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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ronnie Douglas Blues Band - Big Borther

Styles : Modern Electric Blues (Diatonic Harp)
Released : 2001

01 - On My Way
02 - You Don't Know
03 - Don't You Know?
04 - Big Brother
05 - Foolish
06 - Highway 44
07 - Good Time Baby
08 - Why Am I Drinkin'?
09 - Blow Wind Blow
10 - Whose Been Talking?

Ronnie Douglas is one of many incredibly talented aboriginal musicians. An Ojibway from the Mnjikaning (Rama) First Nation in Ontario, he is the winner of the 1999 Toronto Blues Society New Talent Search Contest.

Douglas' debut disc, Big Brother, won the 2001 Best Blues recording at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. Recorded live off the floor, it contains 10 tracks (including eight originals), plays for 47 minutes and was produced by the Ronnie Douglas Blues Band and Stephen K. Henry.

At times, the band's country, R&B and rock roots surface but all tunes are rich in the old Chicago Blues tradition with predictable themes of women and drinking. Though this CD may not attract many new listeners to the genre, it is oh-so-good for those already converted. If you are a purist who feels traditional blues should only be performed by African-Americans, take the time to learn the cultural and musical parallels between them and First Peoples.

With a voice sounding like a cross between Jimmie Vaughan and ZZ Top, Ronnie sings all the songs and plays guitar. The rest of the band includes: Dave Hewitt, drums; Peter Loudon, bass; Bob Federer, keyboards; and Greg Duncan, harmonica.

Picture a stripped-back, "unplugged" blues disc and you will be ready for Big Brother. The keyboards and harp are invigorating throughout the entire disc and support Ronnie's forefront vocals, particularly on On My Way, where ragtime piano is also included. This composition is also featured on the CD Skin Tight Blues - First Peoples Blues Compilation.

You Don't Know contains a slow but memorable rhythm where the organ looms like a dark storm cloud. The lyrics are about the inspiration and support that can only be experienced via a loving relationship. Chess-era blues emerges on Don't You Know? Here, Duncan's harp doesn't wail, but glides while Federer's organ grooves majestically. Meanwhile, Douglas's guitar work is so simple, it is advanced.

Good Time Baby is in the vein of the Allman Brothers' version of "Stormy Monday". Why Am I Drinkin'? is a humourous reflection on the many reasons why drinking should not be such a popular pastime. Ronnie's arrangement of Muddy Waters' timeless Blow Wind Blow meshes perfectly with the original tunes. In fact, if you didn't recognize the song's name or the lyrics, you may not think it is a cover.

A couple of instrumentals showcase this band's two greatest strengths, those being the keyboard and harp work. The title track is a shuffle while Highway 44 is a lively number with a swagging and intertwining organ.

Though perhaps not progressive enough to stand out in a crowd with elements bordering on stereotypical, Big Brother does demonstrate solid musical talent complementing Douglas' songwriting abilities.

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