by Boston Blues Society on Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 4:11pm
THE BIG BOY LITTLE BAND
Live From The XM Satellite
Big Train Records
by A.J. Wachtel
This is a very good CD and also a very interesting one. Very good because The Big Boy Little Band is a groove-oriented blues band: they don’t knock you out with their power; first they establish the beat and then they make you listen. And they are very interesting because their blues is more influenced by Memphis than the Chicago or Texas blues we are accustomed to hearing up here in New England. The characteristic I like most about this group is how the harp and the guitar often play the same riffs together in a song and this increases the tightness of the players and takes the groove up another notch. These guys represented the DC Blues Society at last year's International Blues Challenge in Memphis and they made it to the finals. Young gun Matt Kelley also won the Albert King Award for Top Guitarist. All are original tunes by harpist and frontman Bret Littlehales except for the Leiber and Butler killer "Downhome Girl." Drummer Robby Leebrick and bassist Wolf Crescenze create a tight rhythm section that allows Bret and Matt to have some fun playing off of each other. Things to listen for: Bret's harp playing generally is more like Jerry Portnoy than James Montgomery, although songs like "The Idiot Talking" does have Sonny Boy II influences. He plays a lot of single notes along with the shuffle chords and his bending and arrangements are a little different from what we generally hear up here. This is very attractive to the ear. And the menacing guitar playing is always fresh and nervous; mixing well with the unique sounding vocals. "Beg For The Money," a rock ‘n’ roller, is sorta like Foghat meets Ike Turner, and I really liked the groove. "The Heat and The Humidity" is a great song with the harp based on Alan Wilson from Canned Heat's "On The Road Again."
Check it out and be impressed.
The DC Blues Society asked Big Boy Little about any advice he could give re: the music competition. Here's that interview:
Here are two new reviews of our debut disc, Live From The XM Satellite:
Baltimore Blues Society Vol. 25, Issue 5, October – November, 2010
Big Boy Little Band
Live From The XM Satellite
Big Train Records
There are many great harp players, but only a few who also write songs that, while staying within the blues idiom, move well beyond the standard fare of good/bad woman/man broken hearted bad luck fast car and fried chicken fare over a same ‘ol, same ‘ol riff. James Harman, Paul DeLay and Rick Estrin certain come to mind. D.C. harpist Bret Littlehales’ compositions on this disc are certainly comparable. This is a tight and concise recording with a great “live” feel to it. (I don’t think there was much overdubbing done at XM!) eight originals including a raucous and slightly scary “Deer Rifle” from award winning guitarist Matt Kelley and one inspired cover, a slinky version of “Down Home Girl.” “Shuck and Jive” opens with a nice syncopated riff with a tale of a gal who “struts her stuff on easy street,” and sends her “money home to mama, back in the family double-wide!” The aural blues noir of “Heat and the Humidity” will grab you with its earworm of a chorus. And yes, the subject is ... murder. “Twelve Bar Blues” the closest tune to the standard blues bar fare, livened up with local references, it will certainly make you thirsty. “Beg for the Money” is an old time rocker. A bit of hoodoo rhumba is included in “Carondolet.” “The Legend” is a delightful cautionary tale. The disc highlight is “The Idiot Talking,” bound to get the dance floor moving and singing along and somehow managing not to be pretentious even with Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky mentioned in the same verse!
-Bob Sekinger President Baltimore Blues Society www.mojoworkin.com
In a Blue Mood by Ron Weinstock
A semi-regular collection of observations, reviews and more about blues, jazz and other matters informed by the blues tradition.
Thursday, September 23, 2010 Big Boy Little's Radio Blues
Bret Littlehales has been part of the DC music scene for decades, but it was not until recently, as leader of the Big Boy Little Band, that as a performer he has had the spotlight shined on him as a singer and a harmonica player. I should also note he is a well respected photographer having done a superb series of portraits of DC jazz legends for Washingtonian Magazine among his credits.
He has been running the Thursday night jam (and playing one weekend night a month) at the Zoo Bar for I cannot remember how many years, and has had excellent musicians playing with him for such a lengthy period. In past couple years the Big Boy Little Band has been more visible playing at other clubs in the Washington DC metropolitan area. In 2009, they won the DC Blues Society’s Battle of the Bands and represented the Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis whee they made the finals and guitarist Matt Kelley was awarded the Albert King award for best guitarist in the finals. This has translated in more gigs locally including several area festival appearances. Also, being DC based it was easy for them to visit XM-Sirius’ Bill Wax and perform on Bluesville.
The result is a new self- released CD by the Big Boy Little Band, “Live From the XM Satellite” (Big Train Records).
In addition to the harp and vocals of Littlehales, and Matt Kelley’s guitar (and vocal on one track), the band also includes Steve ‘Wolf’ Crescenze on bass and Robby Leebrick on drums. The band has a distinct sound with Kelley’s trebly guitar adding a menacing tone at times behind Little’s world-weary street smart lyrics with the crisp rhythm. This live recording in fact is pretty representative of the band’s music and 8 of the 9 selections are originals, with the Jerry Leiber and Artie Butler penned “Downhome Girl,” that Alvin ‘Shine’ Robinson had recorded. Like the original “Shuck and Jive,” that opens this, Littlehales vocal has a bit of cynical edge to it and Kelley takes a strong solo with a hard rhythmic focus before Big Boy sings about tossing her into the water and taking her to New Orleans and watch her dance to the Irving Bannister Band, a nice reference to the under-appreciated New Orleans guitarist who stayed with Littlehales immedately after Hurricane Katrina.
Kelley’s original “Deer Rifle,” has a bit more conventional feel as Kelley sings about finding a rifle next to his women’s bed set with a melody akin to “Forty Four,” with Littlehales harp effectively responding to the vocals. Maybe the highpoint is “The Heat and Humidity,” a gritty bit of urban storytelling about a woman shooting a man (on TV she never thought the gun would ever sound so loud) as Littlehales plays some tasty harp that is based on Alan Wilson’s solo (with a couple of quotes) on Canned Heat’s recording “On The Road Again,” while Kelley takes a tasty short break. With the spare backing from the rhythm it is a very impressive performance. “Twelve Bar Blues,” is a lively celebration of the blues and a litany of various blues bars, some no longer existing such as Big John’s to see Butterfield before heading to a joint on the corner of shuck and jive before heading to the Big Easy and the Maple Leaf and the Club DeLisle and John Lee Hooker with some very nice harp showing off his sweet tone. “Beg For the Money,” (to get to my girlfriend’s door) is a driving number with a rockabilly tinge. “Carondolet” opens with atmospheric harp with Kelley’s soft single note guitar contributing to the flavor as Littlehales spins a tale centered on New Orleans and a shotgun voodoo shack and one can almost smell the incense with the smokey vocal.
The disc concludes with “The Idiot Talking, with its churning rhythm and Littlehales tale of having a bad day and talking on and on until he noticed his baby had gone. Kelley has a nifty guitar figure he employs during the vocal chorus and also takes a driving solo and the Big Boy also picks up the Mississippi saxophone for one last time here. It is a strong closing to the band’s long-awaited (to its Washington DC based followers) debut album, and given how long Brett Littlehales has been playing, it is several decades overdue, but worth the wait. Their are nine songs and slightly under 40 minuets of music, but no fat or gristle, just lean meat. You can check out the band’s website, www.bigboylittleband.com for information on where they are playing and how to obtain this CD, either by download or physical CD.
This review is a bit of local color for me as Big Boy Little Band hails from the Washington DC area and I live in the Virginia suburbs. My review copy (for purposes of FTC regulations) was provided by Brett Littlehales. Oh at some point the cd should be available at cdbaby and downloadable at itunes.
Posted by Ron Weinstock
Our thanks and profound gratitude to the great writer Larry Benecewicz for this article from the Baltimore Blues Rag:
From the DC Blues Society Newsletter, November, 2009:
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