Kelly Bell Band: Ain't Like it Used to Be
There's a fine line between following a tradition and lacking imagination. Imagination has never really been a problem for the Kelly Bell Band. Listen to the snippet of acoustic porch-jam 12-bar blues called "Must've Bumped Your Head" on the KBB's new album, . . . Ain't Like It Used to Be! and you'll hear musicians who can toe the traditional line like old-timers. But after a minute or two, the band suddenly goes electric, shifting into the title track's electrified groove before bringing it all the way into the 21st century as rapper H-One busts rhymes over the rideout.
That's just one example of how the band's self-described "phat blues" mix is more eclectic and skilled than ever on this sophomore effort. The album's sound ranges widely, from the straight-up, horn-spiked Chicago-style romp "Talkin' In Your Sleep" (with standout guest turns from guitarist Bobby Parker and vocalist Big Jesse Yawn) to the hit-single wannabe "Thinking About Tomorrow" to the hard rock of "Stay" to the chamber-pop lament "Take Me Away" (scored for piano, strings, and bassoon). Bell's rich baritone binds together each and every diversion and experiment.
Stylistic change-ups aside, many of the tracks on . . . Ain't Like It Used to Be! eventually blur together, a problem not uncommon to groups that spend time on the jam-band circuit. While Bell's singing is always engaging and the playing is assured and sharp throughout, the songwriting doesn't offer as many surprises as the arrangements. Still, the Kelly Bell Band continues to do something new with the blues, something there's always reason to applaud.