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The Blues Project: Evolution
(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/20/2023)
Back in the day, rock & roll was supposed to be a young person’s game. It was music that kids played to drive their parents crazy. There was a time in the hippie days when people of the Baby Boom generation said never to trust anyone over 30. Well, time has passed, and while there were rock icons who famously died in their 20s, there are now quite a few rock musicians who have become septuagenarians, or some are in their 80s, and still performing. So much for the youth aspect of rock & roll. But even with that durability among aging rockers, there are not many bands that have survived for 58 years. One, of course, is the Rolling Stones. But another, less famous, but still influential group that is still functioning with a couple original members is the Blues Project. They have just released a brand new, and impressive album called Evolution.
The blues project was formed in 1965 by the late Danny Kalb, who passed away in late 2022 at the age of 80. He was part of the early 60s folk and blues movement around Greenwich Village in New York,. He and Bob Dylan shared an apartment for a while.
Kalb was part of a 1965 compilation album released by Elektra Records, called The Blues Project which featured young musicians playing in the style of veteran black artists. From that, Kalb formed a quartet with drummer Roy Blumenfeld, bassist Andy Kulberg and guitarist Artie Traum. Later, for their first recording session, keyboard man Al Kooper, who was prominent on Dylan’s early electric albums was added. When Artie Traum went on his own tour of Europe, guitarist Steve Katz replaced him, and thus was formed the iconic but short-lived orignal lineup of the Blues Project. Kooper and Katz later left to form Blood Sweat & Tears. From the start, the Blues Project was known for their eclecticism, which was intentional. They played blues, but also folk, pop and jazzy material. Their first album was a live recording, but their studio album Projections is now looked upon a being quite influential.
Guitarist Steve Katz spent a few years with Blood Sweat & Tears, and become a producer, working with Lou Reed any many others, then became a record company talent executive, and the ran the Celtic record label, Green Linnet Records. Drummer Roy Blumenfeld, and bassist-flute player Andy Kulberg formed the band Seatrain, who released three albums in the 1970s.
But the core of the Blues Project periodically would get together. Andy Kulberg passed away in 2002, but original members, Katz and Blumenfeld have convened a new incarnation of the Blues Project, and just released new recording called Evolution, which in fact is the first regular album by the band since 1973, marking the 50th anniversary of their last release.
This lineup of the Blues Project includes some Woodstock, NY, area musicians, including bassist Scott Petito, guitarist Chris Morrison and keyboard man Ken Clark. Some guests include bluesman and producer Colin Linden on slide guitar,. Bill Harris on flute, and Beth Reineke on backing vocals.
True to form, the 2023 edition of the Blues Project serves up a rather wide range of material though most of it is blues-related, there’s an acoustic track, ones with a some swamp-style blues, some Gospel influence, a little rockabilly, even a touch of country, and a jazzy instrumental with flute, recalling the track The Flute Thing with the late Andy Kulberg did on their first studio album some 57 years ago. All of the five current members do vocals on the new album. The compositions are a mix of originals by the current band members, an old blues standard and some pieces by outside composers.
Leading off is a the title track, Evolution by keyboard man Morrison, bassist Petito and drummer Blumenfeld. It shows that the band is in excellent form on this strong minor-key blues. <<>>
The Blues Project enters what I suppose could be realm of “swamp blues” on I Won’t Go Back, which features some slide guitar work by Scott Petito, and harmonica by Steve Katz. <<>>
Showing their eclecticism is the track called I Played a Little Fiddle with some country influence. Steve Katz wrote the tune and did the lead vocal. <<>>
The Gospel influence comes out on Spirit with some rather uplifting lyrics. <<>>
The flute instrumental on the album is called Peru with guest flute player Bill Harris. The tune is given a Latin beat, and it turns out to be one of the highlights of the album. <<>>
The Blues Project goes mostly acoustic for an old song by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup called Mean Ol’ Southern which the band also handles with aplomb. Steve Katz’ harmonica is prominent. <<>>
Another sort of good-time track with a little funk influence is Inside Information with lyrics about the less than rational basis for love. <<>>
All Over the Map is a strong rock & roll track with a sort of boogaloo beat. The lyrical hook line “All over the map” is a good description of the music on this album, though in a good way.
There are not a lot of bands who have lasted as long as the Blues Project, and probably fewer who have had a 50-year gap between albums, but Evolution is a welcome new recording for those who remembered the original band, or have heard their past albums over the years. The two original members, Steve Katz and Roy Blumenfeld along with their current colleagues, have kept the eclectic rock and blues ethos of the band going, and with first-rate musicianship. The original material is not particularly innovative, but they do it well and play it with the authority that comes from experience.
Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. The recording is fairly clean, with few sonic gimmicks.
From a style of music that started out as being by and for the younger generation, it’s nice that rock veterans like the members of the Blues Project are carrying on the path they forged more than a half century ago, and doing it undiminished.
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