HGR CD Review: Blues Evolution

BLUES EVOLUTION – INSPIRED (Inner Vision Recordings) First formed in 1990, Blues Evolution is a studio project collaboration between Pittsburgh native, singer and songwriter Elexus Quinn and Johnstown-based guitarist and musical director Ziggy True. Their second CD, Inspired, offers a sparkling set of classic-geared blues, jazz and R&B sounds. From their launching pad of blues, Quinn and True explore different sonic tapestries, tapping various corners of the blues spectrum, from early swing and jazz to gospel to electric blues. The melodies are catchy, and the song arrangements sophisticated; topped by Quinn’s hearty growl, which recalls classic Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong. Helping to bring this music to life is an all-star cast of musicians from western PA plus an additional guest with international notoriety. Bekka Bramlett, the daughter of 1970s hitmaking duo Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett, contributes backing vocals on a hard-driving update of Herman Brood’s “Saturday Night” and duets with Quinn on the boisterous, gospel-driven “In the Name of the Father.” Other guests include longtime Johnstown-based drum master Chuck Kerrigan on six tracks; the bass player stable of Scott Jeffreys, Randy Rutherford, Bill Smith, Steve Spack, Andrew Woodson and Max Everzen; keyboardist and co-engineer Dave Villani; a large brass contingent including western PA contributors Tom MacDonald, Greg Maiocco and Jen Shuty; and a number of backing singers including Johnstown’s Denise Canby. The album begins with a 1930s/40s jazz/blues tone with “Don’t Lose Your Mind,” with Quinn’s growl recalling Cab Calloway. Blues Evolution delivers R&B on the title song “Inspiration” and the uptempo remake of John Miles’ “Out of the Cradle.” They explore a variety of blues flavors; such as the bold “MU Blues,” southern blues on “The Blues Was in Their Souls,” and gospel blues on “When They Seal the Coffin in My Grave.” And jazz flavors shine on two versions of “Somebody’s Everything.” The performances are tasteful and inspired, with Quinn singing each song for keeps with a myriad of emotion, and the contributions of his instrumental cast shaping and supporting each song. Recorded at several studios including Altoona’s Data Music Services and Johnstown’s Fabulous Blue Room, the overall quality of Inspired is clean and full, masterfully mixed to enable all of the components of Blues Evolution’s sound to sparkle. Inspired is inspired, and a tasty celebration of American blues. (The CD can be obtained through Blues Evolution’s website, www.bluesevolution.com.)