Singer guitarist Joe Price hails from Iowa, which is not generally one of the first places that springs to mind when the blues is mentioned. No matter, Price has obviously been listening to, and playing with the right sort of people along the way. On "Designated Driver," originally released in 2000, Price mostly plays solo, but is helped out on a couple of tracks by various members of an ensemble called the Trailer Trillionaires, and by drummer Keni Ewing on another couple of tracks.
The album opens with the unmistakable sound of a resonator on the excellent "La Crosse Fever Blues." Price's voice is also at its best here, sounding a little like British blues stalwart Gordon Smith. This adds an even more authentic ring to the tune, and the only thing that indicates that the recording is a recent one is the crispness of the recording. Price then moves into a more roots-based style for the ensuing "Nobody But You," which is the first that employs the Trailer Trillionaires to flesh out the sound.
They later reappear on the sad blues tale, "Rescue Boat Blues."
The rendition of "Red River Valley"--the only non-original tune--is fairly awesome stuff. An instrumental that sounds a bit like a distant cousin of Charley Patton's "Some Of These Days," it features some very neat picking and slide. In stark contrast, "Blues Juice" is a real footstomper. Price is equally at home playing the slower moodier stuff as well as the more uptempo stuff.
All too soon, the final track, which is also the title track, comes around. Appropriately enough, "Designated Driver," has a good driving beat to it, with Price being helped out by the dexterous Keni Ewing playing bass drum and washboard simultaneously. A fine way to end a fine album.
"Designated Driver" is very good album that will particularly appeal to people who like their blues to have a raw but original feel to it. You could easily imagine "Designated Driver" as being part of the Fat Possum catalogue. Price is a mighty fine guitar picker, and the tunes have a real authentic feel to them, and it was all recorded live, so there are no fancy recording tricks here. The only minor drawback is that "Designated Driver" is a little light on playing time (under 34 minutes). Having said that, Price delivers more high quality minutes than you find on many CDs that last twice as long!
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