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CD REVIEW -- Kilborn Alley Blues Band
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Kilborn Alley Blues Band

The Tolono Tapes

Run It Back Records

12 Tracks/49:13

Kilborn Alley CD

By Mark Thompson

It has been more than five years since the Kilborn Alley Blues Band released a new project. After four releases with Nick Moss on the Blue Bella Records label, the band has finally come through with a release on their own label. Mixing some old tracks with brand new originals and getting some very special guests to aid the cause, the four blues veterans from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois quickly establish that time has not dulled their passion for the music.

The title is a reference to the Earth Analog Studio, located in Tolono, IL, where the twelve tracks were recorded over three sessions.  Powerhouse drummer Aaron “aTrain” Wilson makes his recording debut, after taking over for Ed O’Hara several years ago. Combined with Chris Breen’s thick bass lines, the pair never fails to deliver a compelling rhythmic foundation. Guitarist Josh Rasmer-Stimmel has always had a distinctive style that favors taut clusters of notes and a razor-sharp tone. Andrew Duncanson is the man with the voice, a muscular singer capable of taking listeners down to the dark end of the street, tearing their hearts out along the way.

Four tracks from the Blue Bella catalog get updated, starting with “Fire With Fire,” from the Tear Chicago Down album. The hardy shuffle sets things in motion with guests Anthony Geraci’s rollicking piano and Monster Mike Welch keen-edged guitar kicking the proceedings into high gear. Both are back for another one from that album, “Christmas In County,” as Duncanson elicits the pain and despair of a drug bust during the holidays. Taken from the Put It In The Alley CD, “Home To My Baby” is a spirited shuffle featuring dazzling piano from 92-year-old Henry Gray with an assist from Bob Corritore, who makes a concerted effort to blow out the reed in his harmonica. The pair also joins in on “Cold Chills,” with Gray taking over the lead vocal on his classic tune.  

“Going Hard” was on the band’s Four recording. The latest version is half as long, limiting Rasmer-Stimmel’s fiery solo to a few choruses while giving special guest Ronnie Shellist a chance to share his artistry on the harmonica. Duncanson’s performance bristles with the raw emotional torment of a man knee deep in despair. Shellist makes two other appearances, blowing some hardy lines on “Terre Haute” and the funkified “Town Saint”. Duncanson focuses on guitar on two songs featuring Virginia blues woman Jackie Scott, lending her soulful voice to her compositions, “Been Trying To Figure Out” and “Easy To Love You,” with the band’s former harp player, Joe Asselin, adding understated fills on the latter song while Rasmer-Stimmel weaves another standout guitar interlude.

Long-time friend of the band, Anthony DeCerbo, contributes a talking vocal rap that provides a contrast to Duncanson’s searing intensity on “Sure Is Hot”. “Misti” is the kind of old-school soul that vocalist Duncanson excels at and he gets a helping hand from the equally talented singer Chicago’s Corey Dennison.  Corey’s bandmate, Gerry Hundt joins in on guitar and Joel Baer handles the drum kit with Wilson switching to percussion. The three guests return on the closer, establishing a three-way conversation between Duncanson, Dennison, and Rasmer-Stimmel’s guitar, exploring tales from the road on the “Night Creeper”.

The long wait is over – the Kilborn Alley Blues Band is back, making an emphatic claim for continued recognition as one of the tightest bands around. On track after track, they manage to retain the group’s pervasive sound through the ever-shifting cast of additional musicians. In the end, we are left with a recording that reminds us of how special music can be in the hands of a band that works hard at honoring the music they love.

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