December 1, 2015

Big City Blues


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Sweet Soul Review, Blue Pearl Records | Dec 2015 | Written by: Mark E. Gallo

The cover photo of Deb Callahan does not mesh with the music herein. On it is a shy demure looking woman. Out of the grooves comes a lioness. Here’s an appropriately named album if ever there was one. From the opening minor key Real Love, it’s obvious that this is unique, both vocally and lyrically. There’s nothing cliché on the set. She sings, “Mama got a new love and it feels just right/like a souped -up chicked-out out keg of dynamite.” She soars vocally and has an amazing band helping her fly. On I Keep Things Running she sings, “I run the show/I carry the weight/never hesitate/I hook it up/ I get it done/I plug it in/I make things run,” and that about sums this wonderful set up. Accompanied by guitarist and songwriting partner Allen James, along with keyboardist Mike Finnegan, drummer Tony Braunagel and backing vocals this is a woman’s manifesto. Johnny Lee Schell plays sizzling slide on Shacking Up, one of the strongest songs on the disc. “We were young and crazy when we first laid eyes on each other/you were smokin’ fine and your kisses were as sweet as sugar,” so they tried living together and discovered “Shacking up/ain’t all it’s cracked up.” The song cites advice from her second husband (“a pack of lies”) and from her third (“always seemed to simplify” before he ran up all her credit cards). It would be funny if it weren’t so damn true.

I Am Family is one of the most lyrically stark and honest songs I’ve heard this or any other year. It asks when does a sister stop trying? She sings “Where’s the line/where’s the limit?” and complains that her sister “bought a ticket for the Greyhound bus/time to move on/ain’t much to discuss/you sold your toaster and your TV/said ‘this time its gonna work out for me’/…when are you gonna see that it’s you that has a problem/she said ‘I am family/how can you turn your back on me?’” Whew! Do people write songs like that? Born To Love You has a funky backbeat and chronicles the “perfect fit” that she finds in her relationship and Seven States Away is a medium tempo litany of the road travelled back home to PA and her honey. Step Back tells that man “I don’t want you hanging around no more/so just pack your bags and head on out the door” to s shimmery guitar that breaks into a gallop before simmering down again. She sings, “I’ve been in the back seat/ along for the ride/I had to put my hopes and dreams aside/you’ve got to step back/give me a minute…” Her Slow As Molasses, with gorgeous guitar to match Callahan’s vocals is an appreciation of quiet time with her man. This is the work of a mature woman with the thoughts and ambitions of a grown up. Brilliant.