Album Reviews

Matthew Skoller

Blues Immigrant

Artist:     Matthew Skoller

Album:     Blues Immigrant

Label:     Tongue n’ Groove

Release Date:     09/23/2016


One of Chicago’s most in-demand harmonica players is back with his fifth solo release. If you’re not familiar with Matthew Skoller, absorb these credentials. As a producer, he has produced two award-winning albums by Lurrie Bell and figures prominently in Bell’s recent release, Can’t Shake This Feeling. His tune “The Devil Ain’t Got No Music,” from Bell’s gospel album of the same name, received a BMA nomination as “Song of the Year.” He does a version of it here too. Skoller has also played harmonica on three Grammy nominated albums in the last five years: Chicago Blues: A Living History, Still I Rise, by Heritage Blues Orchestra, and Muddy Waters 100. So, respected both by critics and fellow musicians in Chicago, the relocated New Yorker is back with his knack for rather offbeat blues material, revealing a cool mix of both humor and a keen grasp of topical social issues.

Of the eleven tunes, nine were written by Skoller and his co-producer, Vincent Bucher. The title track is autobiographical, punctuated by that clever line, “…I need a green card to play the blues.” The opener, “Big Box Store Blues,” is a tribute and rewriting of John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson’s “Welfare Store Blues,” lamenting the loss of mom and pop stores and the often deplorable life of the retail worker. “Only in the Blues” talks about the Blues music industry with a dry sense of humor, while “Story of Greed” is his own interesting take on the 1% syndrome. Yes, there are the requisite love and lost love songs too. The slow simmering “Tear Collector” with its burning chorus “I need someone to cry for me tonight” and the shuffling “747,” with its lines “She caught a 747/Greyhound runs too slow/Ain’t no tracks up in the air/I wonder where did my baby go,” are especially memorable.

As you might expect, Skoller assembled some of the city’s top musicians for this recording including Johnny Iguana on keyboards, Felton Crews on bass, Marc Wilson on drums and stellar guitarists Giles Corey and Eddie Taylor Jr. (son of legend Eddie Taylor). Guitarist Carlos Johnson plays on “Tear Collector” and “747.” Background vocalists Mike Avery and Stevie Robinson join in.

Given that Skoller relocated to Chicago almost 30 years ago, it is clear that is deeply entrenched and well-versed in the Chicago blues sound. What separates him from many are his thoughtful songs that reflect a social conscience without a preachy approach. He delivers them clever and classy.

– Jim Hynes

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