Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Bill Durst – Live


This CD review was originally published in the November 7, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at Bill Durst – Live

Self Release

10 tracks / 45:21

Under their national MAPL system, Canadian radio stations must allot up to 40% of their airtime for Canadian artists, and this program helps grow local bands in a market that might otherwise be saturated by their brothers from the other side of the border. Some of these artists become big enough that their popularity extends further south, but often times it ends up that these acts get a loyal Canadian following so they enjoy good careers without us Americans ever hearing anything about them. Bill Durst is part of the latter group.

Bill Durst has been around the block a few times, having been active in the music scene for the past four decades, both as a solo artist and with the band, Thundermug. Since 1972, he has cut ten albums and had seven hits on the Canadian charts. Somewhere in there he played with Tres Hombres, a ZZ Top tribute band, which is how he ended up with that fantastic beard!

Live is Bill Durst’s latest effort, with ten tracks that were recorded at The Music Hall in London, Ontario back in late 2010. Seven of these songs are originals that were written by Bill and Joe DeAngelis, his buddy from Thundermug, and there are also three neat cover tunes. Bill takes on the guitar and vocal chores, and he is joined by Corey Thompson on drums and Paul Loeffelholz on bass and backing vocals. This is one tight power trio!

“Love Have Mercy” is the first track up, and we find out that the beard is not the only thing that Durst got from his stint in Tres Hombres – he came out of that band as a consummate blues rocker, with killer guitar chops, a distinctive voice and the heart of a showman. There is a definite ZZ Top influence in his music, albeit with an edgier sound and a much funkier bass presence.

After this sizzling opener, the band settles into two covers written in 1960 by Willie Dixon. The first is “Little Red Rooster,” which was originally recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, and then “I Want to Be Loved,” which was popularized by Muddy Waters. In case it ever comes up in a trivia contest, the Rolling Stones covered both of these songs too. Anyway, Bill’s versions of these songs have a different vibe than the originals, as they have been converted to his style of Southern/Texas blues rock. These are Bill Durst songs now through and through, and Loeffelholz’s walking bass lines (punctuated by slaps and pops) are nothing like you would find in the originals.

The other cover is ambitious, as it is hard to top the version of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” that the Allman Brothers included on their 1971 juggernaut, At Filmore East. Bill and his band rose to the challenge, and they knocked this one out of the park. Once again they reinvented this song in their own style, and this fast-faced roadhouse blues lends itself well to Durst’s guitar skills, which are prodigious. I am not going risk the wrath of the Allman’s fans by directly comparing the two versions, but I will let this one rest by saying that it would be very hard to do better than what these guys did with this classic.

Besides his guitar chops, Bill Durst has his singing down too. On first impression, he seems to have the typical growly bluesman voice, but after listening for a while I was taken by his vocal range, as well as all of the extra nuances he adds in. He can take a grunt, hoot or holler, and interject it so that it really affects the mood of the song. I am sure that you have heard singers try to do this before and fail, because it comes off as phony or contrived, but Durst can do it with such a natural feel that it really adds to the music. You can hear this with his woo hoo’s on the Creole-influenced “Café’ on the Gaspe” or his ability to mimic his guitar with the vocals on “Wandering Blues” (my favorite track on Live).

noticeable is how he lets his sense of humor take over every now and then. It can be semi-subtle, like reworking a children’s song into a drinking anthem with “Porcelain Bus,” or more overt, such as the “Hole in My Soul” self-improvement plan: “…I’m gonna give up my cocaine and buy me a bag of pot.” You have to love this stuff!

Live performance CDs can be a dicey at times, but this disc avoids the usual pitfalls. The instruments and vocals are well-recorded with good mixing, and the transitions from track to track are seamless. Also, as all three performers are veterans there is not a miscue or clunker to be found. This is particularly impressive when you consider that these guys did not know they were going to use the recordings from this show to cut a live album.

This CD was a fine introduction for me to Bill Durst’s music, and I am going to have to track down some of his other material so I can hear what else he has done. Live is a great snapshot of what he and his band are capable of, and their live show must also really be something to see. Give it a listen, or better yet, go to his website to see if he is playing in your area anytime soon!


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