November 1, 2008

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www.JazzReview.comNovember 2008

Review of Grace & Grit

Reviewed by: Randall Parrish

Grace & Grit is an appropriate title for Deb Callahan’s new release. Her powerful, soul-tinged bluesy vocals showcase both an abundance of grace along with more than just a smidgen of grit. On the grace/grit scale, she weighs in heavily alongside the finest female blues belters ever. She reminds me of one of my all-time favorites, the versatile Tracy Nelson (vocalist for Mother Earth). In fact, the potent force of her vocals should secure her presence on the national blues scene for years to come.

Grace & Grit derives a lot of its clout from the great backing musicians and tight arrangements, as well as Deb’s considerable songwriting ability. She penned all the lyrics for the eleven original songs contained on the CD. The single cover song included is a splendid performance of Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Him So.” Gifted guitarist Allen James is credited with co-writing three songs. On three others, the songwriting credit is split three ways between collaborators Callahan, James, and producer Chris Arms.

Deb Callahan demonstrates an ample capacity to incorporate life experiences into her thought-provoking lyrics, imparting contemporary blues tales that resound with soul touching power and clarity. “Food On The Table,” which opens the CD, is a good example. In this song, after her man leaves her with two young children to raise, the narrator has to take a minimum wage job to make ends meet and put food on the table. Deb slams out the lyrics with a scrappiness that makes the mother’s struggles believable and inspires compassion for her plight.

“Get It Right” also contains fine lyrics (“comin’ up too short, for way too long”), in addition to some tasty blues rock guitar courtesy of Allen James and tuneful harmonica by Emile D’Amico. Deb most definitely “gets it right” on this song, as she does throughout. From the beginning note of the CD to the very end, her band displays the firm tightness of a group of musicians whose edge has been finely honed by paying their dues many nights on the road. The rhythm section consisting of Garry Lee on bass guitar and Tom Walling on drums continuously provide a firm foundation. The band brightly shines on the smoldering hot slow blues number “How Many Times,” but the spotlight shines brightest on Deb with her heart-felt emotive vocals. She delivers the lyrics with lots of sass and confident authority. In fact, “How Many Times” is a question I ask myself; as I love hitting the repeat button on this track.

“Obstacle To Love” picks up the pace, containing a nice driving beat with honky-tonk piano by Glenn Bickel. It’s a strong candidate for radio airplay, with relevant lyrics, Deb’s fabulous vocal and savory guitar courtesy of Allen James. “Guilty” slows it back down, crawling along and including plenty of incendiary guitar coupled with Deb at her soulful sassy/saucy best. She wraps her voice around you like the caress of a silk glove. “Carry Me” has a gospel blues feel with a nice slide guitar performance by Chris Arms. “Insomniac Blues” follows and invokes a New Orleans jazzy impression due to the featured muted trumpet tones of Matt Cappy.

“Happy Hour Girl” has an old-time jazz mood akin to the Cab Calloway tune “Minnie The Moocher,” minus the scat vocals, thanks to the expert piano tinkling and Deb’s vocal inflections. “Big Wide Space” is yet another smoldering blues torch song aced by Deb and containing more beautiful guitar work by Allen James. It leads to the final cut titled “Work A Little Harder,” which is more up-tempo and a good choice to close the album with a bang.

Grace & Grit exhibits Deb Callahan and her band delivering soulful blues tunes injected with rock and jazz influences to come up with an enjoyable blending that benefits from the excellent lyrical content and is a sure bet to satisfy and captivate listeners.

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Reviewed by: Randall Parrish