- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

Rounder recording artists the Tarbox Ramblers play the Iota Club and Cafe in Arlington tonight. It's important to get something straight about this band right away. This is not a revival band trying to play old music in a museum setting. What it is, even leader Michael Tarbox has trouble describing:
"It's a it's a man, it's hard to describe 21st-century blues and folk music, but there should be a fiercer quality to it than just that label."
Anyone who sees this band live knows exactly what Mr. Tarbox means. The music growls and rumbles. It cries, and it moans. It digs deep into what "roots" music really means and grows something new and alive.
The music starts with old Delta blues, hillbilly and gospel songs, songs from the likes of Charley Patton and Muddy Waters and from old-time string bands with great names like the Skillet Lickers and the Mississippi Sheiks. But when the band puts these songs on stage, the music also owes a lot to rock, punk and garage bands ranging from Cream to the Ramones.
"Hopefully, it's just unique," Mr. Tarbox says. "It draws on a lot of things, but it's really its own thing."
There is an energy in this band that makes the audience want to move and dance even on slow songs like the classic "St. James Infirmary." Some of it comes from the rhythm section. Drummer Jon Cohan and stand-up bass fiddle player Johnny Sciascia create a sound that hits the body as much as the ears. Mr. Cohan's work on tom-toms and bass drum reaches right in to the pit of the stomach. The rockabilly slap-bass style that Mr. Sciascia employs puts the bounce in your feet.
Layered on top of this powerful rhythm is the equally passionate guitar playing of Mr. Tarbox and fervent fiddling of Daniel Kellar. Mr. Tarbox can get his slide guitar to whine and cry with the best of them, but it may be even better when it's joining the rhythm section and growling out big chunky chords.
The fiddle doesn't usually show up in blues and rock bands, but Mr. Kellar shows why it was there on the early Delta blues recordings and old string-band records. His ability to color the raw intensity of the music, with harmonies and swing and blues licks, tempers and hones the rough edge of sound.
The fitting topper to this eclectic sound is the rugged, gut-level singing of Mr. Tarbox's lead vocals and the surprisingly sweet and impassioned three-part harmonies when Mr. Kellar and Mr. Sciascia join in. The honesty that makes the old recordings so timeless is here too.
The band has been playing together for more than five years, and this familiarity shows on stage. Moving from song to song without a playlist, the band creates and arranges on the fly, but never seems to lose direction.
Intensity and volume are the two constants. A song like "Sitting on Top of The World," made famous by Howlin' Wolf, becomes a driving rockabilly sprint in the hands of the Tarbox Ramblers.
"We like to play loud and we just play kind of louder and maybe a little bit faster," Mr. Tarbox says. "We've listened to a lot of rock music, punk music, garage and stuff like that. We've never made a decision to play the music in that style, but I think it is definitely part of our approach."

When it comes to unique and eclectic music, no one has made a longer and more successful career out of doing his own thing than Delbert McClinton. His music follows the Texas tradition of mixing blues, Tex-Mex, country, rhythm and blues and country swing and then playing whatever you feel like.
He'll be shaking the Birchmere for two nights next Tuesday and Wednesday. It's almost certain he will be featuring songs from his newest album, "Room to Breathe," which will be released on Sept. 24. The album is a great mix of upbeat horn-driven blues, honky-tonk country, and a couple of the most honest sweet ballads around.
Mr. McClinton's career began more than 40 years ago in the honky-tonks and blues clubs of Fort Worth, Texas. He learned his first tricks from blues masters like Jimmy Reed and Sonny Boy Williamson. Later he would teach a few harmonica licks to a young John Lennon and inspire the likes of the Blues Brothers and Tom Petty.
His own success includes some 27 albums, such '70s radio hits as "Giving It Up for Your Love" and "Sandy Beaches," and a Grammy Award with Bonnie Raitt for their "Good Man/Good Woman" duet. His last album, "Nothing Personal" (2001), showed that he still has what it takes. It won the best contemporary blues album Grammy, and it is still in the Top 10 of the Billboard Blues album chart after 70 weeks.

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