Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Mike Henderson Band – If You Think It’s Hot Here… | Album Review

The Mike Henderson Band – If You Think It’s Hot Here…

EllerSoul Records

11 tracks / 51:32

You are probably familiar with Mike Henderson’s work, even if you have not heard his name before. This three-time Grammy-nominated cat has written songs that were recorded by artists that include The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kenny Rogers, Travis Tritt, Randy Travis, The Dixie Chicks, Trisha Yearwood, and even Adele (damn, she is popular). Or, maybe you have heard him on albums by folks such as Mark Knopfler, Albert King, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Hank Jr., John Hiatt, Sting, Bo Diddley, Tim McGraw, Lucinda Williams, or Bob Seeger. Then there is his work with his own groups, the SteelDrivers and the Bluebloods, which is truly amazing.

If you still do not know who he is, maybe you caught him during one of the regular Monday night shows he has at Nashville’s Bluebird Café. Then you would know how tight his band is, and it would surely make you want to pick up a copy of his EllerSoul Records debut, If You Think It’s Hot Here…. Producer Kevin McKendree in Franklin, Tennessee’s Rock House studio, cut this set of hard-hitting roadhouse blues live in the studio. It is 50-minute mix of originals and covers that defines the Mike Henderson Band.

Mike took care of the lead vocals, guitar, and harmonica for this project and his band certainly meets his high standards. The roster includes McKendree on piano and B3, Michael Rhodes on bass, and Pat O’Connor behind the drum kit. First up on the track list is “I Wanta Know Why” and this original has a bit of a southern rock flavor to it. The most notable thing here is Henderson’s guitar tone -- it is full and meaty, and this sound is a major contributor to the anxious tone that the band was looking for. Mike lays down an awesome slide solo, and McKendree has a killer touch on the piano keys here, making for a solid opener.

Then there are a couple of Hound Dog Taylor covers, “Send You Back to Georgia” and “It’s Alright,” and there is no doubt that these fellows have the shuffle figured out. O’Connor is one hell of a drummer, and his timing really pulls these tunes together.

There are plenty of other extra cool covers on this album too. Muddy Waters’ “Mean Red Spider” is very catchy with nice snare work from O’Connor and a slick walking bass line from Rhodes. The classic “If I Had Possession” from Robert Johnson features (appropriately) lovely guitar work from Henderson; this song never gets old no matter how many artists cover it. Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Unseen Eye” features Chicago style guitar licks galore and very tasty barrelhouse piano from McKendree. And the traditional, “Matchbox,” is a romp that is just plain fun. There is not a dud in the bunch!

These covers are neat, but the standout song of the album is the original title track that is already a certified crowd favorite. Henderson has been playing “If You Think It’s Hot Here…” for years in his live shows, and this ode to our place in the afterlife has wonderful lyrics and a solid melody. McKendree’s piano work is very powerful, and to add a little more depth a few guest musicians were brought in: Don Underwood on guitar, as well as Chris Stapleton and Morgane Stapleton on backing vocals. This is a song that can be listened to many times without getting stale, and it might just make you think about what may be in store for you when the pearly gates close. Or not.

If You Think It’s Hot Here… has a live gig vibe with the benefit of studio refinement, and the end product is an entertaining set of roadhouse blues that is very listenable from the comfort of your own home. The originals and tributes mix well together and the Mike Henderson Band play all of them with skill and passion. Be sure to check out Mike’s web page for his gig schedule (still playing on Mondays!), and think about picking up a copy of this disc for your collection!

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