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Music Review: Downchild – I Need A Hat

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Originally formed in the '70s by brothers Donnie and the late Richard ‘Hock’ Walsh, Downchild is virtually an institution in Canada. Estimates place the aggregate membership at over 130(!) over more than 40(!!!) years. The current lineup of seasoned veterans, fixed for a while now, operates like a well-oiled and finely tuned machine.

It’s a formidable ensemble indeed. Walsh is a fine guitarist (including some seriously nasty slide on a pair) and plays a pretty mean harmonica. Lead vocalist Chuck Jackson, gruff and authentic yet somehow warm and inviting at the same time, also contributes harp on a couple of tracks. Gary Kendall holds down the bottom with undeniably powerful bass, in superb tandem with drummer Mike Fitzpatrick. Pat Carey is a one-man sax section, and Michael Fonfara is, quite simply, one of the world’s great blues keyboard players. Guests this time out include guitarist Colin James and trumpeter Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns. Also adding harmonica to a track is Dan Aykroyd, a fan since the band’s earliest days (Downchild was the original inspiration for Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers, who included two Walsh-penned tunes on their debut album, giving the boys their first big boost).

Despite equal and integral instrumental contributions from all concerned, Downchild has always been Donnie’s band, and he’s always operated on the assumption that a band is all about entertainment, and the blues are best when they leave audiences feeling better. And in that fine tradition, I Need A Hat, the band’s 16th album, is another party-hearty platter virtually guaranteed to get listeners dancing.

As usual, Walsh wrote most of the tunes, with two additional contributions from Jackson. Material mines familiar blues grooves – there’s nothing here outside of twelve-bar convention – but everything’s infectiously spirited and delivered with equal parts swinging ease and instrumental aplomb. From the tongue-in-cheek title track (a blues man, concludes Walsh, isn’t quite complete without a hat) to the belly-rubbing grind of “Somebody Lied,” a rueful look at life’s disappointments, things never get too serious. These, again, are blues to forget one’s blues, and it would be hard indeed not to crack a smile as the boys grab onto each and every groove with all cylinders firing.

With a beat aimed straight at the feet, this one’s guaranteed to fill the floor. Highly recommended!

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About John Taylor

  • Josh Hathaway

    Nice review, John. I’ve got this one sitting on my desk waiting to be heard. Once I’ve cleared my deck of some of the BMA-material I’m still working on, I’ll be giving this one a few good spins.