Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fo’ Reel – Heavy Water | Album Review


Fo’ Reel – Heavy Water

Self Release

11 tracks / 53:06

Fo’ Reel bills themselves as a “New Orleans All Star Blues Funk” band, and though it sounds like hyperbole, there might just be something to their boast. Just looking over the list of personnel for their new album, “Heavy Water,” proves that they have a lot of powerful musicians in the line-up.

For starters, C.P. Love, the legendary Crescent City soul singer is their frontman, and a couple of Grammy winners are on the bill too: Jonny Neel behind the keyboards (Allman Brother, Gov’t Mule, and Dicky Betts) and Jon Smith on tenor sax. David Hyde takes on the bass chores, and the drums were played by Daryl Burgess or Allyn Robinson, depending on which city the recording session was in that day (New Orleans or Nashville). This ensemble is rounded out by Ward Smith on baritone saxophone, Barney Floyd on trumpet, and songwriter Rick Lawson, who provided the lead vocals on four of the tracks.

But do not forget guitarist and executive producer Mark Domizio, who is their leader and the brainchild that turned this group of journeyman musicians into a cohesive whole. David played with Dr. John’s band for 40 years, and has been a first-call guitarist on the New Orleans scene for just as long. Now that this disc is cut, he will be taking some of these guys on the road to spread their brand of blues to the hungry masses.

For a “New Orleans All Star Blues Funk” band, their selection of music is not what you would think it would be – what they play is not exactly the New Orleans Blues. Though there is an undercurrent of the NOLA vibe, their music has a smooth and soulful modern blues sound that is not loaded up with accordion, washboards, or raw production values. It is a fresh blues-based sound that incorporates elements of jazz, soul, funk, rhythm and blues, Latin beats, and even a little Texas swing. This album is as slick as hell with high-quality and seamless production, and the band cranks out eight original songs and three clever covers in just under an hour.

Heavy Water kicks off with “Breaking up Somebody’s Home,” the first of the three cover tunes. This Albert King standard differs from other versions that came before as it is more soul-based, with some incredible Hammond work from Neel, and killer horn arrangements from Smith. Love’s vocals are strong and suitably harsh and emotional for the theme of this song.

Love also takes the lead vocals on the other two covers: “Shake N Bake” and ”Just as I Am,” both of which were recorded by the late Luther Allison. The former is a slow-rolling funk masterpiece, and the latter borders on gospel. The common ground between the two is the rock-solid backline, Domizio’s stellar lead breaks, and the incredible keys of Neel.

Rick Lawson’s smooth voice brings more of a 1970s funk style to “Shake N Bake” which is an explosion of raw horns, retro synthesizer sound, and hammering snare and hi-hat. But otherwise, his vocals are used for slow-rolling blues tunes, including “Leave Your Love Alone,” “Blues,” and “Outside Love.” These latter two also feature some sublime slide work from Domizio.

As cool as all of this is, there are a few instrumentals that will really knock your socks off too. “Gate” is a jazzed-up Texas swing tribute to Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, with some trick fingering on the guitar and razor sharp horns, including a fabulous tenor sax solo from Smith. They chose to end the set with “Tater,” a jazzy horn fest with a funky beat.

Fo’ Reel’s Heavy Water is a very good album with first-rate writing, arranging, performance and production. If you like contemporary blues or soul, this disc is a must-buy, but also consider their live show if you are looking for a fun evening of righteous music. For details of how to purchase the CD or to see their gig schedule check out their website at


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