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James Solberg Band
@ Famous Dave's, May 30, 1998
by Ann Wickstrom

James Solberg
Famous Dave's, 5/30/98
Photo © 1998 by Ann Wickstrom.
All rights reserved
This was an adventurous, eventful night. Not only was it my first time seeing the two-time Handy Award-winning James Solberg Band (Best Blues Band, 97 & 98), it was my first visit to Famous Dave's. Oh yes - and it was also the evening of one of the worst thunderstorms in Twin Cities history. While the rain came down in sheets and the wind pulled giant trees from the earth, we were cozy and happy inside Famous Dave's, completely unaware of what was happening beyond the walls of the club.

The band took the stage promptly at 9:00, facing a packed house, many of whom were still contending with their barbeque sauce. James was sporting his trademark cap, a maroon suit, and ... well ... a MOSTLY white shirt. He was quick to point out that even he had a bit of a mishap with the sauce.

The four-piece band is made up of seasoned blues veterans Mike Vlahakis on keyboards, John Lindberg on bass, and Kenny Arnold on drums; Arnold has played with Solberg off and on for three decades, most notably in the Milwaukee-area band Short Stuff.

There is no mistaking Solberg's sound. He produces a distinctive ring from his blonde Gibson and his voice always has a slightly devilish, "we're havin' a good ol' time" character to it. As for Vlahakis, he is a top-notch keyboard player who can easily fill a large room with his full chords.

The band showcased quite a few songs from their new (third) CD, L..A. Blues, a tribute to Solberg's main man for many years, Luther Allison. They included the title track, "L.A. Blues", "Must Be a Reason", Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man.", and "Wally World U.S.A.", dedicated to the bus driver/CD & T-shirt proprietor/hot rod custom car builder from Eau Claire who can always be found sitting at the side of the stage at a James Solberg gig.

The crowd was a little slow to get going, but about half-way through the first set a slow song filled the dance floor. Solberg accomodated a fan who requested "Cheaper to Keep Her" from One of These Days, and another highlight was "Let's Straighten It Out" from See That My Grave is Kept Clean, with Lindberg providing very nice harmonies. Solberg gave us a taste of his "talking" guitar, and also managed to break a string about halfway through the night, causing him to switch to a black Les Paul.

Unfortunately, the crowd thinned out during the second set. Perhaps those who left were hearing about the havoc that Mother Nature had been wreaking on the outside world and were anxious to get home to survey the damage. Solberg & co. have some return engagements lined up for Minnesota later this summer so keep your eyes open and come witness this energetic performer, a true blues soldier.

This review is copyright © 1998 by Ann Wickstrom, all rights reserved.

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Copyright © 1998 by Ray M. Stiles
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.