East Side Slim
The Insomniacs – At Least I'm Not With You
Delta Groove Music, 2009
Insomniacs are a very young, very talented, very
soulful band based out of Portland, Oregon, with
2 fine CDs now available. At Least I'm Not With
You is the band's 2nd release on Delta Groove, and
was recorded in only 2 days. If that seems like
a short time, remember that their material has been
fine-tuned on the road over the months and years
since their 1st release (Left Coast Swing.) Self-produced,
Left Coast Swing was recorded in the living room
of the band's bass player, Dean Mueller and eventually
picked up for release by Delta Groove Productions.
The Insomniacs style can be thought of as a direct
descendant of the old James Harman and Hollywood
Fats bands, rolling influences such as blues, jazz,
swing, as well as early R&B, rock 'n' roll and
soul, into a eminently satisfying musical mix –
Left Coast Blues is just about right the right description
of this sound. The boys have had great success in
a relatively short amount of time, even being nominated
for the 2008 Blues Music Award (formerly the Handy's)
Best New Artist Debut (seems a little redundant,
"new" and "debut", but I digress…)
Songs: (All songs written by Vyasa Dodson unless otherwise
The 4-piece band is comprised of Vyasa Dodson (vocals
and guitar), Alex Shakeri (organ, piano occasional
harp when performing live), Dean Mueller (bass)
and Dave Melyan (skins and tins). Vyasa Dodson (his
unusual 1st name is Sanskrit – talk to his
Mother) is the band leader and focal point, being
the primary songwriter and singer for the band.
He is a legitimate musical triple-threat: songwriter
(really the most important), guitarist and singer.
Originally influenced by guitar players such as
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton, his whole musical
world was turned upside-down when he started studying
jump blues players such as Tiny Grimes, Junior Watson
and Little Charlie (Baty). Vyasa is an incredibly
tasty and well-versed guitar player. His unaffected
singing is quite solid and is honest, but still
sounds quite young at times. I really enjoy how
his voice sounds on a couple of slow blues tunes
on the CD, where he seemed to dig down a little
deeper while singing, imparting a little more "edge"
to his voice.
Alex Shakeri (keys) is the band's secret weapon,
especially when he pulls his stool up to the Hammond
B-3, but then I'm a sucker for B-3. He plays the
organ with real soul and conviction, being the type
of player you can sit back and shut your eyes to
and just let the tones sweep over you. He happens
to be a fantastic pianist as well, with his work
being uniformly excellent and inventive. As mentioned
previously, the band's rhythm section (give some
love to the rhythm players!) is comprised of Dean
Mueller and Dave Melyan. The 2 of them are rock
solid. The ultimate compliment you can give to a
blues rhythm section is that they play together
almost as 1 musician, 1 voice. Dean and Dave most
certainly do just that. I read a quote from Dean
Mueller that I'd like to paraphrase for you: "Blue
music just speaks to me…I knew I had found
my home." East Side Slim says: That's the truth,
baby, and blues is truth.
1. Lonesome – (Peter Chatman aka Memphis
--This cut is a cover of an old Memphis Slim tune,
but it has been dramatically rearranged to fit the
sound of The Insomniacs. Of course, a lot of Slim's
old tunes featured Matt "Guitar" Murphy
on guitar, whose performances were flat-out. Vyasa
and the boys concentrated on that aspect of the
song, making it a strong, up-tempo guitar-driven
shuffle. As a bonus, Al Blake provides some nice
harp work, reinforcing the influence that the Hollywood
Fats Band has had, and continues to have, on younger
blues and jump players.
2. Broke And Lonely – (Johnny Otis,
Johnny "Guitar" Watson)
--This cover tune swings nicely, with a Texas swing
sound imparted thanks to the pedal steel work of
guest musician Joel Patterson. That makes this a
mix of West Coast jump and Texas swing, which works
very well. Remember, the swinging blues from the
West Coast has much of it's origins in the Texas-
and Oklahoma-bred players who moved out to the West
Coast for work opportunities (both musical and 9-to-5)
during and after WWII, musicians such as T-Bone
Walker, Pee Wee Crayton, Lowell Fulson, Lloyd Glen
and Charles Brown.
3. Directly From My Heart To You –
(Richard W. Penniman aka Little Richard)
--A cover of a Little Richard tune…you don't
hear that much anymore, which is really too bad.
This is solid blues number full of tough guitar
and a tenor and baritone sax section courtesy of
Jeff Turmes (ah, the wonders of modern multi-tracking).
Vyasa's vocals are a little tougher here, too, sung
with nice conviction and power.
4. Maybe Sometime Later
--Here is the 1st of Vyasa Dodson's own tunes. I'm
not sure leading off the band's 2nd CD with 3 covers
was the best of ideas, as the self-penned material
is so strong and the performances of them seem to
flow with a little something extra. This would have
been the perfect cut to have led the CD off with.
The song is a really nice blues, a little dark and
slinky, with a wonderful bed of B-3 organ. Vyasa
plays his heart out on guitar, wringing out every
drop of emotion he can from the song. Tasty!
5. At Least I'm Not With You
--The title track of the CD, this is one of those
songs about how thankful a man can be when a no-good
mistreating woman finally moves on out of his life
(girls, you can reverse this if you so please.)
As the song says, "I might be alone but at
least I'm not with you!!!!" It's best to find
out at some point that life can be much better alone
rather than being with a horrible person just for
the sake of being with somebody. But then again,
if that didn't happen think of all the great songs
we wouldn't have today; you have to have material!
This tune is a mid-tempo slinky cut, grooving along
with tenor and Bari saxes ala The "5"
Royales. I like this cut a lot.
6. Root Beer Float
--What a great title for this swingin' instrumental
track! This one is West Coast swing set to an up-tempo
shuffle rhythm. Vyasa and Alex each get plenty of
chances to show what they can do on guitar and piano,
respectively. The song is 4 minutes long, but it
seems much, much shorter. As far as I'm concerned
it is in the running for feel-good song of 2009.
I think I hear some Junior Watson influences in
that guitar work.
7. Hoodoo Man Blues – (Amos Blakemore
aka Junior Wells)
--This is the Junior Wells-Buddy Guy (Friendly Chap)
mid-'60s classic, from the album of the same name
– which, by the way, was one of the very first
(if not the very 1st) blues ALBUMS constructed as
such, and not comprised as merely a collection of
singles released over the previous several years
(a morsel for all you trivia buffs.) Back to the
review…this is a tough slow blues, and very
faithful to the feel of Wells' and Guy's original
classic. Vyasa's vocal work here is very good, as
he sings harder here than on some of The Insomniacs
more swingin' material, resulting in a bit of coarseness
added to his voice. It sounds good! Also, harmonica
is supplied courtesy of fellow Delta Groove artist
Mitch Kashmar, who sounds phenomenal on this track.
Mitch has several of his own CDs out. Harp fans
should definitely check Mitch's work out.
8. She Can Talk
--This song is in the style of early rock 'n' roll
tunes (early- to mid-'50s). The lyric is humorous,
telling that even though "that" girl is
incredibly easy on the eyes, all her non-stop talking
makes her just too hard to take. There's tough guitar
and piano solos during a mid-song bridge, and Alex'
piano is boogie'n throughout the tune.
9. Baby Don't Do It – (Lowman Pauling)
-- Oh man, an old tune from The "5" Royales,
who Lowman Pauling was guitar player and principal
songwriter for. For those of you not familiar with
the band, their material was very early R&B/Soul,
where they took the passionate sounds of gospel
and merged it with secular influences and lyrics
(including Pauling's stinging guitar and rich chording),
coming up with something entirely new and exciting
in the process. Search out their material and buy
it when you find it; you will thank me later. The
song here is a wonderful rendering of the tune,
as it swings slow, sexy and slinky, never in a hurry.
I would have liked Vyasa sing this a little harder,
but otherwise this is a great track.
--The title tells you all you need to know about
the sounds you'll be hearing. Surf-guitar pushes
the tune down the pipe, primal rock 'n' roll drumming
drives it along, and the guys throw a couple of
sung verses into the song for good measure. For
all intents and purposes it's a very cool surf-rock
instrumental, with a few words included just because
they can. Watusi, baby!
Description Blues – (John Willie Henry)
--Ah, here's another deep, long slow blues number
from the band. This thing tops out at just over
8 minutes. This isn't swing; it's all blues. Needless
to say, there's plenty of solo space for Vyasa and
Alex, with Alex playing B-3 on this tune; he's a
phenomenal B-3 player. He makes that thing cry,
moan, wail and sing. What a beautiful instrument;
and to think it's really nothing more than a tone
generator. I guess it's all in how you manipulate
those tones, isn't it. This tune is worth the price
of the CD all by itself.
--Ah, hindsight really is 20/20. Poor Vyasa, finally
realizing how good that woman was, but it's now
too late. Well, at least he took it out in song,
and it's another good one. It's another B-3 showcase
(I never get tired of that!), set over the top of
a swingin' shuffle. Don't think Vyasa doesn't get
his own licks in here, because he sure does. The
young man is an incredibly tasteful and talented
player, who uses a broad palette of sounds. He takes
it from vicious single-notes attacks to beautiful
chord work to twangy surf and everything in-between
and outside those colors.
--How about a tough, guitar-driven instrumental
boogie to end the set? Well, your wish is granted.
This one's going to be tough to pull off live without
a second guitar player to comp the rhythm parts,
but it sure is a lot of fun here on the CD. And
as this is a boogie, Alex lays some fine boogie
woogie piano on us as well. Listening to this song
provides another case of time-warp-itis; the song
is comes to an end after 4 minutes but feels like
it's barely begun, which is a nice "problem"
CD, At Least I'm Not With You, marks the
sophomore effort on Delta Groove by The Insomniacs.
One thing is for sure, there's no appearance of
a sophomore slump on this disc. Honestly, this is
a good 'un. The Insomniacs style of music is a blend
of many styles: jump, blues, swing, R&B and
rock 'n' roll, but no matter what it's always based
in the blues. They happen to have 2 of the finest
young bluesy featured players in the business in
the band in Vyasa Dodson and Alex Shakeri, and the
rhythm section of Dean Mueller (bass) and Dave Melyan
(drums) is rock solid. Dodson is also a fine songwriter,
and wrote 8 of the 13 songs on the CD. In addition,
the band cherry-picked 5 fine tunes to cover, including
songs associated with Memphis Slim, Jr. Wells and
The "5" Royales. The guys led the album
off with 3 cover tunes, but I thought the CD really
hit its stride from track 4 (which is a Dodson tune)
onward, which is comprised primarily of Dodson-written
tunes. The band seemed to connect just a little
bit better with their own tunes, although their
performance on Hoodoo Man Blues is fantastic. For
those readers in St. Louis, The Insomniacs perform
at B.B.'s Jazz, Blues & Soups a couple times
a year as they meander across the country while
tour on tour. Try to catch them while they are in
town; you won't be disappointed. Well, let's rate
this bad boy – I'm giving At Least I'm
Not With You a rating of 4.00 on the ol' STLBluesometer.
To quote Scott Dirks (from the liner notes to Left
Coast Blues, The Insomniacs 1st release): it all
sounds like they're doing it just because they love
it. And maybe that's the secret." That statement
from Mr. Dirks pretty much sums up The Insomniacs
sound in a nutshell.
- aka "East