Bryan Lee's smoking Chicago style blues guitar rocked Famous Dave's once again on a Saturday night. And this time he had a solid backing band worthy of his playing, much stronger than the players he has had backing him on the road the last few years. The result was some great hybrid blues mixing his hip, New Orleans influenced Braille Blues Daddy vocals with his powerful, expressive guitar playing. And the best thing is that when you see Bryan come North, Spring can't be far away since he does not travel up from the South in the Winter.
Wearing his trademark black top hat and long chin beard, Bryan kicked things off with fast guitar-driven instrumental blues. His fast repeating chords on his cream colored Gibson were punctuated by short, quick-hitting, piercing notes. Right away his solid grooving, slightly funky rhythm section of Craig Panosh, an alumn of both Luther and Bernard Allison, and bassist Cujo Blue found their groove and stayed there all night long. Bryan served up a funky version of "Hootchie Cotchie Man" delivering hip, clear vocals in his cool tenor. His fast, brilliant guitar solo was highlighted by crisp, expressive riffs. Bryan alternately made his guitar snarl, howl, and scream. Touring behind his latest CD release, 6 String Therapy, which was produced and influenced by Duke Roubillard, he played many of the songs from there. "Shipyard Blues" is a slice of New Orleans based on the tough, hard working lives of blue collar workers. Bryan brought his clear tenor down and gritty, growling with feeling in parts. His sharp guitar riffs punctuated this mid-tempo blues number and blended well with his vocals for a rich texture. Talented young rhythm-guitar player Brent Johnson added a depth and richness to the mix with his solid playing behind Bryan.
Bryan started out his cover of "You Don't Have to Go" by playing solo on guitar as the crowd, encouraged by his bandmates, clapped the rhythm. His incredible held and bent notes, played with soulful style and feeling grabbed the crowd. Eventually Brent joined him on guitar, and a few bars later his drummer and bassist joined in. Bryan also featured several songs off his Saturday Night Live CD, including his moving "I Play the Blues for You." Bryan's smooth, soulful playing sudden, piercing guitar notes blended with his soul filled vocals for a strong emotional impact. Bryan sang in a conversational style, interacting with the crowd frequently in the song. All the while he put on a guitar clinic, from playing low and slow to fast, rippling chords that rang out throughout the room. He came right back with the sharp, funky, irreverent "Heat Seeking Missile."
Bryan's hip vocals, sometimes laid back, drawn out New Orleans style, other times sharp and bitten off sharply make him a strong and versatile blues singer. He can sing in harmony with his guitar playing, or in sharp contrast. Both work effectively for him. And he has a real respect for old blues, as he showed on "The Things That I Used to Do." Bryan had recorded this old Guitar Slim song and served up this soulful blues grinder with smooth chord progressions and thick, slightly distorted notes. He turned things over to Brent to give him a chance to shine on his Fender, smiling at the playing of his rhythm guitar player. Bryan achieved great vibrato both in his singing and guitar playing, the latter by pulling the strings back and forth as he picked away.
Bryan went back to 6 String Therapy for "Beautician Blues," an infectious, heavy beat driving blues song equally great for dancing or listening. His literally over-the-top guitar playing wowed the many dancers on the floor, while he sang the amusing lyrics with a tongue-in-cheek delivery. Having an energetic young guitarist who can play a strong, dirty-tone slide guitar, Bryan turned him loose. On the fast-rolling "Mojo Boogie" Bryan's fast picking sounded great playing off Brent's fast, powerful slide guitar. Brent brought it down to a slow, mournful slide sound on Elmore James' "It Hurts Me Too." In the middle of the song Bryan shared how his life was changed and moved as he came to the blues through the recordings of James. But then it was time to in his words "to squeeze my baby," his metaphor for playing guitar. Bryan cocked his head and smiled as he picked away slow and soulful, slowly bringing it up to an incredibly long held guitar note that rang out from his guitar into the room.
Bryan closed things out with the title cut from 6 String Therapy. This strong, hooking beat song had a slight reggae influence to the rhythm. Bryan picked and sang with feeling, a man truly enjoying his work. Refusing to let him leave the stage without one more, the crowd cheered and screamed until Bryan sat down again. He did not disappoint, delivering a great, soulful version of "Key to the Highway." Bryan seemed much more happy and relaxed with this solid group of players, and the joy comes out in the quality and feeling of his playing. For brilliant blues guitar at it's best, be sure to check out the Blind Blues Daddy the next time he comes North.
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