Enter at your own risk. It’s easy to get lost in the music of the Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue. The interplay between harpist/vocalist Mark Hummel and twin guitars of Anson Funderburgh and Charlie Baty is mesmerizing on Gatemouth Brown’s “Midnight Hour.” Funderburgh is the more laid back of two string pullers, Baty firing off bursts of barbed-wire wrapped licks at the rhythm section, drummer Wes Starr (Omar and the Howlers, Asleep at the Wheel,) and bassist R.W. Grigsby (Carlene Carter, Mike Morgan and the Crawl.) with Funderburgh answering with a fluid twang that winds sinuously around the rhythm.
Hummel wrote a bunch of tunes for the record, but he’s also picked out some classics from Lowell Fulsom, Gatemouth Brown, Lee Allen, Jimmy McCracklin, Mose Allison and Billy Boy Arnold. Recorded by Kid Andersen(who replaced Baty as the guitarist in Baty’s namesake band, Little Charlie and the Nightcats in ’08) at his Greaseland Studios in San Jose and co-produced by Funderburgh, the record has a vintage feel with a live sound like all the participants were in one room together, not emailing their parts in dribs and drabs.
Arnold’s “Here’s My Picture” has been slowed down bit from the jangly country blues original, made more sinister with Starr’s Bo Diddley thumps and Hummel’s swampy harp. Both versions change tempo abruptly mid song to languid swing but the GSLSBR’s is more volatile on the switch, charging back into Diddley territory with a vengeance.
Hummel’s “Cool To Be Your Fool” is the only cut not featuring the twin guitar attack, relying on keyboardist Jim Pugh (Etta James Tracy Nelson, Chris Isaac) to enhance the late night cabaret feel.
Another Hummell composition, “Lucky Kewpie Doll,” needs a bit of explanation. A kewpie doll was a cherubic, naked doll supposedly resembling Cupid, popular as prizes for so-called games of skill at carnivals in the ’20s. But the melody here is from a later era, ’50s style rattly rockabilly with some Chuck Berry riffs that morph into some twangy Ray Sharpe Texas style boogie-woogie before Hummel knocks it back to rockabilly with his vocal.
Hummel slips easily into Mose Allison’s vocal style on Allison’s“Stop This World,”as Baty and Funderburgh weave languid, bluesy, jazz licks around his breathy vocals. Hummel’s harp replaces the soft hoots of the ‘bones on Allison’s original, adding an even sharper tone to the piece, underscoring Allison’s lament “There’s just too many pigs in the same trough/stop this world and let me off.”
“Dim Lights” is not Joe and Rose Maphis’ classic country weeper, but J.B. Hutto’s ’54 dose of boiling Chicago blooze. At first, Baty, Funderburgh, and Hummel were all apparently having too much fun to take individual solos, so they all just kept playing all over each other. But it works-there are infinitesimal cracks each player manages to find and fill without obliterating the other’s contribution to the conversation. It’s a great tutorial on how to listen and respond when all hell is breaking loose all around you. Hummel drops out on the last verse though and lets Baty and Funderburhg have at it for head-cutting contest fierce enough to bust out all the glass in the joint.
And if there’s anybody still left standing, Hummel and his crew mow ’em down with McCracklin’s “Georgia Slop,” a moonshine-fueled, backwoods juke-joint stomp that has Hummel blasting way on harp with hurricane force licks as Baty and Funderburgh crank out riffs that’ll have you bouncing off the walls unless somebody ties you down till the thing blows over.
With the power and personality this group exhibits live, it would seem impossible to capture it in a studio recording, but that’s what they’ve pulled off here. It’s a great sampler that should give you some idea of just how impressive this bunch is when all this stuff is going off right in your face. Get this, then get up closer. It’s all good.