Roy K Brown
It is about the best damn record I have heard in decades.
Blues Alliance: Two Things For Sure
By Roy Brown
Producer: Doug Skoog and Blues Alliance
The band includes:
Doug Skoog, keyboard and vocal
Laurie Johnson, vocal
Steve Cavanaugh, lead guitar
Doug Fulcher, electric bass
Billy Barner, Drums
The rule is, you should never start out a review saying what a record is not. And I’m not very good at the rules. This recording is definitely not one to be searched out by the blues Nazis. Rather it is simply one of the finest collections of contemporary electric blues that has been produced nationally or locally all year. And that is really not the story.
The story begins a year +/- before the release of this album. It was the day Blues Alliance came out with their first CD, simply titled, Blues Alliance. The first CD was received with rave reviews by all in the greater Seattle area who were lucky enough to hear it. In fact the band was nominated by the Washington Blues Society in the category of “best band” based on the strength of their first album.
As good as it was, the first album was dwarfed by the beauty, heart and soul of Two Things For Sure. Adjectives come to mind that are atypical when thinking of most blues albums. Beauty is one, to be sure. So is tasty, thoughtfully produced and technically almost perfect. Then other adjectives that usually apply to good blues albums have to be included too. Words like soulful, sad and heart felt all apply.
There are 11 cuts on this record, five of which are penned by the leader and keyboardist, Doug Skoog. The first cut, 2AM just steps up and grabs ya from the first few notes of Steve Cavanaugh’s slide guitar. Once he has your attention, and he definitely gets it, the honest power and emotion of Laurie Johnson’s vocals dig the hook into places you would rather not talk about. This cut should absolutely be a cross over cut that, if this band was backed with a national recording contract, would be heard all over America weather you listen to pop, rock or blues.
The other covers on this record are songs most have heard, maybe some time ago, but may not recognize. The reason is the arrangements. And I dare say the arrangements are not only new and fresh, but they rival the originals in terms of the final product. I hate to say that, because one of the covers is Little Wing by Jimi Hendricks. Jimi is God when it comes to guitar in my book, but Doug Skoog turned this song that everyone seems to be covering these days into a sweet keyboard tune that I’m sure Jimi is smiling about up there in rock & roll heaven as I write.
Can I say enough about this record? NO. I brought up the first CD because a comparison is in order. Please don’t think this is a comparison to the Beatles. But this CD is so far ahead of the first very good record, it would be like the Beatles issuing Sgt Pepper after the first album. That is how far advanced this effort is over the first.
And yet it’s not about slick musicians who have all the tricks and formulas down for producing a hit. It’s about massive talent that has come together in a cohesive unit that can together produce one sound greater than the sum of its parts, rare magic in music. It is about a work ethic above and beyond any I have seen by a local band. It is about writing talent in Doug Skoog that is as good as it gets. It is about vocals from Laurie Johnson that are equal to any of the top ten vocalists in the country. It is about practice that produces harmonies on songs such as Lover Lover (Sonja Da Da) that are as good as you will ever hear. It is about more than 100 years of combined experience in producing music. It is about the best damn record I have heard in decades.
That is what’s good about this record. Here is what I don’t like:
...one of the finest local blues bands in the Pacific Northwest...
BLUES ALLIANCE: Two Things for Sure
Reviewed by Eric Steiner
One of my favorite regional blues discoveries this past year has been the new CD from one of the finest local blues bands in the Pacific Northwest, Blues Alliance. This five-piece caught the attention of many Washington Blues Society members in the annual "BB Awards" last Spring as statewide favorites. This year, Blues Alliance was up for the Best Blues Band in Washington State, and Laurie Johnson was up for Best Female Vocalist and Doug Skoog was up for Best Piano/Keyboards. While only drummer Billy "The Pocket" Barner is the only one in this line-up to take home the hardware at the society's BB Awards (Drummer of the Year, 2002), Two Things For Sure should land this band more gigs and more notice outside the greater Tacoma, Washington area. There's 11 strong cuts on this CD that highlight Steve "Mud Slide" Cavanaugh's fine guitar work (check out "Lord Fill the Hole") and Laurie Johnson's simmering vocals and Doug Skoog's expert and funky piano work on a passionate reading of Angela =
Strehli's "Say It's Not So." Sample this strong blues band at www.bluesalliance.net. .
2 AM * Lord Fill the Hole * Tacoma Rain * Two Things For Sure * I Don't Want to Lose You * Isn't That So * Say It's Not So * Little Wing * Shamalama * Needs A Fool * Lover Lover
Eric Steiner is a frequent contributor to Cosmik Debris (www.cosmik.com), Midwest Beat (www.midwestbeat.com) and the Washington Blues Society BluesLetter. He writes about the blues from Edmonds, Washington.