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Music Review: Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials – Full Tilt!

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The blues is a relatively limited form – stray too far from convention and it simply isn’t blues anymore. And one can argue that it’s long been pretty much perfected, with little room left for innovation or ongoing development.

Throughout their career, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials haven’t deviated from the raucous, slash and burn blues they managed to get absolutely right on their very first outing. The band’s seventh release, Full Tilt, adheres to the same it-ain’t-broke formula – hoarsely shouted vocals and stinging slide guitar atop a relentlessly driving beat. But when it’s done this well, with such infectious energy and unbridled enthusiasm, the results remain fresh and vital indeed.

Electric blues is all about the groove, and few outfits lay down as solid a base as Ed’s Blues Imperials. Bassist James ‘Pookie’ Young (Imperials co-founder and Ed’s half-brother), drummer Kelly Littleton, and rhythm guitarist Michael Garrett provide the firmest of foundations for Williams’ searing slide work, negotiating the tricky territory between impeccably tight and joyously loose with easy-going aplomb.

Lil’ Ed (a nephew of seminal slide guitarist J. B. Hutto) plays his blues strictly for the party, with raw power and an in-your-face attitude, though invariably with good humor and an ever-present smile. From the opener, a furious “Hold That Train” through the frantic “Take Five” that bookends the celebration, Ed and the boys approach everything with no holds barred and the pedal to the medal all the way. Subtle it’s not, and yes, most of it sounds familiar – although the majority are originals courtesy of Ed and his partner Pam – but with basic blues a near-perfect form, why mess with success?

Variety comes in the form of funk (“Housekeeping Job,” Woman Take A Bow”) and a few slow grinders (“Check My Baby’s Oil,” “Life Got In The Way,” “Every Man Needs A Good Woman”), but for the most part it’s shuffles and boogies at – literally – full tilt. Horns augment a few tracks, though they’re not really necessary; Ed’s not the type to leave a great deal of space, anyway, and Mr. Garrett’s busy rhythm work takes care of what’s there.

If you’re familiar with Lil’ Ed’s output, you’ll know exactly what to expect, and this one’s easily the equal of any of his previous releases. If you haven’t yet encountered the diminutive dynamo and his brand of musical mayhem, this would be an ideal introduction. Either way – everyone should have at least a lil’ Ed in their collection …!

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