Blue and Instrumental
Eller Soul Records
15 tracks/62 minutes
Ivan Appelrouth has played for thirty years in both the New England stomping grounds of the likes of Duke Robillard and Roomful of Blues as well as in his home state of Virginia. He has put in his time and earned accolades among those who have heard his guitar work. He put together a CD with a dozen "original" songs and three covers, all instrumentals. The sound is authentic blues and the musicianship here is excellent by both Applerouth and his band.
Joining Ivan on the CD are John Cocuzzi on piano and vibes, Dave Cwiklinski on trumpet, Tommy Hannigan and Steve Potter share duty on bass, "Big" Joe Maher on drums, Steve Ott on B3, and Chris Watling on sax. This is a well-synched band with a great sound. They all play off well on each other and add bits and pieces of interest to the mix.
The CD is a lot of fun to listen to and you can tell these guys like to play together. The biggest complaint I have is that Appelrouth's "original" songs are just tribute pieces where he's rearranged many of the blues greats stuff into nice little packages he's produced. It's not a rip off or anything- he lists his stuff as tributes to T-Bone Walker, Magic Sam, Albert King, Junior Wells and others. It's good stuff, but from my perspective it really is an album of covers/medleys. That being said, it is still a lot of fun and it had my foot tapping.
Applerouth doesn't remain in the box here. He tries to put his spin on things; he even messes with the tempo to jazz things up as in the very up tempo first of his Magic Sam take offs, "Tribute to Magic Sam". The tempo is very upbeat and swinging, not what one would expect them hearing Sam's magical riffs. The next time through he goes the other way and the tempo is way slower than Sam's. The band adds solo after solo to show they are not slouches either, tightly jamming and playing through each tribute.
The out and out covers are Albert Collins' "Frosty", a nice “Strollin' with the Bone" and the weakest link on the CD which a kind of lounge lizardy sounding "Strangers On the Shore" with some heavy organ that really did not sell me. He is at his best laying down the Carl Hogan/T Bone Walker/Chuck Berry riffs in his Walker tributes. He really wails. The opening and closing "Olsen Ranch Shuffles" also are tight pieces with great guitar work and great sax solos.
Overall, it's a nicely done album. If you want to hear regional bluesmen put their spin on classic blues sounds with the focus on the instruments and no vocals, this might be your cup of tea. The guys are talented and Applerouth can really play the guitar. There is nothing new here, but there are some talented guys playing their hearts out. Applerouth is an excellent guitar player and does not go to the excesses like many do- he plays with restraint and has a great feeling for the music. I enjoyed listening to this CD.
Reviewed by Steve Jones