Rick Rushing & The Blues Strangers put out a winner collection
Rick Rushing is a name that carries some gravitas in the local music scene. He’s a popular cat—and for good reason. His skill as a guitar player and vocalist is second to none, and yet he is just as well known for his tireless efforts to help support and promote local music. I have been looking forward to getting my hands on some of his music in order to write about it.
In fact, I had such an opportunity a while back but Rick put the kibosh on that quickly, saying he wasn’t entirely pleased with the results of the recording. I love that kind of dedication and perfectionism, but I’d wager the recordings were still better than half of what’s out there now. When he finally gave me the green light with this latest effort, I knew it would be something special. I wasn’t wrong.
Train Ride to the Swky is a collection of a dozen tunes, and while primarily blues-driven, there are a few surprises. “April Fools” is a romp into reggae territory and leaves one hoping that Rick and company might make another foray into that fertile ground.
“Tennessee Honey Bee” is about as classic rock-and-roll as you can get—and I don’t mean that endless repetition of dinosaur music from the ’60s and ’70s; I’m talking classic rock, circa Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. A driving blues shuffle rhythm to beat the band.
“Pound Puppy” and “Reverend White” are just straight-up funk. If I’d like to hear Rick explore reggae a little more, I’d love to hear him launch wholeheartedly into funk. Seriously, these tracks came up and I couldn’t help but sway and bob in my chair here at the desk.
The groove is entirely infectious, leaving my cat to wonder what in the hell was wrong with me (he’s more into Jawaiian and Bill Shatner covers). Having covered the not-quite-as-bluesy tunes, it’s time to jump feet first into the rest of the album.
In the first place, to call a thing “blues” is like calling a thing “jazz.” There are dozens of things you could mean by that, some similar and some so different as to seem like entirely different genres. To my decidedly aged and hair-filled ears, Rick’s take on the blues is very Chicago/urban style, teetering on the edge of that and psychedelia.
There’s definitely some Clapton and Hendrix in his playing and even his guitar tone. The title track alone bears this hypothesis out. “Train Ride to the Sky” is a ballsy, nasty track that just sounds mean in the best way.
“Nashville Angel” is an even heavier tune. The guitar tone alone could be an effective means of self-defense…it’s that tough. “Take the Pain” is a very interesting follow-up in as much as it goes in an entirely different direction, being more akin to “Little Wing” than the other heavier tunes on the album. Low, laid-back and contemplative, it is an intelligent tune with nary a wasted note.
“Moonlite Lady Blues” is a similar tune, maybe a tad harder-edged, but still soft and thoughtful in its approach. “Girl from the Hill” is a platform from which Rushing launches solo after solo, a classic blues riffing tune.
There are several more tunes on the album, all worthwhile additions to this compilation, but I feel compelled to take a moment and comment on the band directly. Rick Rushing & the Blues Strangers is a classic power trio; drums, bass and guitar are all there is to the band.
It takes some nerve in this day and age to go so minimalist, but Rick, along with drummer Chris Lacy and bass player Alex Harper, stand up and deliver. The album is something to be proud of, but more than that, it is a tantalizing thing, a set of songs that leaves the listener anxious for what comes next.
The disc is available in a number of formats, though I’d strongly recommend buying one from Rick at a live show. To figure out the when and where of that, follow Rick Rushing and the Blues Strangers on Facebook.