Michael Bram and The Alternators

Michael Bram and The Alternators

CD review by Roger-Z (08/05/06)
Appeared in More Sugar, September 2006, P. 20A

In the year 2006, how do you make a great blues album and breathe life into a fairly restricted art form? Michael Bram and the Alternators let the beat do the talking. After all, their leader majored in jazz drums at Purchase University. The group, consisting of Michael Bram (harmonica, vocals), Chris Vitarello (guitar, vocals), Brendan O'Grady (bass, piano, vocals), and Ron Nihoff (drums), chose to record this album live in the studio. Echoes of the great Willie Dixon produced Chess Records session (Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf). They walk the tightrope without a net.

The CD features all original songs by Michael Bram -- each one spotlighting a different rhythm. A delightful sense of humor pervades the project. The album explodes with the ominous first notes of "Watch Out," reminiscent of the groove found in The Allman Brothers' "Done Somebody Wrong." Next up, the classic shuffle of "Altered States Blues" featuring a powerhouse harp solo. "I can't get up in the morning, but these good times I hate to lose." "Leroy's Back in Town," features an old-time swing beat with beautiful jazz comping by guitarist Chris Vitarello. "Blackjack Blues" showcases familiar card metaphors wrapped in a slow blues package. Once again, Mr. Bram blows some potent harp, followed by a fluid Vitarello guitar solo. Bram's sense of humor infuses the "Crosscut Saw" rhumba beat of "It Don't Matter Where You Get Your Appetite" -- the gist being I may look around, but I always bring it home to my baby. "Too Much Whiskey" follows the classic slow blues pattern of Muddy Water's "Five Long Years." The groove returns to a shuffle for "Scared of the Man in Blue," an amusing story of an encounter with a police officer. "Weed Smokin', Tequila Drinkin'" (my favorite) jumps off with a great solo guitar vamp by Vitarello before launching into a powerful flat-tire beat. The title says it all -- "I'm gonna do my thing and have a good time." The album ends with the medium tempo, r 'n b of "Gotta Get a New Job."

This record may not re-invent the blues, but it certainly blows out the cobwebs. The rhythm section of O'Grady and Nihoff provide a nurturing and fertile environment for the extended soloing of Bram and Vitarello. The latter two manage to pull great riffs right out of their back pocket with chilling ease. Next step, catch these guys live.

2006 Roger-Z