While I'm not usually in favour of an overly obvious producer's hand on my blues recordings (leave some dirt on, please and thanks!), it can be a huge factor in the success of a horn-based recording.
Case in point - "Wrong Side of The Street," the second outing from Minnesota's Groove Hogs, a full ten-piece ensemble who simply blast out of the speakers courtesy of superproducer Jim Gaines.
And what a magnificent sound it is! Favouring bluesy R&B (lots of Tower of Power, Blood Sweat & Tears, and early Chicago - the band, not the city - in the influence pool), these guys deliver a high-energy platter that rocks hard from beginning to end.
There's no question the Hogs are musically accomplished; they're tighter than a pop star's pants, negotiating complex arrangements and tricky changes with ease. The horns work well both in unison and as soloists, guitarist Pat Kiel favours a nasty, snarling tone that contrasts nicely with the brass, and vocalist/harmonicist Ron Hanson belts every tune out with a passion that borders on but remains just shy of overwrought.
They cover many a base here, from stadium rockers ("Blues Is My Business," "Listen") to straight shuffles ("Baby's Gone"), with lots of funk ("Soul Queenie," "The Real Love") and a couple of power ballads ("Fool," "Who Do You Think You're Foolin'") thrown in for pacing. The disc's closer, "Workin' Everyday," is a solo voice/horns piece that shows just what the brass section can do; at the end we hear the band laugh with unabashed delight, as well they should.
If one's looking for comparisons, the Groove Hogs are very close to Southside Johnny territory, purveying much the same blue-eyed, passionately sweaty R&B, albeit without the gloriously ragged quality that saw the Asbury Jukes seeming perpetually to teeter on the very edge of chaos.
Yet while the playing is first-rate all 'round, and the arrangements are extraordinarily adept at making intelligent use indeed of the band's significant skills, the disc as a whole suffers from second-rate material. There's simply no excuse for a song containing the less-than-immortal couplet "Love fever is what I got/every time you touch me 'cause you're so hot." To his credit Mr. Hanson manages to sing it with conviction; how he can do so is entirely beyond me. And why the Hogs would choose to print the lyrics in the accompanying booklet when they'd embarrass the average high schooler is a mystery.
If you're the type who can ignore inane lyrics and simply revel in the sheer sonic force of an accomplished ensemble, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this one. The Groove hogs do indeed sound great; pay attention to the words, however, at your peril.
PO Box 1271, Manitowoc, MI 54221-1271
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