(NRP/Living Room Records, CD)
Vermont blues-rock institutions The Nobby Reed Project have earned a reputation as one of the area's top club acts, largely due to their leader's passionate guitar playing and rugged vocals. The trio's latest, Moonlight Drivin,' is another dose of shuffle-blues and no-nonsense rock 'n' roll. The disc is sure to delight longtime fans, and maybe even entice some new ones.
Reed's style invites comparisons to late electric-blues virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughn, but plenty sets the Green Mountain axeman apart. First of all, he's a surprisingly versatile singer, delivering both pop harmonies and Gregg Allman-style howls with ease. Moonlight Drivin' contains several barroom classics, such as the title track and the aptly named "Blues Train."
While Reed's guitar work on those tunes is commendable, he truly shines on the Santana-esque composition "Morning Glory." His impeccable phrasing provides a scorching example of the electric guitar's versatility; the track is a diamond in this blue-collar rough. The laid-back groove of "I Wish You Peace" is sweet and mellow, featuring smooth harmonies and a vibe reminiscent of late '60s West Coast rock. "You Are" boasts richly textured background vocals and lead guitar work recalling that of Peter Green and Roy Buchanan.
Drummer Eric Belrose and bassist/harmonica player Tim Comings lay down a solid foundation, steering clear of flashy fills and showy runs. "Common Ground" gives Comings a little more room to maneuver, however. A crawling, minor-key blues number, the tune features a slinky bass line that nicely complements Reed's sultry licks.
The lyrics leave a bit to be desired, but nobody listens to this kind of stuff for deep prose. Though "Powerful Thing" supplies some stinging lead guitar, for example, Reed's vocal refrain is patently unoriginal. OK, we know you've got the blues -- do you have to tell us so many times? To be fair, the album's shortcomings are merely those of the genre itself. Reed and bandmates possess enough musical muscle to plow through the cliches with their dignity intact. Moonlight Drivin' would sound great over beers and a game of pool, but there's still plenty of nuance if you're listening for it. Hear NRP Friday, July 1, at the Middle Earth Music Hall in Bradford.