The Smoke Wagon Blues Band
The Ballad of Albert Johnson
Canada’s Smoke Wagon Blues Band was formed in 1996. Working out of Hamilton Ontario’s famous Hess Village they released their debut “Smoke Wagon Blues Band Number 36” in 1997. They followed up with 2001’s live “Low Down Righteous Blues”. In 2005 their third album “The One and Only” resulted in the band receiving their first Maple Blues Award nomination. The following year they won a second MBA nomination for their album “The Smoke Wagon Blues Band and Friends
Although accompanied by the band their leader Corey Lueck released 2012’s “It Ain’t Easy” under his own name. The band’s “Live in Hamilton” followed. In 2016 the band competed in the International Blues Challenge representing The Hamilton Blues Society. Their last album, released later that year, was “Cigar Store”; that album spent 47 weeks on the Roots Music Report’s Top 50 and and resulted in three Independent Blues Awards.
The current band lineup includes Lueck, harp and vocals; Mike Stubbs, guitars and backing vocals; Steve Sherman, guitar, percussion and backing vocals; Brandon Bruce, keyboards and backing vocals; Gordon Aeichele, saxophones, flute and washboard; and the rhythm section of Jason Colavecchia, bass and backing vocal; and Tibor Lukacs, drums and backing vocals. The album is produced, engineered and recorded by Sherman in Scarborough, Ontario. All twelve originals are written by bandleader Lueck, eleven with Stubbs, and with contributions from band members Bruce, Colavecchia and Lukacs. There is also one cover.
For their eighth album the SWBB opens with the title track “The Ballad of Albert Johnson”. The song is based on the true story of the Yukon’s “Mad Trapper of River Rat”, whose manhunt lasted one month and 150 miles, before being fatally wounded in a shootout with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Lueck’s whiskey soaked vocals are featured here and throughout the recording.
“Memphis Soul” highlights Bruce’s organ and Aeichele’s saxophone. On the classically styled soul ballad “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Fool” the band displays their virtuosity; Lueck’s vocal is accompanied by Bruce who switches to piano, as Aeichele plays on multiple saxophones sounding like a full horn section.
The lone cover is the Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino written classic “The Fat Man”, released by Fats in 1950, and recorded at the legendary J & M Recording Studio in New Orleans. Lueck’s fabulous harp solo is followed by a sax solo from Aeichele. “Lay, Say, Lay” is a Professor Longhair styled New Orleans boogie featuring Bruce on piano.
“Mescaline” is a fabulous narrative from Lueck again featuring Bruce on piano, as Aeichele switches to flute. “Sacrifice” is a total band effort opening with some great bass from Colavecchia, another whiskey stained vocal from Lueck, great sax, and some fine drumming from Lukacs. “Poor Man Blues” includes some slide from Stubbs before Lueck and Aeichele take their respective solos.
Lueck is an expressive singer. My two favorite vocals are “Matapedia River Blues” with Aeichele’s saxophones and Bruce on keyboards; and “A Song For Cheryl” with the lyric “when I need to tell somebody, who will I call”. On “Can’t Take The Blues” Stubbs is featured on guitar as Lueck agonizes that she “slept with the lawyer that cleaned me out…you can take everything but you can’t take the blues from me”.
“On The Road Again” is a Johnny Cash styled vocal duet and another complete band effort. The closer, the high powered “Steaming Comrades Harp Boogie” was recorded live at the Ontario Power Boat Championships in Tamworth, Ontario.
The Smoke Wagon Blues Band continues their legacy as they prove themselves the complete Canadian Blues Band. This is another award winning effort.