Full Bodied with a Sweet Aftertaste, (07/08/09)
My first impression of this CD came from the title, Many Shades of Blue. In this century the word Blues covers so many styles of music it gets crazy trying to decipher one music from another. So, as I popped the CD in for its first spin, I understood and agreed with the title of the album. You can't pinpoint one style that permeates the disc throughout. The sounds come from jug bands on up to Chicago and modern Blues. The beauty of this album is you have a talented vocalist, harpist, and songwriter leading the way with some amazing guest artists. Here is a partial list of the musicians on this record: John Cephas, Ivan Neville, Janiva Magness, Doug MacLeod, Tommy Kay, and Rich DelGrosso.
Gary Allegretto has an interesting story, which includes his own non-profit organization called Harmonikids. The organization distributes harmonicas to special needs children whom he teaches simple songs to lift their spirits. The organization has been active for fifteen years. That's a lot of giving by this individual, and now he has finally been given the chance to put out his own album. He is also involved in the Blues in the Schools program.
There is a heavy Chicago Blues influence on the majority of the disc. While all of those songs are strong and fresh without sounding hackneyed, the gems here are the acoustic numbers. "Four Days Late" with Neville and Magness handling the vocals allows Allegretto to swoon the harmonica lines into the song. Ian Espinoza has the soft touch on the guitar strings with Rich DelGrosso strumming the mandolin adding a crisp Bluegrass feel. Espinoza plucks an up-tempo beat on his National Steel on "Never the Same." DelGrosso complements Espinoza's strings again here. Allegretto sings of artists like John Jackson and the Walters and their influence on him growing up.
True beauty is on "Hurry Down Rounder" as John Cephas sounds like Mississippi John Hurt playing "Stagger Lee" from the 1928 sessions. Allegretto lays out some classic lyrics and fine Country harp. This song could very well have been written back in the 1920s, but that's just one of Allegretto's talents. Cephas is on four songs and not one of those songs is a miss, even the Hank Williams cover "Mind Your Own Business." These four songs are my favorites off the disc. They are worth the price of admission. The rest will be a treat, too.
One other song that needs mention is the "Settle Down Blues." This is a Country Blues song in a jug band fashion. It is up beat and a great romp of a tune. The fiddle and banjo work of Cliff Wagner from David Evans' Last Chance Jug Band really spices up the track. And Allegretto is an excellent Country harp player. His style is very open, and he can bounce from the Country to Urban Blues sounds very easily.
The quality of songs, musicians, and production make this a very easy disc to listen to. The album was recorded at four different studios with fifteen musicians and several different styles of music, but none of those facts matter when it sounds good. Some of these songs sound like instant classics and should be covered just as often as Muddy Waters. This album is a standout in the releases in the Blues or Americana markets.
Kyle M. Palarino is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Kyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See this review article in current issue of BluesWax at: http://www.visnat.com/entertainment/music/blueswax/mp3/album.cfm?aaa=zzz&reviewnumber=2991