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VCV: Kilborn Alley Blues Band – “Train To Memphis”

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It's Oscar night and the television advertisements are out in full force, extolling the virtues of this movie and that movie, hoping to land some prestigious golden statues while simultaneously luring a few of you in to see the film.  You can almost guarantee at some point you'll hear the voiceover artist use the phrase "ensemble cast," which is a fancy way of telling moviegoers the cast has no star power and is instead filled with unfamiliar names and faces.

Kilborn Alley Blues Band puts a premium on ensemble playing, a tradition that has been obscured by the tendency to elevate one musician or instrument above all others within a band, a song, and a mix.  There's nothing wrong with that tradition.  Guitar solos are great.  Who wouldn't want Hendrix to cut loose?  Why wouldn't you clear the clutter and punch up the volume for Clarence Clemons' solo in "Jungleland?"  Solos are great.  It's not until you hear a band really play together that you realize there's another approach that offers just as much.

The KABB sound is seamless in a way I rarely hear today.  The sound isn't created by spacing out the instruments so you can hear Joe Asselin or Josh Stimmel solo but rather by the way they meld their harmonica and guitar together and bond it to the rhythms being pounded out by the steady rolling Chris Breen and Ed O'Hara.  The pieces do more than fit together, they belong together because that's how these guys think and approach songwriting and arranging.

Asselin and Stimmel each get spotlight time in "Train To Memphis" and they play their asses off, but the coolest part of the song is the way everything sounds together.  For the final two minutes, they're all soloing, grooving, and weaving.  Asselin's harp is the sound furthest front but Stimmel and Andrew Duncanson have fused their guitars together into a shaking funk while O'Hara rattles off some fine percussion punctuation underneath.  You won't suddenly want to burn your Jimi Hendrix records, but you'll be amazed at what happens when five guys unite under one song.

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About Josh Hathaway