Seven Acres Band
Howard Glazer and the EL 34s
Brown Paper Bag
Random Chance RCD-23
“Blues had a baby, and they called it rock ‘n’ roll,” Muddy Waters once noted. Certainly the blues and R&B have been integral parts of creating first, rock ‘n’ roll, then rock, and have been a part of these genres’ history since the mid-1950s, responsible for the genesis of blues/ rock hybrids that have ranged from the sublime to the ripoff. Rock is heavily indebted to the blues, and contemporary blues also indebted to rock, as these two CDs show.
I first became aware of the Seven Acres Band when I heard them play in Indianapolis in 2006. Originally from the Midwest, the band members now live in scattered geographical areas, and are more likely now to play elsewhere than Indiana. Still, this debut CD, the self-titled Seven Acres, did get deserved airplay in Ft. Wayne, and as with so many other U.S. bands of quality, the Seven Acres Band gets extensive exposure in Europe and Australia rather than in the United States. The Seven Acres Band describes itself as “Formed as an underground recording collaboration between rising upstarts and ‘Jam Scene’ legends,” and is comprised of vocalist Zack Salaz, who still lives in Indy, along with guitarist Neal Galloway, drummer Jake Winebrenner, and bassist Chris Chew of the North Mississippi AllStars. The CD also includes guest artists John Keefe on bass, and Rick Cruz on guitar, and if the reader hasn’t heard of any of these guys, it’s certainly not because they don’t make great music!
All the songs on Seven Acres, except one, are band originals, with strong, bluesy lyrics that partake of real life on the melancholy side that are emotively delivered by Zack Salaz, while the words intermix with Neal Galloway’s rock-inflected blues guitar that he likes to play with his foot frequently on the wah-wah pedal. John Winebrenner drives with insistent drumming. The music is solidly based in blues tonality on the first eight tracks, with a lyrical acoustic guitar introduction given to the ninth track, “Dreaded Red,” that’s reminiscent of the Piedmont blues. There are actually ten tracks on the CD, although only nine are listed, for following “Dreaded Red” is a hard-driving, uncredited rock number that brings the CD to a rousing close. All this makes Seven Acres a vibrant blues-rock CD with an even distribution of slow blues with medium- and fast-tempo numbers that examine life on the downside. Four tracks are slow blues, the above-mentioned “Dreaded Red,” the moody, ruminative “Make Your Way to Memphis,” and two songs of mournful despair, “Never Again” and “Leavin’ It All Behind,” while the remaining six are faster tempo expressions as well of the darker shades of blue. The lyrics and musicianship are all impeccable, and if Seven Acres can be significantly faulted, that fault lies only in the exclusive preoccupation of the song lyrics with the downside of life and love.
Seven Acres is available from the Internet CD Baby, which can also be accessed from the band’s website, www.sevenacresband.com.
Howard Glazer is originally from Detroit, then moved to Chicago where he learned the blues, then returned to the Motor City. Glazer’s band, the EL 34’s, is just the elemental—Bob Goodwin on bass and Charles Stuart on drums, while he plays electric and acoustic resonator guitars and sings. The notes to this CD, Brown Paper Bag, say that Howard Glazer and the EL 34s “have opened up ‘full throttle’ for an approach that promises to deliver in the uncompromising matter that the Motor City is known for” while still “maintaining…blues integrity” throughout this 13-track CD of 12 Howard Glazer originals and a final short instrumental, “Freedom,” written by all the band members.
Detroit blues is similar in form to traditional Chicago blues, only rawer, less separated from its Southern roots. Howard Glazer hews closely to this traditional Motor City style, putting Brown Paper Bag closer to a traditional blues CD than to a blues-rock one. Certainly it is much more directly bluesy than Seven Acres, which owes its particular sound, reminiscent of 1960s and 1970s rock, to a straightforward fusion of rock and blues. Where blues-rock enters into Brown Paper Bag is in Glazer’s extended guitar solos, which generally take up half of each song. This is more of a rock-style playing than a blues one, but even here, Glazer’s solos are much more akin to traditional electric blues than they are to rock. Long guitar solos can often detract from the overall continuity of a song, and sometimes even bore when hearing them on record rather than live, but, most felicitously, this is not the case with Howard Glazer. His extended solos remain taut, disciplined and invigorating throughout.
More thematically varied than those on Seven Acres, Howard Glazer’s songs adhere to the standard AAB blues lyric structure on Brown Paper Bag, with only two exceptions. (For those unfamiliar with the blues, the AAB lyric structure means that the second line repeats the first line, with the third line following from this repeated line.) Glazer intermixes three vocal/solo guitar tracks here with the ten band ensemble numbers, with “Streamrollin’ Baby” and “Full Moon Blues” played on acoustic resonator guitar, while the third, “Start Again” features solo electric guitar á là John Lee Hooker’s early work. “Don’t Love You No More” joins Glazer with Maggie McCabe and Stephanie Johnson as background vocalists on the song’s chorus, who also do the same on “Smokin’ and Drinkin’,” a rousing celebration of getting stoned in the classic manner of George Thorogood’s “I Drink Alone” and Albert Collins’s “I Ain’t Drunk.” Maggie McCabe and Howard Glazer share vocal duet honors on “Going to Chicago.”
“Don’t Love You No More” opens with a Jimi Hendrix-style rock-blues intro, while on “Going to Chicago” Glazer incorporates the wah-wah pedal into his otherwise standard blues guitar playing. “The Dogs They Bark at Midnight” is heavily rock-like in Glazer’s guitar approach that incorporates not just the wah-wah pedal, but also use of reverb and feedback. This rock approach here works quite well, with results that don’t detract at all from the overall blues feel of the song. “Mean Hearted Woman” is the most contemporary-sounding track on the CD, a nine-minute-and-19-second extended, jazz-like romp that features both bassist Bob Goodwin and drummer Charles Stuart on solos along with, of course, Howard Glazer. The album ends on a jamming note in the short (under two minutes) blues-rock instrumental, “Freedom.” Howard Glazer opens the all-too-eerily present-day “Radioactive Woman” with a brief spoken introduction, “Well, I used to live right next to a nuclear power plant, and that’s why I wrote this song,” which is a love paean to his mutant woman, “Man, you ought to see her glow”!
Both Brown Paper Bag and Seven Acres are vibrant, satisfying albums with appeal to blues and rock fans alike. Moreover, given the dearth of interesting popular music nowadays, both are a welcome throwback to those more halcyon days of pop, mid-1960s to mid-1970s, when creativity could be commercially rewarding, and FM radio was both open-ended and open-minded, with fluid, eclectic playlists. Today, such musical creativity exists almost solely on small, commercially struggling indie labels, such as Random Chance for Howard Glazer and the EL 34s, or else on self-produced efforts that depend on live concert and Internet sales for exposure, such as for the Seven Acres Band. But, dear reader, don’t let the obscurity of Brown Paper Bag and Seven Acres deter you from buying and playing—for you will be amply rewarded for your effort by earfuls of great listening!
George Fish can be reached at email@example.com.