Review: Kai Strauss ‘Night Shift’

Kai Strauss, Night Shift

By Mike O’Cull

European blues guitar star Kai Strauss shows that he’s got what it takes to blow up worldwide on his latest album Night Shift.

The new set drops November 25th, 2022 and captures Strauss at his all-time best. He’s an explosive guitarist with a traditional slant that he expresses in his own original way. Strauss produced the record himself and did an amazing job, making a live-sounding album that crackles and grinds. His playing and singing capture the greatness of the blues without resorting to caricature or cliche. Special guests Toronzo Cannon and Sax Gordon drop in to spice things up a bit and distinguish themselves, as they always do.

The core session band assembled for Night Shift is a high-value group of musicians called the Electric Blues All-Stars that makes up the sonic backbone of this project. Drummer Alex Lex, bassist Kevin DuVernay, keyboardist Paul Jobson, and guitarist Ali Neander are a solid, funky unit that drives Kai’s songs forward while maintaining their own distinct personality.

Kai Strauss has been an enduring presence on the European blues scene for more than 25 years. From his launching pad in Memo Gonzalez’s Bluescasters to his successful career as a solo artist, Strauss has proved himself to be a guitarist and vocalist of power and originality. He quickly gained respect as a frontman when he struck out on his own, winning multiple German Blues Awards along the way. Kai has also performed and/or toured with the likes of Jimmy Johnson, Mike Wheeler, and three-time Grammy nominee Lurrie Bell. The blues has always been a tough field to conquer but Strauss is well on his way to doing exactly that.

Night Shift gets underway with the soulful funk of “Stand Strong Together.” The song’s mid-speed pocket is greasy, uplifting, and propels Strauss’ socially-relevant lyrics out into the air quite nicely. The guitar content is tremendous and tasteful. Strauss is a fierce but disciplined player who doesn’t go in for volcanic cascades of notes. Instead, he plays actual melodic ideas that are instantly essential to the song. His phrasing is emotive and personal, which eliminates the need to spray us with useless notes.

“The Future And The Past” hits the funk bag even harder and is built on a solid riff that will move you around the room. By this point, you’re starting to realize that Strauss is the furthest thing from being just one more hot guitar player with chops but no guts. He’s an absolutely brawny guitarist unafraid to let the spaces between his notes speak just as loud as the notes, themselves. He mixes blues traditions with his own creations in an inventive way that has kept fans coming back for more for a long time.

“Night Shift Blues”

 
The gorgeous “I Done Got Over You” is a fully-realized old-school R&B ballad that will tug your heartstrings like Kai bends the strings on his guitar. His vocals are warm, full, and believable and he seems to have a knack for putting each word in its ideal place. His guitar lines on it are bold but supple and fit the subject matter of lost love like a tailor-made suit.

Toronzo Cannon shows up on the pumping “Storming In Chicago” and uses his aggressive vocal and guitar styles to channel the icy cold of a Winter in the Windy City. Cannon’s guitar work is an outstanding contrast to Strauss’ more minimalistic way of doing things and the two guitar masters put down some high-quality blues together that’ll get you and keep you.

Strauss tips his hat to the Albert Collins sound on the upbeat instrumental “Icebound.” He grabs The Iceman’s unique tone and phrasing in a way that expresses love and respect for one of the blues community’s departed legends. Sax Gordon also heats it up on his namesake instrument and the full horn section keeps everything nice and smooth. Is it fun? You bet!

Kai Strauss is a blues dynamo who deserves to be a lot more famous than he is. Let’s hope Night Shift breaks out big and sends him to the heights he is obviously ready for. Get this record!

Kai Strauss website

 




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