The Gamble Brothers Band is a collection of Memphis-based veterans who have been recording and touring since 2001. Members of the four-piece group (Al Gamble, keys and vocals; Art Edmaiston, sax and percussion; Blake Rhea, bass; Chad Gamble, drums) have done time with a dizzying array of fine soul, R&B, and blues talent: Bo Diddley, Irma Thomas, The Bar-Kays, Allan Toussaint, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Rufus Thomas, and the house band at B.B. King's on Beale Street.
Moreover, the band is based in the very home of the blues and Al and Chad, the Brothers themselves, hail from a little town outside the most soulful place on Earth - Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Consequently, the Gamble Brothers have a fine legacy indeed to uphold. With its third album, Continuator, due out February 21, The Gamble Brothers Band seeks, in their words, to "further the heritage" of the classic Memphis sound rather than replicate its past greatness.
So does it work?
Let's start with what's good. Continuator was produced by veteran Jeff Powell at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis. The sound of Ardent Studios is a nice one - warm and roomy, with good separation. You can hear it on albums by Big Star, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, The White Stripes, The Reverend Horton Heat, Isaac Hayes, the Bar-Kays, ZZ Top, and more. Powell himself has helmed the boards for dozens of albums by everyone from Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughn to the Afghan Whigs. I'm not sure whether Continuator's warmly live sound owes more to Ardent's house ambience or to Powell, but either way Powell makes the most of it.
So, Continuator sounds great. The thick arrangements leave plenty of room for everything to come right through - keys, sax, drums, bass and vocals. And rather than use ProTools to justify everything into perfect order, Powell lets the grooves slip a little into that classic Memphis behind-the-beat sound. You half expect the band to break at any moment into The MGs' "Hip Hug-Her." If there is one fault, it is that Powell's production is a little too glossy too add mass to an album that turns out to need some heft behind it.
The group's playing is top-notch too, with tasty work from everyone involved. On a few tracks, like the instrumental "Theme from 'Little Champ'" the band comes across like an unstoppable force of dirty groove. Al Gamble's organ work in particular is impressive.