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AZ Kenny Tsak/56 Deluxe - Like I Do

Self Release

11 tracks Total time: 46:20

The CD case and sleeve notes artwork of Like I Do, featuring AZ Kenny Tsak in a paisley shirt surrounded by comely, scantily clad young women with guitars in hand, and with the Guitarus Maximus bravado graphic embedded in the sleeve notes, might make one feel this is a guitarslinger rock or blues-rock album. But that’s definitely not the case, for this critically acclaimed CD by Tsak and his band, 56 Deluxe, is straightforward roadhouse blues that, while certainly rocking, is solidly blues, not rock.

Kenny Tsak first took up guitar in the 1970s, but had to abandon it in the 1980s to run a business. He reunited with his friend Avery T. Horton, Jr. in 2005 to form 56 Deluxe, which was soon performing regularly across southern Arizona and on the East Coast. Like I Do is the group’s debut CD.

Tsak fronts the band with gravelly bravura vocals and excellent, straight-ahead guitar solos with no extraneous flash, following in the tradition of Lonnie Brooks, Luther Allison , Hubert Sumlin and other masters, the tradition that captured young white players on both sides of the Atlantic and gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll and rock. But Tsak has two other fine soloists on hand in 56 Deluxe—piano and organ man James Holt, and saxophonist Frank Perez, both of whom get appropriate space on Like I Do to strut their stuff. Bassist Avery T. Horton, Jr. is an able songwriter as well, co-writing one of the songs of the CD with Tsak, track 9, the exuberant celebration of a woman, “My Tastee Cake;” and writing solo two of the others, track 10, the bass-dominant shuffle “All It Takes,” and track 5, a “sober” warning about the killjoy perils of sobriety, “12 Step Boogie,” that admonishes, “Now that we got sober/All the fun is over.” Rounding out the band is Andy “G,” drummer, and guest players Joe Beard, Jr. on drums and Bernie Rose on back piano.

Six other songs are written by Kenny Tsak himself, which are a solid and variegated mixture of traditional blues themes and approaches, which I list here. The opening title track, “Like I Do,” sets off the roadhouse flavor of the CD well with a sax-opening traditional city blues of doubt about one’s woman. Track 2, “Full Time Lover,” comes in as a ruminative slow number with a piano-and-organ backdrop, while track 4, “Blues Attitude,” is another slow number, this time about getting through tough times. Track 3, “Walkin’ Shoes,” is a vigorous leaving-a-bad-woman sax-driven rocker with solos from both Holt and Perez, and track 7, “Down South Florida, “ celebrates the Sunshine State with a rhumba beat. The final track is actually two tracks combined: “I’ll Take You With Me,” a rockin’ jump with an elemental vocal line and extended guitar and piano work, followed by an untitled “bonus track,” a short guitar-bass-and-drums medium-tempo ruminative instrumental coda.

There are two covers of classics—track 8, Willie Dixon’s “I Just Wanna Make Love To You,” and track 6, Chick Willis’s risqué “Stoop Down Baby,” sung by Florida bluesman Joey Gilmore, who adds two original verses, one celebrating Tsak, the other himself. Gilmore also engages Tsak in a guitar solo duel on the track, where both are in top form.

Like I Do, AZ Kenny Tsak and 56 Deluxe re-create the classic blues sound of the late 1950s and early 1960s in a most convincing way, with real fealty not just to the music itself, but also to its raucous spirit.

This review is an extended version of one that originally appeared in my July 26, 2009 “Blues and More” column for the Bloomington (IN) Alternative.

Reviewer George Fish lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr, and writes a regular music column, “Blues and More” for the online Bloomington (IN) Alternative. He’s also published in the regional Indiana blues and alternative presses as well as Living Blues and Blues Access, and wrote the notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has also published on blues and pop music for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy, as well as the online Political Affairs and MRZine.

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