Knowing that Bruce McCabe is both hometown hero and a very active member of the blues community in the Twin Cities area, home to this very fine publication - meaning there's probably a higher than usual percentage of friends and fans reading this review - I approached this one with trepidation. What would I say if I didn't like it?
Well, hey, no fear . . . Bruce's self-titled sophomore outing as leader is an absolute killer, an exceptional collection of blue-collar rockers, brawny and muscular and full of good, honest, sweaty grit, yet displaying an above-average intelligence both musical and . . . well, everywhere else, too.
Bruce, long-time keyboard player for the Lamont Cranston Band and the Hoopsnakes, has also toured with (and written songs for) Jonny Lang, who returns the favour with some fine fretwork on a track. Others helping out include Paul Diethelm on guitars, drummer Billy Thommes, and bassist Doug Nelson, who tragically passed away before the disc's release. Pat Hayes (leader of the Lamont Cranston Band) adds a bit of harmonica to a cut. A fine horn section featuring Bruce's brother Larry on trombone fills out the sound admirably.
Bruce blasts off with "The Stakes Have Gone Up," a straightforward rocker that could easily fit into playlists by Misters Petty or Mellencamp; "I'll Be Your Soldier," with Bruce's piano comping beautifully behind a chunky guitar rhythm, shows just how great a loss Mr. Nelson's passing was - his work, funky and fluid, is a highlight. "Dream Come True," reminiscent of a cross between Willie Dixon's "I Just Want To Make Love To You" and Wolf's "44," gives Bruce's vocals a lot of room, and he proves himself an excellent singer. Elsewhere there's the achingly beautiful "Irish Angel," a heartfelt ballad that tells a simple tale of how our lives sometimes pull us in different directions. The inherent dignity Bruce clings to raises this one to greatness, with Mr. Diethem's mandolin lending a sweetly melancholic air. It's followed by "These Dark Roads," a moody, atmospheric piece downright spooky in its evocation of claustrophobic paranoia. Unfortunately, the two back-to-back tend to bring the mood down considerably. "Good At Feelin' Bad," while no more upbeat emotionally, is at least much poppier in purely musical terms; "Nobody Comes Close," sounding vaguely like a gutsier Chris Isaak, maintains the mid-tempo groove before "Two Very Different Thinks" breaks out into a flat-out rocker, jangly guitars and background vocals creating a richly textured soundscape. "Burning Bridges," with Bruce's vocals echoed nicely by guest Jevetta Steele, is another stark yet pretty ballad that takes a thoroughly unsentimental look at the love's inability to hold us together. Things wrap up with the horn-driven funk of "Somebody Mentioned Your Name" and the rockabilly-tinged "Rich Poor Man."
As befits someone of his musical stature, Bruce avoids grandstanding, keeping solos short and to the point, arrangements tight and economical. And again, there's a superior intelligence at work here, amply apparent both in the judicious allocation of musical resources and in the lyrical content.
A first-rate outing by a master musician . . .
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