By John W. Fountain III
The Kilborn Alley Blues Band has evolved into one of the Midwest’s most authentic, young Blues bands with a mission to preserve a particular style of Blues. They exhibit a command of soul, Memphis and traditional Chicago styles. Their third album, Better Off Now keeps up with the legacy of their 2007 and 2008 releases which were nominated for Blues Music Awards for “Best New Artist Debut” for Put It in The Alley, and “Best Contemporary Blues Album” for Tear Chicago Down, all of which were released under Blue Bella Records.
Better Off Now includes Andrew Duncanson (vocals and guitar), Joe Asselin (harmonica), Josh Stimmel (guitar), Chris Breen (electrical bass guitar), and Ed O’Hara (drums). The group is showing no signs of easing up on the reigns of success. This release comes shortly after winning the “Sean Costello Rising Star Award” at The Blues Blast Awards last October. The collaboration with Blue Bella Records’ chief guitarist, Nick Moss, on their current album displays the band’s ability to incorporate lessons and direction from another prominent Blues musician without losing their own identity. This band is devoid of flashy extended solos and opts for a clean, tight groove—a rarity in today’s Chicago Blues.
The other rarity in this album is the contemporary substance of songs interwoven with a deep traditional sound. The political “Nothing To Stimulate” adheres to one of the key ingredients long heard in Blues—the economy. “Tough Times” is also a theme resonating today. It is also important to note the band hails primarily from the university towns of Urbana-Champaign where socio-economics is as much a part of the air as the stench of manure from the local farms.
The Kilborn Alley Blues Band can move easily from politics to sticky ballads reminiscent of the1960s’ celebrations of progression as heard in the title track, “Better Off Now”, which is one of three songs that features Moss. The melody of “Tonight” also takes on an Otis Redding feel rather than a scorned lover’s rant. But on the adventurous “Train to Memphis”, Asselin’s harmonica takes us down the infamous Interstate 57 and back up to Chicago. Along the way we hear the more light-hearted “You Can Have the Tail” and the call and response of “Watch It”. It’s Duncanson’s gut-wrenching voice that carries through the album. At the end of the journey listeners understand that you don’t have to abandon the past to be a contemporary Blues band. The Kilborn Alley Blues Band has the understanding of a historical sound in a modern context.