Hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, The Pawnbrokers are a solid six-piece unit with plenty of chops and traditionalism, and their maiden voyage, "Guilty Conscience," is a 17-track, 60-minute disc that focuses on unity. Citing influences such as T-Bone Walker, Hollywood Fats, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and many more, the band consists of John Pergal's whiskey-edged vocals, Bill Maruca on keys, Garth Asmussen's creative harp work, a rotating rhythm section of two bassists and three drummers, and Ric Proudfoot showing deft guitar skills and finely-crafted lyrics over the CD's 17 original numbers. Proudfoot penned 16 of the tracks and co-wrote the instrumental closer with Asmussen.
Kicking off with "Money Back Guarantee," Proudfoot's sinewy slide work owes debt to Duane Allman, while Pergal belts out a rugged vocal. "Lyin' Woman" works off a Lowell Fulson 'Tramp' groove which features fat-toned harp from Asmussen, and a nice twist of changes. T-Bone Walker's ghost is all over "Change Of Plan" and the slow and moody title cut, while "Don't Come Cryin' To Me" and "Living Pay To Pay" both get lowdown and funky. "Pop Off Daddy" is a breakneck slice of swing with nice tandem work from the harp and guitar playing a tight head arrangement, and they take on an Excello-styled rocker with "Ace In The Hole." "You Ain't Smooth No More" shows excellent abilities across the board; while the band leans on a jazz groove, Asmussen's harp stays solidly in the blues realm, and when Proudfoot steps front and center, the jazz feel rebounds with taste. "Too Late" takes on an uptown edge with some well-placed stops and distinctive harp and more fine-tuned guitar. They walk respectfully through a Lazy Lester-like swamper with "Play The Cards, " and "True To Me" features some nice pace changes and stops. The minor-key and gritty "You Better Slow Down" shows brilliance from the behind-the-beat opening, through Proudfoot and Asmussen's well-spaced solos, to the closing notes. The disc winds up on a Little Walter-like instrumental with the recently-added rhythm section of Joe and Sean McGuire on bass and drums, swinging effortlessly.
This is a fine-tuned introduction to The Pawnbrokers, and definitely shows promise for more. If there's one drawback, it's that while they border on letting it all go now and again, the gloves never come completely off for a closing-round knockout. Proudfoot's guitar maintains just a hair-too-much politeness throughout. I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with next time around. One thing's for certain: These guys know how to play the stuff ; they just need to relax and go for broke. With the writing skills, respect, and abilities shown by The Pawnbrokers, a guilty conscience shouldn't hold them back at all. For more info, check out: www.thepawnbrokers.org
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