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CD review: Blues bring a little 'Tuff Love' to Duluth

Boom Boom Steve Vonderharr & the Knockouts have a brand-new release called "Tuff Love." I don't know if it's the title -- it brings to mind "Tuff Enuff" from 20 years ago -- the same instrumentation, similar shuffle feel, or just four white g...

"Tuff Love"
Boom Boom Steve Vonderharr & the Knockouts, "Tuff Love"

Boom Boom Steve Vonderharr & the Knockouts have a brand-new release called "Tuff Love."

I don't know if it's the title -- it brings to mind "Tuff Enuff" from 20 years ago -- the same instrumentation, similar shuffle feel, or just four white guys playing the blues ... but the Knockouts have more than a passing resemblance to the early days of the Fabulous Thunderbirds featuring harp ace Kim Wilson and Stevie Ray's big brother, Jimmy Vaughan, on guitar.

These guys clearly have knowledge of and a feel for this music.

Vonderharr makes the little tin harp talk on the title track detailing some poor schlub's worst possible day at home and at work.

"My Name Is Meth" is Vonderharr's adaptation of a poem written by a young American Indian woman while she was in jail on drug charges. The Knockouts' mournful slow blues describe in words and in grinding instrumental fashion the devastation this horrible substance can cause. Twin Cities ace keyboardist Bruce McCabe lends his considerable talents to this and half the tracks on the disc.

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Little Walter's "Come Back Baby" has the appropriate urgent and impatient feel, and V's harp skates all over the static harmonic and rhythmic canvas.

"From Stardom to Obscurity" tells us that, just when you think you've got it made, someone's going to cut your legs out from under you. Lester Butler's "HNC" is a rollicking little shuffle sung through a "Green Bullet" mic giving it that sinister vibe. "Sad Hours" is a Marion Jacobs instrumental classic that feels like it's 1 a.m. no matter what time you listen to it.

This disc just won "Best Self-Produced Blues CD" by the Greater Twin Cities Music Society. The group brings the blues to town this Sunday evening for its Duluth-area CD release party.

Boom Boom Steve Vonderharr & the Knockouts / "Tuff Love"

Genre: Traditional and contemporary blues

Recommended if you like: The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Little Walter

Recorded at: Subterranean Records

Produced by: Steve Vonderharr

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Website: www.bluesonstage.com/stevev

Personnel: Steve Vonderharr (harp and vocals), John Franken (guitar and vocals),

John Schroder (bass), Dwight Dario (drums), Bruce McCabe (keyboards), Jeremy Johnson (guitar)

Upcoming gig: The Duluth area CD release party for "Tuff Love" is Sunday from 6-10 p.m. at Hell Burgers, 310 S. Lake Ave., Duluth. (218) 727-1620. No cover. Vonderharr and Franken will also play the acoustic stage of this year's Bayfront Blues Festival on Aug. 13.

John Ziegler has worked in the music industry for 36 years as a radio host, interviewer, record producer and professional musician.

Related Topics: MUSIC
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