Reviewed by John Luttrell, Fulltime Blues.com January 2011
Over the last few years, the female Blues belter scene has become rather populated with some extremely talented women. Just run down the list of contemporary female artist of the year nominees at the upcoming Blues Music Awards and you’ll see some heavyweight performers. Well, brace yourselves, because the newest addition to that list has arrived, and in a big way – “Long Tall Deb” Landolt has surrounded herself with an incredibly talented group of musicians, affectionately known as The Drifter Kings, and the group has made quite a scene over the last roughly year-and-a-half.
The band won the 2009 River City Ohio Blues Competition, which sent them to Memphis for last year’s International Blues Challenge. And, on the heels of a strong showing there, the band self-released their debut album of 11 original songs – Diamonds On The Desert Floor – to much critical acclaim. It was picked up by the major satellite radio network as a “Pick To Click,” and is currently enjoying top 5 status in the Blues Foundation’s “Best Self-Produced CD” competition, which will see a winner announced this week at the 2011 I.B.C.!
Accolades are nice, but my job is to peel back all of the press material, pop the disc into the player, and find out if there’s any substance. You don’t even have to get past the first track to discover there is!
The set of songs begins with a greasy slide guitar riff from Richey B on “Overlooked” that establishes an early groove. Doug Oscard adds tambourine ahead of Deb’s vocals, and when she begins to sing you start to imagine that this lovely lady can turn into a Texas rattlesnake if you cross her. The message of the song, written by the band as a whole, is simple: the bad boy is exactly that – bad. The music, however, is anything but.
The independence anthem “Free To Leave” follows. This is an extremely well-written piece, and give a call, also, to Richie B’s guitar playing. He laid down both lead and rhythm guitars for all of the tracks on Diamonds On The Desert Floor, save for the closing number; and the playing on this track is particularly tasty. The band, as a whole, does a terrific job with this one, as the rhythm section of Melvin Powe on bass and Doug Oscard on drums lock in tightly and really emphasize this as a standout track.
“Hey Honey” is a delightful, upbeat love song. Deb co-wrote the track, as well as “Free To Leave” and “House On Fire,” with Patrick McLaughlin. That’s followed by the scratchy 78 effects on “Lay My Body Down.” The song starts out with a hot dobro riff ahead of Deb’s vocals, then tambourine. After that lead-in, the effects drop off and the band kicks in a little over a minute into the tune. This is a beast of a Blues tune, and really provides the total package in terms of Long Tall Deb & the Drifter Kings talents. Everyone’s in top form, and the songwriting is as tough as the conditions Deb sings about. There’s a guest appearance on harmonica by Michael Gilliland, and the song takes on a revival feel over the last minute of the track. Really cool stuff, here.
“Chef Jen’s Kitchen,” named after Deb’s friend Chef Jennifer Earl, is a New Orleans infused track that had this reviewer dancing in his chair. Earl can be heard talking in the background toward the end of the track. Max Lewis guests on accordion, and give a call to Oscard on drums for this number, really doing the job on the snare, for the most part, and doing it well. It’s musical soul food.
Deb takes solo songwriting credits on the slow ballad “I’ll Be the One,” and draws on real emotion for the vocals. “I Would Not Back Down” has a somewhat Funky feel, especially in Powe’s wonderful job on the bass. I mentioned that Deb sounded like she could go from demure to dangerous if the situation calls for it, and that subject matter is played out perfectly in this track, which details the battle for independence from an abusive partner.
“Do It” returns to that New Orleans inflected sound, mentioning the city by name while it rallies the ladies to the dance floor. The track features the second of two guest appearances by Gilliland on Blues harp, this time popping up for a brief solo in the middle, then helping to bring the track home. “What Kind of Man” crawls along at a methodical pace. This is grown folks music, dealing with real-life, identifiable situations. Deb and the Drifter Kings have an impressive skill at capturing little novellas with their songwriting, and deserve their props, as well, for being able to arrange the songs in a manner that doesn’t allow the lyrics to get lost in the translation. Look for the solo from Richie B here, as well, shredding the frets with skill and taste. Deb, of course, belts with passion and fury on a knockout vocal, providing one of her best performances throughout Diamonds On The Desert Floor.
“House On Fire” features some more of that terrific slide from Richie B., who provides an absolutely beautiful solo. It’s actually hard for me to detail this track, but understand that I’m marking it down as my favorite. So, take that for what it’s worth. The section of the song where the Drifter Kings bring it down long enough for Deb to detail a baptism, before kicking in for the song’s ending is simply awesome.
Diamonds On The Desert Floor wraps with “Ride This Land,” written by the album’s producer, Michael Hill, who also steps in to play lead and rhythm guitar on the number. The arrangement is subdued, but certainly not stripped down. Hill also provides backing vocals on several of the songs throughout the album. This however, is a terrifically cinematic song, conjuring images of the road in your mind as the lyrics unfold and the music washes over you. It provides this album an absolutely wonderful send-off for the listener.
So, take note and keep an eye out for Long Tall Deb and the Drifter Kings. Diamonds On The Desert Floor is a stout debut, and it will be interesting to see them follow it up in the future. Look for them on the road, as well, because with power like that in the studio, the live show is likely stellar. One note about the Drifter Kings, Richie B retired from the band not long ago, and according to their website, John Aspromonte is now handling guitar duties in the band.
Stay tuned this week, as well, for an update to this review that will let you know if the album took the honor of Best Self-Produced CD at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
Standout Tracks: “Lay My Body Down,” “House On Fire,” “Free To Leave,” and “What Kind of Man”