Bang at the Door
Donna Herula, a killer slide and resonator player and singer-songwriter, is releasing her third album, Bang at the Door. She brings ten originals, a co-write, and three well-chosen covers. While Herula’s slicing guitar is usually front and center, she is joined by quite a cast including FJ Ventre on upright and electric bass, percussion and background vocals,, Dana Thalhelmar (drums), Doug Hammer and Daryl Davis (piano), Tony Pons (trumpet) Tony Nardiello (acoustic guitar, lead and bkg. vocals), Jon Shain, producer (mandolin, acoustic guitar and bkg. vocals), Bill Newton (harmonica), Anne Harris (fiddle) and four other background vocalists – Rebecca Toon, Katherine Davis, Janie Grandsart and Chris Holda. Obviously, they are not featured on every track as the album is rendered in different configurations.
Herula hails from Chicago but she and her husband, Tony Nardiello, recorded this in Chapel Hill, NC. It covers a wide array of blues from Piedmont to NOLA, to Delta, to Hill Country. The title track kicks off in rumba style , as Herula wails about that bang on the door she’d rather not hear from a drunker ex-lover in the wee hours of the morning. “Pass the Biscuits” is a parting ode to her late mentor, Sonny Payne, the iconic host of the King Biscuit Time radio show, hence the title. As on the previous Herula’s resonator gives the tune its spark along with piano from Hammer and trumpet from Pons. The raw “Can’ Wait to See My Baby” has a stinging resonator intro and later a series of traded verses with her husband in a tune reminiscent of “Hi Heel Sneakers.” The sans drums folk ballad “Promise Me” features Shain on mandolin blending well with the leader’s resonator.
She delivers plenty of humor on “Movin” Back Home,” moving back in with parents as an adult and referencing such ‘80s relics as “A Snoopy blanket and a Bozo doll/A Bert and Ernie bat and ball”. “Not Looking Back” has Hammer returning on piano for a late-night jazz feel, although the lyrics, like in the previous tune, point to another drunken, misbehaving lover who ended up in jail (yes, she seems a bit stuck on the concept). She brings the female vocalists aboard for the rousing “I Got No Way Home,” after a night of too much partying, trading licks with Newton’s harmonica on the instrumental breaks. She shows her resonator chops on the instrumental “Black Ice,” backed only by Ventre on percussion. She nods to Bukka White on “Fixin’ to Die,” revealing once again her masterful resonator skills. Nardiello joins her again in duet for Lucinda Williams’ “Jackson” in a relaxed vibe that makes it a standout.
She sings the last part of the album, from the point of view of a female facing challenges of domestic life. By now, she’s done with the loser lovers. Fiddler extraordinaire Anne Harris imbues “Got What I Deserve” while Herula drops the resonator for a solo turn on the acoustic guitar for the likely “Kitchen Man”-inspired “Who’s Been Cookin’ In My Kitchen.” The need for empathy is gorgeously delivered on the resonator in “Something’s Wrong With My Baby” (not the Same & Dave tune) with just Ventre along on the bass. She honors another slide giant, Blind Willie Johnson, with his iconic tune “The Soul of a Man” helped again by the quartet of background vocalists who give it some buoyancy, which it sometimes lacks in other versions.
It’s not surprising to learn that Herula is a guitar teacher at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago where she teaches fingerstyle and slide guitar. She is busy educator in other venues too. Her stellar musicianship and a rather sly sense of humor comes through beautifully on this effort.
- Jim Hynes
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