One of the hallmarks of a great performer is the ability to connect with an audience even when circumstances are not ideal, and at the Parting Glass in Saratoga Springs recently, Slam Allen was able to prove once again what a great performer he is. Following popular local act the Foy Brothers can be a tall task, and adding to the challenge was the fact that headliner Slam Allen didn’t have time for a real sound check. Nevertheless, Slam and his three-piece band plugged in and proceeded to show the small, but enthusiastic crowd what a powerful force an old-school blues band can be.
They kicked off the show with a pair of blues standards, “Tore Down” and “Let the Good Times Roll,” probably as much to let the crowd know where their roots lie as to get the band warmed up. After a false start to fix some sound problems, the band hit their stride and didn’t stop rolling until the intermission.
Slam first showed his soul side by segueing directly from “Let the Good Times Roll” into “Will It Go Round In Circles,” the beat shifting immediately from a driving blues shuffle to the funky R&B feel required to loosen up your hips the way Billy Preston did on the original.
Slam’s unique mix of soul-soaked blues brought a refreshing sound to songs like “Hey Joe” and “Knocking On Heaven’s Door,” each of which sounded like they could have debuted on Beale Street. His solo on the latter was beyond inspired, combining screaming rock licks with his usual blues and R&B repertoire, bringing the song to a dramatic crescendo before pulling the audience back in to finish.
His band must be given their full due as well, showing that they could follow their leader wherever he wanted to take them. Saxophonist Robin Nzinga Smith particularly shined, having been thrown into the mix without a rehearsal to fill the role normally filled by a Hammond B-3 in the band. Her playing was spot on the entire night, providing exactly the right fill at the right time and playing powerful solos when called on. At times the rhythm section steamrolled like a runaway freight train, while at other times they played, so delicately they could barely be heard behind the powerful vocals. But at all times they provided a solid foundation for their leader.
Curiously absent from the set were Slam’s more upbeat, original soul-blues songs such as “A Little Rain” and “Let Yourself Go,” both of which are often thought of as his signature songs. It’s possible that Slam felt those songs really needed the organ to sound right.
The Foy Brothers led off the night with a powerful set of covers and original music that made one thing clear: having returned from their hiatus, they are out to prove that they’re the act to beat on the local blues scene. They have rarely performed with as much fire as they did at the Parting Glass, and if this set was any indication, their next album is going to be a must-have.
The evening was a fundraiser for the Capital Region Blues Network, a non-profit which seeks to help support blues musicians and fans in the Capital Region. www.capitalregionbluesnetwork.com
Review by Eric Gleason
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk