Take a cup of blues, a pinch of soul and a dab of folk and you get Steven "Loose Gravel" Luhtala. Give Loose Gravel his band, The Quarry, and you have one of the finest sounds to come out of Tacoma in a long time.
On their 1st recording, BOULDER IN THE HIGHWAY, Loose Gravel and The Quarry lay it all out with great musicianship and catchy lyrics. Loose Gravel's vocals are reminiscent of the legendary Tom Waits, rough yet sturdy while his harp playing is simple yet affective. Gritts Henslee and Steve Cooley unleash some mean guitar solos, and Johnny Burgess' keyboards are steady and reliable. The horn arrangements by sax and trumpet player Al Green, are stout, as are his solos.
The opening and title track only last 40 seconds but reprises at the end for a full 6:19, is an effective acoustic piece with a Jimmy Buffet-esc quality. Spirits in the Wind, the second track will catch you off guard. This haunting ballad of ancient warriors seems a peculiar song choice however; it does give this CD diversity not found on most blues recordings.
The remainder of the disc is straight-ahead blues including covers of Help Me and Unchain My Heart. The smoking shuffle She won't put out, an original composition, is four minutes of bar room blues. Gravel isn't afraid to share the spotlight as he teams up with a funky vocal exchange with guitarist Karl Thurman on the track I'm gonna get her.
There are two versions of the slow blues cut Raining in Tacoma (a grumbling tune about the weather here in the Pacific Northwest), a four-minute radio version and a bonus eight-minute version, which ends the record.
Self produced, BOULDER IN THE HIGHWAY, is a fun, diverse collection of music by these homegrown blues musicians.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Tony Engelhart, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.