The Toronto music scene has been enriched by members of the Blackburn family for over five decades, beginning with veteran R&B artist  and family patriarch Bobby Dean Blackburn. He has passed the torch onto a younger generation, and it is now burning bright in the form of The Blackburn Brothers, comprised of his sons Duane (lead vocals, organ, piano), Brooke (guitar, vocals), Cory (drums, harmony vocals), and Robert (guitar, harmony vocals). 

The group won a Maple Blues Award in 2010 as New Artist/Group of the Year in 2010, and earned a Juno nomination in 2016 for Brothers In This World (under the band name Blackburn), and they have now pooled their considerable talents on a third and long-awaited album, SoulFunkn’BLUES.

The album was produced and mastered by Howard Ayee, with Cory Blackburn recording, mixing and engineering.

The sound of the Blackburn Brothers has never been confined by one genre category, as the title of this new record correctly notes. In a label press release, Duane Blackburn states that “this CD has more of a crossover blues rock feel with a funk foundation. It has a crossover sound without losing the original solid Blackburn Brothers feel /groove.”

SoulFunkn’BLUES  kicks off in righteous fashion with “Bobby’s Blues,” an apparent  tribute to the family’s head (“I did it my way,” runs one lyric). It features sizzling lead guitar, lusty horns (from Neil Braithwaite and Neil Brathwaite and Ted Peters), and fluent piano.

It is followed by a mid-tempo soul/blues tune, “She’s A Heartbreaker,” one with a Robert Cray vibe (never a bad thing), then an uptempo track, “Let The Devil Play,” one enlivened by a sizzling guitar solo.

Subsequent tracks feature enough stylistic diversity to keep things interesting. Brooke Blackburn contributed six songs, and Robert four, with the one cover being a spirited take on the Neville Brothers’ classic “Sister Rosa.” It is fitting both for one musical tribe to cover a classic from another famed family and for it to be a song with a potent message of black pride. 

A similar theme is explored in another album highlight, “Freedom Train,” which urges “take a stand against the system,” and features massed backing vocals.

Things slow down and get more personal on soul ballads “Why Do I Do (What I Do?, “Be My Wife,” and closing cut “I Don’t Ever Want To Be Alone,” all showcasing Duane Blackburn’s virile voice. 

This is a consistently strong collection of songs, and let’s hope we don’t have to wait so long for the next Blackburn Brothers album. (Kerry Doole)