Hamilton’s Smoke Wagon Blues Band gives us the story of the mad trapper of Rat River as this long running band continues its Canadian story telling. They also delve deeply into New Orleans, soul and funk in a wide-ranging program. Corey Lueck is on vocals and harp, Mike Stubbs and Steve Sherman on guitars, Gord Aeichele, sax, Brandon Bruce on keyboards, Jason Colavecchia on bass and Tibor Lukacs on drums. The mad trapper, who came to be called Albert Johnson, over a seemingly insignificant crime, killed a police officer and wounded two others as he eluded capture for 48 days in the frozen Yukon winter. His exploits created a media sensation during the Depression. The Mounties finally caught up to him and shot him but his actual identity remains unknown. Set to a fine King Biscuit Boy-styled boogie beat, there are no doubt more stories waiting to be told by this enterprising band. A fine slab of soul funk is “(On the Road Living on) Memphis Soul”. A full horn section is added to great effect on this one. They can do R&B ballads too as “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Fool This Time” shows. Fats Domino’s first hit was “The Fat Man”, a rousing rocker if there ever was one. The band does a fine version here with Lueck adding a harmonica solo. Brandon Bruce, who shines throughout on piano, tackles Professor Longhair in “Lay Say Lay” that blends in some Cajun lyrics as well. The album is a travelogue of musical styles as well as locations with a jazzy “Mescaline” followed by a rocking “Sacrifice”. “Mescaline” details a wild night in Montreal on said chemical complete with flute solo. “Sacrifice” is a very good song about how hard they’ve worked to get where they are today – a highlight. They do allow themselves a traditional 12-bar with “Poor Man’s Blues”, an original with a list of what’s keeping him poor. There’s a very nice groove with a lengthy harmonica solo followed by tenor sax. There are some specific references to American laws here that seems to aim this song at their fans there. A much more atmospheric blues takes us to the Gaspé region of Quebec: “Matapedia River” extols the beauty of the area very nicely. Some jump blues is next about a woman who has removed everything except she “Can’t Take My Blues” – well played and again with great horns. Another road song but done in a country style with someone dueting with Lueck in his best Johnny Cash voice along with group vocals cataloguing evening activities while travelling, as they are “On the Road Again” back to Hamilton. The concluding “Steaming Comrades Harp Boogie” was recorded live with just the quintet and it finds Lueck channeling John Mayall on Room to Move with his crowd-pleasing harmonica workout. A varied program from this Hamilton band then, well-recorded and performed. The originals are by various members of the band but I suspect Corey Lueck is responsible for the lyrics, which he delivers convincingly in his distinctive, whiskey-stained voice. They’ve come a long way from watching Richard Newell perform on Hess Street. Their last three albums have charted well with Cigar Store garnering several awards, this one should keep the momentum going. The web site is www.smokewagonbluesband.com.

July 2020 - Big Pacific
July 2020 - Justin Saladino Band