If you like solid blues and blues-rock, check out the new album, Live at the Kessler, from Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat, released over the summer. I stumbled across this release and have been playing it in constant rotation. Suhler and Monkey Beat have been playing together for a couple of decades and definitely deserve wider recognition. Suhler, in addition to his work with Monkey Beat, plays lead guitar with George Thorogood and the Destroyers.
Suhler’s vocals are warm and engaging and his song writing is top notch. “Doin’ the Best I Can,” one of the two new cuts, showcases the solid rhythm section of Chris Alexander on bass and Beau Chadwell on drums and allows Suhler to throw off some fine slide guitar work. “Tijuana Bible” is a border tale with some excellent Gallagher-inspired down and gritty fretwork.
“Deja Blue” adds accordion to the mix, giving the song a Tex-Mex feel while also calling to mind the influence of Acadian musicians on the Texas side of the Gulf coast. “Texassippi” takes that vibe a little further, with a loping mid-tempo ballad that seems like the perfect road song. The tune works as a travel song, the open road ahead, Cypress trees, Spanish moss and miles of wetlands as far as the eye can see.
“Sunday Drunk” is the best song Rory Gallagher never wrote, a rocking boogie about the dangers of “sour mash for breakfast.” Suhler’s character is drinking her off his mind and playing his tail off on guitar. The number is clearly a nod to the Irishman and his snarly tone, and Suhler seems to be having the time of his life.
“Panther Burn” from the album of the same name is a feast of sensual low-down slide guitar. Suhler’s vocal conjures the ghost of Howling’ Wolf, the verdant fields of the Mississippi Delta, and desire as old as time itself. Suhler declares, “Got a powerful thirst/got a V-8 Ford/Make love to you on the running board.” The listener can feel the heat and humidity, feel the sweat trickling down sun-parched skin.
“Scattergun” is a boogie romp in which Suhler promises to run off any would-be back-door man with his trusty weapon. You definitely don’t want to be in his line of fire. The album closes with “Restless Soul,” another Gallagher-influenced rocker. This number tracks in at seven-plus minutes and segues into the opening to Gallagher’s version of “Bullfrog Blues.” It is pure guitar heaven.
Get this one. If you love intuitive, sinewy guitar picking, you owe it to yourself to add this to your collection. Suhler and Monkey Beat are one of my happy discoveries.