Texas blues has been known for
producing great guitar players over the years, from Lightnin’ Hopkins to Freddy King to Albert Collins to
Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But what makes Smokin’ Joe Kubek and
Bnois King different, at least as far as the Texas tradition goes, is that they are two
great guitarists who attack the blues with a combination one-two punch. You have
Smokin’ Joe’s blistering slide work alongside Bnois’ raw and spontaneous leads.
The result, as their latest CD Have Blues,
Will Travel proves, is the most powerful guitar duo in the blues today
working at the top of their game.
On the surface they make for an unlike pair, neither of them
even born in Texas.
Smokin’ Joe was born in Pennsylvania but grew
up just outside of Dallas.
By the time he was teenager, he was immersed in the Texas blues/rock scene of the 1970’s. After
just turning 20, he was about to head out on the road to tour with the
legendary Freddy King when King died in late 1976. Bnois, 12 years older than
Smokin’ Joe, was born in Louisiana.
He made his living as a versatile jazz player. They joined forces in Dallas in 1989 and over
the next 20 years honed their sound by gigging constantly and on 14 albums, seven
of them for Bullseye Blues, three for Blind Pig and now two for Alligator.
Have Blues, Will
Travel shows their mastery of Texas roadhouse blues,
shuffles and hard rockers. The title song brings to mind a ZZ Top styled
boogie, as Smokin’ Joe lives up to his nickname on the first solo and displays
his mastery of the slide. But the true joy of any album by these guys is
listening to the lead changes and solo swapping by Smokin’ Joe and Bnois. After
all these years together, their timing is exquisite and they mesh their
different techniques perfectly. You see that on a slow blues like “RU4 Real.”
They give each other space and the result is a spectacular sound.
Another delight is the signing and storytelling of Bnois. He
was not a vocalist before they teamed up. Bnois wrote or co-wrote every song on
this album. His lyrics may be simple and poetic but he delivers them in an understated
and poignant voice. For example on another slow blues – “Shadows in the Dark” –
he sings, “Now it’s been some time ago. My mind’s back at that bar. Wondering
if you think of me. Wherever you are.” On the beautiful “Wishful Thinking”
Bnois returns to the topic of lost love. He sings, “Three o’clock in the morning.
That’s where I’ll begin. Darkness wrapped around me like a second skin. My
thoughts turn to her. Pretend she’s next to me sleeping. It’s just a bad case
of wishful thinking.”
Whether it is deep blues like these or shuffles or fast
rockers, Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King are masters at producing just the
type of music that will keep a roadhouse jumping deep into a Saturday night. In
other words, music that is fun and straight from the heart. They are such
seasoned pros that you can be assured of quality each and every time they take
the stage or produce a CD. Have Blues,
Will Travel is an excellent addition to their catalog of great music.
Standout Tracks: “Have
Blues, Will Travel” “Out Of Body, Out of Mind” “Shadows In The Dark” “Wishful
Thinking” TOM CALLAHAN