Monday, January 26, 2009

CD Review: Luboš Andršt Blues Band

Blues Grooves
Fontana Music library FN 164, 2004

Albums of library music can be curious beasts. They are not often destined for the limelight, usually languishing in the utilitarian obscurity of a need-to-know basis. Put together for television, radio, and any other situation where music is required as a backdrop, they are the session musicians, the backroom boys, and the unknown soldiers of the record world. Making library recordings is part and parcel of the life of a working musician in reality, just as much as world tours and endless groupies are an essential part of any rock’n’roll fantasy. They may not arrive with the fanfare of a “normal” record, but they can contain some damn good music.

Blues Grooves, from the Fontana Music Library, is a Luboš Andršt Blues Band album in thin disguise. With Luboš are his regular rhythm section of Wimpy Tichota on bass and Pavel Razím on drums. Organ is provided by prolific Czech player Jan Kořínek, and there’s some down and dirty blues harmonica from Ondřej Konrád.

There are twelve original tracks, all penned by Andršt, and mostly given unromantic practical names such as “Major Blues” or “Relaxed Funky”. Each is given a brief description in the liner notes to aid hurried selection by hassled media underlings, ordered to find a suitable blues tune for the given occasion. Like all library albums there is no sense of continuation or notable structure in the order of the pieces. It would be unusual for the tracks to heard in their entirety, let alone the whole album. So what we have here is not a complex concept masterwork of elaborately constructed mini-epics, but rather a series of sketches, and like any artist’s sketchbook there is a rawness and vitality present. So this is not the Luboš Andršt Blues Band’s very own Mona Lisa, but rather a record of outlines and ideas. And it rocks.

Whatever the band does on this album it does at full pelt. “Good Time Boogie” opens the album with a ferocious roar before settling into a mid-tempo groove complete with a busy harmonica solo. It is guitar that dominates overall, and unashamedly so. Luboš spits, sprays and slides his killer licks all over the place, some of which will be familiar to people who have seen him play live and slip a few of them into his improvisations. The lovely main phrase from “After Midnight”, or something very like, has frequently raised its head onstage in the last year. Endless amusement for riff-spotters is close at hand with this album.

On a similar (and very fine) note, the inconspicuously titled “Minor Blues” sounds remarkably like the instrumental from the title track of the Everything I’ve Done album, released three years after Blues Grooves. It showcases some of Andršt’s best emotive blues playing, combining fearsome chops with raw feeling and mature good taste, and is one of the standout pieces in this collection.

There are some other notable cuts that deserve to be wrenched out of anonymity and given a wider audience. “Rumba Blues” is a joyous and fast-paced (172 bpm, according to the liner note) Latin-flavoured valedictory romp. Guitar and harmonica dance over bass and drums, and it is hard not to smile when you hear this fun-infused slab of sound. “Major Blues” on the other hand is a darker affair, opening with a gorgeous moment of gospel organ that leads into dirty, crying guitar. Kořínek also gets in a dextrous final solo towards the end. The playing all the way through is what you would expect it to be. Even if these guys are messing about they don’t mess about.

There are some good, original pieces of music on this album and it would be a shame if they were not appreciated. It is no grand statement or monumental personal opus and it has no pretensions to be anything of the like. It is a selection of “pure electric blues with hot guitar solos” (as the cover clearly states), and it is a good record of how the LABB sound when they’re working together in the studio. So get yourself a copy, crack open a beer, and notch your air guitar up to eleven. It’s one louder than ten, and it is the volume that this hidden album deserves.

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