HGR CD Review: Sterling Koch

STERLING KOCH – A STEEL GUITAR BLUES CHRISTMAS (Full Force Music) Sterling Koch in 2000 issued his first Christmas-themed album, Acoustic Christmas, a gentle and reverent selection of mostly instrumental acoustic Christmas standards and original compositions. Since then, Koch has re-embraced the blues over the past 13 years and has made steel and slide guitar his forte. So his second Christmas album, A Steel Guitar Blues Christmas, offers rip-roaring slide guitar yuletide blues and blues rock over seven tracks. Koch sings and demonstrates his steel guitar talents, flanked by drummer Al Esis and harmonica wailer Jack Kulp. The disc opens with a swagger, with the bold and boisterous “I’m Your Santa,” announcing the arrival of the big ol’ blues elf himself. That news is also pronounced on the bouncing boogie of “Have You Heard the News,” and the brash bravado blues of “Back Door Santa,” with Kulp’s harmonica wailing out in glory. Kulp also shines on the deliberate and sturdy “Rock Me,” and Koch lends his steel guitar flavor on the rambunctious disc-closing edition of the Chuck Berry hit “Run Run Rudolph. Koch and company also get slower and slinkier with their Christmas blues, on “Christmas Blues” and “Merry Christmas Baby.” Koch’s steel guitar tones and bluesy growl are front and center throughout the disc, and he convincingly stamps his signature on each number. There is never any question that this is an electric blues album as well as a Christmas-themed set, and the overall presentation is edgy, bold and proud. The mix is clean and balanced, allowing Koch and his cast to show their edge and carry the set. A Steel Guitar Blues Christmas is a welcome dose of electric blues for the collective Christmas music lexicon, and is the perfect gift for that blues fan longing for some yuletide blues this holiday season. (The CD can be obtained through Koch’s website, www.sterlingkoch.com.)