There aren’t many blues bands today that can compare with the Phantom Blues Band in terms of either talent or longevity. They may be best known for their role backing the legendary Taj Mahal on several projects — earning two Grammy Awards along the way — over the past three decades, but they’ve also dished out a bunch of terrific music of their own during that time, including their latest release Still Cookin’ (VizzTone Records), which again captures the band sounding ridiculously good.
With members whose names will be quite familiar to regular readers of this blog, from either their past work together or supporting artists like Robert Cray, Barbara Blue, Curtis Salgado, Eric Burdon, Danielle Nicole, Joe Louis Walker, the Mannish Boys, Bonnie Raitt and Tommy Castro, just to name a few, the Phantom Blues Band is made up of Tony Braunagel on drums, Mike Finnigan on keyboards, Larry Fulcher on bass, Johnny Lee Schell on guitar, Joe Sublett on saxophone and Les Lovitt on trumpet, with Finnigan, Fulcher and Schell taking turns on vocals, often featuring two or all three on the same song, as is the case, for example, on the opening track, a country-soul take on the Steve Cropper/Wilson Pickett co-penned “Don’t Fight It” that anyone with a pulse will be sure to feel, with Fulcher and Finnigan also sharing the mic for the breezy, island/reggae sounds of a “Shine On” that’s every bit as good and uplifting a song as you’d hear from the likes of such other collective talents as the Royal Southern Brotherhood.
As a big fan of Finnigan’s in particular, we find ourselves tending to be most partial to some of the tracks spotlighting him on vocals, like the zippy, soulfully groovy “Just in Case”, the quiet, jazzy “Blues How They Linger”, a slightly quicker (but not quick) and again jazzy “Better But Not Good”, and the deep-grooved rocking soul of “Bad Blood”.
Fulcher takes the lead with help from Finnigan and Schell on the swaying R&B soul of “Stop Runnin'”, while Schell turns in a couple of nice numbers at the album’s close with a country-tinged cover of the Buddy Johnson classic “I’m Just Your Fool” and the quiet, Billy Joel-like ballad “I Was Blind”. A mostly instrumental, Spanish-style “Tequila Con Yerba” and Little Feat-ish “Wingin’ My Way” help round out the album, which also exhibits shades of Delaney & Bonnie, Van Morrison, James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet and others at times, with guests like Lenny Castro (percussion), Darrell Leonard (trumpet), Maxayn Lewis (backing vocals), and Jeff Paris (Wurlitzer piano) adding to the band’s already diverse sound.
There’s a reason the Phantom Blues Band has remained one of our very favorite bands of the hundreds we’ve reviewed here (and probably thousands more to which we’ve listened) over the years, and Still Cookin’ is a perfect example of why!