With the possible exceptions of Boston and Providence, there aren't many cities in the Northeast as blues crazy as Syracuse, N.Y. Despite being a relatively small outpost of 730,000 residents, the Syracuse area is home to two big-time summer blues festivals and over 50 working blues bands, including several that are nationally acclaimed. The area has developed a regional blues sound similar to Chicago's but with more of a rock 'n roll edge. (Syracusans need to keep on rocking just to stay warm!)
Many of the area's finest blues artists record for the Blue Wave label, a funky little operation based in nearby Baldwinsville. The label's 15th anniversary sampler shows off some fine local talent along with Toronto legends the Downchild Blues Band, veteran Canadian harpist King Biscuit Boy, Boston guitar prodigy Sean Costello, music writer and guitar wildman Cub Koda, Latin-American axeman Tino Gonzalez, and legendary British guitarist Kim Simmonds (leader of Savoy Brown).
From Downchild's jumpin' cover of the New Orleans classic "Last Chance to Dance" to Ronnie D's blues-metal take on "Green Onions" to The Kingsnakes' incendiary version of the Big Walter tune "Walter's Swing," there's an awful lot to like on this one. Producer and label owner Greg Spencer creates a great party mood thanks to a smart sequencing of tunes and some kick-ass musicians.
Featured prominently is the rhythm section of Paul LaRonde (bass) and Mark Tiffault (drums), one of the baddest duos ever to hold up a blues bottom end. They are featured on tracks with sexy singer Kim Lembo, string-bender Ronnie D, and guitar bands Backbone Slip and The Kingsnakes. Pete McMahon also appears with three different groups, including his original band The Kingsnakes. McMahon is one of the most soulful singers/harmonicats to come along since Kim Wilson, and until they broke up a few years ago, the 'snakes were one of the hottest blues outfits in the world, never mind Syracuse. Also featured on two tracks is Built For Comfort, a similar band led by the talented Tarbel cousins Morris (guitar) and Matt (harp). Another ubiquitous presence is Mark Doyle, co-leader of Backbone Slip and a talented musician equally adept on guitar and keys.
Blues label samplers have long been one of the best CD bargains going. This one logs in at 70-plus minutes, and with 17 gritty tracks and a price tag that's cheaper than most cassettes, it's hard to beat.