Waterstreet Blues Band
I'm an accordion fan, which is a lot of what drew me to Waterstreet Blues Band's Talkin About, a collection of solid songs executed by a tight, otherwise traditional blues band.
The Ontario, Canada-based band released Talkin About digitally in 2020, with the physical release delayed by the pandemic. It's an interesting album, though, with captivating melodies, two lead singers, and the aforementioned accordion. All of it was enough to keep me returning to the album the past few weeks.
"Miles to Go," featuring Silvia Dee on accordion and vocals, is one of the tracks that grabbed me. It's a Samantha Fish cover, but where Fish used her cigar box guitar and a slide to create a dizzying riff, Dee recreates it on accordion. Played without accompaniment, it might sound like a polka. But in the context of a blues band, it sounds like 50s rock and roll crossed with zydeco, a new strain of swamp pop born north of the American border. Perhaps maple pop.
"Walked Away" is another Dee-sung track, this one a 60s bounce crossed with blues rock snarl, just about all of it courtesy of Chris "Junior" Malleck's harmonica and Rob Deyman's throwback guitar. It's almost two songs, with Dee crafting something from the fabric of classic rhythm and blues while the rest of the band leaves their hearts and souls in Chicago. But the two songs overlay each other perfectly, most likely because of how the band members lock into each other, everyone attuned to what the rest of the group is doing.
They also take on Tom Waits' "Temptation," reimagining the track as a slower tarantella. Dee's vocals are smoky here, not so much sung as vaporized. The band provides a sleek groove, based on Waits' original, but more polished, allowing the song to slide rather than trundle. It's also a neat bit of cosmic synchronicity that the cover of Waits' Franks Wild Years, on which the track appeared, features Waits with an accordion.
Bassist Paul Sapounzi handles a share of the lead vocals. His voice is closer to jazz than blues or rock, with lots of refinement and not many rough edges. That's much less compelling to me, but I can appreciate his technique. Dee has a similar vocal sophistication, but she's better to able to cut loose within songs, letting training fall to the side and connecting to the emotion of the song.
Talkin About has some genuine interesting moments. Two different lead vocalists is always hard to pull off and Waterstreet Blues Band make it work, mostly by using a variety of song styles. But Dee's vocals, and accordion, are special, and while pushing her more into the spotlight would, no doubt, disrupt, intra-band dynamics, it's something to consider. This is a cohesive, clever band, but Dee is what makes them special, and it might make more commercial sense to highlight the part of their sound that's unique.