Album Reviews

The Smoke Wagon Blues Band

Cigar Store

Artist:     The Smoke Wagon Blues Band

Album:     Cigar Store

Label:     Self Released

Release Date:     11/04/2016

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A couple of weeks ago, when reviewing Canadian Colin James’ latest effort, I mentioned how Canada has some very strong regional blues hot spots, none stronger than Ontario. According to perhaps Canada’s premier blues voice, Stony Plain President Holger Petersen, Canadians are more familiar with their native artists than those from the states. That axiom probably holds true in reverse, as I had not heard of the Smoke Wagon Blues Band, a unit from Hamilton, Ontario that has been playing for two decades, until this release. In fact, the cartoonish nature of the CD cover art would likely cause the unaware to either turn away or not take them seriously. As Willie Dixon said, “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover.” This sextet is playing almost entirely original material, and the gritty voice of front man Corey Lueck combined with the soulful backing, reminds me at times of Joe Cocker going back to his Mad Dogs & Englishmen sound.

In terms of the band’s beginnings, Corey Lueck describes it excitingly here: “Though [guitarist] Mike Stubbs and I didn’t know each other back then, both of us grew up as teenagers sneaking out to see King Biscuit Boy in Hess Village. When we were starting out, the Hamilton blues scene was something magical; starting at one end of the street and catching sizzling sets by the likes of Harrison Kennedy, Biscuit Boy, Sonny Del Rio or Trick bag and ending the evening with some smoking down-and-dirty-blues by Tim Gibbons and the Little Red Rooster band. Once polished enough to be accepted into the village scene, playing such clubs as 33 Hess and The Mermaid, we slowly started to carve a niche with our own brand of blues. The pay was never very good, but what a way to develop our sound! Packed clubs and streets on hot summer nights, people dancing from bar to bar, musicians running from venue to venue to catch a few tunes between sets (or to borrow a guitar string). What made that time so special was that people really came out for the music. The music was just as important to the audience as it was to the musicians. Music speaks the truth, and that’s what the blues are all about… while also leaving a little room to boogie!”

The band has three Hamilton Music Award nominations for Blues Album of the year and a Maple Blues Award nomination for Best New Blues Artist. The group’s last two albums were international hits, reaching the top of the roots and blues charts and wide acclaim in several publications. The band played the 2016 Memphis Blues Challenge and wowed crowds on Beale Street for three nights.  They have taken this recent momentum to deliver 50 minutes of some great storytelling tunes that feature tales of the Yukon, New Orleans, voodoo, the Underground Railroad, lost loves and even moonshining. You’ll hear R&B, swamp and stomp. Lueck blows his harp. Keyboardists Nick Succi and Steve Sherman pound and swirl and Gordon Aeichele adds his soulful sax. You can’t help but get up and start moving.

-Jim Hynes

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