Charlie Wheeler Band - Highway Run CD

Though based in the northeast, Charlie Wheeler Band populates some of the same musical terrain as The Allman Brothers Band, Gov't Mule, and Drive-By Truckers – a rock sound firmly planted in the blues and bayous, but with a spiritual depth that goes beyond the tag of "Southern Rock."
Wheeler's stinging guitar drives the train, and while it's Charlie's band by name, the lead vocal duties are handled by Greek Cheronis, who also lends some appropriately road-tested harmonica to the mix. Cheronis has a studio-filling voice that is clear and cutting while also possessing enough grittiness to stand up to the bluesy lyrics of songs like "I Got to Ramble" and "My Mama Cried." It helps create an intense rock sound, bolstered by the solid drums of Darren Payne and the restless bass playing of Chuck Jaques. Of course, it wouldn't be fine blues-rock without a stellar guitarist, and Wheeler proves himself as diverse, inventive, and carefully explosive throughout the album, from the watery mid-tempo tones of "When the Lord Comes to Get You" to the stomping, high-energy "Highway Run."

"New York City Night" is a telling capsule of the band's converging sounds. Streetwise saxophones mingle with soaring guitar solos to create an intoxicating sound somewhere between polished Chicago blues, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the A train. "I Got to Ramble" interestingly uses synthesized horns near the end and makes worlds collide, much like the synths Anthony Brown uses in the background of "No One's Gonna Save You" lend the song an arena-rock vibe. The trippy "In a Daydream" has an Alice In Chains-meets-Skynyrd vibe, with menacing clavinet ripples, raw lyrics, and blistering distortion creating a grungy brand of improvisational rock and roll. "Protect You" showcases the band's ability to move in varied directions as a unit, with a cascading hook and funky, spacious playing from all, while "Dreaming of You" exhibits a flowing, jazzy style with epic rock choruses.

Overall, the depth of styles found here album is stunning given the expectations. The listener begins with a certain vibe in mind - that of electric blues rock - and is quickly transported through a maze of influences from progressive rock to Delta blues and beyond. Charlie Wheeler Band is keeping the fire burning for good old musicianship, ripping solos, and earthbound songwriting that everyone can relate to.

--Bryan Rodgers