Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
The Stars Motel
Blue Kitty Music
By Steve Jones
Liz Mandeville has provided a “home away from home” for many an artist on the road in Chicago. In return for her hospitality, the red-headed bombshell was rewarded with songs she co-wrote with guitar players Scott Ellison, Dario Lombardo, Rachelle Coba and Minoru Maruyama in her basement studio. Ellison recorded three songs with Liz and his band on a trip to Chicago from Tulsa when no hotels were available. Turin, Italy, based guitar player Lombardo spent a month with Liz on his trip to play the tribute to Phil Guy at Chicago Blues Fest and three more songs got done, this time with Liz and a local band. Rachelle Coba was in Champaign (not Carbondale as the liner notes say) for the Blues Blast Music awards (for which she was a nominee) and spent a few days before the show with Liz in Chicago and also did three songs with Mandeville and local backers. Liz and Rachelle had worked together previously in Clarksdale, MS. To complete the CD, she enlisted the help of Japanese guitarist Minoru Maruyama and three more songs were produced (one was held in reserve for a future effort).
The album opens to “Too Hot For Love.” It’s a song where she’s telling about the summer heat in old Chi-Town; Liz sings it’s even too hot for makin’ love. Scott Ellison’s guitar is sweet as Liz delivers a bouncy and fun performance. “Blues is My Boss” has the B-3 with Joan Gand as a very prevalent element and the bass by Matt Cartwright offering up a distinctive beat. Dario Lombardo is the guitar lead here, offering us a more sultry tone on his axe to better match up to Liz’s vocals. He picks out some six-stringed funkiness for us here. Liz does some nice fills on guitar, too. She sings to us about being subservient to the blues that took her soul away. She says she works for the blues every day; not a bad gig! Rachelle Coba offers up some sweet guitar here along with the horns playing also playing a big role on “Everybody Knew But Me.” It offers up a NOLA Second Line sort of groove, featuring Liz on washboard, that is a lot of fun. “One Dance” gives us Minoru Maruyama (Billy Branch’s former guitar player) in a beautiful ballad with Liz. Darryl Wright lays out a deep groove on bass and Joan Gand on organ help make this special. This is a hugely soulful and beautiful cut.
Rachelle and Liz join up with Heather Tackett Faludo on bass, Andy Sutton on drums and Gand on piano for a slow boogie woogie stroll called “Try Me.” Liz belts out the lead vocals as Rachelle and Heather do the responses to the calls and other backing vocal work. Coba gives a nice solo here once again. Minoru returns for “Truth,” adding Dizzy Bolinski on harp. This is some gritty Chicago blues delivered up here on this cut.
Doug Deming joins Liz and Dario Lombardo on “Reefer and a Glass of Wine.” Doug’s swinging and smooth lead guitar is cool and fitting in this swing tune. Charlie Kimble offers a great sax solo, and then Doug comes in for his; nicely done! The horn section (Kimble plus Jeannie Tanner on trumpet, Johnny Cotton on trombone) add to the mix making this my favorite on the CD.
Liz goes on her own with the next tune, “What Could Have Been,” a song she co-wrote with Scott Ellison. Matt Kohl and Robbie Armstrong on the backline and Joan Gand on B-3 make this slow blues into a memorable recording. Lombardo and Liz offer up “Bad Blues Habit” next, where the guitar and piano boogie together sweetly while Liz gives us a husky vocal lead. Liz can belt it out with the best of them and the guitar and harp help lead the charge.
“River of Blood” is a swampy, Mississippi Delta styled blues. Liz begins her vocals with an echo-ey, far off effect and maintains a way down in the levee sound throughout. Coba is on guitar here, also lending a spooky and ghostly sound to the mix. Very coolly done! Ellison is featured on the final track, “What Do Blues Men Like?,” a great jump blues with Gand tinkling nicely on the piano. Liz gives us another superb vocal as she skats and jumps through the lyrics.
I love The Stars Motel CD. Showcasing Liz and her fantastic vocals, along with the exceptional songwriting she shared with the four great guitarists in residence in her basement, the chemistry was obviously good as each song holds up as an exceptional cut. There are no clinkers here -- Liz and friends have done a bang-up job! Her fans will love this CD as will any fan of great Chicago blues!
For info or to buy the CD:
Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society of Byron/Rockford, IL