The real Cincinnati kid
While Cincinnati is better known for its Skyline Chili than for roadhouse blues, veteran blues rocker Lonnie Mack may change that. He's been around for awhile, having hit the national charts with an instrumental cover of Chuck Berry's "Memphis" the same year Pete Rose broke in with the Reds. Mack followed his initial success with two more hits, then faded from the popular music scene although staying active with a loyal following.
Now, 22 years after he first hit the big time, Mack is back and rocking stronger than ever. "Strike Like Lightning," his first album for Alligator Records, features fellow guitar ace (and longtime admirer/student) Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar (as well as co-producer), along with remnants of Mack's old backing band.
Mack's vocals are gruff, reminiscent of fellow Alligator bluesman Son Seals, and give a down-to-earth sound to his music. The material on this album comes in somewhere between B.B. King and Creedence Clearwater Revival, for a sound he describes as "funky Cincinnati blues and rock groove."
Adding Vaughan to half the cuts on the album was certainly no liability, and he fits right in with Mack's style of play. Mack has a distinctive style of improvisation marked by quick, short arpeggios in the upper register, and Vaughan's more intricate approach stands out from his hero's while adding to it.
"Hound Dog Man" is a well-written, energetic rollicking rock and blues piece with Mack and Vaughan trading riffs like two kids trying to outdo each other while still complementing the other player.
The best piece for guitar purists is "Oreo Cookie Blues," which has Mack on acoustic, Vaughan on steel and Bill McIntosh (Mack's younger brother) on slide. The three guitarists trade riffs of increasing complexity throughout the song, ending with an intricate three-part lead.
"Double Whammy" rivals "Oreo Cookie Blues" for intensity of soloing. Vaughan manages to get in some nice licks of his own without ever intruding into Mack's space.
Lest one think that Vaughan steals the album, "Stop" is one of the best songs here. This slow ballad allows Mack to show that he can handle the challenge of carrying a song with his vocals. He also intersperses the song with very expressive guitar passages that a show a jazzier side to his playing.
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