Joe T. Cook blows one of the most expressive, fluid harps in town. His strong, passionate vocals, solid originals, and deep blues roots always makes for a solid show. He has a tight, solid band to call upon with the talented John Franken on lead, John's brother Mike (a Cannon Falls resident) on drums, and normally Jimmy Flynn on bass. Tonight the very capable bassist John Schroder was filling in on bass. This tight, solid blues band plays some great, old blues songs with deep roots and achieves a sound that seems to bridge the great blues from the 40's, 50's and 60's to the blues of today. Their sound has a retro quality with a hipness and style that's right at home today.
Joe kicked things off strong with the steady rolling "Doggie Blues." His deep, rich and full harp sound played well off John's crisp, clear, multi-tone guitar riffs rippling out from his hollow body guitar. Joe brought his smooth, fluid harp down low for some great repeating riffs and up high and penetrating. On their signature song, "Longshot," Joe's hip vocals, his nice, low, rich harp sound, and the band's great, tight playing made this a highlight. "Winter Time Blues," something all Minnesota natives understand, gave John and Joe a chance to shine on their instruments. Joe's powerful, soaring harp, followed by some nice, slowly bent notes, and low, grinding effect drove the song. John's piercing, ringing chords, bell-like chord progressions added texture and passion. The song slowly built in tempo and volume to a great harp flourish finish by Joe.
Joe showcased three new songs that should see their way on to their next CD. "Honey Wine" is a slow rolling, soulful blues tribute to summertime. Joe's nice circular harp riffs, short, choppy riffs, and expressive playing drove the song. His vocals were strong, clear and filled with passion. John's brought his guitar down slow and soulful, his reverberating guitar licks adding to the atmosphere of the song. "Reflective Blues," also know humorously as the 'Distended Belly Blues' is a candid, honest look at growing older, yet with a strong streak of optimism in the future. "Gravy Train" is a strong double-shuffle, with Joe moving smoothly and quickly from hip, passionate vocals to strong harp trills and quickly repeating riffs. All the while John's stinging guitar licks providing the foundation for Joe's singing and playing.
Blues fans have to love Joe's selection of covers, which featured some great songs like "Long Legged Woman" that just don't get played enough. Joe does a great job providing a traditional harp sound in these cases, while his hip vocals and the wrinkles the band adds on all instruments allows such songs to connect with today's audiences. The band wrapped things up with a rollicking, fast rolling "Snatch It Back, and Hold It." Joe held, bent, blew notes fast and strong. He brought it down low and growling with his vocals. The small but enthusiastic crowd had not had enough, so the band gave them one more. When Joe's last lingering harp riff faded away, blues in Cannon Falls was done until the Longshots next visit back to town on June 21st.
The Mill Street Tavern has a great small, intimate music room in half of an old restored building in Cannon Falls. The high, old ceiling, refinished wood floors rich with character, the rough limestone interior walls of the bar room side of the building, deck out back, and ample antique signs and pictures of local interest lining the walls add to the atmosphere of the place. And the large, framed black and white shot of Joe T. Cook seems right at home, just like his solid blues sound.
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