15 songs – 1 hour 15 minutes
Here’s an acid flashback for you folks old enough to remember: An overpowering tour-de-force tribute to two of the most important young white blues standard-bearers of the ‘60s, harmonica player Paul Butterfield and guitarist partner extraordinaire Mike Bloomfield, who was also the driving force behind the legendary band Electric Flag.
New York City-based harmonica player Rob Paparozzi conceived this project with the assistance of big band leader Ed Palermo. Butterfield and Bloomfield both met untimely deaths in the ‘80s, a decade or more before Paparozzi decided to use some of the hard-earned cash he made from performing to fund development of the charts for the project and teamed up with Palermo.
Now, 15 years later, it’s finally come to fruition and involves the participation of two men who played on the original material – Butterfield keyboard player Mark Naftalin and Bloomfield bassist Harvey Brooks – as well as guitarists Steve Cropper and Jimmy Vivino, leader of New York’s Black Italians and one of Bloomfield’s most devoted followers, and Butterfield’s eldest son, Gabriel.
Palermo served as conductor, arranger and band leader on the project with Paparozzi serving as lead singer and harmonica player. Most of the material was recorded live over a two-day period at Jankland Recording Studio in Wall, N.J., with a lineup that included Paul Adamy (bass), Ray Marchica (drums), Naftalin, Bob Quaranta and Ted Kooshian (keyboards), Cliff Lyons and Dave Riekenberg (alto sax), Bil Straub and Ben Kono (tenor sax), Barbara Cifelli (baritone sax), Ron Buttacavoli and John Bailey (trumpet), Charles Gordon, Joe Fielder and Matt Ingman (trombone). Additional tracks were provided by Steve Jankowski (trumpet), Ed Alstom (Hammond B3), Jimmy Leahey (slide and electric guitar), John Korba (keyboards) and Gabriel Butterfield (vocals, tambourine and bonus interview) in later recording sessions.
Gabriel serves as the master of ceremonies to introduce Bloomfield’s version of “Killing Floor.” Vivino dazzles on lead guitar after a brief vocal verse from Paparozzi, giving new life to the Howlin’ Wolf classic, with Straub adding an extended solo on tenor. It’s clear from the jump that the horn section is in lock step with the rhythm section to propel everything forward. Paparozzi’s vocals are warm, rich and crystal clear throughout. And his harp playing is rock solid and especially shines in the last few cuts of the disc. Next up, Leahy takes the six-string lead for a Butterfield version of Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues.” Three more Flag favorites follow — “Another Country,”“Drivin’ Wheel” with Naftalin on organ and “Texas” with Brooks on bass.
Butterfield’s rendition of the Jimmy Rogers standard “Walking By Myself” leads into the Bloomfield-penned “Wine” and a great version of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’”One More Heartache.” Cropper and Naha trade guitar licks on the Bloomfield classic, “You Don’t Realize,” before a horn-fueled send-up of Butterfield’s “Lovin’ Cup” and before Palermo contributes an alto sax solo to “Love Disease.”
Naftalin returns to the driver’s seat for a version of Charles Brown’s “Drifting Blues” before Palermo provides an original arrangement of Nat Adderley’s “Work Song.” A horn-driven version of Little Walter Jacobs’ “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” follows before a brief interview with Gabriel Butterfield laid over a version of “Buried Alive With The Blues” concludes the set.
Electric Butter comes complete with a 16-page, richly illustrated booklet, with extensive commentary from Bill Bentley, who co-produced Butterfield during his time with Elektra Records, as well as quotes from Electric Flag co-founder Barry Goldberg, Naftalin, Brooks, Cropper and others.
Available through all of the major online retailers, this album revives the Butterfield-Bloomfield legacy and more, swinging its way from one high point to the next. Strongly recommended, and definitely worth consideration as one of the best new works of the year.
Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.