GB Blues Express – Southside
Blues Express Records
Coming at you all the way from Norway, the GB Blues Express is back with their third release, a studio project following their Live At The Shack Up Inn album, from 2015. The band is fronted by Geir “Milkman” Bertheussen, who possesses a voice that takes listeners to a roadhouse bar on a Saturday night, while displaying a basic grasp of the art of playing harmonica. The ten originals were composed by guitarist Kai “Sugar Kay” Fjellberg, with an assist from the leader on one tune. The rhythmic foundation is left in the capable hands of Trond “Boogieman” Hansen on bass and Kare “Lefty” Amundsen on drums. Additional help comes from Dave Fields on guitar and backing vocals, Jan Tore Lauritsen and Rune Karlsen on organ, and Morten Larsen on piano.
The instrumental “Cakewalk” showcases Fjellberg right from the start, and he doesn’t disappoint, firing off fluid lines over the organ-drenched backing that highlight his understanding of the Texas and Chicago styles of playing. The next track, “Born On The Southside,” Bertheussen uses his gruff voice to tell the tale of his journey to the blues, punctuated by blasts from his harp. The band cranks up the energy level on “Supergirl,” as Fjellberg cuts loose with another tightly drawn solo, urged on by Larsen’s pumping piano work, elevating the track despite the simplistic lyrical content.
One of the standout tracks is “World Is Shakin’” a dark, heavy rumination on our troubled times. “Steppin’ Stone” cruises along with a soulful strut, the leader’s expressive singing backed by blasts from the Red Hot Horns, comprised of Magnus Malmedal Dragen and Pal Gunnar Fiksdal on trumpet, Runar Fiksdal on trombone, and Lars Petter Bjerkeset on saxophone. Fjellberg continues to impress in his two solo segments, giving listeners his take on B.B. King’s style. The guitarist is also featured on the slow blues, “How We Roll,” taking his time in crafting a response to the leader’s pleading vocal. “Too Much Of Nothing” is a humorous number that rolls right along, with Bertheussen doing some extended blowing. He uses his harp to add tonal coloration on the hard-driving “King Of My Castle” while Fjellberg switches to slide guitar on the rowdy “Hard Times”. The closer, “Lone Wolf,” is a moody piece that brings to mind some of Peter Green’s work. Bertheussen goes for a different sound on the chromatic harp and Fjellberg offers up one more sample of his nuanced fretboard skills.
With all of the discs out in the marketplace, it is always refreshing to run across one by a band that understands the blues, and wants to play the music with minimal rock influences. The GB Blues Express lives up to the promise of their name, delivering a solid batch of songs with a variety of approaches, and played with feeling. You can’t ask for much more than that…….