Twice As Good – Back To Clearlake Oaks.
10 songs – 41 minutes.
Don’t be fooled by the packaging of this CD from Twice As Good, a father-son team of Native Americans from Northern California. From outward appearances, you might be misled into believing the music contained herein is simple country blues with a couple of good old boys trading licks. But don’t be fooled! It’s a red-hot collection of modern electric blues that will definitely get and keep your attention.
The core of the group consists of Paul Steward on lead guitar, keyboards, saxophone and vocals and father Richard on rhythm guitar and backup vocals. Members of the Elem Indian Colony in Clearlake, Calif., the Stewards learned how to play through Richard’s mother and their elder cousin, Hank Gonzalez, a country musician who enjoyed a large following in the region. Gonzalez also gigged with his proteges early in their career.
The Stewards are backed by Robert Watson and Jahon Pride on bass, Billy “Shoes” Johnson and Bryce Hodge on drums, and Mateo Steward-Headrick on backing vocals as they blend the tonalities of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Jonny Lang and Robert Randolph into a style all their own. “If That’s All Right With You,” one of four previous Twice As Good releases, was honored as Best Blues Recording at the 2010 Native American Music Awards. And this disc, available through CDBaby.com, has received similar honors at the 2013 Indian Summer Music Awards, sponsored by the Indian tribes of Wisconsin.
The fun starts with the smoking “Good Evening, Good Night,” in which Paul greets the audience with the promise that he has his “guitar and won’t let you down” as Richard propels the rhythm strongly throughout. By layering six-strings, keyboards and sax, Twice As Good presents a much larger sound than most four-piece bands deliver. The joy expressed from the bandstand is infectious, certain to get you off your chair and onto the dance floor. “The Blues Don’t Bother Me” was written by Matthew T. Murphy, but Paul turns it autobiographical as he relates how his father bought him his first axe at age 14, and said: “I am a bluesman/You’re going to take after me.” An extended solo sweeps the song forward before another great line: “The blues is my companion/It’s gonna set you free.”
The band gets syncopated as they launch into the spirited road song, “The Long Way Home.” A saxophone solo gives the tune a different presence sandwiched another tasty guitar solo. The funk continues with “Angel Of Mercy.” This isn’t the Albert King classic. In this tune, the angel doesn’t spread her wings. Instead, as the lyrics declare: “You don’t need no golden wings/The way you came to my rescue/Heaven must be watching over me.” The vocal delivery is strong and soulful.
The band uses vocal call-and-response to sing praises of their hometown in “Back To Clearlake Oaks,” another straight-ahead blues burner, before “Samba Dos Indios” – translated “Two Indian Samba” – a brief minor-key instrumental in which both the Stewards get to exhibit their chops. The sound changes dramatically for “I Wanna Know,” a funky love song. Paul’s vocals are heavily modulated, almost giving it a ’70s disco feel. But the tune remains true to its blues root. Another original, the tender “Let Me Tell You ‘Bout My Babe,” precedes two covers – Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” and Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” – to conclude the set.
Once in a while in the review business, a CD comes across your desk that catches you totally by surprise – sometimes for good reasons, sometimes bad. This one was one of the former from a band that deserves a wider audience. Strongly recommended.