If you live anywhere in the mid-Atlantic area and have the ability to name more than two blues acts, chances are pretty good you’ve heard of Li’l Ronnie and the Grand Dukes. Probably seen ‘em live as well, after all, they are among the hardest working bands around. And there’s a good reason for that, they rock hard and you can’t help but have a good time at one of their shows.
Their latest album, “Gotta Strange Feeling” released on EllerSoul Records and it is well worth adding to your collection. Li’l Ronnie Owens is a fine harp player and a pretty decent vocalist as well and he wrote or co-wrote with guitarist Ivan Applerouth 12 of the 14 songs on the CD. The other writers were Louis Jordan and Chuck Berry, so he’s in good company.
Aside from Applerouth, who is capable of some serious fret fireworks, The Grand Dukes consist of John Sheppard on upright and electric bass, Mark Young on drums, John Fralin on piano, and North Side Slim on maracas and bass drum. Hey, I just report ‘em, I don’t make ‘em up. Special guests include Stu Grimes on drums and percussion, Janet Martin provides backup vocals, Mike Moore on upright and electric bass, and Jim Wark on guitar.
The first song on “Gotta Strange Feeling” is “Can’t Buy My Love” and the blasting harp at the very beginning is a signal for what is to come. “Cold Hard Cash” is next, a plea for something substantive in life – those things that a little moolah will help bring about. “Love Never Dies” opens with a ‘50’s Do-Wop flavor and is the kind of song you might want to have playing while you snuggle with your honey on the dance floor.
“Sweet Sue” picks it up nicely and the band is again swinging through this bouncy number. Nice jump vibe here. “Screaming & Crying” describes the methods employed by the women who dated me (that was long before Mrs. Professor – Foxxy Red came into my life) but here it’s a swampy number that makes you feel like you are deep in the backwoods. Owens really tears up the harp on this one.
Henry and I featured the next song, “She’s Bad Bad News” on one of our shows and the side is another fun swinging number. The song contains the lyric “If you take the bait/Like a spider, kills her mate.” You’ve got to love a driving blues number that also contains arachnid references. Things slow down a tinge with the Louis Jordan number “Buzz Me” next. On “Fat City” Li’l Ronnie’s harp provides a nice counter to Young and Grimes’ drums and percussion. Very cool instrumental, something Applerouth is well-known for – check out his album if you don’t have it. Don’t worry, a review is coming soon.
The next side, “Can’t Please Your Wife” is a throwback with a driving backbeat and a warning for all those husbands out there that think they can juggle two women at the same time. Can’t be done guys. The side has some cool boogie woogie licks by Fralin to push the song forward. The title track, “Gotta Strange Feeling” follows up with a great counterpart to “Can’t Please Your Wife.” Listen carefully guys, these two songs provide great bookends – and some fun music. The trilogy is complete with the addition of “I Won’t Take It Anymore,” a country flavored driving song that showcases Applerouth’s guitar, Fralin’s keys, and Owens’ harp. Nice combination.
I love it when those mini-sets come together.
The tempo drops way down for “Late Nite Blues” another soul searing instrumental. Things pick up with a little swing in “Bring Your Love Home” which features Applerouth’s guitar and a nice bass line by Sheppard, as well as some good piano licks by Fralin. Then to prove that the band can rock as hard as anyone, they run through the Chuck Berry classic “C’est la vie” to end the album. Janet Martin’s backup vocals add a nice touch to the song.
So, yeah, not only should you pick up the album, you should make plans to see ‘em live and be sure to check out EllerSoul Records, because they have several other acts I think you’ll enjoy.
(Photo delightedly ripped off from EllerSoul's website. If you are the owner and want us to remove it, well, shucks, just contact us and we'll do it. We'll stick our tongue out at you when your back is turned, but we'll do it...)