The Siegel Schwall Band “The Siegel Schwall Band”

 

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#719 in the Series) is The Siegel-Schwall Band, The Siegel- Schwall Band 

It seems like a contradiction in terms to use words like “joyous” and “blues” in the same sentence but this is a brilliant set of tunes that demands it.  Sad to say I never got to hear these guys live.  These sounds have seen me through ecstatic times and provided solace through some of the most grievous.

It’s billed as a studio album but at least the first and last songs are obviously live recordings.  In any event, this is such a tight band I gotta believe everything else here was recorded essentially live and whole, without the benefit of overdubs—Ah, integrity!

Things get off to a breezy start with Jim Schwall’s single-string treble slide, Corky Siegel fades in with a chopping, urgent piano chord, then joined closely by the kick-ass rhythm pocket provided by Rollo Radford’s bass and Shelly Plotkin’s drums on “(Wish I Was On a) Country Road.”  For me it evokes late night summer drives through unincorporated (and then undeveloped) DuPage County, say Route 59 through Warrenville, windows open, cool wind in your face: “I was drivin’ in the city, wish I was on a country road/turn on my stereo/lay back and watch things grow.”

They bring it down and decidedly bluesy for Siegel’s “Devil,” a cautionary lament to an old lover heading back his way on the rebound:  “Oh you don’t love him no more/gonna leave your man behind/ I know what’s on your mind/I can see that devil in your eye…oh babe, look what you doin’ to me.”

All hands punch in to herald Schwall’s non-negotiable break-up announcement: “Ask me if I’m leavin/’cause I packed my clothes/how come you got to ask me/what everybody already knows?”

And they take it up yet another gear with an intense reading of the traditional “Corrina.”  Siegel’s trademark wailing blues harp makes a welcome appearance, Schwall’s guitar leads are smokin’, Radford’s bass gets especially melodic and tasty, and Plotkin’s drumming is propulsive.  It’s a case study in dynamics as they build to a climatic boil over six minutes—eargasmic stuff!

Siegel gets downright playful on piano launching into “I Won’t Hold My Breath” a social commentary that weighs optimistic hopes for the body politic against the cynicism warranted by any given election year: “Promise me peace and freedom and all rest/I’ll go on my way/but I won’t hold my breath.

Next up, Schwall’s “Next to You.”  How’s this for an opening line: “I’m in love with you baby/and I don’t even know your name!”  A terrific showcase for tastier guitar work from Jim Schwall!

This album closes out all too soon with a tour-de-force, burning down the house, 11-minute take of Jimmy Reed’s “Hush Hush.”  I’ve long loved this cut but listening to it with an ear to writing about it, it seems useful, necessary even, to talk about it in terms of a composition in maybe six movements.  Siegel starts it off with two and a half minutes of down, dirgy, and mournful harp, drawing the wowed audience in with whoops and howls.  The first peak reached, Siegel soldiers on to a lighter melody as bass and drums march along.  Then, five minutes in, a simple lyric, sung in sweet harmony over a snapping groove: “Hush hush/baby don’t believe a word/Well you don’t know nothin’/but believe everything that you heard…if you don’t stop yakkin’ you’re gonna drive me out of my mind!”  Then they bring it way down to make room for two minutes of absolutely unrelenting bass solo virtuosity.  Just when you think Radford is played out he takes it higher and deeper.  Plotkin’s sizzling drum roll segues us back to the lyric.  The stop-an-go dynamics are breathtaking and dramatic as they bring it all home to a two-word a capella finale: “Hush hush.”

It is nothing short of astonishing to me that in this day and age when it often seems that anything that has ever been recorded is available in one format or another that this album, along with other sides Siegel-Schwall recorded for Wooden Nickel, “953 West,” “Sleepy Hollow,” and “R.I.P.,” is not commercially available!  C’mon RCA!  You own the rights, right?  Do yourselves and blues fans everywhere a favor and do your job and hook us up already!

Richard Huttel

Track listing

Side one

  1. “(Wish I Was on a) Country Road” (Jim Post, Corky Siegel) – 3:19
  2. “Devil” (Siegel) – 5:10
  3. “Leavin'” (Jim Schwall) – 3:10
  4. “Corrina” (traditional) – 6:05

Side two

  1. “I Won’t Hold My Breath” (Siegel) – 4:01
  2. “Next to You” (Schwall) – 4:20
  3. “Hush Hush” (Jimmy Reed) – 11:06

Personnel

The Siegel-Schwall Band

  • Corky Siegel – piano, harmonica, vocals
  • Jim Schwall – guitar, vocals
  • Rollo Radford – bass, vocals
  • Shelly Plotkin – drums

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Posted by Larry Carta


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