Back Around Here CD Review
Blues In The Northwest - England, UK
by Grahame Rhodes


Now here's a belter of an album from young Chicago-based bandleader Rob Stone - the Boston-born harmonica player and singer has produced a great traditional blues album, mainly all upbeat, firmly rooted in the classic Chicago 50s style - twelve tracks all highlighting his fat harmonica tone, influenced by the masters such as Little Walter and Big Walter Horton, and his appealing voice, inspired by a love of Sam Cooke and Ray Charles.

His 'partners-in-crime' here are the in-demand duo of guitarist Chris James and bassist Patrick Rynn, who were in the C-Notes with Stone, and now have two albums of their own on Earwig under their belts. They have co-written eight of the songs here with Rob Stone, with the other four being choice covers. Also on board are some blues royalty in the form of legendary drummers Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith and Sam Lay, and pianists David Maxwell and Aaron Moore, with the sound rounded out by the horns of Rodney Brown (tenor sax) and John Bowes (baritone sax).

The assembled cast are off to a rip-roaring start on the rousing “You're No Good For Me”, a mid-paced shuffle, with Stone's thick-toned harmonica and James' slashing guitar, and Willie Hayes providing the groove on the drums; the title cut follows, “Back Around Here”, with a more r&b feel courtesy of the horns and fine vocal from Stone, with more fretwork fireworks from Chris James. The pace is taken down a little for the first cover on offer, a ramble through Sonny Boy Williamson's (the first) “Love You For Myself” - Stone on sweet acoustic harmonica and sparkling piano from Aaron Moore.

The late Magic Sam's “Give Me Time” hits a lovely soulful groove, with David Maxwell's piano starring here; the ensemble take the pace up again for the tough groove of “Plant A Money Tree”, based on Rob Stone's ability to spend all his money, and featuring lots more fine harmonica work. He pays tribute to his adopted home city on the jazz-tinged “Chicago All Night”, an ode to the late night pleasures of the small hours - more sparkling piano here from Maxwell, and superb sax solo from Rodney Brown.

“Lot To Love About You” is another full-tilt Chicago blues blaster, with Stone's harmonica blasting out, and driven by Patrick Rynn's solid bassline; Leroy Carr's pre-war “Sloppy Drunk” is an oft-covered tune, and here it is driven by more pounding piano from David Maxwell and downhome harmonica from Stone. The instrumental “Dragon Killers” is a frantic harmonica workout, inspired by the mints that Sam Lay carried in the van for anyone with bad breath . . . . Dragon Killers!

The penultimate track, “Can't Turn Back The Clock” is a boogie tune, with a West Coast swing feel, again anchored by some monstrous piano abuse from David Maxwell . . . it's an absolute killer! This great album ends with another mid-paced shuffle, “No Strings Baby”, with Rob Stone's harmonica prominent - indeed his playing is superb throughout!

I think it's fair to say that the name of Rob Stone is not that well known outside of Chicago, however the seven year gap since his last release - “Just My Luck”, also on Earwig - has been well worth the wait, and for all lovers of that pure Chicago blues sound, “Back Around Here” comes highly recommended.