(3 / 5)
Moonshine Society formed in 2009 in the US. The offspring of three promising young music scholars who came together at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music.
Leading the troupe is singer and songwriter Jenny Langer. In 2012, three members were inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame for their work with legendary harmonica player Charlie Sayles.
They have opened for many major artists, and members have also performed and recorded with John Mayer, Warren Haynes, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Danny Gatton, Brian Eno, Jason Ricci and more.
Locally in Washington, DC,and further afield the band have received awards for Best Blues Band and Best Blues Album. They have had blues chart success and much radii airplay.
“Sweet Thing” is their second album. It is co-produced by Jenny and Mark Williams. “Live in Shanghai” was recorded in 2011 at the House of Blues and Jazz in Shanghai, China and was Moonshine Society’s first album release, in December 2020.
A dozen cuts here, including three bonus tracks. Gusty, greasy, sweaty in your face blues fronted by snarling, rasping, power-house singer Jenny Langer. Three covers, and the rest Jenny penned or co-wrote, including a song she wrote with the late and great Johnny Winter.
Title track opens their account, with guest blues harp’ man Jason Ricci blowing up a storm, and Jenny chucking out a sultry, attitude-soaked lead vocal. The band is tight and the track uses a well-trodden template from Muddy’s “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
Good start. Next? Up-tempo, feel-good “Shake”, old school rock and roll, the band locked together again. Jenny in good voice. Ron Holloway’s tenor sax work is worth the admission price. New Orleans style on “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean”. Neat piano licks from Benjie Porecki and howling trumpet solo from Vince McCool (what a great surname!)
First slow track, “Come On Home”, is a lovely slice of late night r ‘n’ b/soul, with very nice rasping horns and a nicely controlled vocal from Jenny. She sings every word like she means it. Joe Poppen pops in (see what I did there?) with some tasty guitar licks, and Ron Holloway is back with his tenor sax. Jenny penned this song, and it’s a goodie.
Back to the rambunctious stuff with “Southern Road”, the song co-written by Jenny, Johnny Winter, Joe Poppen and Christopher Brown. Jason Ricci’s harp and Joe Poppen’s guitar work is superb. “Biscuits, Bacon and the Blues”, another Jenny Langer song, swings like a good old gospel session on a Sunday morning.
The best cut here for me is the cover of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” which melts into a cover of Dr John’s (aka Mac Rebennack’s) fabulous “Gilded Splinters”, which Paul Weller nailed with his cover. Joe Poppen’s guitar break on “Use Me” is as raw as heck and spine-tingle inducing. Christopher Brown’s bass and Rodney Dunton’s drums and percussion, sit this track on rock solid foundations.
The classic “I’d Rather Go Blind”, which most associate with its co-writer Etta James, but for me the best version was British band Chicken Shack’s single in 1969, a Birmingham band featuring Christine Perfect, who later became Christine McVie when she married John McVie of Fleetwood mac, a band she eventually joined in 1970.
Jenny’s vocals on this cover of the classic song is her best of the album to my ears. Very soulful and the song allowing her to be much more restrained than the rest of her performances of this set. Joe Poppen is at it again with some blissful guitar. He really is a star find. Love to hear a solo album from him.
Slow blues meets jazz on “Deal The Devil Made”, before the first of the triple bonus tracks, Jenny’s song “The One Who Got Away”, a power ballad. Then stripped-back acoustic country blues with lovely slide guitar from Buddy Spier, on a second version of “Biscuits, Bacon and the Blues”. Nice job that is.
Closer is another acoustic version of a full band track, “The One Who Got Away”, buddy again doing the business on slide. Nice vocal from Jenny.
The British blues scene will surely take this band and this singer and songwriter to their hearts once this very classy album gets airtime and is covered by the blues mag’ writers. They are perfect for the various UK blues festivals methinks. Moonshine Society will tour the UK once Covid issues are gone.
By Graham Morrison
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’