As one who's attempted it at jams, I can say from experience that the harmonica, that tiniest of instruments, doesn't stand much of a chance against a full horn section if participants don't know their places. Ah, but if the arrangements are worked out in advance, if each instrument knows it's part, the sound can be utterly glorious.
California-based Little Chris and The Night Crawlers mine that territory very well indeed on this, the band's debut recording. Led by Chris Fast, harmonicist extraordinaire and the band's main vocalist, they blast their way through a varied program that includes some rather shop-worn covers and a handful of originals from Chris. Yet while some of tunes here (Willie Dixon's "29 Ways," Sonny Boy's "All My Love In Vain," along with chestnuts like "Bad Bad Whiskey" and "Too Late Brother," here done as a mini-medley with Little Walter's "Hate To See You Go") are probably overly familiar to most long-time fans, Chris and company show a great deal of innovative originality in the unique arrangements - even the standards sound fresh and exciting. No mean feat, that! Chris' own compositions stay well within traditional structures, but he has a way with a catchy riff, and lyrically he avoids cliché while dealing with timeless issues; his originals stand up quite well beside the tried and true.
California is virtually synonymous with swing, and there's no shortage of same on "Bone Blue." But swing can sound superficial after a while, so thankfully there's lots of Chicago-style grease and grind to lend the requisite depth; the disc bears repeated (and repeated, and repeated!) listenings quite well. And although Chris is up front, the band is clearly a cooperative and collaborative venture. Chris, who sticks exclusively to diatonic harp, leaves lots of room for everyone to play their part. Yet despite ample instrumental prowess - these guys are all veterans with years of experience - there are very few solos for a modern blues record. Arrangements are tight, with every note an integral piece of the puzzle - a necessity, again, when the harp is up against a dual-sax brass section.
This one's a winner in every category save one - the cheesy packaging. The cover art would better suit a cheap outing by a cut-rate metal group. Sure, it's the music that counts. But the package usually forms one's first impression. Don't let it fool you - this is a stellar recording by a band with lots to say.
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