These guys should get points just for going against the tide, and that’s not to take away from the very apparent quality of their musicianship, experience and solid blues sound. The Motor Sheiks are a tight unit and they’ve got Motor City stamped all up and down their music. But what I really dig about these guys is the stripped-down, no-frills harmonica and rhythm-driven sound that defies the expectation that a blues band simply must have barn-burning guitar loud and up front at all times. Imagine a big fat Cadillac cruising the wide-open road and you’ve got the Sheiks sound.
This is not to say that I don’t love to hear some fire-breathing guitar, because I do. A lot. But whenever I hear something like what these guys are laying down on this CD, recorded live last year in Toledo, it’s a pleasant surprise. What it says is that the members of the Sheiks put some thought into the focus and direction of their sound and, consequently, into what kind of band they wanted to put together.
These days what blues needs more than anything else is originality and thoughtfulness, and the Sheiks are definitely present and accounted for on both counts. If there’s any criticism I would offer, it would only be that sometimes the vocals could be a little stronger, and that some of the songs sound a bit too closely related. But that’s just me, and other than that I’d have to say this is some really good stuff delivered fresh from the home team.
Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-based freelance writer and musician. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.