Artist: Professor Louie & The Crowmatix
Album: Crowin’ the Blues
Release Date: 04/07/2017
Aaron “Professor Louie” Hurwitz first came to prominence for his production and keyboard work with The Band (post Robbie Robertson) and separately with Rick Danko’s bands. In fact, it was Danko that dubbed him “Professor Louie,” a name that stuck immediately and has carried Louie and his band, The Crowmatix, through 13 studio albums.
Professor Louie is a keyboard master across piano, Hammond B3, and accordion and shares the lead vocals with long-time bandmate Marie Spinoza who also plays piano. While this unit can likely play just about any tune in The Band repertoire, they’ve carved out their own niche, leaning toward blues, R&B, early rock ‘n’ roll, and occasional gospel. As the title implies, this one is heavily weighted toward blues.
The album was recorded live in the studio, as Professor Louie hearkened back to the sounds of Don Robey’s Peacock recordings and such early rock and roll hits as “High Heel Sneakers.” As the album unfolds, they sprinkle in four originals alongside tunes from Elmore James, Jimmy McCracklin, Big Bill Broonzy, B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, and Jimmy Rogers. Guitars from John Platania (Van Morrison, Chip Taylor), and guest spots from Michael Falzarano and Josh Colow sustain a rhythmic groove throughout the album.
Three tracks really stand out. The soft shuffle “Love is Killing Me” was penned by Louie and Marie, and showcases some stunning vocals from Marie, with the background vocals giving a vintage R&B vibe to the tune. The Crowmatix mash up a unique arrangement of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights Big City” with the soul hit “On Broadway.” The album ends with a nod to the late Buckwheat Zydeco in “Blues for Buckwheat.”
Even when they cover a tune like B.B. King’s “Confessin’ the Blues,” they transform it into a piano boogie and Platania, rather than playing in King’s style, bursts forth with a blistering slide guitar solo. Conversely, they take Rogers’ “That’s Alright” at a slow, smoldering tempo with Marie’s sensual vocals.
At other times, such as with Elmore James’ “Fine Little Mama,” they render the tune faithfully with Platania displaying his slide chops. Naturally, this kind of material called for at least one gospel tune. As Louie says in the liners, “Many early performers walked the fence between the straight path and the Honky Tonk Chitlin’ circuit lifestyle and recorded Gospel songs and we chose “I’m On the Way.” Complete with an organ intro as well as call and response vocals from Louie and Marie, they capture the church feel.
Although this is mostly a retro sound, the unique arrangements and new approaches to the cover tunes, as well as the especially strong original, “Love Is Killing Me,” make for an enjoyable listen.