Artist: The McKee Brothers
Album: Enjoy It While You Can
Release Date: 05/20/2016
In my radio days I had a caller who often said, “You can never have too many horns.” It is the horn charts that drew me to this record, but repeated listens revealed some good songwriting, strong vocals on every track, and diversity fitting of the album’s jacket cover that lists seven genres. This is one big project involving 24 musicians. Of course, most tracks have no more than 10-12, but there are a few sessions that comprise the entire album. Denis McKee, a multi-instrumentalist, outlines the story in the liners. “It’s been a long but enjoyable road for my brother Ralph and I. We both have playing music or 35+ years, hundreds of gigs, but only a few together. This is our first official release, together. It took only 15 years.” Denis goes on to describe how he resides in California while his brother is in Ann Arbor, MI. Four initial tracks were laid down in 2001. The next summer his old friend and jazz pianist Bobby West listened to these tracks and was impressed by lead vocalist Bob Shultz, from Jackson, MI. Shultz’s pedigree extends back to Bob Seger and he takes lead vocals on 11 of these 13 tunes, six of them penned by West. So you have the four originals, three written in 2013, six from West, and the one Patty Griffin cover “Up to the Mountain,” sung by Denis’ daughter Maria. Musicians from both Michigan and California joined the project, including notable guitarists Larry McCray and Kirk Fletcher, and stellar horns led and arranged by trumpeter Lee Thornburg (formerly of Tower of Power). Many of the other supporting musicians have equally impressive credentials.
Of particular interest are these tracks: “A Little Bit of Soul” (sung by Larry McCray), “Desperate Situation” (featuring extended horn solos –Doug Webb on soprano sax), Earl King’s “It All Went Down the Drain” (multi-guitar interplay) and “Qualified” and “Slide” (featuring some nice slide guitar from Stan Budzynski). Shultz’s blue-eyed soul vocals and the band’s ability to mix multiple styles into each tune, especially those composed by West, make for good listening. Denis McKee says it well, “ Bobby’s songs have many elements: blues, soul, jazz, funk, sophisticated but also down home, old-school yet modern, a blend.” The more you listen, the more you’ll discover in the wild horn parts, guitar solos and deep grooves.
– Jim Hynes