When it comes to the blues, there's a lot more than first meets the ear.
The many variations on the genre's basic theme are amply demonstrated by Pittsburgh-area band Angel Blue and the Prophets on their new album, "Bottom of the Bottle Blues."
From the innovatively presented opening track - I won't give away the details - through a slide guitar-driven, Bo Diddley-beat closer, the disc steers clear of sounding anything close to repetitious. In some places, it makes you want to get up and dance; in others, it might prompt you to pour a shot (see title track). And for guitarists, this is a great play-along record, although you're bound to have trouble keeping up with the assembled instrumental talent.
One of the highlights, for example, is "Guilty Baby," where a single guitarist accompanies Angie through a fun, sexy monologue about her love for an unnamed, second-person gentleman. (Red-blooded male listeners just might come away hoping it's them.)
And speaking of fun, there's "Shimmy Shakin' Lowdown Blues," a song with a title that says it all - and one that gets a great response on the dance floor when Angel Blue and the Prophets play it live.
Contrasting the jubilant "Shimmy" is the minor-chord title song, on which Angie's voice navigates a range of a couple of octaves to effectively convey a sense of desperation. (This is the blues, after all.) Helping drive the tune are some emotionaly charged guitar passages by special guest Reb Beach, he of Winger, Whitesnake and other high-profile acts.
The album also features guest spots by a couple of other Pittsburgh area guitarists: Lee Cherry on "Short Chain" and Frank Giovi on "Love You Any Less."
That's in addition to the guys who work with Angie regularly: Jonathan Smith on bass, Jeff Conners on keyboards, Joe Maryanski on sax and guitarists Dan Parks and E. Lee Hindman Jr.
Oh, and there's one more band member, Angel's longest-serving collaborator drummer Scott McLean, who also plays keyboards and bass on the album, as well as co-producing it and writing the music to Angie's lyrics. After hearing Scott's solo album, "Rock and Roll Karma," I was expecting a great sound with the Angel Blue project. And I certainly wasn't disappointed.
"Bottom of the Bottle Blues" covers a lot of territory in 50 minutes, including a renditions of Blind Willie McTell's "Stormy Monday" recorded three years ago by the original incarnation of the band, with Lou Macarelli and George Waller on guitars and Pete LaCava on bass, along with Scott. And the disc wraps up with probably my favorite track (I'm partial to the Bo Diddley Beat), "Johnny McGaster," a triumphant song of liberation propelled by some exceptional slide playing, by Lee Hindman.