As Christmas approaches, some Ho! Ho! Hoey for blues fans

This summer, we told you about a Kickstarter campaign from rock guitarist Gary Hoey, who you may recall was seeking funds for an album of all blues songs. Having achieved 135% funding for the project, it’s been more a question of when than whether the album would get done, the answer to which we’re happy to report is now, in the form of Deja Blues (Wazoo Music Group).

We must admit that we haven’t listened to all that much Hoey since our days on college radio (where we probably played more than our share of Hoey’s mega-hit “Hocus Pocus”), in part perhaps because Hoey hasn’t focused a whole lot on blues, tending to be much more associated with surf-rock and other flashy, often instrumental, guitar displays, in addition to having made somewhat of a name for himself with his Ho! Ho! Hoey series of Christmas albums.

That said, Hoey has untapped a mostly new direction for himself with Deja Blue, with sounds that rival the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Gary Moore, and Sonny Landreth, among others.

The opening “Boss You Around” captures nicely the soul-filled playing and effects that have helped make Hoey famous, combined with some effective organ and coarse, ZZ Top-style vocals, both also provided by Hoey (accompanied throughout the album by only Matt Scurfield on drums in addition to a few special guests). One of those guests appears on the boogeying “Boot Mill Blues” that follows, with James Montgomery providing some gritty harmonica to complement Hoey’s partially distorted vocals and rich guitar work.

“Almost Over You” features Jon Butcher on guitar and is one of several fine slow blues numbers you’ll find here, along with the Joe Bonamassa-ish “Stranger” and the simmering title track – the album’s sole instrumental – before Hoey is joined by Frank Hannon on slide guitar for a driving “Got to Believe” that’s part Sonny Landreth, part 80s rock.

The swinging “She’s Walking” rounds out the guest appearances, with Johnny A. this time on slide, even though Hoey clearly doesn’t need any help in that department, as proven by his own Derek Trucks-like slide work on the catchy “Hold Your Head Up High” that closes the album.

In addition to eight originals, Deja Blues also includes covers of two songs with which most blues guitar fans will be familiar: a spirited and youthful take on the Don Nix classic “Going Down” (Freddie King, Peter Green) and a fiery version of Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign.”

A splendid foray into the blues for Hoey, this may be one of the most intriguing blues releases of the year – and a perfect one for Santa’s elves to think about including in the stocking of their favorite blues fan(s).

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