Review by Fred Rudofsky
“Reunion” conjures up images of high school alums gathering together, drinking beers, exaggerating successes and hiding failures, and pretending everybody got along at the old school.
“Reanimation” would be a better word to describe the act of getting back together and creating genuine magic.
A reanimated Scotty Mac & the Rockin’ Bonnevilles, after a several year hiatus, took to the local stages twice in the past two weeks, first at Franklin’s Tower in Albany and, then most recently, this past Monday night for a live radio broadcast from Club Helsinki in Hudson.
Club Helsinki – arguably the best sounding room in upstate NY – brought out the best in this four-piece combo featuring guitarist Scotty Mac, vocalist-harpman Ted Hennessy, drummer Pete Vumbacco and bassist John Ellis. Jimmy Smith’s instrumental touchstone “Chickenshack” set the mood for the night, each musician going for broke and reaping big-time dividends. “Just My Luck” from the band’s “Travelin'” brimmed with wit, and “Cadilliac Jack” featured swinging blues at its best, with Mac wringing out solos like he was T-Bone Walker reincarnated.
A trio of songs from the Excello Records catalogue allowed Hennessy to show off his versatility on harmonica and his command of swamp-blues phrasing. Sounding like Johnny Cash on peyote, Hennessy and company romped “Fact or Fiction,” a series of tales from the notorious ’90s, back when local criminals tried to get away and national scandals wouldn’t go away. Locking into a scarifying riff, Vumbaco and Ellis drove the hell out of Tom Waits’ ode to L.A. sleaze, “Heart Attack and Vine,” with Mac’s Stratocaster ripping up the asphalt and Hennessy’s vocals moving from disturbingly mellow to gleefully manic.
The second set was heartily received by the dancers, who hit the floor for an original jump blues ode to BBQ (“Dinosaurs in Heaven”), a nod to the earthy delights of a post-apocalyptic world (“13 Women”) and the precursor to hip-hop, Louis Jordan’s romping “Saturday Night Fish Fry.” In a moment that would have had the late Jim Henson hi-fiving everybody, the band delivered the funky plea to “Bring Back Roosevelt Franklin,” an infectious tune inspired by the 1970s blacklisting of a key player in the Muppets family.
“Head’s Up” showed off Mac’s instrumental prowess; “It’s Too Late, Brother”, a request from a fan, embodied swaggering harp and showed off a rhythm section that could do no wrong. Closing out the night with “Graveyard for the Blues”, the band depicted with gallows humor and snippets of hoary rock and pop tunes what a blues combo must too often endure if it wants to get regular gigs.
Trust me, music lovers, you will not want to miss this band’s next gig – 9pm on Friday (May 11) at Pauly’s Hotel in Albany (with special guests Alison Jacobs, Chad Ploss and Matt Mirabile). Let the reanimation of the best blues band in the area continue unabated! Viva Scotty Mac and the Rockin’ Bonnevilles!
SCOTTY MAC & THE ROCKIN’ BONNEVILLES SET LIST
Chickenshack (Jimmy Smith)
Just My Luck
My Home Is a Prison (Lonesome Sundown)
Breadmaker (Slim Harpo)
Got Love If You Want It (Slim Harpo)
Fact or Fiction
Heart Attack and Vine (Tom Waits)
Dinosaurs in Heaven
13 Women (Dickie Thompson)
Saturday Night Fish Fry (Louis Jordan)
Pretty Thing (Willie Dixon/Bo Diddley)
Pipeline (Dick Dale)
29 Ways (Willie Dixon)
Bring Back Roosevelt Franklin
Head’s Up (Freddy King)
It’s Too Late Brother (Little Walter)
Graveyard for the Blues