The Norman Transcript

May 9, 2014

Music review: The Halley Devestern Band delivers a smashing blues album

by Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Musician: The Halley Devestern Band

Album name: Fabbo! Boffo! Smasho!

Why you should listen: The Halley Devestern Band has been dubbed the number one blues band in New York City. That’s some big britches to fill but their new super hero themed album of songs rises to the title.

Devestern probably tires of having her voice compared to Janis Joplin (1943-1970) but it’s a fact she fronted Big Brother and the Holding Company for a time. Joplin’s former combo didn’t choose her for that chore because she sounds like Vanessa Carlton. Devestern actually is a superior vocalist to Joplin’s nasal and frequently off-key singing on recordings from back in the day. Her range and control may not trump Joplin’s style and charisma but she’s a fine modern blues diva. Power and soul are both evident in spades.

Devestern and her bass player Tom Heinig composed all eight songs on this disc. Thomas Hutchings’ CNP Horns section is utilized to devastating brass effect. From low down gut bucket saxophone honking to sophisticated flugelhorn lines, they’re a brilliant addition to the production. Lyrics are unusual. “Kangaroo Momma” is about being a baby kangaroo. It’s hard to argue with the warm security of mommy’s nice warm pouch. I guess. This track may hold the distinction of first American blues song ever with a didgeridoo introduction.

“Tore Up (From the Floor Up)” memorializes suffering from the “Johnny Walker flu.” It bops albeit in a queasy way, musically documenting a skull-busting hangover in need of greasy pork chops and eggs breakfast. Favorite track is titled “The Jesus I Know.” It’s an organ and choir inflected gospel tune truly revealing Devestern’s divine vocal powers. The words are about her understanding of Jesus of Nazareth as a dark complexioned man who fed the hungry and turned the other cheek. But we also learn He doesn’t mind if kids play on his lawn, that He digs Muhammad and Buddha, doesn’t care who you love as long as you love somebody and stays away from gun shows. It’s a fabulous conclusion to a smashing album.

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