February 27, 2024

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CD review: Namedroppers – Blue Diamonds – 2023: Video, CD cover

Connecticut’s legendary R&B band Namedroppers just released their swaggering muscular effort Blue Diamonds. Its individual members, Rafe Klein on guitar and lead vocals, drummer-singer Bobby T Torello, bassist Scott Spray, and keyboardist Ron Rifkin put together some startlingly good original music based on their influences while also turning in some strong interpretations of songs originally recorded by Jimi Hendrix and Bobby Blue Bland.

The Diddley beat is used loudly in Back To Chicago. A raw song with vicious abrasive slide guitar playing. The sound of Willy DeVille can be heard in the intimate ballad New York.

Title track “Blue Diamonds,” penned by Bobby T Torello and featuring Rafe Klein on lead vocal, moves with a well-considered ease. One can feel this Cadillac ride taking them somewhere special. Raspy lead vocals, supported by Heather Joseph’s gospel like backing vocal, gives an alluring call and response feel. Ron Rifkin’s prancing keyboards make it all nice and soulful. Guest Al Ferrante chimes in with emotive guitar phrase that makes us feel this song’s theme and it’s a treat for the ears and the soul to hear this just moving along.

The first cover is of the Joe Medwick and Don Robey penned “Further on up the Road”, which was originally performed by Bobby “Blue” Bland. The song is a driving blues rock number again offering a nice mix of organ and guitar. Jay Willie guests on slide guitar and immediately tears up the music with a Bo Diddley-reminiscent beat delivered by Torello on “Back to Chicago” as Torello cites his desire to get back to his woman and the sights of the Windy City. The music slows down with a ballad comparing “New York” to Chicago and San Francisco. He says the city “let me down again last night” noting that the city has “so much class and twice as much trash”.

Another Torello penned song, “Hollywood,” rides a 1950s rock and roll groove. Bassist Scott Spray and drummer Bobby T keep it danceable fun, in the pocket, keeping the muscular groove under control, letting its restrained power motivate the listener’s feet. Soulful organ and a biting guitar melody keep this party going. Did I mention Bill Holloman’s saxophone line? It keeps the song feeling full and gusty, plenty of wind under the sail to make a huge impression.

Bill Holloman guests on sax on a rocking number, “Hollywood” that features Torello’s somewhat raspy vocals and a fine organ run mixed with excellent guitar work. He tells her that she should “go to Hollywood cause the walk would do you good”. Klein takes the vocals again on an R&B plea for her to “Just Come Home” and declaring that he “did not mean what he said”. Holloman also adds sax to this cut.

Klein’s “Just Come Home” is one of those soul searing slow burners. His raspy, down tempo vocal contrasts beautifully with Simone Brown’s angelic gospel sweep. Klein’s light touch on his electric guitar puts a pretty, gentle line beneath Rifkin’s wide organ swirl and Bill Holloman’s romantic yearning sax. All of these parts come together in one flag waving texture of emotion.

Offering their own rendition of the Bobby “Blue” Bland killer classic “Further On Up The Road,” Namedroppers give off a purer blues vibe. The old time blues rhythm is thick and wide. The organ and guitar ride that groove with an appealing aplomb, a seesaw ride of upper register bliss.

“Back To Chicago” carries a cool Bo Diddley beat, a rumbling groove that keeps the whole thing in motion with his endless lope of groove and also carries Torello’s deep blues croon, a vocal that rides the rumble. Guest Jay Willie puts a fun, greasy slide guitar inside this tuft of motion and the backing vocals draw out their own emotive grist. Speaking of big cities, Namedroppers’ “New York” also makes quite an impression with its ability to drawl old school idioms to the surface of new original music. It’s all laid back, traveling a down tempo lane adorned with soothing organ and a tender vocal.

Not every band can handle a Jimi Hendrix song. Yet, from the first winding electric guitar phrase, Namedroppers got themselves a handle on “Red House.” Brittle, bluesy guitar notes percolate as Rafe Klein’s assertive rasp bites into the soundscape with a confident projection. His considerate pace lets the listener feel the bitter, hurtful surprise. When he sustains a vocal note, the listener can feel the pain this song was intended to convey. The lead guitar part was previously recorded by the late Charlie Karp, a friend, mentor, and leader of the band.

(Charlie Karp was the founder of the band. It was Charlie Karp & The Name Droppers in the 1980s. “Too Bad On Your Birthday,” later popularized by Ram Jam and then Joan Jett, was on that record. The recording of him playing “Red House” are from a session in 2018 at the studio. He died in 2019. The surviving Namedroppers went into an electronic file to obtain that guitar line.) When Mr. Karp presses his sore, lonesome loser emotive lead guitar, we get a further sense of this song’s misery. While Hendrix had a bad experience, it informed one of the best blues songs in history.

It has been difficult to watch the images coming to us on our television sets from the besieged country of Ukraine. The Namedroppers composed “Ukraine We Stand” to summarize the way we have been galvanized by the unfolding military events. Namedroppers bring a snaking blues feel to this song. Sorrowful lyrics come to life on the strength of Klein’s sandpapery handsome vocal. Jay Willie’s slide work exposes even more pain with its minor notes and a near marching beat of drum fills reminds that there is a military cause to the suffering. This song works independently of today’s news narratives while also illustrating how the worlds has gathered around Ukraine.

“Are You Lonely” shows even more of what Namedroppers can do with blues music idioms. Torello uses this most solitary of human emotions to create a question mark chorus, punctuating his lyrics with perfect grace, backing vocals from Carole Sylvan making it more spiritual, and an uncredited sax line making it swing. Klein’s cool vocal swagger leads all of these elements, giving the muscular song an edgy direction

Some Chuck Berry style guitar riffing turns “Blue Guitar” into a festive rock and roll number. This Torello penned number rings out with true tone in Rafe Klein’s electric guitar, its old school chorus, and Rifkin’s Jerry Lee Lewis approach to oldies rock and roll piano. Every note here feels so real and the groove is unmistakably based on old surf music and it blends in perfectly at this party. Torello’s shout-sing lead vocal reminds a bit of a circus barker and Wolfman Jack. This is a bunch of good instruments, tones, and vibe all wrapped up into one lively affair.

Namedroppers, in one form or another, have been rocking Connecticut’s music scene for years. It only makes sense that a band with such a fine understanding of the genres they mine continue to put out such high quality albums. Listening to their new Blue Diamonds album might make one feel how a previous generation felt when fans, dancers, and DJ were hearing songs like these for the very first time. Produced by Vic Steffens at Horizon Music Group in Connecticut, Blue Diamonds is a must have for New England fans of blues, rock and roll, and old school R&B.

The group pulls a cover, Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House”, out of their vaults that has Charlie Karp on guitar and features Mark Naftalin guesting on piano. Klein again provides the vocals. The song is from a 2018 studio session. Following considerable strife shown in the media surrounding the conflict in Ukraine, the band wrote the military sounding “Ukraine We Stand” with the blues snaking through on Torello’s snare drum beat. Jay Willie’s slide guitar also runs through the song.

Klein asks, “Are You Lonely” and declares “I can give you real, true love” and “will be there whenever you need me”. Carol Sylvan adds backing vocals. They end the album with a Chuck Berry – styled rock number, “Blue Guitar”, that also adds some Jerry Lee Lewis piano riffs into the mix and gives Torello an opportunity to throw in some surf style drum rhythms. Torello finds that “women you can’t trust them; she stole my blue guitar”.

I love that blues deejays all over the USA, and in the UK, other parts of Europe, even in Israel, and in Australia are playing the album “Blue Diamonds”.  Either on radio, or internet radio.  The album was formed last year through songwriting and musicianship throughout the band.  Bobby and I do most of the writing, but Scott and Ronnie always add something to the recording.  Something I would not have not thought of, or a different perspective on the song.  These days we are working in the studio.  I think this time of year, going into the holidays, is a good time to record, since live music slows down, and Christmas music is featured on the radio. Fortunately, we live in a community with great players, and if we add horns, or female vocals, or a guest guitarist, we pick the best musicians around the southern Connecticut area,- an interview with me said Rafe Klein.

We definitely recommend you to have this CD, you can also buy it here.

Tracks:
01. Blue Diamonds
02. Hollywood
03. Just Come Home
04. Further On Up The Road
05. Back To Chicago
06. New York
07. Red House
08. Ukraine We Stand
09. Are You Lonely
10. Blue Guitar (live)

Buy from here – New CD 2023

Namedroppers – Blue Diamonds | Album Review – Blues Blast Magazine

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