The Maple Blues Band, Let’s Go, Cordova Bay Records

I was wondering what a blues record without vocals would be like. In my mind, the story and the emotions expressed through the lyrics and the singer have always been at the centre of the blues, with the musicians accompanying them with groove, melody, and hopefully some blistering solos.

I wonder no more. Well, actually I wonder how such a powerful group of musicians could be assembled in one place and create something so complete — even without vocals. The Maple Blues Band was a brainchild of founder and bassist, Gary Kendall, an alumnus of  the Downchild Blues Band,  way back in 1998. Kendall told the Toronto Blues Society that the music accompanying its annual award presentations should be boosted to a higher level. He rose to the challenge, recruiting some of the top musicians in southern Ontario and a phenomenon was born.

It was only a matter of time before they released a totally instrumental album, and with their level of chops and versatility to explore all corners of the genre, it works. This well-oiled big band blues machine grabs your attention from the jump blues opening track, “At the Corner,” and never stops. It’s not just Chicago blues, but explores New Orleans funk, uptown blues, zydeco, blues rock, and even Canadian blues. The band has gone through several incarnations with many Maple Blues Award winners over the years, but the current lineup includes Pat Carey on tenor saxophone, Teddy Leonard on guitar, Al Lerman on harmonica and acoustic guitar, Jim Casson drums and percussion, Howard Moore on trumpet, Lance Anderson on Hammond B3, piano and accordion, Alison Young on baritone, tenor and soprano saxophones, Meirion Kelly on trombone, and Roshane Wright on percussion.

“Hey Nola” can make you walk the second line in New Orleans, Anderson’s solo on the B3 organ on “Mating Cry” takes me back to the Colonial Tavern circa 1970, the title track, “Let’s Go” would be the perfect opening number to a Stax soul revue. And for a real change of pace, there’s the dreamy slide guitar on “If I Should Lose You Again,” which wouldn’t be out of place on an early Ry Cooder record.

With so many different grooves and awe-inspiring solos, this album is a complete package even without vocals.  Still, I can imagine how amazing an album of this same ensemble backing up ten top blues and soul singers would be.    

– Mike Sadava