I’m not a wine snob by any means, but the first thing I heard of when I encountered the name of this band, Vintage #18, was a rare wine of exceptional taste. In actuality, it refers to a vintage guitar owned by lead guitarist Bill Holter.
I was also confused at first by the title of the album, Grit, as I once had a neighbor who sold a magazine by the same name to all of the children in the neighborhood. Never liked the guy and I just bought it to send him on his merry way.
No, this Grit refers to what it takes to survive as a blues band these days. We’ve all heard about the dwindling numbers of people who are drawn to the blues as their primary source of music, and with the recording industry changing almost daily, it takes a great deal of determination to succeed as a band.
After listening to the album, their first, I believe that if anyone can make it in this business, it’s a band with a unique sound and a whole pile of determination. They mix blues with soul, funk, and rock to create their own place in the world and vocalist, Robbin Kapsalis has got a set of pipes on her that rock your world.
All that remains is to see if this band that plays primarily in the Northern Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland areas will have that grit to break out. I certainly hope they will.
Like that fine wine, this is a rare group that goes down smooth and just seems to get better.
James Bond said, “Diamonds are forever.” Marilyn Monroe sang, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” Geena Davis was Dottie Hinson, “The Queen of Diamonds” in the great movie, A League Of Their Own. Okay, that last one was a stretch. Vintage #18 kicks off their album with a touch of jazzy funk with Diamonds Are Optional. Robbin Kapsalis’ vocals have a nice touch of sass and enough of an edge to be dangerous. This is going to be a fun ride.
Next up is a question every pessimist asks daily, Is This Too Good? Bill Holter lays down a cool guitar line and Alex Kuldell does some interesting metronome ticking on the drums. It makes an interesting canvas for Kapsalis’ vocals. It’s a quiet number and the way this album sounds seems very much like a stage performance done in the studio. I like that approach as it really gives a good sense of how the band will sound live.
They follow up with a cool swampy number, Love Hangover. The first three songs show distinctly different styles. Some bands seem happy to play the same type of song over and over. Sometimes you can’t even distinguish one song from another, but Vintage #18 seems to enjoy the challenge that finding new approaches brings.
Bob Dylan’s Million Miles is the first of two covers on the album. This is one of his songs that is often overlooked, and that’s a shame as it covers some of the most fundamental of blues subjects, loss. While it’s the longest song on the album at about 8:25, it covers a lot of ground. It starts off from nothing and builds slowly. Kapsalis’ vocals are low and mysterious and wring every piece of emotion from the lyrics. It’s a highlight of the album for me, and I hope that more people will get a chance to hear it for themselves.
Circles follows with a swinging music line. The music is upbeat and happy and the vocals seem to roll with it. It’s got a good beat and it kind of has that good tent meeting gospel feel at times. I could see this one going over well with a crowd.
The tempo slows down on the next tune, Pieces. This is a gorgeous piece with Kapsalis doing her best torch singer vocals. At times she purrs, other times she cuts, but she performs the song beautifully. Mark Chandler does some good bass work to tie the song together, along with drummer Kuldell.
The second cover comes from the ZZ Top catalog, Just Got Back From Baby’s. The bass opens up and sets the table for the guitar. It’s a solid interchange before Kapsalis comes in. It’s a strong blues number that should appeal to just about any fan of the genre. Listen for the guitar break…
The blues keep coming with the next song, Poor Me. Another number that any blues fan would like to hear. It’s got an interesting rhythm and the vocals are strong as they have been throughout the album. Once again, Holter makes his guitar talk and sing the blues.
The smoking hot guitar work of Holter takes us in to the next song, Remember. This mixes the blues with rock and creates a very cool sound. It’s always good to remember the good parts of our lives, although with the blues we’re often dealing with the darkest parts of our lives. This is a good song.
Next up is a song I can guarantee will be appearing on an episode of Time For The Blues. Good Eye starts off with some very strong guitar runs and Kapsalis has a lot of fun with the vocals. The guitar work is almost surf music in its intensity. Yeah, you’re going to like this one.
The album comes to a close with Circles Down Home. It’s a good closer and recalls the earlier song Circles. Circles have no beginnings, no endings, and we always come back to the place where we started from. It’s a geometry lesson it takes a lifetime to realize and the song brings it all home.
It’s safe to say that Vintage #18 is an eclectic group that doesn’t mind branching out and exploring how other genres, primarily soul, but also rock and funk mix with the blues. They are all solid musicians and they have a great vocalist in Kapsalis.
I haven’t seen them venture down to my area, even though they represented the Central Virginia Blues Society in Memphis in 2016. I guess that gives me a good excuse to head up the highway and catch them in their natural environment.
If you are in the Northern Virginia-DC-Maryland corridor, make sure you catch them live and pick up a copy of Grit. It’s a cool album and shows that the band has enormous promise. Find out where they’re going to be from their website: https://www.vintage18.net/, and keep an eye out for a certain long-haired Professor who just might be sitting at the bar.