Jim Sulher & Monkey Beat,
Bad Juju
(Lucky Seven/Rounder, 2001)

I've always had a thing for gritty blues/rock, and Jim Suhler captures the essence like a couple of favourites of mine -- Stevie Ray Vaughan and George Thorogood. I was instantly reminded of Thorogood, and just as quickly found it impossible to sit still. This is dancing/drinking/shooting pool music at its finest! Sulher is not only exceptional as a guitarist, but as a songwriter, too.

This Dallas native was not only "discovered" by Thorogood, but together with his group Monkey Beat has toured extensively with the Delaware Madman! It seems like a real shame that his voice isn't more known in the world -- Sulher definitely has a talent that puts him on a strong par with the other greats, and he deserves just as much recognition.

"Deja Blue" is the opening track, and it sizzles -- well, actually slides! The lyrics are strong and honest, and fit well with the melody. "Well I've been through five long years / lots of pain and countless tears / but I finally came through with my head held high / yes, I had these feelings before / no, I don't like them anymore / well I think I'm going to lay down and cry / I got good intentions, but it feels like deja blue...." There's nothing quite so horrid as a broken heart, unless perhaps it is the other half acting the martyr needlessly. Sadly, it will take a few times of listening to it before you even really notice the lyrics! The beat is contagious, and this is a prime party track!

"Restless Soul" is dedicated to Rory Gallagher (the pioneer of Irish rock, who died following complications from a liver transplant in 1995). This is a track which shows off some stylin' guitar work with a distinct edge to it. Sulher knows his instrument inside and out, as only a master can, and he can make it talk really tough. I haven't heard music this good in a very long time, there's some riffs in here for even the most skeptical and disillusioned blues fan.

The final track on the disc is "I.O.U.," a dynamite acoustic piece. This is "back to the basics blues" at its finest! Each note reaches deep inside and pulls forth a corresponding chord from the heart, as Sulher teases and finesses the strings to provide the perfect sound. The lyrics are simplistic, which can be a great thing, leaving the focus to land on the music.

This disc has been spinning almost non-stop in my player since it arrived, and I've nothing bad to say. There are no weak areas, there are no sour chords, no bad notes, this is simply an incredible disc. If you like the blues and you don't have this one yet, what are you doing sitting there?! This is a MUST HAVE item for any blues collection. Honest.

[ by Naomi de Bruyn ]
Rambles: 16 March 2002

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