Review: The Hitman Blues Band – Pale Rider

Posted on: Monday, Dec 7, 2009

THE HITMAN BLUES BAND

“Pale Rider”

(Nerus Records: NR4485)

Firmly at the rockier end of the blues are The Hitman Blues Band, formed in 1989 by Russell ‘Hitman’ Alexander deliver 12 original songs on “Pale Rider”, plus a cover of Son House’s “Death Letter” – the core of the band being Alexander himself on lead vocals and guitar, Kevin Rymer (keyboards), Mike Porter (bass) and Ed ‘The Hat’ D’Alessio (drums) – now replaced in the live band by Guy LaFountaine.

The New York-based Alexander is a fine vocalist with just the right amount of grit in his voice and no slouch in the guitar department – his biting leads dominating the album, as evident on the opening blues rocker “Your Blues”, ably assisted by Kevin Rymer’s tasteful organ fills; “Trouble On The Line” treads similar turf, with more spiky leads on the funky “Blues Can’t Hit”.

The breakneck “Red Hook” is driven by Russell Alexander’s slide guitar, with Ed D’Alessio and Mike Porter driving the song along; “I Know About The Blues” is a slow burner, more great slide here, with the pace taken down on the jazzy “Miss Catherine” – complete with additional musicians Mike Snyder (piano and clarinet), Greg Mercado (tuba), Eric Altarac (trumpet) and guitar solo from Mike Mulieri – a nice diversion indeed from the general feel of the album.

However, the pace is taken back up for the driving “I’m Coming For You” and the rocking “Calamity’s Child”, with a nice blues shuffle in “This To Shall Pass”, with backing vocals from Joanne Alexander – the good lady wife I presume? The title cut “Pale Rider” contains more fiery guitar leads and turns into a terrific shuffle mid-song. The album closer being the afore-mentioned cover of “Death Letter” – a rocky take with more fine organ work from Kevin Rymer, and a radically different arrangement of most reworkings of the song.

This may not be one for the blues purists – but for those who enjoy the rockier end of the blues it is recommended listening – all very well played and produced with Russell ‘Hitman’ Alexander taking centre stage with voice, impressive writing and guitar.

GRAHAME RHODES

www.hitmanbluesband.com

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