Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
MIKE WHEELER BAND
13 tracks/66 minutes
by Steve Jones
The Mike Wheeler Band, or MWB for short, has rapidly become one of my favorite overall Chicago bands and keepers of the South and West Side faith. Mike fronts the band on vocals and guitar and this CD features Brian James on keys, Larry Williams on bass, and Cleo Cole on drums as the MWB. All thirteen songs are originals and were penned at least in part by Mike.
The album opens to “Sweet Girl,” a nice hook with really good guitar and organ solos and added horn work from Kenny Anderson (trumpet) and Hank Ford (tenor sax). The ease at which Wheeler runs up and down the fret board always amazes me. “You Won’t Do Right” takes us to relationships gone wrong. Wheeler trades licks with his vocals in this well metered and driving cut. The horns again add pop and punch to the mix. “Yeah!” is a funky little number where Wheeler shouts about the head turning looker he’s after. He offers up a slick, extended guitar solo for us, too. Williams’ bass establishes and maintains the groove along with help from James’ left hand. The next cut was a favorite of mine from a live show with Wheeler that I saw. “Brand New Cadillac” lays out a big wall of sound for us that Phil Spector would marvel at. Wheeler viciously attacks on his guitar and the band charges forward along with him.
“Talking to Myself” is a pretty shuffle that Wheeler throws at us to describe the woman who just doesn’t listen to him. Organ and guitar solos are rich additions here. Next we have the title track, a big production with the horns blaring and the organ grinding out support. Wheeler swings through the vocals as the band props him up with a rich sound. Early on, and then later, we get some of his guitar out front blasting for good effect. Things get taken down to a hot simmer with “Nothing Lasts Forever,” a slick, slow tempo-ed piece about a relationship gone bad. Things get a little more hopping with “I Can’t Do That.” A big guitar solo follows a piano solo with this cut. Wheeler returns to the funky sound with “Living My Dream.” They get a good groove going with this straight ahead song.
Slow, earthy and nasty blues are served up next for “A Blind Man Can See.” A big guitar intro with the piano tinkling behind it sets the tone for these gritty blues. Wheeler serves up some testimony on vocals and then breaks into some extended guitar testifying. “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” is a swinging song with a big horn and guitar intro with a bit of funk thrown in to spice things up. First there is a tasty guitar solo and then later we get Williams on bass showing us his chops with some nice licks. “I’m Hooked” features Mike with a big vocal run on either end of the song, plus a midpoint guitar solo. Horns and keys support him throughout. Social commentary concludes the set with “Sad State of Affairs.” Wheeler wants to cry when watching the news today and bemoans the fact that folks just can’t get along. The song builds to a big conclusion showcasing Mike’s guitar and the band in support. It’s the perfect closing for a stellar set of tunes.
While the songs are pretty much straight up Chicago blues, Wheeler and company show what they can do and impress the listener with their work. I think Mike sounds a bit restrained in the studio compared to his live stuff, but this is a great album done by an outstanding set of musicians. With guys like Wheeler, Toronzo Cannon and others of their generation, the blues are in very good hands in the Windy City!
Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois in Byron/Rockford, which earned the 2013 Keepin’ The Blues Alive Award from the Blues Foundation in Memphis.