Where Do We Go (00:04:19)
Broke Down Busted Up (00:04:17)
Turn on the Light (00:04:18)
River of Insanity (00:04:27)
Be My Strength (00:03:31)
All Stays the Same (00:05:26)
You’re the Real Deal (00:04:16)
Stay Home Blues (00:03:47)
So Damn Hard to Like (00:04:18)
Write Me My Own (00:03:48)
Based out of the I-90 corridor in Upstate New York, guitarist/tunesmith Tas Cru is a musical chameleon who delivers a different, interesting take on the blues from one album to the next, and serves up a self-described “quasi-acoustic” effort on this disc. A refined, hard-to-pinpoint collection of originals, it’s certain to keep you thinking about the incites contained in his lyrics while you move to the grooves.
A Vietnam War vet with a Ph.D. as an educator, Tas spent decades in the classroom before turning to music full-time in his mid-50s after growing up influenced by Taj Mahal and Bonnie Raitt. Downbeat magazine once praised him for having “the soul of a poet.” That aspect of his performance is captured clearly with words that are clever without being cute and that transport the listener far further than from one guitar solo to another.
He’s released about a dozen CDs since debuting with Gravi-Tas in 2008, including two created with children in mind, and he’s also penned a three-volume series of books focused on the exploits of Bad Dog Bubba that introduce blues to kids, too. Despite being late to the game, he’s got a Keeping the Blues Alive trophy for his work as an educator in his cabinet, and he’s picked up a Blues Music Award nomination as a rising star along the way.
Tas handles lead vocals on most of the 11 cuts here while accompanying himself on acoustic and resonator guitars. He’s joined by the delightful Anne Harris, who cooks on fiddle throughout, along with Mary Ann Castle, who contributes mountain dulcimer, co-wrote three of the tunes, handles lead vocals on one track and joins Cru in duet on another. The lineup also includes Dave Liddy (grand piano), Garry Loiacono (slide guitar), Andy Hearn and Ron Keck (percussion) and Mike Lawrence and Bob Purdy (acoustic and electric bass).
The country-flavored blues-rocker “Where Do We Go” opens with sweet notes from Harris floating above a medium-paced shuffle before Tas deals with current events in a politically neutral manner. After realizing that his time in the military has no bearing on “what I was fighting for,” he delivers a plea for peace and understanding. His mid-tune single-note solo carries forward the determination expressed in his lyrics.
The action heats up with the funky, stop-time “Broke Down Busted Up,” a not-so-thinly-veiled complaint about aging that features choral backing and a tasty, brief mid-tune solo from Liddy. The sound sweetens considerably with “Turn on the Light,” the unhurried song that follows and serves up comfort for someone suffering a broken heart in the middle of a cold, dark night.
The up-tempo “River of Insanity” is up and infused with soul-searching. Using imagery of flood waters rising and swirling at his feet, Tas seeks out a way to cross over to the other side. It’s followed by a full-on gospel number, “Be My Strength,” which carries forward the theme in a different manner. This time, he seeking out confirmation that his unspoken troubles will come to a positive end. The song’s propelled by steady lower-register, looping single-note guitar runs that create tension under the words.
Mary Ann shines vocally on the next two songs. The minor-key ballad “All Stays the Same” brightens the mood as she describes lovers who wonder if their feelings will remain the same or will they find “a better way.” The positive thoughts continue in the duet, “You’re the Real Deal,” which heaps praise on everyone who loves and plays the blues, but delivers a sly complaint about those who claim they’re trying to “keep the music” alive, but are doing nothing to advance it because they’re keeping it in a box.
“Stay Home Blues,” another stop-time pleaser, focuses on with reality of being an entertainer during COVID-19 before “So Damn Hard to Like” finds Tas describing a lady who has the face of an angel, but “wings of stone” as he prepares to tell her they’re through. Two more numbers – the percussive “Henry,” a tip of the hat to a musician who spent his life trying not to let other folks keep him down, and “Write Me My Own,” an passion-packed ballad that appeals to a lady in despair to write Cru a song – bring the disc to a close.
Tas Cru definitely doesn’t cookie-cutter his material. If you’re looking for something different – both aurally and lyrically, this is definitely it. There’s a sea of emotion packed in every tune and awaiting your ears.
BY MARTY GUNTHER