Album Reviews

Mike Wheeler Band

Turn Up!!

Artist:     Mike Wheeler Band

Album:     Turn Up!!

Label:     Delmark

Release Date:     04/22/2016


This completes the Delmark trifecta, at least the first one for 2016 – a wonderful start with Guy King, Corey Dennison Band and now the Mike Wheeler Band! With contemporary bluesmen, we must acknowledge that it’s no longer the picking-cotton-now-going-north-to-Chicago generation. These guys grew up in Chicago, were raised on rock, soul,  funk and R&B; and they sprinkle some of those styles into what we now call a modern Chicago blues sound.  Mike Wheeler, in this regard, is much like another current Chicagoan, Toronzo Cannon. Wheeler, like Corey Dennison and others, has earned his way here through hard work and dues paid, in his case thirty years as sideman for the likes of Jimmy Johnson, Peaches Staten, Big James and the Chicago Playboys and others. Wheeler is one of the city’s best loved guitarists and quite a singer and songwriter too. This is powerful, uncompromising electric blues that will rattle your walls and your neighbor’s walls too.

The Mike Wheeler Band (MWB) formed way back in 2001, but their busy schedule has left little time to record albums, this being only his third. The liners suggest that Mike is the hardest working man in Chicago blues today, and although I may have made comparable claims about some of his contemporaries, it’s difficult to argue with this schedule. MWB plays every Monday at Blue Chicago, every Tuesday and Wednesday at Kingston Mines, and on weekends at Buddy Guy’s Legends, Rosa’s Lounge, Harlem Avenue Lounge or House of Blues.  All of this gigging makes this band a well-oiled machine, having formed their own sound, as evidenced by the eleven of twelve originals here.

Keyboardist Brian James and drummer Cleo Cole are original members, and bassist Larry Williams has been Mike’s friend since childhood. For these sessions, they’ve added the Chicago Horns (Kenny Anderson on trumpet and Hank Ford on tenor sax) for some tracks. You’ll hear touches of Santana in “You Won’t Do Right,” heavy Hendrix-influence in “Brand New Cadillac” and funky R&B in the title track.  “A Blind Man Can See” is straight ahead blues, while the epic closing ballad-into-rocker “Sad State of the World” ends with a positive call to action. They deliver Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make you Do” at a furious tempo. You’ll sense the melding of soul, funk and rock in several other tracks too.

Catch the MWB live. They will be featured at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival in September alongside other Delmark artists like Jimmy Burns and Peaches Staten.  In the meantime, let their joyous music on this release energize you.

-Jim Hynes

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