Monday, July 22, 2013

Easy Livin' reviewed by Mark Thompson

Easy Livin'
Southern Hospitality
Blind Pig Records
12 tracks/60:37

When you cast your gaze on the cover, your eyes focus on a drawing of a shapely woman relaxing in a hammock, fan overhead and a cool drink nearby with exotic vegetation in the background. If you didn't know any better, you might think this was some unknown band trying to entice people to buy their disc for the cool cover artwork.

The reality is that Southern Hospitality brings together three extremely talented musicians, each with  his own successful career. But when they gathered one night for a jam, the resulting musical merry-making was all it took for guitarists JP Soars and Damon Fowler to decide to join forces with keyboard whiz Victor Wainwright to see how long the fun could last. The rhythm section is comprised of Fowler's band mate Chuck Riley on bass and Chris Peet from Soars' group on drums.

The group's potential drew the attention of another extraordinary musician, Tab Benoit, who signed on as producer and brought the band to his Houma, LA studio, adding several more layers of southern feel to the project. And it's all there, a potent mix of blues, southern rock, country and Memphis soul wrapped up in a batch of songs that insinuate their way deep into your musical heart.

Opening with “Southern Livin' “, the band expounds on the joys of sun and beaches over a laid-back groove as Fowler demonstrates his artistry on the lap steel guitar while the vocal is passed around between all three front men, finishing with jubilant harmonizing. The pace picks up on “Long Way Home” and takes on a harder edge with Soars' gritty vocal riding the twin guitar attack. The band has some fun on another JP original, celebrating life on road on “Mile After Mile” complete with sound effects and another team-approach on the vocals. Wainwright rocks the 88's on “Come Back Home”, then Soars' rips off a blistering solo.

Fowler's “Kind Lies & Whiskey” is one of the highlights as the writer uses his nimble, higher pitched voice to lay down a hearty vocal on a country-tinged rocker that finds him yearning for “..a soft place to catch me when I fall.” Fowler's emotionally-charged singing on “Powered For the Mountain” offers a sharp contrast to swirling primal stomp around him, which finishes with some hair-raising interplay between Wainwright on organ and the two guitarists. Fowler scores again with “Don't Feel Like Going There Today”, a song with a hypnotic reggae hook that will surely inspire more than a few people to forgo work for a day of fun. Wainwright's sweltering solo on the organ is sandwiched between sizzling solos from Soars and Fowler.

Wainwright takes the lead on “Shoestring Budget” as the band jumps the blues at a frantic pace as Soars fires off a barn-burner solo that leads to a dazzling keyboard workout by the singer. He threatens to come unhinged on “Don't Boogie Woogie” when his doctor gives him one-too-many restrictions to regain a healthy lifestyle. Once again, the three leaders contribute brief, but memorable, solos at a breakneck pace with Wainwright steamrolling his way to the finish. His finest moment occurs on “Certified Lover”, showcasing the enormous depth of his voice as it cries out in anguish, praying for someone to take the pain away.

The group reaches its  instrumental peak on a sweltering rendition of Willie Bobo and Melvin Lastie's “Fried Neck Bones and Home Fries”. Sporting a Latin vamp that recalls the early days of Santana, each of the leaders gets to stretch out, Fowler and Soars expertly blending taste and intensity into fiery solos before Wainwright's fat organ chords push the proceedings into overdrive at the end. Closing with a ballad, “Sky is What I Breath”, Soars' haunting dobro licks set off the soul-wrenching vocals from all three singers.

It is a fitting climax for a disc that once again shows the truth of the old adage that the sum is greater than the parts. While Fowler, Soars and Wainwright have received well-deserved recognition and acclaim for their individual careers, they shine even brighter on this outstanding recording. Don't try to label it – just sit back and enjoy some magnificent, powerful music made by five professionals having the time of their lives. Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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