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(Telarc 34993 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/24/2013)
Of all the kinds of musical groups, sibling bands seem to be the most natural musical combination of people. Brothers and sisters playing and singing together are fairly common in folk and bluegrass. Sibling vocal harmonies can be some of the best around, with the family members having grown up singing together. But with the notable exception of the Holmes Bothers, there are not many sibling blues bands, perhaps because vocal harmonies don't play much of a role in the blues. But this week, we have an first-rate CD by two brothers and a sister who call themselves Trampled Under Foot Their new fifth release is called Badlands.
Trampled Under Foot are the Schnebelen siblings from Kansas City, guitarist Nick, drummer Kris, and bassist-vocalist Danielle. Not only have they been playing music together as siblings, but they come from a musical family, with both their parents performing the blues around Kansas City. And their grandmother, Evelyn Skinner was a big band singer. Both their parents play regularly on the Kansas City blues scene, so the siblings were exposed to the music at an early age. Danielle performed a Koko Taylor song at age 12 in school. Nick played guitar all his life.
Though it would seem natural for the siblings to form a band, all three actually had separate musical careers. Nick had moved from Kansas City to Philadelphia while still in his teens and where he lived for some nine years.
Kris and Danielle would occasionally get together with him, but each were in separate bands. By age 16, Danielle was already doing lead vocals in their father Robert Schnebelen's band Little Eva and the Works, then formed her own group called Fresh Brew in Kansas City in 1999, and later played with a band called The Nortons. During the early 2000s the three siblings started talking about the idea of forming a band. To make it work, Danielle had to learn to play bass, which she did over a period of time while singing in other groups. Danielle and Kris would occasionally make the trip to Philadelphia to get together with Nick, who was performing there regularly. Around 2006, they decided to concentrate their efforts on the family band, and given their considerable experience up to that point, they soon began to attract attention. They released their debut album called The Philadelphia Sessions in 2007. They also attracted attention within the blues world based on their winning the 2008 International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
Badlands is Trampled Under Foot's fifth release. Like the band's last album, Wrong Side of the Blues, their new CD was produced by Tony Braunagel, who has a long career including working with Bonnie Raitt. Another Bonnie Raitt veteran, Johnny Lee Schell makes a guest appearance on percussion but mainly served as the album's engineer.
Trampled Under Foot's flavor of the blues runs to mixtures with soul and rock, but it's all quite tasteful. Although Danielle Schnebelen does most of the lead vocals, both Kris and Nick sing lead on different tracks on this generous, 13-song, nearly hour-long CD. The all-original material is first-rate and each song has something interesting about it, either musically or lyrically.
The CD leads off with Bad Bad Feeling an all-around fine blues-rock song. The lyrics, about suspected infidelity, are classic blues, but the track has a lot going for it, from Ms. Schnebelen's great vocals to the organ performed by guest Mike Finnegan. <<>>
With one of the male siblings, perhaps drummer Kris Schnebelen, doing the lead vocal is great shuffle-style blues tune called Don't Want No Woman. <<>>
More laid-back in sound is a song called Mary with interesting lyrics about a best friend who turns out to be cause of some grief. The arrangement can get a little jazzy at times. <<>>
The title track, Badlands features a lead vocal presumably by guitarist Nick Schnebelen. It's reminiscent of an old Marvin Gaye song, while Nick does some George Benson-style guitar and vocal improvising. <<>>
Also in a classic soul style is You Never Really Loved Me which recalls Aretha Frankin. It's really well-done with Danielle Schnebelen showing her stuff. <<>>
One of the strongest tracks with a male vocal, presumably by Nick Schnebelen, is Pain in My Mind, which draws its inspiration from the classic Memphis soul sound. <<>>
The band shows diverse influences on a tune called Down to the River, with some resonator slide guitar giving the tune an appropriately swampy sound. <<>>
The CD ends with a slow ballad, It's a Man's Man's World which features one of Ms. Schnebelen's best vocal performances on the album. <<>>
There are not a lot of sibling bands in the blues world, but Trampled Under Foot from Kansas City shows that the familial bond is strong musically with Danielle, Nick and Kris Schnebelen. Though they are still rather young, they have all had a good deal of experience growing up in a musical family with a bluesman father. They prove to be a first-rate band musically, vocally, and in terms of songwriting. They hew to the classic sounds in many ways, rather than trying to incorporate more contemporary elements like alternative or hip-hop as some younger blues bands have been doing. But that does not diminish their strength and ability to impress. Though they have had several previous independent releases, their new CD Badlands is their first to get wider distribution. The production by veteran blues-rocker Tony Braunagel is world class, without sounding overly slick.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an "A." The vocals have good clarity and there is no attempt to dumb down the sound, or add the grunge or the sonic dirt that a lot of younger performers do to simulate bad old analog recordings. Dynamic range, how the recording treats the contrasts between loud and soft is not bad for a blues band.
Trampled Under Foot may be a slightly odd name for a group, but its acronym is "TUF." These two brothers and a sister represent one of the most impressive blues bands to emerge on the national scene in some time.
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