Your Gateway to Music and More from a Christian Perspective
Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Not What You Think
Artist: Blud Bros.
Time: 12 tracks/51:49 minutes
First, a disclaimer. Although I have an affection for blues, I'm no expert. I recognize the difference between Johnny Winters, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and The Grateful Dead, but given an audio clue on Jeopardy featuring American blues icons, I might have to timidly confess to Alex Trebeck that I don't know the difference between Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, and John Hurt. I visited Beale Street in Memphis once, but they have long since remodeled and now days, I'd probably get lost. Thankfully, an incidental by-product of wearing a reviewer's hat is the opportunity to spout an opinion, without the benefit of formal training. With resignation, Mr. Trebeck would roll his eyes and in that school teacher tone of voice declare, "Curt, by default, it is still your board."
"Thanks, Alex, I like living dangerously. Let’s go with ‘Christian Blues' for two hundred."
As my procrastinator's daydream continues, Trebeck asserts, "Not-What-You-Think."
"Hey, I know this one," I thought to myself. My thumb instinctively twitches, concurrently sounding the "da, da, da" sound effect.
Without hesitation, Trebeck calls my name, "Curt."
"I know this Alex, it's the brand new release from the Blud Bros.," I stated with confidence.
"Remember, you must frame it as a question," scolds Trebeck. "Oh sorry, I retort, what is ‘Not What You Think' Oh, and by the way Alex, I hope you will excuse me. That answer reminds me that I must be on my way. I just realized that I'm late for an album review."
Yeah, fiddling around with dawdling and daydreams, I lost my way and the deadline for the Blud Bros. review came and went. Still, a good portion of my messing around involved repping Not What Yom Think, which is a good thing.
It's a truism that quality music almost always ages well. If the work is trite and shallow, it usually bums out quickly, like a shooting star (think bubblegum). If it's art that is weighty and substantive, although we might appreciate it on some intellectual level sometimes we lose interest before we give ourselves a chance at visceral appreciation. Not What You Think actually falls in between those two extremes.
The first few times through the album, I can't say that I was immediately captivated. I'm probably just too uptight, but it took me at least a half dozen listens before I let my hair down enough to start jiving to the Blud Bros. I guess I just needed time to slide into my blues mode. Quite unexpectedly, rather than bringing me down, The Blud Bros. style of blues sort of made me giddy. Like a third glass of wine, at some point you begin to sense a fresh mood coming on, significantly more lighthearted than the one before. I even briefly mused about inviting a few friends over for an impromptu party.
Indeed, the Blud Bros. leave the impression that they are having a rollicking blast. Although this is clearly a studio production, the band often sounds as if they are on stage, performing for an audience of close friends. Although it's typical for blues artists to radiate a live vibe, even when encased in a studio, I wouldn't expect this kind of slick production to sustain such a live aura and energy through an entire album. Indeed, that is what we get. If the band followed the normal recording routine of laying down each instrumental track separately, rather than as an ensemble, retaining the live persona is all the more impressive.
The title of this work is creatively ambiguous, a truly great title. Not What You Think might mean that we wouldn't typically expect to encounter Christian blues. It might mean that life as a Christian shouldn’t imply perpetual bliss. It might mean that we've never heard blues like this before, period. The reason it's such a great title is that all three of these meanings fit as comfortably as does Lucille in the hands of B.B. King (Lucille is King's name for his favorite guitar).
Beware. Don't purchase this project with the expectation that it's anything other than blue- eyed blues. If your you prefer your blues in pure doses, you might be disappointed in lead singer Alan "Big Al" Harvey's vocal timbre. "Big Al" has great voice, not necessarily a great blues voice. It's a tone color that would sound more at home on a traditional gospel record. In fact, those that remember Jesus Music original Don Francisco, might easily mistake Harvey’s voice for that of Francisco. They sound a lot alike. And neither one of them sounds like Muddy Waters. We can actually understand all of the words.
Further, the Blud Bros. instrumental presentation, while technically impressive and attractive, almost sounds too pretty for the typically gritty and dirty blues genre. The band is cohesive but seems to play by the book, not by sensibility. Still, these fellows are seasoned musicians with a classy, tight, driving sound. If you stumbled across this group in a local venue, you would wonder what they were doing there (remember the line from Billy Joel's "Piano Man," " ... man, what are you doing here…").
While the pre-release information doesn’t indicate who writes the songs, the Blud Bros. web site implies that Harvey writes at least some of the tunes. Topically, these songs are themes you might encounter in a primary Sunday school class at a fundamental church. At the same time, though the subject matter of these songs is somewhat basic, most of them have included an interesting twist or wrinkle and some convey a bemused, wry sense of humor.
One of the most creative songwriting efforts is "(No) Sympathy for the Devil," an interesting modification of the Rolling Stones classic. Rewritten with bite and anger, the song successfully profiles Satan's deceptive, underhanded character:
He'll he pleased to meet you and he’ll make you guess his nameIt’s a song in which Alan Harvey sings with intense passion and emotion. Midway through, we are caught off guard with a relevant, but unexpected mention of recent history, laying the blame for 9-1-1 at the feet of Lucifer himself.
He’d watch with glee while our kings and queens"So hey Alex, did I make it back in time for Final Jeopardy" I ask haltingly, trying to catch my breath as I took my place back at the empty podium.
Trebeck countered, "Oh, no I'm sorry, once you leave, the rule is that you cannot come back, but we will send the home version of Jeopardy with you as a nice consolation prize, so don't go away."
"Sheesh, that announcer voice can get irritating," I thought to myself
The host interrupted my thoughts again with the Final Jeopardy question, "In one sentence, describe the music of the Blud Bros. on the album Not What You Think."
"Oh stink," I mumbled to myself. "I know the answer to that question, or the question to that answer, or something like that!" The last part of my private thought actually escaped from my mouth as my agitation level increased with each passing moment. I felt my face turning flushed and sensed I was beginning to lose control of my faculties.
"For a big payday, contestant number one, in one sentence, describe the music of the Blud Bros. on the album Not What You Think," Trebeck continued.
"It can't be done," contestant number one angrily stated.
Rubbing his chin, Trebeck recapped the situation, "Well, with the default of Mr. McLey, we have one contestant remaining. Mr. B.B. King, you have set a jeopardy record today, with a half million in cold, hard cash on the Jeopardy score board. With the right wager, you will walk away with one-million-dollars. What is your answer, Mr. King."
"Yes sir, Mr. Trebeck, I do have the answer. Is Not What You Think, an album of Christian blues, instrumentally and vocally formal, lyrically fundamental, with a touch of bemused humor and surprise, yet exciting and infectious, but lacking the grit and grime of old style blues?"
The studio audience erupted into loud screams and applause as it became clear that B.B. King had set a new Jeopardy record by scoring a million dollars.
With a wise guy grin, Trebeck’s words echoed in my head, "Reviewer McLey, do you have any closing comments before you head out the door with your new home version of Jeopardy?"
Wiping the sweat from my face and after a long pause, I mumbled, "Alex, I can't believe I just wrote the most expensive review on record. My writer’s wages are pretty low as it is, but this review actually cost me one million dollars. I thought I was a new Blud Bros. fan. Now, I’m not so sure. Is this what they call the blues?"
Christian blues! Isn't that an oxymoron? In some places one might think so but one read of the book of Psalms and there's no doubt that even God's children get the blues. But then, the eternal question. Can a white man sing the blues? That might be a harder question to answer as singer Alan Harvey doesn't have a classic blues voice but makes up for it with sheer effort and chutzpah.
Standouts? There were a couple that really grabbed me. I like the slow blues of "Came & Bled & Died" and the vivacious immediacy and groove of "Twistin' In The Wind."
Listening to the Blud Brothers, there's no doubt that the band know how to put down some infectious blues playing. Although the production values aren't absolutely fabulous here, it all seems to fall into place from walking bass, solid groove and nice guitar and Hammond flourishes through to the straight ahead lyrics and uncompromising message. Good clean blues and the Blud Brothers have plenty to say and band leader Big Al Harvey isn't scared to say it. But I'm still left feeling that in the blues tradition this is more Blues Brothers than B B King.
Mike Rimmer 1/31/2003
First off: my thoughts on this were delayed for months. However, it wasn't because I don't have time, but because it had been stolen by a blues-loving father and a friend of ours, who both dug into it with relish. On the few occasions when I actually HAVE had a chance to listen to it, I can truthfully say that I enjoyed it too.
Standout moments include the album opener "Dead Man Walking" (which, as I found out, makes a great pre-church service cut), and the band's tribute to the Rolling Stones in "(No) Sympathy for the Devil". Large Al (and you GOTTA admire a guy that makes that his OWN nickname) has a smooth voice, almost reminiscent of Sinatra or Tony Bennett rather than BB King, Muddy Waters, or other famous blues singers.
This is not a "dark" blues album. If you want to savor that moody feeling, pick up a Glenn Kaiser disc, but if you want some enjoyable "happy" blues, pick this up.
Josh Marihugh 7/19/2003