The Milwaukee-based Altered Five Blues Band impressed enough of the right people with 2012’s Gotta Earn It to enlist Grammy-winning producer Tom Hambridge for the follow-up, and now the third straight time for Ten Thousand Watts, their fifth album beginning with their debut in 2002. Unlike many Hambridge projects, though, this band writes their own material. This original, contemporary group includes powerful vocalist “JT” Taylor along with a tight band featuring blazing interaction between keyboardist Ray Tevich and guitarist Jeff Schroedl. Mark Solveson (bass) and Alan Arber (drums) complete the rhythm section.
Brace yourself; as the title implies, this is high powered, unrelenting blues, verging on blues-rock at times. You hear it immediately on the opening “Right On, Right On” with guest harmonicist Steve Cohen adding to the combustion. Guitarist Schroedl then leads into “Too Mad to Make Up” with a gritty, Keith Richards-like riff with Taylor singing defiantly. The title track is in that classic blues vein of power and seduction as Taylor boasts of his powers. He then, brings the requisite humility in “Mischief Man” and then some welcome humor and clever wordplay in “Great Minds Drink Alike.”
The swagger and electric pyrotechnics recede in the memorable groove of “Don’t Rock My Blues” as the group pays tribute to a litany of heroes. Schroedl, who often wields his axe like a blues-rocker, takes a more refined B.B. King approach here. They then bring the Crescent City vibe with Arber’s rhumba beats and Tevich’s NOLA piano on “Sweet Marie.” Taylor demonstrates why is one of today’s best blues singers as he reaches deep in the ballad “Dollars and Demons,” and, as his wont, recovers with his lighter side, showing he can handle defeat in “I Hate to Leave You (With a 6-Pack in the Fridge)” with the line “You’re more trouble than a one-way bridge.”
The band changes it up a bit with the swampy “Let Me Do the Wrong Thing,” as Taylor sings about succumbing to temptation – “that will make it one in a row.” Arber’s boogaloo beats, Schroedl’s lightning fingers, and Tevich’s swirling B3 imbue another defiant series of statements from Taylor in “Half of Nothing” – “is all she’s gonna get.” Cohen returns to blow his harp on the explosive (no other way for this band to go out) “Let Me Be Gone.”
Altered Five is as good as any blues band on the contemporary scene. Their songs are in regular rotation on SiriusXM’s Bluesville, their album Charmed and Dangerous scored a BMA nomination for Best Emerging Artist and Song of the Year in 2018, and similar accolades at both the Independent Music Awards and Wisconsin Music Awards. They have reached the #1 spot on several charts in the past. Their trajectory should continue to rise with this fine effort.