Free Times PhotoVolume One
The BackUp Band
Wilbertís Blues Records
              BY JOHN C. BRUENING

 

Although not one of Greater Clevelandís flashiest or most high-profile combos, the BackUp Band has been admirably slugging it out for 20 years in the local and regional circuit. Theyíve obviously been keeping busy enough over the years that theyíve only recently found the time to go into the studio and press a CD.

At the core of this quintet are guitarists "Neon Don" Buchanan (formerly of the Generators) and Tom Shaper, who together bring a mix of blues, R&B, vintage rock and roll, classic pop and a host of other styles to the BackUp Band aesthetic. Bassist Greg Clasen and drummer Joe Alessandro hold down the bottom end, while Reverend Lawrence J. leads the charge with a gritty, dead-on vocal attack.

The BackUp Bandís unpretentiously titled Volume One, recorded at Wally Cleaver Recording in Fredrickburg, Va., is a 10-track mix of familiar and semi-familiar standards from the likes of Doc Pomus, Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, plus some of BUBís original material thrown in. Although their sound is clearly rooted in the blues, hardcore bluesheads seeking a string of shuffles had better look elsewhere. Volume One is solid and consistent, yet varied enough to keep it interesting.

The album starts on familiar ground with Doc Pomusí "Mess of Blues" and "Why Get Up" (the Carter/Ellsworth track popularized by the Fabulous Thunderbirds), but the first clue that the BackUp Band is able and willing to take chances comes with "Love Potion #9," a familiar tune embellished with an unusual mix of Jamaican and psychedelic guitar riffs. Fans of the original í60s pop ditty wonít be offended, but those looking for something fresh wonít go unsatisfied either.

The band takes similar liberties with "Nadine," the Chuck Berry romp that these boys slow down into something more earthy and funky, with an extended Shaper-Buchanan duel that raises the spice level considerably. The closer is a stirring cover of "When a Man Loves a Woman," instilled with a ragged passion by Lawrence Jís vocals and highly atmospheric instrumental work by the rest of the band.

As original tracks go, "Canít Be Your Fool" is about the best of the bunch ó a slow, angry ballad enhanced by the atmospheric keyboard work of Mark Murphy (a former BUB regular and a guest on this recording). "Forgive and Forget," another original composition, is more upbeat punchy, thanks in large part to guest guitar work by former Lost Planet Airman Bill Kirchen. Unfortunately, the Reverendís rapid-fire vocals are lost in the trackís somewhat cloudy mix.

But itís no matter, as the recording overall is too satisfying to spend time splitting hairs. The good news is that these guys are usually somewhere around town. For all of the albumís merits, the real thing is worth checking out.