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By Michael Higgins

THE B.B. KING cassette was cracked -- not broken, mind you -- just cracked. But when teenager Torrey Casey played it on a 1996 summer's eve, a new world burst forth from the speakers.

Representing St. Louis at the 2018 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Casey and his Southside Hustle have hit the local music scene with equal force. In fact, many folks have been asking, "Who the heck are these guys?"

Originally from Crystal City, MO, Torrey and his band have played throughout the Festus and Jefferson County area. But it wasn't until their jaw-dropping debut at the 2017 Big Muddy, that the river city really took notice.

Working a funky blues groove with a soul-induced cadence, their October IBC appearance at Kirkwood Station Brewery dripped with gospel fervor. So much so, they beat out several prime St. Louis blues bands.

CAN'T KNOCK THE HUSTLE is the group's very first release, but this catchy five-song EP showcases 21 minutes of their edgy, yet soulful brand of funkified blues.

The leadoff -- 'If It Ain't Funky' -- speaks for itself. Setting the CD's tone, the horns of Charlie Cerpa, Reggie Morrow and Bryan Coughlin spark a slinky groove. Shaped with Sly & The Family Stone like harmonies, Torrey and his other core singer (soulstress Teec'a Easby), set an approach reminiscent of an early Ike & Tina Turner.

But the Southside Hustle isn't your grandaddy's blues. Songs like 'Becky' and 'Playa' bring a new skool flavor filled with hip-hop spice. Casey's lyricism flows easily with a rapping beat, very reminiscent of Johnny "Guitar" Watson's early 70's foray of funk blues.
'Becky' is a sexy, funk-dance throw down, while 'Playa' starts with some sweet keyboards offering a true player's lament: "Playin's all I know to do," sings Casey to a jilted lover's dad after leaving her all alone at the altar.

The fourth track, 'Gold Digga', follows a similar theme, but this time in reverse. Sparked by some excellent sax, Time Murphy's sympathetic keys, and Easby's roaming background vocals (she'll actually be premiering on the STL Blues Society's upcoming 17 in 17 release), Casey sings without defense, "And now it's Saturday night, and look who's come back in my life."

With all the hustling though, the final song, 'Guitar In My Bed', brings it all back home. Cranking some smoking lowdown guitar, Casey brings it with BB King like passion. True to the roots of the blues, and the CD's full theme, a full day of hustling has made the bedroom lonely, except for the comfort of his guitar.

It's been a true joy to see the sudden emergence of Torrey Casey & The Southside Hustle. Thanks to the St. Louis Blues Society and such ongoing projects like The Big Muddy, the local IBC, and their yearly CD compilations, one wonders if St. Louis would've ever had a chance to hear the likes of the Southside Hustle. My thoughts are that it would've happened (the music is just too good), but the opened opportunities have set a true bar for greater exposure.

CAN'T KNOCK THE HUSTLE is a fantastic starting point for this energetic and funky young blues band. Torrey Casey has some great lyrical skills and classy guitar chops. Combined with Teec'a Easby's soulful pipes, they'll be a two-headed musical force to be reckoned with in Memphis. If you can make the trip there to catch them, by all means do it. If not, at least check out this wonderful debut release. It's well worth repeated listening. Enjoy either way. Preferably both... And good luck guys ��!

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