Provogue [Release date 26.02.16]
In terms of their name alone, Supersonic Blues Machine, has a lot to live up to. Based around the power trio of bassist, producer and songwriter Fabrizio Grossi, guitarist and earthy vocalist Lance Lopez and drummer Kenny Aronoff, the aim of the project is in the words of founder member Grossi, to: “deliver the ultimate blue/rock/jam experience”.
The projects expectations are further raised by the calibre of the guests who include Billy F. Gibbons, Walter Trout, Warren Haynes, Robben Ford, Eric Gales and Chris Duarte, none of whom disappoint. The end result is rock/blues bulldozer, if not a supergroup in the making, as Grossi’s creative energy and production seamlessly nails the collaborations as part of his own coherent soulful blues-rock vision.
While Fabrizio Grossi’s own credits reads like a rock whose who – Steve Vai, Neal Schon, Steve Lukather, Michael Landau, Nina Hagan, Ritchie Kotzen, Slash, etc – he’s reached back to his blues/rock roots to go into the project as a power trio and come out the other end with a coherent set of songs that make ‘West of Flushing’ a resounding success.
That’s said, this album isn’t necessarily the kind of blues project you might imagine, as it’s dominated by Lance Lopez’s weathered bluesy vocals. The two blustery opening tracks ‘Miracle’ and ‘I Ain’t Fallin’ Again’ sound like a very good, but overlooked Popa Chubby session, while his vocal phrasing is reminiscent of the late Florida blues rocker David Shelley.
Billy F. Gibbons excellent co-write ‘Running Whisky’ carves out a hard rock template, but sounds curiously peripheral to the rest of the session rather than an exemplar of the album as a whole, though by the time of a partial reprise on ‘Whiskey Time’, it does feel seamlessly locked into the project’s underlying jam idea.
On further investigation, it turns out the Gibbons track was done in advance of the rest of the album, though it was the ZZ Top guitarist’s connection with Lopez that apparently encouraged Grossi to expand the original track into a full blown project with guests.
‘West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco’, is something of a slow burner that reaps rich rewards with each additional play. ‘Bone Bucket Blues’ sounds like the kind of straight-to-the-vein hard rocking blues that the album might settled on before the guest were added. That view is subsequently refuted by the soulful magnificence of the core trio’s ‘Let It Be’, which pushes Lopez into one of the vocal performances of his career and effectively stamp’s Grossi name at the heart of the project.
Warren Haynes bring vocal contrast and a chiming guitar to the melodic ‘Remedy’, which is a very good example of a slow imperious build as he trades licks with Lance Lopez.
Lopez also enjoys a sterling vocal duet and some sizzling guitar work with Walter Trout on the very soulful ‘Can’t Take It No More’, which moves from an ethereal bluesy opening via harmony guitar line to a monumental soulful blues. Then there’s the Texas licks of Lopez and Chris Duarte on ‘That’s My Way’, and the big majestic sweep of ‘Nightmares And Dreams’ featuring Eric Gales’s wah-wah sculpted solo on another album highlight.
The album title ‘West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco’ mirrors a conceptual thread, spanning the geographical triangle of Flushing Meadow,California and ultimately south of ‘Frisco, which defines Grossi’s musical journey in the States. And while his choice of special guests extends the geography, they are all bound by the same blues source and spontaneous spirit that transcends time and space.
Given the roll call of guests you could be forgiven for thinking the opening brace of tracks mark out the power trio’s territory, but the album is built on deeper and more inclusive roots. It’s an organic project that incorporates 6 major stylistic diverse talents into Fabrizio expanded blues/rock vision. And if the album doesn’t quite morph into an orgiastic jam, there’s certainly enough space for everyone to stretch out and shape the project as a whole.
‘West Of Flushing’ will ultimately be judged by how the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place and after a couple of plays you can feel the core trio and their guests carving out their own niche.
Grossi’s goal is a contemporary rock/blues album with a soulful heart and he achieves that with diversity and feel. This is evidenced by the Americana ballad ‘Lets Call It A Day’, which is glued together by Robben Ford’s intricately woven guitar line. You can almost feel the heart of the blues pumping through the veins of a nascent project with real substance.
Not everything is quite as memorable, as an obvious cover of ‘Aint No Love’ adds little to either Bobby Bland’s R&B reading or the Whitesnake rock/blues version, even if it does give Lance Lopez some room to demonstrate his chops.
Perhaps the inclusion of the sing-along, ‘call and response’ favourite suggests that there are plans to take the project on the road. If so, on the evidence of this album, there’s a kick ass power trio with some very good material and special guests ready to light the spark. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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