It's been slightly over a decade since Ken Harrison helped found Bluesonics, and in those intervening years, an awful lot of talented musicians have come and gone through the ranks of that regionally-based blues party band.
In fact, some members left the band only to return years later. Yet, through all those changes Harrison has been behind the trap kit, keeping the beat, and serving as the backbone in more ways than one. He handles the majority of the band's business, and even sings a large portion of the tunes that make up the group's growing setlist.
But to hear Harrison tell it, the main thing that has kept the group going for so long, and which he is quick to credit with allowing the current lineup —of guitarists Steve Laidlaw and Jon Faircloth and bassist Bryan Spradlin— to rise to greater musical heights than any previous lineup, is their devotion to the idea of teamwork.
"We've got four guys are all trying to play together as a unit, rather than trying to outdo each other. None of us falls into that trap of thinking we're the star. We all may have different reasons for playing music, but we all pull together in the same direction for the sake of the songs."
Although the group has scaled back a bit on their live schedule (they currently average about three shows a month), they seem to be aiming for quality over quantity. Of late, they've been venturing out of town a bit more, playing as far away as Fernandina Beach, Fla. at a blues club memorably named The Frisky Mermaid.
It was there that the group cut their brand-new album, Plain Brown Wrapper. Recorded live in front of an audience, the ten-song CD captures the band in great form, and makes a strong case for the Bluesonics being one of the finest acts of their type ever to come from the Savannah area.
Over the course of those ten tracks, the band offers their own interpretations of such standards as Jimmy Reed's "You Got Me Running" (aka "Baby, What You Want Me To Do"), Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright," and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning little Schoolgirl," along with newer and more obscure tunes by the likes of Fabulous Thunderbirds vocalist Kim Wilson.
The digital recording itself is crisp and full of presence (thanks in part, Harrison says, to local engineer Phil Hadaway — who also convinced the group to release the album commercially), and most importantly, documents what the band sounds like on a great night in a small club.
"I've always felt if you're gonna send a demo out in hopes of booking a gig, you should make sure it's live, so they'll really know what they're getting," Harrison says. "Almost anyone can be made to sound great in a studio situation. But when you show up at the club, you better really know what you're doing, or it's not a pretty thing! (laughs)"
He also cautions those who hear the CD to remember that part of what he loves most about playing blues music is the elasticity of the genre and the room afforded musicians to improvise within a given framework.
"If you were to catch us two nights in a row, the structure of some things would sound similar, but generally, we're putting a different spin on the material each time we perform it. The door is wide open for us."
He also cautions those interested in owning their album not to expect much in the way of fancy packaging. True to its title, Plain Brown Wrapper's cover is about as no-frills as you can get — black ink on what looks like grocery bag paper.
"These days when everybody's swapping files and downloading songs for a dollar each, musicians can hardly keep their heads above water," he says. "We felt like we'd do this in a homemade way without a lot of expensive artwork so we could keep the price low. We love our fans, and they can take this home for ten bucks." w
Bluesonics celebrate the release of Plain Brown Wrapper Saturday at Jazz'd Tapas Bar. The free show starts at 9 pm, and copies of the CD will be available for purchase.
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