Debra Power  I’m Not From Chicago

Anyone who has witnessed this red-headed fireball deliver her brand of the blues live can never forget her. And yes, with 2,618 kilometres between Calgary and Chicago, she’s not anywhere near the Windy City – yet her music can transport you instantly. A wicked piano-player, powerful vocalist and all-round nuclear explosion of a personality, Power is also a budding lyricist and capable songwriter – with only one non-original across ten songs. Blasting off with “Magnificent Heart”, the word ‘dynamic’ doesn’t quite cover the ball-busting, in-your-face experience, pushing her vocals slightly. Guitarist Steve Pineo’s “Hardwired For The Blues” proves the perfect cover for her as a slightly subdued Power bites into it utilizing a slower, more soulful approach – piano always in the foreground, joining Pineo’s slide and Mike Clark’s tenor sax. The Mississippi-based Keeshea Pratt joins Power for the hard-hitting, soulful duet, “What Colour Is Love” – with its elevated message, delivered with sisterly gusto. The deeper blues groove of “New Shade Of Blue” is Power at her best – as she melds with her band (Chris Byrne, bass; Kelly Kruse, drums; Mike Little, B3; Pineo & Clark – including a much-loved shot of harp from Harpdog Brown) as Power’s more relaxed pace brings out her best playing and singing. Likewise, “Slow Love” is another slow burn and strong band number, as Power offers a strong, pleading vocal with strong accents from Clark’s tenor sax and Little’s B3. “I’m Not From Chicago” brings Harpdog back into the fold and moves things much closer to Chicago, thanks to his distinctive brand of mid-‘50’s, Chi-town blues while, Pineo takes a step forward with a stronger guitar presence. Power’s vocal and front-and-centre piano style abounds. A true story-song, “The Last Time I Saw Memphis”, spins a tall tale that, in Power’s hands, sounds entirely believable, aided by Pineo’s slide, a mood-building band performance and another stand-out Harpdog cameo, adding harp and the voice of Elvis’ ghost. One of the album’s greatest moments comes with the highly personal “The Woman With The Hole In Her Heart”. While it tackles depression – if not the stress brought on by the isolation of the last two years – its strong piano arrangement and compelling vocal is entirely uplifting, with great B3 and slide guitar adding to the overall effect – a real show-stopper. The bouncy, infectious “Put Down The Baggage” is yet another demonstration of Power’s effortless range and specific piano skills, incorporating jazzy barrelhouse, stride and good ol’ boogie woogie at will, as the band drives home its tight rhythmic core. Mike Clark’s tenor sax is on parade while Power struts her stuff, offering one of her most-focused piano solos. Originally written to crack up her mother with reminiscences of her childhood, “Debra Marie” provides a universal glimpse into childhood and the precious relationship we carry with us. At the same time, this highly personal song is a showcase for Power’s innate sense of humour – while it helps to provide a backdrop to a true, consummate entertainer.  (Eric Thom)