What's so bad about urban sprawl anyway? While it may not be recognized in other parts of the world, the blues pipeline between Chicago, Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin is very well known along the southwestern shoreline of Lake Michigan. The Chicago/Milwaukee blues connection has rarely been better demonstrated than it is on "Slow Burn" worn Milwaukeeís Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokiní Altar Boys, featuring Cadillac Pete Rahn.
The opening instrumental number, Caesar's Salad", likely titled for drummer, Vic "Caesar" Span, kicks in at full title and gives Caesarís mojo quite a little workout right from the start. From there the CD progresses through a solid set which displays the bands extensive electric Chicago blues versatility from swings and shuffles to slow blues and even some funkier material.
Leading this reverent bunch is the Reverend Raven on lead guitar and vocals. The Altar Boysí include Vic Span on drums, Jeff Roberts on rhythm guitar, Ron Kovach on Hammond organ, Brad Bill on bass, and Cadillac Pete Rahn on harmonica.
Reverend Ravenís precise execution of the idiomís vocabulary on the guitar is very pleasing to the ear. The good Rev shows how deftly he can testify over six strings on every cut. His tones and phrasing are more Southside than a lot of Southsiders these days and the interplay between Ravenís licks and Caesarís accents are right on. The Reverendís vocals -- delivered in a straight forward manner are a little laid back, but always in full control. However, the vocals are sometimes a bit buried in the mix behind the heavy reverb. This is a retro-esq mixing technique that seems stylistically popular these days -- one which I frequently find unpleasant to listen to. The guitar leads are also reverb laden, but fortunately, itís used somewhat sparingly on the vocals on most of this CD. The harp playing of Cadillac Pete Rahn is equally as fine as the Revís guitar work. Rahn also has a style that is both traditional and unique. He seems to use an overblow technique in some tunes and it really adds a lot to the sound, but itís his solo phrasing that really stands out. His fills are on target, his introís are strong, and he never overplays.
What I found very impressive throughout this set is the solid rhythm section. The grooves are simply great. Tunes like "Slow Burn" and "Beehive Baby" are hard driving, but never over-powering and the section never gets in the way of the soloist. When the band is cooking itís really a powerful feel. Itís evident that this band really works well together from the results on this CD -- and itís also evident from the reputation their stage show is gaining in the Twin Cities. Itís easy to understand why this band is developing a strong following here in the upper Mississippi river valley.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Kurt Koehler, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.