The Proven Ones 'Wild Again' Album Review
4.8Overall Score

The venerable group of musicians gathered together to form the group known as The Proven Ones create a musical statement for both 2018 and the ages with their CD entitled Wild Again. In doing so, they pay tribute to the celebrated history of The Blues, while maintaining an innovative and modern stance. This band plays the blues without compromise, diving into the project and packing a terrific punch on both sturdy originals and well-chosen covers. Wild Again is self-produced by The Proven Ones being recorded and mixed by drummer Jimi Bott at his Roseleaf studio.

“Jimi Bott is one of the top drummer’s in the world. He’s worth twice what I paid him, and it’s always an honor to work with him!” ~ Kim Wilson

The veteran rhythm section that causes a commotion is comprised of drummer/percussionist Jimi Bott teamed with Willie J. Campbell on bass guitar. The duo worked together in the California blues group The Mannish Boys and have known each other for close to three decades. Legendary guitarist David “Kid” Ramos also spent time with The Mannish Boys. Bott, Campbell, and Ramos were bandmates in The Fabulous Thunderbirds for a spell. Ramos and Campbell were also previously in James Harmon’s Band. In 1999 on his eponymous 2nd solo release Kid Ramos enlisted Campbell to play bass. The familiarity between these musicians breeds a feeling of comfortability and a palpable camaraderie of the bandmates that enhances each and every note they play. Bott took percussion instruction from a jazz drumming Vegas legend, Forrest Elledge… a drummer so good even Buddy Rich had him as an on-call drum coach. Elledge’s career spanned 40 years during which he played drums in shows with several big named performers, including Carmen McRae and Billie Holiday. Bott later, while living in Los Angeles, became one of the infamous Murray Spivack’s last (and according to Murray, one of his best) students ever. Spivack’s list of former students includes world-famous drummers such as Joe Morello (Dave Brubeck), David Garibaldi (Tower of Power), Remo D Belli (inventor of the first successful synthetic drumhead), in addition to one of the true all-time jazz greats Louis Bellson. A hand technician genius, Murray befriended Jimi and passed on his vast knowledge of stick control, musicality, and sense of rhythm.

“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jimi Bott for over 25 years. He is not only my favorite drummer of choice but one of the hardest working and warmest human beings I know.” ~ Randy Chortkoff

If you have read my Vivascene review of Kid Ramos’s 2018 Old School release (http://www.vivascene.com/kid-ramos-old-school-album-review/) then you are already well aware of my love for Kid’s wide-ranging chops and skills. These skills are on conspicuous display in each and every song on The Proven Ones Wild Again with the guitar slinger unfailingly delivering the sizzling six-string goods.

The excellent horn arrangements throughout Wild Again were composed by Joe McCarthy who plays trumpet. He has teamed with some of Portland’s finest, The Indigo Horns, a collection that contains Renato Coranto on tenor saxophone, Robert Crowell on baritone sax, and on “Right Track Now” Chris Mercer on tenor sax. The addition of these horn charts add soul and R&B inflections to the basic blues sounds contained in Wild Again.

The first song on the release is a Bott penned song titled “Cheap Thrills.” It was originally on Bott’s solo release in 2005 on Roseleaf Records Cheap Thrills Live Vol. I. That one was performed with Fabulous Thunderbirds personnel that included Kid Ramos and Willie Campbell. And much like the version presented here it offers an electrifying jam with stand-out drumming, rock ‘n’ roll guitar, stately Hammond B-3 organ, and honky-tonk piano. Plus this version includes a mighty fine vocal treatment by Brian Templeton which includes some occasional echo-chamber vocal effects.

“Brian Templeton is one of the most talented vocalists to come along in quite a while. His combination of power and conviction along with unerring pitch and swinging and flexible sense of time makes his delivery truly stand out.” ~ Jerry Portnoy

“Brian is one hell of a singer, harmonica player and songwriter plus he’s an exciting performer. He really is the complete package!” ~ Sugar Ray Norcia

Keyboard wizard Anthony Geraci also has a long and illustrious pedigree in the blues, being a veteran of early lineups of Ronnie Earl’s Broadcasters and Sugar Ray (Norcia) and the Bluetones. Geraci has an undergraduate degree from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, and a Masters of Arts Degree from Skidmore College Saratoga Springs, NY. The list of blues icons he has played with is extensive and truly impressive. His solo albums have shown that he is also a much-gifted songwriter.

“Blues means honesty. Whether you are a professional musician, or a fan you know instantly if the music (blues) is being played with feeling and respect for the history of the blues.” ~ Anthony Geraci

Evidence of Geraci’s tunesmith ability comes with his composition entitled “Why, Baby, Why.” Heartbreak lyrics presented with a sincere grit and honey vocal pleading performance by Templeton. The horns add spice, as done the entire ensemble. Geraci’s swirling organ and Kid’s guitar both are appropriately robust and fit the song perfectly. The rhythm section is tight as a tick. This track presents a classic example of how a talented professional ensemble interacts with cohesion.

The legendary Peter Green’s “If You Be My Baby” is a marvelous choice for a bluesy cover by The Proven Ones. It’s a steady rollin’ blues containing an explosive lead guitar with Kid leaning on some of his King influences (Albert, Freddie, and B.B.). The piano is pounded like a tough piece of meat and the vocal is highly effective. The entire group stretches out, and they lay it down good.

Clarence Carter’s “Road Of Love” is yet another excellent cover choice for the group. That song featured Duane Allman and his slide guitar mastery, a sturdy as an oak tree vocal, a roaring impassioned horn chart, and intense keyboards. As good as that recording was, it is upgraded here by TPO. Templeton’s gospel-steeped vocal phrasing is hot-blooded in its intensity and crying emotional dejected tone. Kid’s dirty guitar and swooping bottle-neck slide battles Geraci’s organ to garner the listener’s ear, in conjunction with the rhythm section that really cooks with a finger-poppin’ deep groove.

“City Dump” is a song that was released by Dyke and the Blazers as a single in 1967. It was written by Arlester “Dyke” Christian, the lead singer for the group who originally backed the O’Jays. The steamin’ churning urn of burning funk quality of the original with the melody led by soulful horns and Hammond B-3 organ guiding the throbbing groove is quite reminiscent of James Brown on one of his tracks that steadfastly beckoned everyone onto the dance floor. The song in the hands of The Proven Ones is transformed into a jump blues treat. The brass and organ are still prominent but Kid’s guitar elevates the song to a higher level. Templeton shows loads of panache and attitude on this one. The horns are bright as summer sunshine and the organ has a primo flair that is captivating to say the least.

On the new composition with shared writing credits going to Kim Wilson, Jimi Bott and David Ramos; “Right Track Now” proves to be a fine example of old school energetic R&B. Templeton sounds a bit like Kim Wilson or perhaps Southside Johnny Lyon (a couple of my favorite singers) as he blends classic rock and blues influences. Geraci’s organ intermingles with Kid’s guitar along with a good dose of supple brass to brew up a delicious musical gumbo. A snippet of the self-explanatory lyric is “They say that love is a gamble, a game of give and take. But we never gave enough baby; that was our mistake.” The catchy chorus will have you singing along “we’re on the right track now.”

There’s a density to the sound and a gravity to the lyrics found on the title track “Wild Again.” Templeton is raw and forcefully imposing as he belts out the lyrics with a distinguished earthy tone. The group attractively captures the feel of Texas roadhouse blues. Geraci is marvelous on both organ and piano while Ramos kicks up a storm with licks from his axe that ignite sparks and his economical guitar solo is sweet.

The slow somber blues of Fenton Robinson’s classic “Somebody (Loan Me A Dime)” is given a long and tasty rendition by The Proven Ones. The song was forever immortalized by blue-eyed soul/rock/blues master Boz Scaggs with the enhancing guitar courtesy of Duane “Skydog” Allman in Muscle Shoals. Kid Ramos shows his appreciation of the work of Allman without allowing any of his own personality to become obscured. One of the highlights of a set that includes many standout cuts. A dire Templeton vocal effectively emphasizes the emotions of being down on your luck. This tune is tasty as a T-bone steak.

The Beatles final live performance on the rooftop of Apple Corp. was captured in their movie Let It Be. One of the songs they performed before the London Bobbies halted their show was John Lennon’s impassioned love song for Yoko Ono entitled “Don’t Let Me Down.” Billy Preston’s organ contribution is warmheartedly captured by Geraci, and while Templeton (or anyone else for that matter) cannot convey Lennon’s passion he gives it a great try. Ramos is tasteful, as usual, on his sincere and gorgeous guitar lines.

“I couldn’t be prouder to make music with these exceptional musicians who are some of the nicest people I’ve ever been around. I love people who are serious, but still have fun on a day to day basis.” ~ Anthony Geraci

All of the musicians are at the top of their game and they pull out all of the stops to create a musical work of art that is full of ear catchers. These tight-knit and talented musicians all have blues bloodlines and the sum of the parts make Wild Again a finely focused and consistently inspired well-crafted recording. Underpinning their energetic dynamism is their ton of knowledge, years of practice, discipline, creativity and organization, without any sense of selfish ego present. With the release of Wild Again, The Proven Ones are unquestionably poised to garner acclaim equally from music critics, blues lovers, and listeners all over the globe. Utterly and exceptionally engaging.