Ryan Reardon and The Levee Breakers were formed in June 1996, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They were voted "Best Unsigned Blues Band in Birmingham, AL" by the Magic City Blues Society. They will go to Memphis on January 21, 2000, to represent the Magic City Blues Society in the Blues Foundation's International Unsigned Blues Band Competition. Maybe we'll be hearing more of them after that.
"So Long, Baby" -- the band's first release -- is a solid project. There are no surprises here (except perhaps the solid song writing). The group is your somewhat generic harmonica-fronted quartet. The band--said to be modeled after the "Fabulous Thunderbirds" does a commendable job of performing the ten cuts on this CD. The arrangements are basic, very straight ahead. No overdubs or other "techie" stuff. Just your basic smooth-flowing blues combo. On a couple of the cuts, this band sounded very similar to the Wisconsin-based Otis and the Alligators--a band with a similar lineup that area readers may be familiar with (the Levee Breakers haven't made it up this way yet, playing an ambitious regional schedule out of the Birmingham area). The band has something of a "soft" sound and mixes in a pinch of "swing" on many cuts. A couple have more of a "jump" orientation, and a couple other a jazz slant.
What surprised me is that after a couple "background" listening while I was primarily focused on "day job" work, I thought I had listened to a release consisting mostly of standard blues covers. It turns out eight of the ten cuts on the CD are written by Reardon and guitarist Rod Robertson. The fact I thought the "originals" were "standards" -- while again underscoring the "basic" approach of this band -- actually speaks well of the song writing. I (much more than I care to) usually detect often ill-fated original work due to all or some combination of awkward lyrics, poor arranging, or any other number of telltale flaws. It is not easy to write a good song AND perform it. To have a CD almost entirely full of originals escape these pitfalls is a bit remarkable.
The band is: Ryan Reardon (vocals & harmonica); Rob Robertson (guitar), Eric Simmons (bass) and Matt Kimbrell (drums). The songs are: You're Comin' On Too Strong; Hale Country Road #50; Suspicion Blues; Gimmie Back My Coat; Just A Little Bit; Don't Take A Fool's Advise; Head Cleanin' Blues; Trouble On The Line; Blue Light Boogie and So Long, Baby.
Info about the CD and the band can be found at: www.its-good.com
This review is copyright © 1999 by Mark Halverson, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.