Blues People – The Skin I’m In

Guitarist and singer Kelton and bassist Mike Griot have known each other since they were teenagers growing up in Orange, New Jersey, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that they decided to team up with keyboard wizard Ron Thompson and drummer extraordinaire, Gene Lake, to form Blues People.

The number of A-list musicians these four men have played with or opened for is too long to list here, but to say they are seasoned veterans would be an understatement. Back to the music.  They released two singles ahead of the CD in 2022 and also won the North Jersey Blues Society’s local IBC competition in 2023, making it to the semi-finals at the big dance in Memphis.

This is not just another band, but a group that has something meaningful and important to say while entertaining you. I call it music with a social conscience.

The disc consists of nine original songs, leading off with “Amnesia,” the tale of a relationship gone wrong. With Kelton’s impassioned lyric’s, tasteful guitar, and Ron’s ever-present keyboards, including a fine solo, this song is a fresh take on an age-old blues formula.

Next, the title track “The Skin I’m In,” is about someone who’s judged by the color of their skin, not the person who they are. It’s funky beat and guitar hook catch you at the beginning, but it’s the lyrics that stay with you long after the song is done.

“Hey Joe: Revisited,“ is a reworking of the song made famous by Jimi Hendrix, but updated with lyrics that could have come from yesterday’s news. It features a blistering guitar between the stories, all too familiar, of injustices by the police to innocent black men and women, with the Joe in the title used as a metaphor representing our government. It’s a brilliant marriage of music and message.

A swinging blues number, “I Was Always There,” features Ron’s driving organ sound over the percolating rhythm section of Mike and Gene, while Kelton sings about a failed relationship that he did his best to maintain. His guitar speaks for itself and makes this track a standout musically.

Troubled Times” is another title that speaks for itself, and this slow blues tune provides the answer, “let us love with no limits,” an easy thing to say, but much harder to live. Kelton’s sincere vocals and heart-felt solos are certainly an open invitation to do just that. 

Blues Interlude” is a live snippet of the band getting ready to finish a gig, but that’s not the case here, as they segue into the raw over-driven guitar opening of “Smoke & Mirrors”. There is more social commentary replete with wailing sirens and what sounds like a crowd chanting the title, as if the song is being played live at a protest rally with a radio DJ signing them off at the end, a unique concept to my ears.

Nuthin’ Really” is a couple of brothers having a sports centric conversation over a slow blues tune with some nice picking by Kelton and a solid back beat.

The last tune, “Knee Off My Neck,” recalls the incident that galvanized a nation that had already seen too much senseless brutality, and turns it into a rallying cry, “take your knee of my neck and give me some respect”. More than a generation ago Mike Griot’s former band, Michael Hill’s Blues Mob tried to shine a light on some of these same issues that still persist today. Let’s hope “The Skin I’m In” won’t need repeating in another generation.

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