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Tijuana Bible

Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat

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Album Review

Among the things guitarist Jim Suhler likely learned from his occasional boss George Thorogood is that three chords and a ton of sweat can get you pretty far in the blues-boogie business. On Suhler's fifth album, he plows through riffs that anyone with a ZZ Top or Thorogood album will recognize. And even if the songs aren't going to redefine the genre, they are more than just skeletons on which to hang hot guitar licks and a tough, swampy groove. Credit veteran blues-rock producer Tom Hambridge for bulking up the sound without cluttering it. On "Black Sky," the beat is pushed pedal to the metal like "Radar Love" as Suhler solos over a driving rhythm section. The guitarist rips a page from the Robin Trower songbook on "Deep Water Lullaby," bringing a Hendrix-styled "Little Wing" ballad to the mix as Joe Bonamassa guests on guitar. Buddy Leach's overdubbed saxes blow soul into the mix on the slow blues "Years of Tears" as Suhler uses his slide to slashing effect. Suhler gets his slow funk groove on for the Lightnin' Hopkins tribute "Po' Lightnin'," another tune where his slide gets a greasy workout. The 16 tracks are dominated by 13 originals and tough, fully realized covers from Rory Gallagher (a stomping "I Could've Had Religion"), AC/DC (a sufficiently explosive "Up to My Neck in You"), and Elvin Bishop, who even contributes slide guitar to an appropriately loose version of his Allman Brothers Band-approved slow blues "Drunken Hearted Boy." Tunes such as "Border Rock" (perhaps a bit too indebted lyrically to Top's "Heard It on the X"), "Mexicali Run" (built around a patented John Lee Hooker/Canned Heat lick), and "Chaos in Taos" are as gritty and rollicking as their titles imply. The piano-heavy closing ballad "Cold Light of Day" is pleasant enough but seems oddly out of place, as if grafted from an old Elton John album. Regardless, Suhler fills nearly 70 minutes with quality barroom rock, nearly as potent as that of his obvious influences, which will liven up any Americana party.

Tijuana Bible, Jim Suhler
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