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Music Review: Midwest Blues All Stars – Covered Up

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It takes a certain chutzpah to call your band an all-star aggregation when none of the names are widely recognizable. But while most won’t know the names that make up the Midwest Blues All Stars , they do indeed prove to be a well-honed unit with Covered Up, a collection with few surprises but lots of soul.

Sure, it’s bar-band stuff, the kind of playlist churned out by hundreds of outfits night after night. The requisite Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters covers, a Jimmy Reed shuffle here and a blistering boogie there, all powered by the classic lineup of two guitars, bass, drums, and harmonica. But great blues is timeless, and when hearts are in the right place, energy, enthusiasm, and that great intangible, feel, are far more important than finesse.

The Midwest Blues All Stars’ secret weapon is gruff vocalist Jimmy Davis – or, as he’s billed here, ‘Blues Harp Jimmy Davis.’ He’s got a convincing growl and powerful pipes, but understands that phrasing is the most important element of all, tempering his commanding voice with a hint of barely-restrained menace. His harmonica work is strictly old-school Chicago, and while it’s not likely to win awards it’s invariably effective if a little thin-toned.

Elsewhere there’s slashing guitar work from the band’s leader, Richard Radbil, and a rather workmanlike rhythm section (bassist Dave Chylla and drummer Vodie Rhinehart), augmented by guitarist Sam McCue, who steps up to contribute a fine vocal turn on “Same Old Blues.”

Opening with Steve Miller’s “Ying Yang” (that one’s a surprise!), they tear through set that includes familiar fare like “Mellow Down Easy,” “Killing Floor,” the Buddy Guy / Junior Well’s classic “Snatch It Back And Hold It,” and Little Walter’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” Arrangements aren’t innovative, but there’s amply evident chemistry at work, and everyone puts heart and soul into every tune.

There are more polished recordings available, and individual performances that surpass the skills of this particular aggregation of all stars. But again, blues is all about feel, and the Midwest Blues All Stars obviously feel the blues. Not essential, but very nice!

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