It’s been quite a while since Rob Stone’s debut release, Just My Luck. The ensuing seven years haven’t really seen much of a change in his musical approach – he pretty well nailed that classic '50s Chicago blues sound right out of the gate. If anything, Back Around Here shows a bit more texture in the arrangements, with horns and piano featured more prominently for a more textured sound. But when you get things right the first time, there’s not much point in messing with the formula.
That’s not to say there’s anything formulaic about Back Around Here, unless it be adherence to the unwritten rule that blues is about feel, not technical perfection.
Stone wrote the bulk of the material here with guitarist Chris James and bassist Patrick Rynn. (Former members of Stone’s band, James and Rynn have recently released a fine sophomore effort of their own that features Stone on a couple of tracks). The tunes mine classic Chicago grooves, with catchy lyrics that riff on everyday themes. They’re sturdy, workmanlike songs designed to keep dance floors hopping when the day’s work is done.
The band includes Rynn, whose hard-hitting yet supple bass anchors everything nicely, and James, whose chunky rhythms and stabbing leads contribute much to the project’s success. Also on hand are pianists Dave Maxwell and old-school master Aaron Moore, as well as drummers Sam Lay and Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith. And there’s a fine horn section on a handful, with tight, punchy arrangements courtesy of Rodney Brown.
Given the company he keeps it’s no surprise that Stone has a firm understanding of the less-is-more approach, and the emphasis here is on the songs and the grooves rather than demonstrations of instrumental dexterity. Solos are all short and succinct; Stone is able to make his point with biting tone and economic expression, and isn’t out to dazzle. And while his isn’t a naturally great voice, his vocals are invariably effective thanks to sly and understated delivery that makes the most of what he’s got.
Covers include well-chosen selections from Sonny Boy Williamson (“Love You For Myself”), Magic Sam (“Give Me Time”), and Lowman Pauling (“It’s Hard But It’s Fair”) as well as Leroy Carr’s standard, “Sloppy Drunk Blues.” Originals are well-crafted, with tightly-focused and intricate ensemble work given precedence over extended instrumental excursions, though “Chicago All Night” could have been trimmed a bit.
All in all, though, Stone has delivered what sounds like an instant classic, firmly in a traditional mode yet original and exuberant enough to stand nicely on its own. Everyone on board plays with heart and soul, and Stone presides over proceedings with aplomb, delivering some pretty wicked harmonica licks in the process.
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