The band which piano and Hammond B3 player "Rabbit" Ray Harrison put together in 1978 to play the Cameo Lounge at Hotel Isabella (known affectionately as the Izzy) would become the forebear of an enduring Toronto institution known as the Cameo Blues Band. The original cast also included Omar Tunnoch (Fathead), Hock Walsh (Downchild Blues Band), and Billy Bryans (Parachute Club). No less than three different Downchild Blues singers have fronted the Cameos, including Chuck Jackson, as well as Hock Walsh and Tony Flaim (both recently deceased).
'All Play and No Work' brings together an array of Cameo alumni--including a slew of guests--in this 15-track cavalcade of nostalgia, interspersed with some very cool contemporary numbers. Merely listing out all the players and attempting to honour their contributions to the Toronto blues scene would fill a dozen pages. Still, special mention must give to Harrison who is to Toronto what Professor Longhair was to New Orleans. As the band celebrates its 25th anniversary, the prior paucity of recorded output is remedied with this wonderful collection.
Ray's right hand man is John Bride on guitar, who along with long-time members Mike Sloski drums and Tom Griffiths on bass, form the mainstay of Cameo's rhythm section. A very important guest is Fred Keeler who was the guitarist with David Clayton Thomas' original band, the Shays. Keeler, along with Domenic Troiano (Mandala) and Robbie Robertson (The Hawks, the precursor of the Band), are considered the greatest influences in defining the Toronto sound. Keeler appears on three rock-solid John Dickie originals, including the hellzappopin' "Pistol Poppin' Queen" and 'Wide-assed Groove'--a title that catchily (and accurately) conveys what's going down. Special kudos to Dickie's "Yah Yah" with its totally different vibe and sense of intoxicating fun. John gets to pluck some mandolin on it, while Harrison and Mike Fonfara add some chunky delicious tones on organ and keyboards.
Three classics from the Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll are given the classy Cameo treatment, including "The Walk" and "You Can't Sit Down", a couple of sock hop staples that induced dance fever on countless gymnasium floors. The guys give them updated distinctive arrangements, stretching them out instrumentally while still maintaining the youthful spirit and exuberance of the originals. Walter Zwol (Brutus) lends his assured vocals on them, and joins all the other vocalists (Chuck Jackson, John Dickie, and Malcolm Dickinson) on the grand finale, a rousing version of "Kansas City".
Straight-ahead blues fans will get their fix on such items as "Crossroads", "Kind Hearted Woman", and especially a thundering rendition of Jimmy Rushing's "Going To Chicago".
Malcolm Tomlinson was the first to assume vocal duties when Chuck Jackson (who appears here on a cover of "Crossroads") left in the early eighties. Tomlinson makes a substantial impression on the groove-laden "Rockin' My Life Away", and also does a mighty convincing job on a bluesy version of the old Johnnie Taylor soul favorite "Who's Been Making Love".
When things cook this well, it's because the chefs know exactly when to turn up the gas, and also what ingredients to toss into the gumbo. And the two constant ingredients are Ray's solo dexterity, combined with John Bride's stunning ability to play the guitar.
There's so much more to celebrate on 'All Play and No Work', but space is insufficient to do proper justice to each of the 15 tracks, except to say each one plays a crucial role in yielding this modern rootsy gem. All this super fine stuff was put together by Lance Anderson at Cherry Beach Sound in Toronto. Many thanks to Lance for doing exactly what the name of the record label promises: Make It Real. 'All Play and No Work' is available online at "www.makeitrealrecords.com" or by contacting Lance directly at (705) 327-3363 or "firstname.lastname@example.org".
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