Trampled Under Foot

Trampled Under Foot
Wrong Side of the Blues

Vizz-Tone

By Tony Del Rey
July 2011

You can bet the boys in marketing at the Vizz-Tone Label will be angling on the built-in “cool factor” attached to a trio of siblings calling themselves Trampled Under Foot (TUF) who’ve set out to carry the burden of suffering that the blues has always stood for through to the next generation with the release of Wrong Side of the Blues.

But shouldn’t we be inclined to dismiss the idea of the family unit chasing after the ghost of Robert Johnson as being just a tad gimmicky? Hardly. Turns out the Schnebelen kids are old hands at this game, hailing from a musical lineage that includes a mom and dad who remain active in the Kansas City blues scene to this day.

There seems little doubt that Ma and Pa Schnebelen schooled ‘em early and often in the hardscrabble ways of life on the road. In blues parlance it’s called “paying your dues,” a required course in scratching for the hard dollar in places where slappings, drinks in the face and bottles busted over people’s heads are mere occupational hazards.

Whatever form of weaponry the pool cues get fashioned into down at the Roundhouse on a Saturday night, TUF puts the material across in such a straight-ahead manner that one can’t help but conclude that the album was constructed for the express purpose of taking on and winning over a live audience.

The album’s no-nonsense production places considerable emphasis on guitar, bass and drum, yet the overall sound is somehow larger and more expansive than appears on its surface. The ebullient feeling that pervades Wrong Side’s up-tempo numbers such as, “Get It Straight,” “Have A Real Good Time” and “Just Tell Yourself” bubbles from the well-spring of sheer joy that these kids derive from performing this material.

Oh, yeah, and a little help from famous friends doesn’t hurt, either. The slow-building ballad, “Goodbye,” rides over a regal organ arrangement provided by keyboard maestro, Mike Finnigan, while the foot stomp, “She’s Long, Tall and Gone,” gets special treatment from none other than Kim Wilson of Fabulous Thunderbirds fame on harmonica. Talk about your Hollywood A-list!

Yet the question remains, does hob-knobbing with stars actually provide TUF with anything other than the possibility of moving a few extra discs at their gigs or getting sporadic airplay on the local college station? The prospect of hitting radio gold appears unlikely in light of the fact that just about all of the tracks on Wrong Side of the Blues are built around traditional song structures and/or conventional blues melodies.

Only the album’s closer, a mid-tempo love song titled, “The Better Life,” trends toward more commercial fare. In terms of structure and arrangement, the song is a cut above everything that comes before it. Its hopeful verses and sweet-sounding refrains resonate with the same easy-on-the-ears style of blues playing that a big name act like Eric Clapton prefers to sing nowadays. I wish there was more of its stripe to be found here.

If the Schnebelen family coat of arms does in fact turn out to be a Stratocaster and a Les Paul crossed, then Trampled Under Foot has certainly done their progenitors proud with Wrong Side of the Blues. While the album leans perhaps a bit too heavily on fixed forms for my taste, the presence of a contemporary-sounding track such as “The Better Life” speaks volumes to the limitless potential of what this young band might accomplish in the future. It appears to be very much in front of them.

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