On this their third outing, the Alligators, a straight-up urban blues band known for jamming bars to the rafters and blowing the roof off the finer establishments in the Midwest, have included more covers than on past efforts (five of 13). It certainly doesn't detract from their appeal. Instead, it offers a glimpse into their passions. Vocalist David Krammer and harper Greg "Wailin' Dale" Blankenship formed the band nearly 20 years ago with an eye toward honoring those blues passions and their heroes, from Howlin' Wolf to Paul Butterfield and everyone in between. With guitarist Steve Schwartz (a fan of West Coast swingsters like Junior Watson as much as of the classic Chicago and Detroit players), drummer Mark Seyler and bassist Pete Kiss, the band has evolved into one of the strongest and most popular units in Detroit.
Kiss's opening "I Got My Porch Light On," featuring extended solos from Blankenship and Schwartz, has a bridge line that reminds a bit of "I Got My Mojo Working." A clever number reminiscent of Siegel-Schwal right down to the cowbell, it's a doorway into the band's diversity, musicality and collective wit. On the title cut, Krammer plays call-and-response with the band on a number from the late Bobo Jenkins, one of the strongest blues voices in Detroit history. They do the old man proud. Schwartz's opening guitar line is straight out of the Jenkins book and the band lopes through a '50s shuffle that thoroughly impresses. They take it to the next level on
Sugar Pie DeSanto's "In The Basement." Chattering party sounds over a barely perceived Alligators jam in the background are quelled by Krammer's enjoinder, "Hey, down here! In the basement!." The band then follows Seyler's rat-a-tat-tatting intro into a boisterous cover of a classic that stands strong next to the original. Krammer sits out their version of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight to the Blind," with exquisite harp work from Wailin' Dale. If Dale's singing isn't as impressive as the blowing, it isn't from lack of enthusiasm. On "Snatch It Back And Hold It," Dale delivers equally impressive harmonica work. Krammer's vocals are strong, and Schwartz, Seyler and Kiss play it pretty close to Junior Well's chart. Yank Rachell's "Lake Michigan Blues," a surprising cover, is played at a plodding lope with room for all to stretch. The rhythm section works a deep pocket with guitar work overlayed by Schwartz and vocals from Blankenship.
The majority of the program comes from the band members, though. "Don't Stomp On Me," written by Krammer and Schwartz, is a high octane boogie to which many of us might relate ("Do you ever get cranky? Do you ever get mad?/ If you ask my friends they'll say I have"). Krammer also contributes "Boogie Baby (Might Save Your Life)." With an intro similar to "Born In Chicago," it's the story of a lazy man who spends too much time "sitting on his can" If only he could get out the door to boogie and get off that couch...it might save his life. Krammer and Schwartz also wrote the closing "Out The Door," a gorgeous back porch bit of acoustic bottleneck that breaks into a solid shaker.
Schwartz contributes "Cry Cry Cry" with fat harp work over warm-breeze guitar and "Hard Rockin' Mama." Mark Seyler, author of some of the band's best work in the past, contributes "You're Lazy (When It Comes To Our Love)." Wailin' Dale's "Like A Dog," highlighted by Schwartz's Robert Nighthawk-style slide work, is a wailer that showcases everyone's chops to great effect.
The Alligators popularity is predicated on their no-frills and no-holds-barred straight- ahead approach to the blues. Ain't Nothin' But Love is all about that and more.
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