The Rockin' Highliners
(Severn (2003) CD-0018)
12 tracks, 46 minutes
by Craig Ruskey
Review date: March 2003
"Keeping the Blues Alive Award"|
Achievement for Blues on the Internet
Presented by The Blues Foundation
Following a short one-CD stay with Canada's Stony Plain label, The
Rockin' Highliners landed with Maryland-based Severn Records for their new and all-original
Sputnik Café disc. While not a straight-ahead blues outfit, the Highliners can, and have, delivered a
fine array of styles as evidenced by their three previous recordings. Robert Tycholis (vocals), Clayton
Sample (guitar), and Ken McMahon (drums) remain as the core with support from newcomers Greg
Demchuck on guitar and harp and bass from Chris Byrne. There's a decidedly funky approach that
unfortunately socks in the first half of the disc, and although there's enough of a difference in the
grooves of Make A Change, What I Like Best, Fallin' Down, Wheeler Dealer (with smoldering
guitar), and Roll Over Rover, there's also far less variation than they have offered in the past.
Forty Acres works off a familiar sounding SRV/Cold Shot foundation, but comparisons rightly
end there. Tycholis acquits himself well with a solid (if somewhat limited) voice and the guitars churn
out a relentless drive. Down In The Bottom and It Doesn't Matter pick up for more
inspired testifying at the church of funk while Fine Time slows considerably and gets into the
lowdown darkness of a back alley. They lift themselves back up for Shake It, the closer.
Musically, The Rockin' Highliners have proven themselves in the past to be exceptional,
and while they haven't lost any abilities with the more modern bent displayed here, they seem more
fixated with updating grooves and completely leave behind that thumping and insistent jump blues style
they handled so effortlessly on Stony Plain's Oh My CD from 1999. Sputnik Café is
well-done and holds interest, but here's betting that some fans will be clamoring for the Highliners to
swing again, hopefully soon.
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