On the heels of 2018’s Bring It On Home, the Calipari boys and Head Honchos return with their stronger and more focused sophomore offering, Blues Alliance. Led by the father-son guitar duo of Rocco Calipari Sr. and Rocco Calipari Jr., the four-piece outfit stays true to their debut’s formula without sounding formulaic. Like its predecessor, the album focuses on the varied guitar voicings of the Caliparis. Straightforward rock riffs are mixed in with a myriad of blues licks, slide solos and a couple of brief flirtations with speed metal. It’s a guitar lover’s feast.
Almost as distinctive as the familial fret shredding is the visceral growl of Calipari Sr.’s voice. In a sea of overwrought, affected low-register rock screamers, it is refreshing to hear Calipari’s authentic, un-polished singing. Whether by inherent ability, or natural aging from years as a frontman, there is a natural distortion in his voice that perfectly compliments the hard-edge sound of Head Honchos. And although usually overshadowed by the Caliparis, the rhythm section of Mike Boyle (bass) and Will Wyatt (drums) are also a seamless match for the album’s hard-charging rock.
“Stuck Between The Middle” dives straight into blistering guitar with opening runs and creative licks throughout. The Caliparis effortlessly share soloing duties here as they do on the following “Mr. Bad,” and indeed much of the album. As important as instrumental brilliance is to the success of Blues Alliance, they excel in not only altering the playing styles on these interludes, but also varying the tonal coloring. Wah-heavy solos are usually countered by straight distortion bursts, and the differing approaches by father and son keep things interesting.
“Can’t Be Satisfied” features Calipari Sr.’s best vocal performance of the set. Combined with some of their most creative guitar playing and a great underlying groove, it is one of the album’s best songs. “Midnight Ride” also vies for that title by way of a darker, more ominous tone created in part by organ and harmonica additions to the mix.
Although some of the strongest songs on Blues Alliance are of the hard rock variety, the rollicking slide-based “Number One” will please fans partial to the early-Clapton sound, and “She Got That Thang” offers a funky rhythm and a few tempo changes thrown in near the end. Even more versatile are the final trio of tunes that culminate with the earthy “I’m A Ram.” It’s a surprising ending considering the high-energy, electrified character that dominates the album. Not only is the laid-back number a great closer, it makes listeners wonder why the band doesn’t try this acoustic approach more often.
While the best of the band still lies in the dazzling instrumental chops of its members, the uptempo and energetic tracks on Blues Alliance are a marked improvement upon its predecessor. Here, the original songs have far more depth and diversity than on Bring It On Home, and the cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil” is an inspired effort that beats any homage on the previous LP. Blues Alliance is a solid album and an important reminder that subtle blues treasures often come from unheralded bands that perhaps don’t get the recognition they deserve.
The Review: 7.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Stuck Between the Middle
– Can’t Be Satisfied
– Midnight Ride
– I’m A Ram
The Big Hit
– Can’t Be Satisfied