East Side Slim
Andy T - Nick Nixon Band - Drink Drank Drunk :: Delta Groove Music, Inc., 2012
Andy T – Nick Nixon Band – Drink Drank Drunk – Delta Groove Music, Inc., 2013
What we have here is one of the finest debut blues releases of recent memory. I had been hearing good buzz about this project prior to getting my greedy, er, eager hands on it, and the patient wait was worth every moment.
Andy T is from Southern California, where he fell under the musical sway of the British blues players from the late 1960s. After spending many formative years in the SoCal area, he hooked up with Smokey Wilson’s band in 1996. A couple years later (in 1998) he joined Guitar Shorty’s band, staying on for 5 years. So, for 7 years he played and toured with two old-guard, road-dog bluesmen, and judging from the phenomenal tones heard on Drink Drank Drunk he absorbed plenty of lessons from Smokey and Shorty. (Note: if you aren’t familiar with the work of Smokey Wilson or Guitar Shorty, you need to be…consider this an assignment.)
James “Nick” Nixon, a Nashville, Tennessee native, has been playing guitar (although he does not play on this CD) and singing in various bands for most of his life, including a recording/release opportunity with Chess Records in 1974. Nixon taught music for 35 years in Nashville in conjunction with the Nashville Parks and Recreation department, so well in fact that he was awarded a prestigious Keeping The Blues Alive award for education.
The idea of making this album was originally meant to lead to the recording of Andy T’s long overdue solo debut. But the more he worked with Nick, the more Andy knew Nick’s voice belonged on the album. Nick Nixon possesses a phenomenal voice: powerful, flexible, and musical, exceptionally suited to singing all styles of rhythm and blues.
The CD was produced by the suddenly very active Anson Funderburgh, who also plays guitar on several cuts as well (see Funderburgh’s new band project – 4 Jacks.) The all-star blues players comprising the band on Drink Drank Drunk include: John Garza on bass, Christian Dozzler on piano and accordion, Kevin McKendree (piano on two tracks), Gentleman John Street (organ on a couple cuts), Danny Cochran (primary drummer), Wes Starr and others. Additionally, special note needs to be made of Ron Jones’ notable contributions on sax (“note” pun not intended). Ron almost steals the show here; seriously.
The Songs: (songwriters in parenthesis)
1. Midnight Hour – (Clarence Brown)
--Big guitar and big voice jolt the listener to attention – there is something special going on here and you best be alert! This is blues that recalls the glory days of The Upsetters and Johnny Copeland, with Gatemouth Brown as a launching point.
2. Don’t Touch Me (I’m Gonna Hit The Highway) – (Maxwell Davis, Sam Ling, John Watson)
--This is a slow burner, co-written by the phenomenally talented Maxwell Davis, and performed by Johnny Guitar Watson (pre-Gangsta days.) The force of Nixon’s voice is such that you keep waiting for that voice to come apart at the seams, but you realize that he has full control of that instrument. And Andy T’s guitar tone and taste are simply untouchable. This is beautiful work right here.
3. Drink Drank Drunk – (Thomas Hambridge, Gary Nicholson)
--This one feels just like Texas, probably for good reason as Delbert McClinton’s frequent writing partner Gary Nicholson is a co-writer here. This cut is a loping good time, full of tough, raw guitar playing that any player out of Dallas would be happy to call their own. Show ‘em how it’s done, Andy!
4. No Use Knockin’ – (Paul Gayten, Robert Guidry)
--The band heads down New Orleans way for this R&B gem, dialing the power down a bit in exchange for a wicked groove and swinging sax.
5. Have You Seen My Monkey – (Andy Talamantez)
--Christian Dozzler’s accordion opens this rollicking good-timer, keeping things rooted along the Gulf Coast, if a bit to the west of New Orleans. To my ears there’s a significant “Houston” blues feel to this album, and many a Cajun and zydeco musician has spent time working the Houston clubs over the decades. This tune is fun mix of blues and zydeco (older zydeco was essentially a blues/R&B off-shoot,) something made to get your feet movin’!
6. Dos Danos – (Andy Talamantez)
--A mid-set instrumental is a great way to change direction, whether at a live show or on a recording. The unison lines between guitar and sax are a pure joy to listen to (just try not smiling during this tune – I dare you!), and when Andy breaks out into solo mode, his guitar lines are as taught and tasty as a caramel-wrapped granny smith.
7. No End To The Blues – (Winfield Moore III, James Nixon)
--The change in direction is a nice one, as the band moves into a hard blues direction. This is uptown, big city blues, full of passion and power but with a wink and nod to the carnal side of things. Think Modern Records-era B.B. King, and you’ll be on the right track.
8. On My Way To Texas – (Andy Talamantez, James Nixon)
--This is my favorite tune on the CD, and the fact that Andy T and Nick Nixon wrote it is even better. If one single cut on the album had to be picked to best exemplify “Texas” blues, this is it. This is a mid-tempo shuffler with a tremolo-laden rhythm guitar part (picture Robert Ward as a Texan!) and a signifying vocal from Nick. This is a winner.
9. Hi-Heel Sneakers – (Robert Higginbotham)
--I’m fairly certain that another recording of Tommy Tucker’s Hi-Heel Sneakers isn’t really needed (best to give it life in a live setting), but the band performs the tune in a professional and fun manner. Everyone sounds fine, even if they’ve all probably played this song a hundred times before.
10. Life Is Too Short – (Edward Hale)
--This is a deep, slow blues, acting as a springboard for Nick Nixon’s vocal gymnastics. The man can do it all, from a shout to a whisper to a growl. And as true blue fans know, a slow blues is where a great guitar player truly shines – if they possess the taste and the tone. Andy T is blessed with both (with much hard work over the years, no doubt – the good ones just make it sound so easy.)
11. You Look So Good – (James Nixon)
--Hey baby, this sounds so good to me. A little Jimmy Reed-lope combined with some Texas roadhouse dust makes for a soulfully greasy good time. Hash Brown guests on this one, providing the harmonica playing a la Reed. Frankly, I can listen to greasy good strolls like this one all night long, smiling the whole way through.
12. I’ve Got A Woman – (Ray Charles, Renald Richard)
--Nixon’s vocals get one last workout here, heading on back to church. A slight rearrangement brings new life to Ray Charles’ tune, shuffling it up with a syncopated snare beat and backing it with accordion. It sounds like something Clifton Chenier could have thrown together – and that’s a complement of the highest order.
It’s always a pleasant surprise to give a spin to a CD from a band or act you aren’t familiar with and have it be this good. Almost as good unearthing hidden treasure while bargain-picking LPs back in the days of the discount bins. Drink Drank Drunk is going to end up on many “2013 best of blues” lists at the end of the year. Andy T’s guitar work is just plain righteous – taught, tone-full (full of tone!) and emotive, with never a wasted note. Nick Nixon is a vocal powerhouse, and also knows when to (and is capable of) dialing back the power in order to emphasize the song. Delta Groove has a real keeper on its hands here, and I’m glad I have my hands on a copy. Alright, it’s time to rate this bad boy…Drink Drank Drunk from the Andy T-Nick Nixon Band earns a rating of 4.00 on the STLBluesometer. This is the good stuff!
For more information concerning the Andy T-Nick Nixon Band, see the following websites:
www.andytband.com - Andy T-Nick Nixon Band on Facebook
Lee Howland - aka East Side Slim