem for the band. I advise opening their set with “Barstool Boogie,” which is an up-tempo original shuffle that should immediately win smiles and fans.

2. Vocals Skills. Sharing lead vocals are John Lawton and Aki Kumar, both with well above average pipes as proven on songs like Lawton’s “She’s Sweet,” with intricate guitar-harmonica interplay, and Kumar’s impassioned “Time Will Tell.”

3. Talent: The act's instrumental skills. All four have years of experience that clearly shows: John Lawton – smoking hollow body electric guitar, Aki Kumar – fat toned diatonic and chromatic harps, and a kicking rhythm section of Frank DeRose – electric bass and Carlos Velasco – snare drum and cymbals. All of these veterans have solid credentials from previous bands and jams.

4. Originality: Original work is encouraged. Cover tunes are allowed, but playing the recorded rendition lick by lick is discouraged. “Rock Tonight” has eight originals songs and five covers. The originals are strong, like “She Told Me” and “Steve’s Shuffle” (who’s Steve?), and the covers of Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, and Sonny Rhodes are nicely interpreted in the band’s own style. This is another category that should be no problem.

5. Stage Presence: The IBC is no longer considered an “amateur” competition. Most contestants know that they are not simply playing music, but putting on a show. I have never seen Tip of the Top live, but I have seen their videos showing impressive energy. They could not have won the Bay Area IBC Finals by standing like statues dressed in blue jeans and t-shirts.

Formed only in early 2009, Tip of the Top has grown to become one of the hottest Blues bands in the San Francisco Bay Area. Quickly following their successful debut effort, Tip of the Top's “Rock Tonight” continues to deliver their classic, groove-driven sound that more Blues fans are coming to love – maybe even IBC judges.

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and longtime Blues Blast Magazine contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL. To See James “Skyy Dobro” Walker's CD rating system, CLICK HERE

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