East Side Slim
Joe Kubek & Bnois King – Blood Brothers
Alligator Records, 2008
Brothers is the 1st release on Alligator Records
by the Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King
blues band. They’ve been performing together
since the late ‘80s and have released close
to a dozen albums in that time. An unlikely pairing
at 1st thought, with Joe being a fiery Texas guitar
slinger and Bnois – pronounced Buh-noys -
coming up out of Louisiana with jazz/R&B leanings
(and being Joe’s elder by 13 years), the pairing
of their styles compliments each other very well.
While Joe is ripping off solos in his Freddie King
inspired style, Bnois will be comping rhythm patterns
in jazz chordings behind him. But don’t underestimate
Bnois’ skills on guitar, because he can jump
in and light some fires himself with his own solo
work. Bnois handles all the vocals, singing in a
warm, vibrato-laden voice that wraps itself around
I knew I liked this band when I heard an instrumental
from them titled “Corn Palace” several
years ago. As a South Dakota-born boy myself I couldn’t
help but dig a tune inspired (or at least named
after) the World’s only corn palace –
especially as I grew up 50 miles from the place!
I’ve been a fan for years, and hopefully you’ll
listen to this release, as well as several others
from the band, and become a fan yourself. As Bnois
says in the liner notes to Blood Brothers, “We’re
crazy. We’ll go to any length to play a shuffle.
Any length!” How can you not like that kind
of commitment? Now, it’s on to the songs:
My Dog’s Still Walkin’: --
This lead-off track to the CD is a contemporary
blues/rock tune, with fuzzed out rhythm guitar from
Joe. Bnois and Joe trade solos throughout the song,
and there’s heavy reliance on organ –
supplied by guest musician Gentleman John Street
(who played for a long time behind Anson Funderburgh.)
Don’t Lose My Number: -- Joe and
Bnois love to play shuffles of all shapes and sizes,
and this song just happens to be a mid-tempo shuffle
with stinging lead guitar lines. I can listen to
good shuffle players (a good shuffle is deceptively
difficult to play, by the way) all night long, and
Smokin’ Joe and Bnois excel at playing Texas-style
shuffles. A good shuffle should make your hips want
to start moving all on their own, without the brain
even being aware of the fact.
Flamethrower: -- Bnois’ singing style
really carries this song, with his slow vibrato
making this one sound very cool. The drum pattern
is not your standard issue, and Joe’s lead
lines are icy and to the point. This is a very,
very nice track.
Stop Drinking: -- This is a cover of an
old Lightnin’ Hopkins song. The band has slowed
things way down after the 3 faster-tempo opening
tracks, treating the listener to a deep, long (over
8 minutes!) slow blues. Bnois coarsens his voice
for a tougher effect, enhancing the dark mood of
the tune. Needless to say, this song is about what
can happen when you let “demon” whiskey
take control of your life… The length of the
song allows Joe and Bnois to really stretch out
on guitar without worrying about bumping up on a
3 minute time constraint, building up their opposing
guitar lines slowly for great emotional effect.
Must Be Kharma: -- This is a mid-tempo
contemporary blues shuffle, and which might be my
favorite tune of the CD. The mood of the song is
warm and uplifting, extolling the virtues of treating
people by the Golden Rule - and what can happen
if you don’t. This is one if very good!
Freezer Burn: -- The 1st instrumental track
on the CD. Smokin’ Joe always puts a couple
instrumental tracks on each of his albums. This
one is an old Albert Collins tune, with other ideas
added to it from Joe and Bnois. This one sounds
so “Texas” it’s crazy. If you
dig cool groovin’ instro tracks with deadly
guitar work, then you just might like this one.
Coleman Avenue: -- This is a very nice
contemporary blues played at a slower tempo, one
that allows Bnois’ voice to shine once again.
He really digs in to this sort of track, this time
singing about his upbringing and life story –
how he came to get into the music business and becoming
Midlife Crisis, Midnight Flight: -- This
one is a fast roadhouse rockin’ blues. Nothing
pretentious, no hidden meanings, just the band ripping
one off, and making it sound so easy.
Bumpy Ride: -- This song is taken at a
slower tempo, with an ominous bass line and the
tremolo set high on the guitar amp for a watery
kind of sound. It doesn’t sound at first as
if the song is a love song, but it really is. The
“bumpy ride” is life’s knocks
and pitfalls, with Bnois singing about how a couple’s
love can help smooth out those bumps of life for
each other. This is a very cool song!
That Ring Don’t Mean A Thing: --
Take a “Mannish Boy” stop-time thing
and mix it with a cool Texas groove and you’ve
got an idea of how this song sounds. Joe plays some
great emotion-filled single-note guitar solos in
the raw Dallas style. Freddie King made that kind
of thing famous, and Joe has played that way his
entire career. It’s tough, man.
Cold Folks Boogie: -- This one’s
a straight Texas-style shuffle. It just sounds so
right! Joe’s biting guitar is balanced by
Bnois’ swinging rhythm chords. This track
is almost as instrumental, with only a couple verses
sung; the rest of the song is pure Dallas groove.
Out On A Limb: -- You can hear Bnois’
jazzy influences here, as the guys play over a swinging
shuffle beat. Don’t worry though, as Joe gets
to show what he’s got a little farther on
into the song.
The Pleasure Was All Mine: -- This is another
contemporary blues, played in that slow- to mid-tempo
pacing that Bnois likes to use. As I’ve mentioned
before, this pacing fits his warm voice very well
and also allows for the use of lots of chording
work by Bnois and intensifying solos by Joe.
Troubled Dreams: -- The CD ends with this
rockin’ blues number, which wouldn’t
have sounded out of place on an old Free or Bad
Company LP. This one likely goes over very well
in their live shows.
Blood Brothers is another solid effort from Smokin’
Joe Kubek & Bnois King. You know, they just
don’t release any bad albums. If you like
shuffles and loads of tasty guitar playing, then
you should be very happy with this CD. At a solid
hour in length, it can get a little bit long to
listen to in one shot. I might’ve trimmed
off 2 of the 14 songs in order to tighten things
up a bit, but that’s a minor quibble really.
I have no problem at all with giving this CD a 4.0
STLBluesometer rating. The guitar skills of both
men just keep getting better (which is hard to believe
as they’re incredibly good players already)
and Bnois’ voice keeps aging like a fine mellow
whiskey. In addition, they slower songs that the
band comes up with keep getting better with every
release. Well, done guys, and well done Alligator
for signing Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois
King to the label. My only question is: why did
it take Alligator so long to sign this band? Alligator’s
stable of blues talent has become much stronger
with the addition of Kubek & King.
"East Side Slim"