Jon Strahl Band- The Ladder
The Ladder- Album Review of the Jon Strahl Band
November 8th, 2014 release
Review by Kurt Anno
The Ladder is the new release from Indianapolis-based quartet, The Jon Strahl Band. I recently put on the headphones and gave this new record a listen. This record comes at you from a lot of different directions, but in an organized way. A lot of times, it is a natural thing to listen to a song or record or band and try to compare it to something else. I found that it’s difficult, if not impossible to do with this record. To me, that is what makes a great artist. Jon Strahl is obviously influenced by many artists that came before him, but through all of that, he has developed a style and sound that cannot be compared to someone else. There are definitely times for just a brief moment, where the band’s sound reminds you of something. But you just can’t quite put your finger on it. You can’t place it because there really is nothing else, in my mind, like what I hear from this band on this album. When seeing JSB live, you get a better feel for who has influenced Jon. Like a lot of bands and particularly blues bands, you will hear quite a few covers of blues songs from the past in live performances. That is simply because that is what the artist likes and that’s what the audience likes and expects. The Jon Strahl Band is anything but a cover band though. While the band does perform tunes from greats such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson and others, JSB always puts their own twist on these tunes. Always. That’s what makes those old tried and true tunes so fun to listen to when these guys play live. However for me, the challenge is to write original music that is played with one’s own voice. This is exactly what Strahl does on this record.
Jon Strahl Band:
Jon Strahl- Guitar, vocals
Sonny White- Bass Guitar
Andy Nathan- Bass guitar
Leroy “The King” McElhiney- Drums, Percussion
Erik Scull- Keyboards
Track One: I Would
The album opens with I Would. Based in open tuning, this song sets a good tone of this Blues- Rock album. It’s a short song at 2:50, but a driving rhythm and solid vocals from Stahl make this a great opener that keeps your attention the whole way through.
Track Two: Runnin’ Away
Another brief tune at two minutes, Runnin’ Away is a fairly straight forward upbeat blues tune, that shows the first glimpse of Strahl’s guitar soloing. It fits the style of the song perfectly as Strahl works in major scaling for most of the solo giving the song a crisp, bright feel. Also the tune introduces us to Erik Scull’s chops on keyboard. The solid rhythm section in combo with the keyboards moves this song along at a good clip.
Track Three: Comin’ Home
The first thing that I noticed when Comin’ home kicks off is how solid of a drummer Leroy McElhiney is. You instantly get a feel for what this tune is going to be from the pounding bass drum followed immediately by the killer bass line from Sonny White and again the keyboard intro. There is wonderful tension that builds as Strahl follows with a quick chord progression. It is at this point where we begin to see that Strahl is not just a any ‘ol picker and we are introduced to his wonderful slide work. My first impression was that the slide reminded me of the late, great Duane Allman as well as Derek Trucks. Fast paced and in the moment, Strahl plays with vigor and precision as he does a form of call and answer within the first part of the solo of this instrumental.
Track Four: Too Long
Much like any good live show, the first three songs of this album get things pumping with fast, almost furious-paced tunes. Things drop back just a little on Too Long and we enter a bright, yet more serious tune that really showcases Strahl’s writing ability. It is at this point on the album that we get our first taste of the organ from Scull. In my opinion, an organ should be a staple of any true blues-based band and it certainly fills out this tune. Strahl’s soulful vocals make you realize that he is much more than just a great guitar player. He is also a great vocalist. At 3:14, Strahl begins with a wonderful, sweet sounding solo that builds to an explosive, yet controlled slide section at 3:35 to finish off the song. Again, the mix of picking and slide in this solo mesh together seamlessly as Strahl leaves me wanting more.
Track Five: Sunshine
This was actually the first song that I listened to on this album. Don’t ask me why. Maybe the positive vibe of the title pushed me in that direction. Sunshine starts out with another great keyboard intro. In fact, it is really the electric piano that drives this tune as I am sure that is what Strahl had in mind when he created it. This beautifully written song is really what I imagine as soul. The keyboard is a major part of that. I would bet that the late Billy Preston would be proud to play this part. I found myself leaning back with eyes closed, swaying to this slow groove. Again, Strahl’s vocals jump out at just how good of a singer he really is. His lyrics are very well written and they make the point that sunshine makes you feel good and we want all that we can get. Strahl plays a beautiful solo starting at 3:05, but he is careful not to make the tune about that. A lesser experienced writer and player would have the guitar solo dominate the song. The solo is purposeful, but not overbearing in addition to being beautifully played. This moves into the solo by Scull on the piano. Again, not overdone, but just very solid through the end of the song.
Track Six: Hold On
Hold On gets us to meaty, good ‘ol rock and roll. This is where Strahl shows how varied his voice can be. Still with a very bluesy feel, Strahl stretches his rock and roll legs with solid vocals and a stellar slide solo that just soars. Combine that with a saucy, groove from Scull on the piano and this is a recipe for an excellent tune.
Track Seven: RollingStone
Things slow down with Rollingstone. A sweet, soulful, blues tune that again grabs you with the vocals and a sweet solo. The style of this song harkens back to an earlier time, maybe even with a 50’s sort of feel.
Track Eight: Coldblooded
The intro with Strahl’s vocals and Scull’s organ, set this song up as a straight up blues tune, but then quickly morphs into a really funky groove reminiscent of maybe James Brown. This is yet another song on the record that turns out a vibe all of it’s own. It only strengthens the fact that the album is diverse yet balanced. Coldblooded makes you want to stand up and boogie. When performed live, I have no doubt that this tune will reach out and force you to move. It is another example of just how talented this band as a whole really is.
Track Nine: Dead and Gone
A killer walking bass line from Andy Nathan and thundering drumming from McElhiney lead us into the fast-paced Dead and Gone. Again, Strahl drives the guitar with beautiful slide work. I’m not sure what guitar Jon plays on this tune, but it has that “resonator” sound to it and gives that feeling of old country blues, but with a solid kick in the ass.
Track Ten: Poor Boy
Poor Boy is an arrangement by Strahl of and old tune often referred to as A Poor Boy a Long Way From Home. Many musicians have done this tune, but the inspiration behind this arrangement is RL Burnside’s version. Strahl’s guitar sound is crunchy and gritty and nasty. I love the way the guitar and vocals were recorded on this track, almost paying homage to those old recordings from Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters and other great bluesmen.
Track Eleven: Sky Full Of Snow
A rocker from beginning to end. Solid foundation and driving beat, Sky Full of Snow closes out the record. An excellent tune to leave you wanting more. This is one song where the solo at least, makes me think of Hendrix. Strahl closes the song with a ripping solo featuring a wah-wah pedal coupled with a gritty, bluesy feel. The perfect ending to an outstanding effort, that is The Ladder.
JSB will be performing for their album release at The Slippery Noodle Inn in downtown Indianapolis on November 8th. Check these guys out live and go out and get this album.
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