Album Review: Altered Five Blues Band – Testifyin’

A five-song EP recorded in a quick two-day session in Nashville, Testifyin’ is the seventh studio release from this Milwaukee-based quintet. Produced by award-winning Tom Hambridge, the new set showcases the band’s tight, soulful and spirited approach to the blues.

All five of the disc’s tracks are band originals, composed by guitarist Jeff Schroedl; one, the playful “Whiskey Got Me Married” is a co-write with the band’s keyboardist Steve Huebler.

“Don’t Tell Me I Can’t” kicks off with a knotty guitar figure, quickly joined by beefy horn blasts and some tasty overdubbed lead guitar licks from Schroedl. The song’s lyric is a sassy, defiant and forthright statement of purpose, belted out with gusto by lead singer Jeff Taylor. Schroedl’s verse-long lead guitar solo is clear and sharp, and after a breakdown, he peppers the remainder of the tune with licks here and there, in answer to Taylor’s vocals.

“Whiskey Got Me Married” digs into a heavier blues groove, showcasing some searing harp work from guest player Jason Ricci. The tune’s simmering arrangement gives space for Huebler’s electric piano runs; the rhythm section of Alan Arber (drums) and bassist Mark Solveson provides ace support as Schroedl spins out another powerful solo.

An electric take on country blues, “Brand New Bone” opens in spare fashion, with some Johnny Winter-styled guitar backing Taylor. As the arrangement fills out, Ricci gets another opportunity to display his skills. Huebler’s sparkling piano runs are the track’s centerpiece.

The laid-back “I’ve Got the Scars to Prove It” demonstrates the Altered Five Blues Band’s dexterity at holding back to make a musical mark. Simmering organ licks and a smoky rhythm section are joined by (yet again) Ricci’s soulful harp, and Schroedl leans into an emotion-laden solo full of shade and light.

Huebler’s Wurlitzer electric piano provides a delicious musical bed for “You Can’t Win (If it Ain’t Within).” With some deep-groove percussion helping to move the track along, it’s all-in for the band on the EP’s closing track. Huebler overdubs bits of organ, the rhythm section chugs along in solid support, and Schroedl tears off another memorable solo.

At under 20 minutes, Testifyin’ may leave listeners wanting more, but that approach is a time-tested method of winning over an audience. For those who want to continue digging the Altered Five Blues Band, there’s always the repeat button, plus a dive into the group’s back catalog. They’ve been at it for more than two decades now, winning awards and accolades all along the way.