Little Mike and the Tornadoes
Hot Shot
Wild Dog/Ichiban 9114-2
Despite the opening blast, this balls-out harp blower may be the exception who proves the rule; a harp-playing front man with an ego secure enough to lay back and let the band take a major share of the spotlight rather than blowing every bar of every song. When you've got support as talented as the current Tornadoes, it's really a no-brainer.

Queens native Mike Markowitz came of age under the spell of Paul Butterfield, who would later mentor the upstart fan, which led to subsequent immersion in the rest of the classic blues of the Windy City and an active club career in the New York area. While his first two releases for Blind Pig were shaded by a rock/blues dynamic, Hot Shot is a deliberate deference to the blues of his childhood and the giants who influenced him. Rather than playing a predictable variety of covers, Markowitz uses his considerable songwriting skills to capture the styles and tempos of the era in a collection of all-original material.

He starts by nailing the timeless Muddy Waters loping shuffle with "I Found Out" ("I'm your husband not your man"), the first of many tracks to show off the eye-opening talent of guitarist Troy Chandler. Time and again Chandler rips off spotless solos in the variety of styles demanded.

Homages to Little Walter ("Start to Leave My Baby," with Mike swinging on the chromatic), Jimmy Reed ("All Night Driver," yet another variation on the autoerotic theme), James Cotton ("Hot Shot," a high-compression harp workout) and Jimmy Rogers ("I Told You Once," a "That's Allright" knockoff) are included, all performed with infectious, raucous gusto. Chandler gets ample solo space, and the rest of the band is solidly in the pocket. While Little Mike will never be mistaken for Hooker or Waters, his lightly affected vocals are adequate and certainly don't detract from the overall effort.

The past couple of years have produced a slug of '60s retro blues recordings, some even from the heart of Chicago, by some of the best players around. For my money, this may be the best of the lot and certainly worthy of consideration.

-- Jack Oudiz

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Boulder, CO, USA.