By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Four Tens Strike Again
Bugs Henderson and the Shuffle Kings
Flat Canyon Records
Got My Mind Back
Smokin' Joe Kubek Band featuring B'nois King
Lead Guitar Player--in the heroic, capitalized sense of blues-boogie--is a tough slot. For a role model, LGPs should ignore names like Satriani or Tedesco and concentrate instead on the actor Rip Torn, a man of formidable talent who appears equally comfortable with avant-garde innovation and the movie Beastmaster.
The point is, you soldier on. Bugs Henderson has been around almost as long as God, it seems, and he's persevered through various periods of public indifference. Once the king of the grinders, he's gradually pulled a mature, cohesive style out of all those notes and miles, but the genre itself still has limits. Henderson goes out of his way to keep his tone varied and invests palpable emotion in his playing, but this kind of music really needs vocals to connect on disc and Henderson just doesn't have that good a voice.
Still, he has wisdom and a genuine sense of humor about him, and that helps convince you that kegger war-horse "Lucille"--featuring Dueling Lead Guitar Players Henderson and Andy Timmons at a quicksilver pace--is something other than a wankathon, and you even find yourself coming up with defenses for not one but two Dylan covers. Henderson's playing has acquired a swooping fluidity that takes him toward jazzy territory, and he often recalls Blow By Blow-era Jeff Beck. Guitar players are supposed to make albums, and Four Tens has an honorable place in Henderson's discography; it's a good album that doesn't quite escape the limitations of its style. It's by no means his Beastmaster, but it's not quite Oscar material either.
Smokin' Joe Kubek deals from a more traditional deck--stinging electric blues voiced through original songs. Kubek's approach is straight-ahead and Texas to the bone, full of the sustain-heavy wailing that recalls Freddie King or Albert Collins. He fends off the vocal bugaboo via B'nois King, a seasoned vet whose singing--though somewhat limited in range--conveys a gritty authenticity.
LGPs know that in order to keep a crowd's attention you must have a mighty bag of tricks; Kubek employs slide, unabashed wah, and a number of other tube-era tricks (like massive tremolo) to successfully shade and change his sound, but the big point that this album makes is how hard it is to stand out from the ever-widening herd of blues players. Whatever the future, it's obviously in the hands of the Ben Harpers and Chris Whitleys out there; Kubek is sharp but not an innovator. Still, it's always good to tell the old tales, and the Smokin' Joe Kubek Band makes that point without apology.