- At Least I’m Not with You
- The Insomniacs
- Delta Groove
Following their 2007 release, “Left Coast Blues,” The Insomniacs return on Delta Groove with another homage to their favored and inherent genre, West Coast blues. Derived from the seminal contributions of African American musicians from the heartland, especially Texas, who moved to California in the 1940s and 1950s, West Coast blues is characterized by an optimistic, energetic sound in a small combo format. From its progenitors such as T-Bone Walker and Pee Wee Crayton through contemporary luminaries James Harman, Rod Piazza, Junior Watson, and The Hollywood Blue Flames, West Coast blues has a formidable pedigree and a rich history, which would have been even more incandescent if not for the sudden demise at the tender age of 32 of guitar whiz Hollywood Fats (Michael Mann). The loss of that guitar genius in the mid-1980s left a gaping hole in West Coast blues and the blues world in general.
“At Least I’m Not with You” is an honorable effort, worth a listen but not up to the high standards set by the best practitioners of the genre. The quartet of musicians that comprise The Insomniacs is led by guitarist and singer Vyasa Dodson, who also wrote 7 of the 13 tunes. Covers of songs by figures like Johnny Otis, Little Richard, and Junior Wells fill out the album. Dodson’s tunes, especially the title cut, are solid and clever, but none is destined to be memorable. The rhythm section is competent, but the bass is usually undermixed and the drumming ranges from steady to monotonous. The standout of the band is keyboard player Alex Shakeri, whose stylings on piano and organ are consistently dazzling.
Most problematic are Dodson’s own contributions. His singing is slightly nasal, limited in range, and lacking in power on the upbeat numbers and smoothness on the cuts that call for crooning. On guitar, he fails to create the crescendo of intensity and the poignancy of heartache that the blues demands: his solos are there, but they don’t get anywhere.
Guest multi-instrumentalist Jeff Turmes lends tasty saxophone accompaniment on several tunes. Al Blake, frontman of The Hollywood Blue Flames and formerly of the Hollywood Fats Band, provides funky harmonica riffs to “Lonesome,” a Memphis Slim song recorded by both of Blake’s former bands. Most bittersweet is The Insomniacs’ rendition of Junior Wells’s classic “Hoodoo Man Blues,” whose sense of power and menace is completely lost but almost redeemed by the brilliant playing of harp man Mitch Kashmar.