My dealer of all things Blue and with lots of Rhythm in the USA got in touch last week telling me that he had the perfect soundtrack to my upcoming holiday in Noo Yawk. Intrigued I checked the post every day and today ‘it’ arrived……..MANHATTAN ALLEY by a New York quintet Big Apple Blues!
The cover artwork certainly lives up to my fantasies about this fair city; but would the music live up to the hype?
Even from track #1 I loved the bands’ sense of humour as this feisty instrumental is called …… You Gotta Start Somewhere; and what a way to start indeed. Mesmerising guitar licks; a hypnotic drum and bass with some swirling organ and sax in the background…….this is the essence of what I want from NYC in under 3 minutes.
This is followed by a silky smooth and almost Staxtastic tune called Happy; which is exactly what it made me feel.
Cool Sounds Straight Out of a Sleazy Club on the Wrong Side of 110th Street.
Historically I’m no lover of instrumental albums; but as I’m imagining it as an actual soundtrack to my week touring the hotspots and fleshpots of a city that I’ve dreamed of visiting for half a century; it works perfectly well in that setting.
Obviously with a few tunes featuring Jim Alfredson on a mighty Hammond B3 it’s all too easy to compare Deep Talkin’ and the slip-slidin’ and slinky Take Two to Booker T; but I hear a lot of Jimmy Smith and Dave Brubeck in there too, but neither sounds like anything I own by any of those maestros.
Then there is the sweet guitar of Zach Zunis on Hudson Breeze which sounds just like something you’d want to hear just as the sun was setting over the yardarm somewhere; anywhere in the world, not just the banks of the Hudson.
Steamroller, on the other hand is masterful slice of funk straight out of a sleazy club on the wrong side of 110th Street; boy oh boy can these fellas make a beautiful noise.
Not on everything; but at this stage in the album Big Apple Blues made me hark back to not just those three Jazz-Soul legends; but more along the lines of the Average White Band who could mould Jazz, Blues, Soul and indeed Rock together and create beautiful music…..just like these cats can.
There is quality oozing out of every single groove on this disc; none more so than the slow and sensuous SDW; written in honour of a dearly departed friend of the band who went by that moniker.
Even without seeing their photos; hearing the way they play their instruments with style, blending guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and harmonica with intelligence and imagination, you know they aren’t in the first flush of youth. It takes years and years of hard work to make sounding this good so simple and slick.
As I regularly point out, there’s no need these days for a commercial hit; but there are certainly a couple of tracks here that wouldn’t be out of place as theme tunes for a Cop Show on TV or even big old gangster movie on the big screen; I’m especially thinking of Subway Rumble and Rock On which would fit that bill as would the RMHQ Favourite Track, Love Will Find A Way; which has a right royal smoky film-noir feel to it.
It’s been very short notice; but I can now see why my friend Frank would think I would like MANHATTAN ALLEY, and tenuously use it as a soundtrack to 5 fun filled days in the Big Apple; and I keep my fingers crossed that I will stumble on these 5 guys getting their groove on in a seedy bar when I’m in town.