One of the last album reviews we posted in early 2020 before Covid forced us into a long unexpected hiatus was the Phantom Blues Band‘s Still Cookin’. Being that we’re still slowly getting back into the swing of things ourselves after the pandemic, we were delighted to hear that the Phantom Blues Band was dishing out another new album this summer, especially after the unfortunate passing of the band’s organist and vocalist Mike Finnigan in August of 2021.
Keeping with their recent culinary theme, this latest album is titled Blues for Breakfast (Little Village), and is dedicated to the late Finnigan, with proceeds from the album also going to the scholarship program at the Mike Finnigan School of Music in Salina, Kansas.
Finnigan fans will be pleased to hear the master singing and playing once more on the swinging original “Ok, I Admit It,” as prime an example as any of Finnigan’s greatness at his trade, with Finnigan’s talented son Kelly also contributing an organ solo on the soulful “I Know You Don’t Love Me No More” (Ike Turner) alongside Curtis Salgado on vocals.
While no one will ever truly replace Finnigan in either our ears or mind, veteran keyboard player Jim Pugh (Robert Cray, Etta James) fills in better than anyone else ever could on the remainder of the album, sounding very much like he’s been playing with the band for years.
If you’re not immediately feeling the grooves on the opening “I Take What I Want” (Sam & Dave), then you’re a far tougher one to crack than us. But we can’t imagine there’s anyone with a pulse who won’t be swept up by this album at some point, whether it’s the band’s breezy takes on familiar tracks like “She’s Into Something” (Muddy Waters), “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” (Little Milton), and the closing “Stuff You Gotta Watch” (Muddy Waters), Finnigan’s “Ok, I Admit It”, the slow, soul-soaked “Laughin’ and Clownin'” (Sam Cooke) again featuring Salgado on vocals and harmonica, or the band’s worldly takes on tracks like the George Jackson political statement “Get Involved” and a reggae-fied “Move On Up” (Curtis Mayfield ), the latter featuring Ruthie Foster on backing vocals, Tony Chin on rhythm guitar and DJ duties, and rapping from Larry Fulcher.
But perhaps the most poignant moment of the album comes just following Finnigan’s number, when Fulcher and Johnny Lee Schell deliver the sweet soulful original “Still Be Friends”. We don’t know if Fulcher’s inspiration for the song came from Finnigan’s death or other events, but it certainly does seem it could apply to Finnigan in this instance, with such lyrics as “good times and bad times, we’ve been through/ you have done for me, and I’ve done for you” and “so whether we’re together, or a million miles apart/ you will always be right here in my heart” along with its refrain of “for all time, we will still be friends” and placement immediately after Finnigan’s track.
Another longtime friend, Bonnie Raitt, duets with Schell on the playful swaying Freddie King classic “Country Boy”, with a swinging, horn-drenched “Stepping Up in Class” (Jimmy McCracklin) helping to round out the tracklist.
As usual with this band, Blues for Breakfast is a musical feast that fills the soul. And while there’s plenty here to help hold us over for a good long while, we’re already looking forward to sampling what they’re cooking up for lunch — or, even better, brunch!