The Matthew Skoller Band makes solid, harmonica-heavy, Chicago-style blues. Skoller's husky voice, like Stevie Ray Vaughn's, contrasts nicely with his ace band's smooth (but mercifully un-slick) arrangements, while his virtuoso harp playing lends both pathos and sheen to many of these mostly original tunes.
This, the band's fourth CD, opens with a couple of straightforward rolling-blues numbers, but moves on to a more interesting musical statement in what I think of as the "lyrical" blues mode with the unabashedly political "Handful of People." Over a swelling two-chord obbligato in the gloomy key of A Minor, Skoller indicts the Bush Adminisistration for wars and social inequity. Whatever your politics, this is good blues, but right-wingers beware: you might have a hard time tolerating these lay-it-on-the-line lyrics.
However, by "lyrical blues mode" I'm not referring to lyrics - though they are important in this as in nearly all styles of blues - but rather to that sweet and passionate musical idiom that was fashioned out of blues basics starting in the 1960s by icons like B. B. King, James Cotton, John Mayall, and Jimi Hendrix in his "Wind Cries Mary" mode. Skoller's mastery of this difficult mix of earth and sky, muscle and mind, make him more than just a talented musician and writer.
The title track is a straight-ahead rock-and-roll blues of a type any tight band could do, but when Skoller and Co. slow down for the soulful "Let The World Come To You," they come to the real heart of the album. Decorated by wonderfully subtle Hammond organ from Sidney James Wingfield, flavored by Brian Ritchie's cooing shakuhachi (a Japanese wooden flute I've never before heard in blues), and featuring a scintillating guitar solo by either Lurrie Bell or Larry Skoller, this six-and-a-half-minute epic has got a little of everything in perfect measure - even some gospelly backing vocals. It's a real slow-blues treasure.