Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King usually release a new album every two years, with Smokin’ Joe’s rocking slide guitar and Bnois’ smooth, jazzy voice blending together to bring some of the finest Texas blues around. This year they’ve brought us three sets, each a little different from their usual style: An acoustic album; a set with Smokin’ Joe jamming with other contemporary Texas blues artists; and a bonus, a re-release of their first album.
Close to the Bone moves away from their usual rock, going “unplugged” as so many great guitarists seem to do at least once. It opens with a fast tempo track in Poor Boy, with Joe playing a quick, tight movement, and then moves to a softer, folksy blues the rest of the way. Bnois with his jazzy voice makes a smooth transition to the genre, and, as usual, is no slouch himself on the axe strings. There’s some fine blues harp throughout, with a nice gritty sample in No Good Could Come of This.
Let That Right Hand Go… features Smokin’ Joe jamming with Doyle Bramhall and Bruce Bowland on vocals and a buffet of rockers from the Texas blues scene such as Charley Wirz (Charley’s Guitar Shop), Guthrie Kennard and Al “TNT” Braggs. There’s great stuff throughout, and they seem to have a lot of fun with this. The instrumental number King’s Thang, with Smokin’ Joe, Darrell Nulisch on harp, Ray Hale on drums and Kennard on bass, is a tight, energetic number showing the best Texas blues guitar around. Hm.. Going unplugged, slapping together an all-star band. Sounds like Joe is going the path of a certain other blues guitar legend.
The Axe Man is pretty rough around the edges, their first studio recording back when they were developing their groove in the 80s. It came as a suprise to me. It was out of circulation for years, recorded on the Double Trouble label. I ate it up right away. For most it’s nothing special and not a good way to introduce yourself to this duo, but if you’re a Smokin’ Joe/Bnois fan, it’s a pleasure to listen to the early stages of their evolution.