29 July 2014
Straight up blues with an electronic chaser – that’s the winning combination of Tomás Doncker with his Tomás Doncker Band in Moanin’ at Midnight – The Howlin’ Wolf Project (independent – July 8, 2014).
Tomás is the head of True Groove Records and a veteran of New York City’s music scene since the early 1980’s, one of the fixtures of the so-called No Wave movement. As a guitarist, he’s toured and recorded with jazz pianist Masabumi Kikuchi in Japan and has worked with Bootsy Collins, Yoko Ono, Bonnie Raitt, Meshell Ndegeocello and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa among many others.
His is the perfect voice to carry the Howlin’ Wolf catalogue of songs from growly and full-bore, dark and urgent in songs like Evil to raspy and wistful as required as in “Shook Down“. Add to it classic blues guitar virtuosity and a tight band and the full-length tribute album comes across as authentic yet still grounded in the contemporary era.
“We had been bouncing the idea of a blues record around for a while. A “hardcore” modern blues record. Every time we discussed it The Wolf came up. Willie Dixon came up. “Smokestack Lightning”, “Spoonful”, “Evil” – on and on…The stories – so vivid, even today! We wanted to be a part of that lineage, that history. We wanted to tell that “Same Ol’ Story” one mo’ time…Our way! We felt the time was right,” says Doncker in a media release.
The album was first developed as a result of a series of shows he played at Central Park’s Summerstage in 2013 with Alfred Preisser. The concept is being developed as a multi-media stage show as well.
Tomás and the band play the blues with the kind of ease that can’t be faked; it’s in the music, in the delivery, that kind of half-ecstatic release around the heartache that lies at the heart of the blues. When he sings lines like,
I’m here to tell you brother,
You better watch your happy home…
…you believe it. This is straight up guitar-heavy blues with a thick Hammond organ and strident harmonica. The frankness of the music suits his delivery, evident in tracks like Back Door Man. The title track is a highlight with its complicated rhythms.
Poetic and idealized love is for pop stars and new agey roots music – the blues has always been about life in all its bittersweet glory, straight up, and Tomás delivers it with a visceral ethos and a tight, organic groove embellished with occasional electronic flourishes that blend into the traditional instrumentation.
Blind Melon Morpheus (missed the train) is a slow, seductive and extended harmonica solo. He does I Ain’t Superstitious at an upbeat swing with raw vocals in an interesting treatment. There is a second version of Moanin’ at Midnight as an electronic remix with Ras Jah Ames that represents the other end of the scale in a way. The one critique I’d offer is that the release only features those two extremes – good old blues with a tiny electronic edge or all-out electronica. It might have been interesting to explore more of the ground in between.
Tomás Doncker-Lead Vocals,Guitars
3-Back Door Man
4-Moanin’ At Midnight
6-Blind Melon Morpheus
8-I Ain’t Superstitious
10-Moanin’ At Midnight (Ras Jah Ames Dub Mix)