The individual members of Canada's Rockin' Highliners regularly feature among the nominations for the blues awards in their home country. This is in spite of several line-up changes since the band formed in the 1990's; the only ever present is singer Robert Tycholis. With the release of "Sputnik Cafe," their fourth album, the time may be ripe for the band to receive a collective nomination.
The Rockin' Highliners have a definite style which shines through on the opening "Make A Change." The slightly murky feel to the sound never turns messy but does make the band sound brooding without ever getting too menacing. It is all topped off by Tycholis' big baritone voice which hints at Kim Wilson in places and Paul Reddick. Even when they add in some harp on the more uptempo "What I Like Best" (courtesy of Greg Demchuk) it has a nice fat tone that fits in with, and even enhances the band's overall sound.
There are a couple of almost uncharacteristically lighter and cleaner songs ("Fallin' Down" and "It Doesn't Matter"), and the band even get a little rockier for the closer "Shake It". The album's best moments, however, come on "Roll Over Rover" which owes a nod in the direction of Howlin' Wolf for the harp riff, and the excellent steady rolling groove of "Forty Acres" which is based around a simple but effective guitar refrain (and chorus) that are both hard to shake off.
"Sputnik Cafe" is a very good album that shows that the Rockin' Highliners are a very together band. Everyone plays their part in the band's overall sound, and no one ever gets too flashy. If you can imagine a musical line drawn between Paul Reddick and early Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Rockin' Highliners would fit somewhere along it. Irrespective of where they sit, though, "Sputnik Cafe" sees the Rockin' Highliners maintaining Canada's strong tradition in producing quality blues.
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