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03 Jun 09 Album Review: The Snakecharmers – Been Gone Too Long

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the-snakecharmersThe Snakecharmers formed in 2002 as a family affair.  Marie Angell, Will Blumentritt and their son Eric Blumentritt brought together diverse musical backgrounds to form an incredible blues sound.  The missing element for the band was a lead guitarist that could feel the music and integrate into “the family”.  They found that in the person of Larry Meeker, a saxophonist by early training who turned to the guitar in a big way; his skill is demonstrated throughout Been Gone Too Long.  In many ways, he is the glue that brings the sound of the Snakecharmers together.

So how does a blues band come to be called The Snakecharmers?  Angell answers the question by recalling how a pet corn snake became very excited when the band played – sounds reasonable!  Actually, the band name and the album cover are the two things that drew us to the album; both are intriguing.  The cover art is well done with an old steamer trunk as the main element.  Done in brownish hues, the cover depicts the idea of the album, Been Gone Too Long

Marie Angell came from rock, disco backgrounds in music.  However, with songs like “Hoochie Mama” and “Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues”, we see that she has evolved into quite a blues singer.  Her sultry approach to the latter song creates a picture of earlier days in the blues when people would gather around the porch, open a few beers on a hot summer night and sing what they felt in their souls.  It’s a good way to open the album.

Will Blumentritt has been in music for roughly 30 years performing in bands since high school.  For many years, they played for others, but reached a point where they were able to do the music that they wanted to do.  Blumentritt brings his technical and managerial skills into play in the production of the CD. 

Eric, the younger Blumentritt, is “intense”, as Angell describes him.  She tells us that he is steeped in music.  He watched Raffi videos as a child, studying the drummer.  He took a trip through Reggae before coming across a Grateful Dead album at age 15 or 16.  From that he developed a blues, almost country, approach to percussion. 

Eric takes music further than just performing a song.  Being a history major, he has studied music from the 20s and 30s up through psychedelic rock.  Angell tells us, “He doesn’t just learn a song; he studies it.  He tries to find ways to improve a song.  He is a musician’s musician.”  This dedication to the music is highly evident on Been Gone Too Long.  His dynamic use of the drums to punctuate the beat when needed is as well done as his ability to softly and subtly apply the cymbals to add a bluesy feel to a song.

Larry Meeker met the team at a musicians’ meet-up group.  He rarely attends those types of events, but fate brought them together.    They had gone through a lot of guitar players before meeting Meeker.  When they had a chance to play with him, they realized that their search was over.  Now he is a part of the team; one whose ideas are incorporated in the CD. 

The band is more than a group of four individuals.  Angell tells us that “…each brings something unique to the CD.  Really, this is a unit”.  This unity shows as the album is a well balanced, well written, and well produced work. 

As stated above, the opening volley, “Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” is a great opening number for the album.  Hearing Angell’s voice for the first time, singing in a low, slow, sultry gait leaves the listener wanting to hear more.  Supporting the song is the hot harp work of Alan “Otis Futhermucker” Gould.  His solo in the middle of the piece gives the song a steamy New Orleans sound.  David Coronado adds guitar to complete the picture.  Overall, this is one of the best tracks on the album and is one of the best opening numbers heard on album in a while.

Angell laughs as she tells us that “Hoochie Mama” was written as a goof.  When meeting with a group of other women writers, they agreed that they all love their kids, but sometimes they want to be  “Hoochie Mamas”!  This led to a fun song that is often requested as the band plays  in the Houston area.  It starts out with a fast paced guitar intro that breaks into Angell singing that she “…wants to be a Hoochie Mama.”  The song is a good example of Texas blues.  It’s easy to see why this song is so often requested. 

“Big, Big, Love” was inspired by a couple that Angell saw exhibiting a big public display of their love.  She says, “They had that kinda love that  drives you crazy.”  The song again has a strong dose of harp in the middle that again gives it a strong New Orleans influence.  This song shows the versatility of the band in delivering a big sound to support well developed lyrics. 

Angell tells us that she is partial to the bass.  In songs like “No Mercy”, “Been Gone Too Long” and even “Just a Little Kiss”, the songs begin with a bass intro giving them an intriguing hook.   Several other songs start with either vocal intros (without instrumentation) or even with a drum intro (“Half a Cup”).  This style of songwriting  supports the blues image that the band is portraying.  More importantly, its simplicity hooks the listener into the song early. 

The title track, “Been Gone Too Long” has a haunting bass and guitar opening.  By the time Angell opens with “Baby…” we are really anticipating that sultry vocal.  This song really exemplifies Meeker’s guitar work.  The song sounds almost psychedelic in parts, 60s rock in others, but with a strong blues underpinning throughout.  The drum work of Eric Blumentritt really shines in this track.
 
Highlighting these tracks doesn’t do full justice to the album.  Overall, this is an album and band one can enjoy listening to.  Angell tells us that the band will be recording their next work next year.  In the meantime, they are thinking about pre-publishing a song or two to whet everyone’s appetite.  They are anticipating more instrumental work, but with a mix of musical styles.  We can hope that they bring more of their blues, even perhaps more roots blues work, into the new album.  We will be watching for the new work when it comes out.
 
We are not the only ones who appreciate the music of The Snakecharmers.  The band has been nominated in the Blues category by the Houston Press for their 2009 Music Awards. Voting begins with the July 2nd issue and will continue through the Music Awards showcase July 26th. The winners will be announced July 30th at Warehouse Live.

Further information about The Snakecharmers and their music can be found at their website: www.snakecharmers.net
Copies of their album can be purchased at Amazon, CD Baby and on iTunes. 

Tracks:

1. Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues
2. No Mercy
3. Can’t Trust A Heart
4. Big Big Love
5. Been Gone Too Long
6. I Wanna Do Right
7. Move on Blues
8. Half a Cup
9. Just A Little Kiss
10. (I Wanna Be A) Hoochie Mama

Performers:

Marie Angell:  Vocals, keyboards
Will Blumentritt:  Bass
Larry Meeker: Guitar
Eric Blumentritt: Drums
Alan “Otis Futhermucker” Gould: Harmonica
David Coronado:  Additional guitar 
Tracy Wilson: finger snaps/hand claps

Produced and arranged by The Snakecharmers in association with Troy Warren and Tracy Wilson.
Recorded and mixed at Absolute Sound Studios by Troy Warren (Houston, Texas). 
Sound engineers:  Tracy Wilson, David Coronado, Troy Warren

Singers/songwriters or bands that would like their album reviewed their albums can send 2 CDs and their contact information to our office (Texas Music Journal, 8920 Pocono Dr., Plano, TX 75025).

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