Kansas City blues band Trampled Under Foot gave a stellar CD release concert at Uncle Bo’s last Friday night in Topeka, Kansas.
Their latest release, May I Be Excused, is available for purchase here. My copy is still on its way, but judging from the evolution of their live shows (and because of the rough recording quality of some of their older work), this must-have 12-song disc will certainly be their best, showcasing their songwriting skills and commanding vocals. They won the 2008 International Blues Challenge in Memphis (in a field of 90 bands), and just in case you think these kids are fooling around, also note well that “big brother Nick” won the Albert King Award for Most Promising Guitarist at the IBC.
These incredibly talented siblings–vocalist and bassist Danielle, guitarist Nick, and drummer Kris Schnebelen–are part and parcel of the larger family of regional blues musicians. This is Kansas City, after all, and it ain’t known for its techno. So singeth Muddy Waters (listen here to Kansas City Blues).
Their mom and dad were musicians in KC-local Little Eva and the Works. Nick worked with the bands K-Floor (a.k.a. Killin’ Floor) and Buddahead on the east coast before returning to team up with the fam. Danielle came up in the KC scene via Fresh Brew Band, The Nortons (watch her here), and regular Friday gigs at the Grand Emporium as Danielle Schnebelen and the Rush Hour Rendezvous. She recently married Brandon Hudspeth, the front man for local blues group Levee Town.
This post updates (and eclipses) Stella Splice’s February review.
The Trampled Under Foot performance on June 27, 2008, was in the basement of the downtown Ramada. If you can rock the Ramada in northeast Kansas, you can rock any place imaginable.
I’ve also seen the band at other, bigger venues: B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ, which is a must-go club for all those passing through, no matter the act, and also The Jazzhaus. These three shows, over the course of time, were like core samples of TUF’s evolution from great to call-everyone-you-know killer great.
I’m going to act like I’ve seen the hard-touring TUF crew a bunch of times and sketch a “typical” show.
They open with an instrumental, tuning you in to their groove. Then maybe Nick steps up to the mic, tearing into the most danceable sort of blues number with a voice that sounds chock-full with decades of whiskey, cigarettes, and no-good women. His smile is the biggest I’ve ever seen this side of a Crest commercial, but it’s twisted with a love for the bended blue notes he shakes out of his left-handed guitar (she’s a lefty, too). We hear the first round of Nick’s solos, and even the most recalcitrant concert-goer wants to hop up and see if they’ve got any boogie-woogie left in ’em.
The third song: it’s Danielle’s turn to sing. You could have listened to a Nick-fronted band all night, and been ecstatic for the chance. But once the force of nature that is her voice emanates from that woman’s soul, you just want more “D,” the little sister on bass. I recommend listening to the title track May I Be Excused on their MySpace. The butter-smooth song showcases Danielle, and even though it comes in just shy of seven minutes, she still makes you wanna beg for more. Don’t think for a minute that that song captures her energy on stage, though. In fact, my one and only criticism of her is she gets so into the vocals she sometimes twists her head away from the mic, and I don’t want to miss even those split seconds.
The rest of the show will go back and forth with Nick and Danielle trading songs. The real gems are when they (plus Kris, who is underused for this function) chime in on each others’ choruses, for that familial harmony that rings so true.
For the last song of the first set, D will leave the stage while Nick solos his ass off, guitar behind the head, taking you through a technical and emotional tour of blues history. Then Nick will leave Kris alone on stage for the sort of drum solo that makes you regret your current occupation–“Why didn’t I choose percussion in grade school?!?” Eventually, after waves of tom riffs and powerfully silent two-beats that make you yell out in hearty agreement, Kris drops back into keeping time and the others join him to finish off the song and the set. But not to worry, there’s so much more to come.
To kick off round two, Nick sets up at the trap set. He plays guitar and two-foots the bass and the top hat perfectly. It’s not a novelty; it’s just a great song that he plays himself. And it’s gotten much, much better over time.
The rest of the show may include Nick on the Dobro, a round of solos by each band member during the bridge of a couple of songs, a jam with a fellow musician (last night on the Hammond B3 organ), and a whirlwind of covers. Over the course of three shows, I heard Aretha Franklin’s Chain of Fools, which turned people into crazed fools on the dance floor, Gladys Knight & the Pips’ Midnight Train to Georgia, Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor and his Howlin’ for My Darlin’ (which Nick rocks with absolute authority, as if he penned it himself), the Janis Joplin version of Summertime, I Shot the Sheriff by Bob Marley and The Wailers, and Danielle workin’ it out on Etta James’ At Last. (D says Etta is her biggest influence.)
The most crowd-pleasing of their older original music is Honey Bee and Virginia Creeper, both streaming on TUF’s MySpace.
At the end of a third set, the band tried to get off the stage and no one wanted to let them. Brilliantly, Danielle satisfied the crowd and sent us off to bed with a sweet a cappella cover of Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz with big brothers on harmony. Very nice.