Toronto based blues band Raoul and The Big Time are set to release their fifth recording ‘Hollywood Blvd’ on April 22, 2014. Raoul and The Big Time are well known for their energetic mix of “Toronto / Chicago / Hollywood” blues influenced by the Chess blues sound of the 1950s and contemporary West Coast jump harmonica Blues. ‘Hollywood Boulevard’ is rich and authentic, reminiscent of the sounds that inspired the recording all while showcasing their originality and fresh approach to classic blues styles.
Raoul Bhaneja is immediately familiar as a busy actor most noted for his over 75 film and television credits and his stage performances of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (solo). Bhaneja is also widely known as a bandleader, singer, and harmonica player. His band, The Big Time, is comprised of multiple award winning musicians Darren Gallen on guitar, Terry Wilkins on upright bass and Tom Bona on drums. In 1999, Raoul and The Big Time were awarded with the Maple Blues Award for New Artist of the Year and were voted NOW Magazine’s Best Toronto Blues Artist in 2007.
For 'Hollywood Blvd', Bhaneja enlisted the help of some of the biggest names in the genre today including Blues Music Award winner Curtis Salgado, Franck Goldwasser, Rick Holmstrom, Jeff Turmes, and Stephen Hodges of the Mavis Staples Band, Junior Watson, Larry Taylor, Richard Innes and Fred Kaplan of the Hollywood Blue Flames, Rusty Zinn, and Johnny Sansone. "Over the past 14 years I have spent time in LA as an actor and California also happens to a spot on earth where many great modern day blues masters live." Says Bhaneja. "The chance to record and play with these guys has been amazing and I consider myself very lucky to work and learn from them. Most of the guests live on the West Coast and have been playing this music for anywhere from 30 to 50 years! That's a lot of blues experience." Also performing on the recording are Canadian musical luminaries Pat Carey, Alison Young, Jake Wilkinson, Mark Mariash, John Showman and Tyler Yarema.
Recorded in Toronto and Burbank, the 12-song collection features eight originals written by Bhaneja and four creative and refreshing covers of classic blues songs including “Someday” written by Bobby “Blue” Bland, “Get Out Of My Life Woman”, by Allan Toussaint, “Why Am I Treated So Bad” by The Staples Singers, and a traditional Bluegrass tune “In The Shadow Of The Pine”. An impressive and ambitious recording, ‘Hollywood Blvd’ is Raoul and The Big Time’s tribute to the music they love and are inspired by.
"American roots music is like a big stew. Blues, Rock and Roll, West Coast Swing, Jazz and even Bluegrass are just some of the spices in the mix. Raoul and his band The Big Time, with help from some friends have cooked up a winning recipe for their new disc “Hollywood Blvd”.
Raoul Bhaneja is the catalyst for this fine music. He and his Toronto band, The Big Time, are among a number of talented Canadian musicians who haven’t had the chance to be heard extensively in the US. Raoul is a singer, harmonica player and talented songwriter, having written eight of the twelve tracks on this disc. He is also a busy actor both on stage and in front of the camera. The Big Time is all about creating original music for today, inspired by the genius of the past. This is their tribute to the music he and his band love — the Chess Blues sound of the 50s and contemporary West Coast Jump Harmonica Blues. He has enlisted some of the best West Coast players including former members of The Hollywood Fats Band, Canned Heat, and The Mighty Flyers, along with most of the current members of Mavis Staples’ band: all musicians Raoul has admired and learned from over the years. It brings an authentic sound to the project.
There are four instrumentals here and each of them adds to the flavor of the album. Two are recorded with Los Angeles-based greats Junior Watson, Fred Kaplan, Richard Innes, and Larry Taylor. “Left Coast Fred” is a West Coast jump swing number and the title track “Hollywood Blvd” sounds as if Slim Harpo and Ramsey Lewis were working together. The third instrumental “Amphetamine” finds Raoul working with Jeff Turmes, Rick Holmstrom and Stephen Hodges, to create a sound that feels like it could have been recorded by Little Walter and The Aces back in the 1950s.
The last instrumental “Curtis Charm” features Curtis Salgado blowing harp with Raoul while The Big Time provide in the pocket backup. There are four covers along with eight original songs. “Get Out Of My Life Woman”, written by Alan Toussaint and done first by Lee Dorsey is performed by Raoul and The Big Time with additional guitar work by Rusty Zinn, another fine California-based guitar player, who has worked with Kim Wilson and Mark Hummel as well as recording his own solo releases.
“Someday” is a Bobby “Blue” Bland tune that features guitarist Franck Goldwasser laying down some very tasty guitar licks. My favorite cover is “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)” done by The Staple Singers in 1967. Here Raoul is backed again by current members of Mavis Staples’ band, a perfect pairing for the tune. Lastly is a cover of a very early Bluegrass tune “In The Shadow Of The Pine” with New Orleans musician Johnny Sansone and fiddler John Showman playing behind Raoul.
Sounding just as strong as the covers, the other four tracks “Nothin’ Gonna Take Me Down”, “High Roller”, “Spoken For” and “Tired” are original songs written by Raoul that exhibit some very clever lyrics. For instance, “High Roller” has the chorus “Fortune’s smiling upside down, I’m a high roller with a frown”.
Grab a bowl and a spoon and have yourself a huge helping of this wonderful musical dish that Raoul and The Big Time have created for us. It’s good to you as well as good for you."
- Blues broadcaster Bill Wax