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Melissa Neels Band – Shine
East Side SlimBy East Side Slim

Melissa Neels Band – Shine
Melissa Neels Band – Shine
Artist Released, 2009

This is the first CD release by the Melissa Neels Band. At the time this CD was recorded, the band consisted of Melissa, Matt McCauley (keyboards), Tom May (drums) and Bob Keller (bass). Her band has been on the St. Louis scene for a number of years now, treating everyone that is fortunate enough to catch one of their shows to their exciting brand of blues-rock, heavily influence by folks such as the Allman Brothers, Freddie King, Nazareth and other ‘70s bluesy rock bands. Melissa and her band are always a lot of fun to hear in a live setting. She (Melissa) is very energetic performer who plays guitar with great tone and passion. Vocally she is similar to Bonnie Raitt and Sue Foley, where they don’t have large tonal ranges, but sound great and know how to work well within the ranges they do possess. If you happen to be out and about and run into Melissa playing at a venue near you (or far from you for that matter) make sure to stop by and say hello and to let her know you dig what she’s doing. She’s very approachable and personable and works extremely hard promoting her music. It’s been my experience that she truly appreciates everyone who takes the time to come out and hear/see her and her band perform.

The Songs: (all songs composed by Melissa Neels)

1. Anything For You
--The leadoff track to the CD, this song is basically a lyrical rewrite of Freddy King’s ‘70s-era ‘hit’ Palace of the King, originally written by Duck Dunn, Don Nix and Leon Russell. Personally, I would have liked to have seen them given co-writing credits here. I know there’s a long history in blues of writing new lyrics for tunes, but I’ve always thought that the original writer(s) of a melody should still be included on composer credits. None of this is meant to reflect negatively on Melissa, it’s just a personal viewpoint of East Side Slim - back to the scheduled review… Melissa has turned the tune into a love song, albeit an up-tempo one, and plays some fiery, impassioned guitar during the last minute or so of the tune. Melissa’s fretwork always shines when playing in the style of Shelter-era Freddy King.

2. Broadway
--this is a fun, rockin’ blues, describing the stress-relieving virtues of heading out to hear some bluesy music in the venues of downtown St. Louis’ South Broadway triangle. It sure was a nice place to be after a long shift cranking out Chryslers, which Melissa used to do for a living. Once again, Melissa really cuts loose with her guitar during the last part of the song.

3. Shine
--Here we have a little belly-rubbing tune (a nice slow song perfect for a slow dance with your baby.) Needless to say, it’s a romantic ballad buoyed by the keyboard work of Melissa’s longtime musical partner Matt McCauley. My only complaint would be that a real B3 organ could have been used on this song rather than a digital keyboard.

4. Norma Lee
--This one is an up-tempo, stop-time, roadhouse rocker – Delbert McClinton has made a career out of playing this kind of tune. Melissa wrote this song as a tribute to her Grandma, Norma Lee, after Norma Lee passed away. According to Melissa, her Grandma used to say the following about music - "if it's too loud, then you're too old”, a line that Melissa sings in the song’s last verse. Amen, Norma Lee, Amen. Also of note: Matt McCauley’s stompin’ piano work; it’s definitely a nice fit for the song.

5. Alright
--This track is another love song – Melissa must have been in a very happy place when writing the majority of the songs for this album, which is a good thing. This is basically a pop-rock tune, reminiscent of some of the Allman’s or even Nazareth’s mellower, ‘poppier’ material. Melissa does spice things up with a tough long solo mid-way through the proceedings, as well as by using a tougher guitar sound during the choruses.

6. Give It On Up To You
--This is a gritty, sexy blues-rock number based on a Hoochie Koochie Man pattern. The track features Melissa’s guitar and Matt’s piano work. I really enjoy when Melissa’s band plays roadhouse tunes such as this one, and her innocent sounding ‘girls’ voice just makes the songs even sexier (it reminds me of Sue Foley in that respect.) If she started purring you’d have to put an R-rating on this thing.

7. Gonna Move
--Melissa and the boys take Jr. Walker’s old booty-shaker ‘Shotgun’ and rearrange it into this fun, mid-tempo dancer. If they could have had 3 or 4 brass pieces playing the horn lines here (instead of keyboard replication of horns) in conjunction with an organ sound this track would be amazing. As it is it’s a solid, fun tune, but it begs for a fuller, ‘wall of sound’ treatment. If Melissa ever records this song in a live format, she should consider asking the boys from the Funky Butt Brass Band to sit it.

8. Come Back Home
--This a shuffling roadhouse rockin’ blues tune. I’ve written in other reviews that I could listen to good shuffles all night long (it’s true), and this song could move right into that rotation. Melissa plays some really gritty guitar runs and the rhythm section kicks on back and drives this one home. One possible sour note on this cut: I seem to be hearing some type of distortion in the track not related to the music itself, most notably during the choruses when background vocals appear.

9. Passion
--This song is a little old rock ‘n’ roll number. It’s a feel good tune, but it’s a little tame up ‘til the point where Melissa tears into her 1st solo. From this point on the energy level of the song picks up, and Melissa put a little ‘umph’, or grit, into her voice. Basically, the song itself becomes more passionate…isn’t that what it’s about, Passion?

10. Picture Of You
--This song is a little old rock ‘n’ roll number. It’s a feel good tune, but it’s a little tame up ‘til the point where Melissa tears into her 1st solo. From this point on the energy level of the song picks up, and Melissa put a little ‘umph’, or grit, into her voice. Basically, the song itself becomes more passionate…isn’t that what it’s about, Passion?

The Verdict:

Melissa Neels has been working the St. Louis music scene for several years now, and it’s been a pleasure to watch her progress as a musician and as a performer. The line-up of her band has shifted some over the years (don’t they all), but her sound has stayed rooted in a bluesy rock and roadhouse style that is always great fun in live settings. This style of music can also be a tough sound to transfer to the studio without losing a little of the energy, a little of the passion, of the live performance. There is a little of that found here, as I found myself waiting for a couple of the tunes to really take off, which may be unfair as I’m comparing them to the live versions I’ve seen first-hand. Also, as this is a recording, it would have been fun to have had a couple extra touches added here or there, such as a live horn section or real B3 organ on a track or two. However, as a whole this CD from the Melissa Neels Band, ‘Shine’, is very representative of the band’s sound and is a great spin, especially considering this is only her band’s first recording. Hopefully there will be a long series of releases in the years to come from Melissa (and her band.)

‘Shine’ features plenty of Melissa’s tough, passionate fretwork and solid singing, as well as her well-seasoned band as it existed at the time the recording was made (since this recording was made new drummer Bud Rager and new bass player Buck Buckler have joined the band.) If you enjoy the music of folks such as Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, the Allman Brothers or Freddy King, you will definitely enjoy this CD. If you get the chance to hear Melissa play live, make sure to do it; you will be well-rewarded, and you’ll be hooked as a fan of the Melissa Neels Band. Let’s rate the album - STLBluesometer rating of 3.00.

For more information concerning the Melissa Neels band, please visit the Melissa Neels Band website

Lee Howland - aka "East Side Slim"

The STLBluesometer

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