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Inside Out

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Once an eclectic group of musicians cobbled together to back Taj Mahal, the Phantom Blues Band have become a full-fledged force on their own. The sextet's third release finds these crusty roots veterans churning out a vibrant set of traditional Texas blues, gospel, Latin, and good-time swampy rocking with obvious chops, but also a live spark others in their genre often find it hard to re-create in the studio. The horns of Joe Sublett (sax) and Darrell Leonard (trumpet) bring R&B into the mix, which informs the band's sound. Solid originals like the driving "Boogah Man" and the Curtis Mayfield-styled "So Far from Heaven" combine with rearranged covers from Son House (a tough, grinding "Death Letter") and Jimmy McCracklin ("Shame, Shame" sounds like it was cut in Stax's prime) and the gospel standard "I Can't Stand It," among others. The entire group gets co-writing credit on "Change," the set's one sociopolitical commentary that touches on the economic inequality in the country today as it name-checks General Electric, the stock market, the housing crisis, and of course banks, all to a bumping, danceable beat. Even when they get serious and lyrically incisive, the music keeps the mood light and party-ready. A beautifully subtle reading of Charlie Rich's "Feel Like Going Home" displays church, pop, and country influences and Leonard's funky "Where Did My Monkey Go?" sounds like prime Crusaders, whose co-founding member Joe Sample guests on piano for "So Far from Heaven." The sound is terrific too, with full, round bass from Larry Fulcher and crisp beats from drummer Tony Braunagel that ground these songs. Three good, non-flashy vocalists including the terrific Mike Finnigan keep the groove varied, making these 50 minutes fly by. Three releases in, the Phantom Blues Band are one of the finest acts working in their crowded field, delivering the bar band rocking goods while displaying world-class chops.

Inside Out, Phantom Blues Band
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