Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Victor Wainwright and The Wildroots - Lit Up!

We headed up I-5 on the way to a four-day three-night fishing/camping trip at McArthur-Burney Memorial State Park.  It is a four and one-half hour zombie drive at 70 to 80 mph through commercial crop fields and speed traps on a two lane strip of tarmac festooned with construction, slow moving 18-wheelers and overweight RV’s.  Our little Subaru was stuffed to the roof with gear. We were left with just two seats.  There was no rear view through the rearview mirror.  I deemed it a perfect opportunity to listen to the dozen or two new releases that had been sent to me in the hopes of a review.

As we eased up I-505 toward our first bathroom stop at Granzella’s in Williams I popped in and pulled out of the dash player one mundane or truly awful release after another until I got to Victor Wainwright and The Wildroots’ fourteen track CD aptly named Lit Up!  The first track,”Big Dog’s Runnin’ This Town” played to one of my guilty pleasures - Jump Blues.  Not only is it Jump Blues, it is some of the best new Jump Blues in recent memory.  I salivated over the prospect of the next thirteen tracks.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Wainwright is the lead vocalist and plays an acoustic piano.  He co-wrote seven of the tracks on the CD with producer, arranger, acoustic guitar player, bass player and percussionist Stephen Dees.  Dees also provided five of his own originals including ”Big Dog’s Runnin’ This Town.”  Wainwright teamed up with electric and resonator guitarist Greg Gumpel to write “Coin Operated Woman.” Wainwright and Dees shared writing honors with blues player the Reverend Billy “C.J.” Wirtz on “Honky Tonk Heaven,” a song dedicated to Jesse Wainwright, Victor’s boogie piano player grandfather.  Weston Bradigan helped Wainwright pen the final track “Let It Be the Same.”

This is not a Jump Blues album.  The band has mastered all types of blues.  The songs run from Delta Blues to Country Blues to Gospel to New Orleans tinged Cajun to electric Chicago Blues to West Coast Blues to Modern Blues and everything in between. The band is rounded out by Patricia Ann Dees on tenor saxophone and backing vocals, Billy Dean on drums and Ray Guiser on tenor saxophone and clarinet.  The album is stacked with guest musicians - tenor and baritone saxophone, saxcello and clairnet player Charlie DeChant; mouth harpist Mark “Muddyharp” Hodgson; Hammond B3 organist Chris Stephenson; trombonist Bob Dionne; trumpet player Ken Titmus; and “The Little Pigs” identified as Chickie Baby, Cat Daddy, Six String, AreBe and Hounddog Man, as backing vocalists on ”Big Dog’s Runnin’ This Town.”  Time merrily flew by and I found myself drumming on the steering wheel, seat, armrest and dashboard.

Before I knew it we were at Granzella’s.  We went inside, used the facilities, sampled the olives, and got back in the car.  I looked down at my feet where there were still almost a dozen discs that I had not yet heard and about three more hours in the car.  I hesitated.  Then, I popped Lit Up! back in for a second time.  I let it run for almost an hour and a half all the way to Red Bluff.  Why go with something else when you’ve got something this good?

- Old School

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