Stillbreathin' are a five piece with a big band sound based in the Boston area. Collectively (and individually) they must have one of the longest blues and jazz pedigrees around. Bandleader Mike Blocker (guitars and vocals) alone can boast 35 years of playing the blues. On their latest album, "Oxygen for Regular People," they demonstrate that such experience counts for a lot.
The opening "Too Much" suggests that the band's basic sound lies somewhere
along a line that links Roomful Of Blues and Steely Dan. In other words they combine a big band blues sound with elements of jazz. "Too Much" is essentially a shuffle featuring some nice muted trumpet (Paul Kenyon) and chromatic harp (Peter Chase), all topped off with some fine trademark harmony vocals. First impressions are at least partly reinforced by "Life" which has shades of a train blues about it, albeit with a stop-start tempo.
The harmony vocals are there again, and it really rocks along during the chorus.
In addition to prolific use of harmony vocals, Stillbreathin' also make very effective used of harp and horns. For the most part they are each given their own space, but on Sam Theard's "You Rascal You" they work in tandem, exhibiting an almost symbiotic relationship in the intro. It is not always done in a predictable manner either. Few people would have suggested up front that you could use make both work together on a 12-bar rendition of Willie Dixon's "Same Thing," but Stillbreathin's manage to pull it off.
Elsewhere varying amounts of jazz are injected into Stillbreathin's big band blues mix. This includes some scat singing on "Hang Ten," an instrumental where everyone gets to solo, and there is even a Latin tinge to the opening trumpet solo of "Jungle." The best track of the lot, though, is "Be Good To Me Baby" which has more of a trad jazz feel to it. Kenyon's one man horn section does a fine job here, and the nice throaty vocals call
to mind Tom Waits.
"Oxygen For Regular People" is a real boon for lovers of a big band sound that combines blues with bits of jazz. In places it is redolent of the sort of music that John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were aiming for with the Blues Brothers Band. Stillbreathin' are a fine band, who never try to over-elaborate, because they know they can play and sing. "Oxygen For Regular People" puts their case nicely.
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