Review: Kai Strauss – Electric Blues

Posted on: Wednesday, May 21, 2014

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Kai Strauss – Electric Blues

(Continental Record Services: CECD 49)

Recently released in Europe and the UK is this wonderful full-length solo offering from the supremely talented German guitarist Kai Strauss, who has honed his ‘chops’ with over 15 years on the road with Memo Gonzalez & The Bluescasters, shaping his brilliant playing that is inspired by both past masters such as T-Bone Walker, Magic Sam, BB King and more, as well as more modern players such as Jimmie Vaughan, Junior Watson and the like.

He is able to dig deep into many blues stylings on generous 14-track collection, “Electric Blues”, that was recorded over a 10 year period, mainly in his native Germany. He has called on many friends and musical compatriots to help out . . . I’m guessing when they were on tour . . . such as the great singer/harmonica players Sugar Ray Norcia, Darrell Nulisch, Doug Jay and Keith Dunn; as well as former band colleagues Henk Punter, Klaus Schnirring and the ‘rock’ that is Erkan Ozdemir, who holds down the bass duties on the majority of the tracks.

Whereas harmonica and vocal guests probably were required as Kai Strauss himself only sings rarely . . . guest guitarists are not, and indeed Jimmy Reiter and Josh Fulero are the only other players bar Kai himself on the album. Having been witness to his playing live several times over the years, it’s glad to report his intense and really authentic blues playing shines through on this recorded work, which is a joy from start to finish . . . to use a bit of a cliche . . . all killer, no filler for sure!

Proceedings get underway in a laid back Chicago groove on a cover of the great Jimmy Rodgers “I Used To Have Woman”, featuring the legendary Sugar Ray Norcia on trademark harmonica and vocals, with some sparkling piano from Christian Bleiming; and of course Kai Strauss’s exemplary guitar . . . with just a gorgeous tone, as it is all through. He takes a vocal turn himself on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Commit A Crime”, with harmonica duties here taken by Doug Jay, with Christian Rannenberg shining on piano.

Strauss’s own roadhouse rocker “One Woman Man” rides on a strutting Texas-flavoured guitar shuffle and sees Darrell Nulisch deliver some stunning harmonica and take the vocal . . . truly excellent! The pace is taken down for Guitar Shorty’s “Hard Life”, which sees Sugar Ray Norcia back in the spotlight and some blistering playing from Strauss, and added punchy horns from the saxophones of ‘Sax’ Gordon Beadle and Thomas Feldmann.

Some more stunning guitar from Strauss is delivered on his own “Highway Blues” . . . a bluesman’s tale of the road . . . with him on vocals and another appearance from Doug Jay, and Jimmy Reiter on second guitar. The funky Willie Dixon tune, “When The Cat Is Gone The Mice Play” . . . with very much a “Messin’ With The Kid” feel, has some sweet acoustic harmonica from Keith Dunn, who also takes the vocal. The band swing out on some BB King for “Waiting On You”, with Strauss’s playing evoking the great man himself, if a little more muscular – with Benji Porecki adding some tasteful organ to the sound.

Elsewhere, some glorious T-Bone Walker licks lead off “I’m About To Lose My Mind”, which of course the legend himself recorded . . . this song tailor-made for Darrell Nulisch’s smooth vocal and another top cameo from Gordon Beadle, with Uwe Nolopp on trumpet, but dominated by the guitar work of Kai Strauss. Gentleman John Street’s organ leads off the swinging instrumental “Millwheel”, which again features Beadle on top form. The slow blues of the late Robert Ward’s “Something For Nothing” is another gem, with the tough guitar licks sparring with Darrell Nulisch’s voice . . . superb!

This superb album ends in a quite surprising fashion, given all the guests aboard . . . just Kai Strauss and acoustic guitar on his own “If I Ever Get Lucky” . . . judging on the evidence on this highly recommended release I would say that is for sure!

GRAHAME RHODES

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