I hadn’t seen Deb Callahan since she last played Reckless Steamy Nights a little over a year ago. Since that time, she has been touring and has recorded the wonderful collection of songs that make up her new disc, “Backbone.” It is dedicated to her long-time drummer, Tom Walling who left us much too soon and prior to the release, but whose imprint is felt and heard on every track. I don’t know what the thought process in choosing the title was, but being a single mom and leading your own band certainly requires some backbone.
Ten of the twelve tracks are originals penned by Deb with various band members, including the opening number, “What I’m Working With,” an infectious beat coupled with some great lyrics. It talks about the inner conflicts we can relate to, but through it all, Deb’s gritty vocals and upbeat sound of the band lets you know things are going to be alright. The horns are supplied by Jay Davidson and our good friend Steve Jankowski, who seems to be everywhere. Allen James’ tasty guitar leads off “Crazy Ride,” with Tom’s spot-on drumming and some nice organ fills courtesy of Danny Schogger. The band bathes Deb’s soulful vocals about life’s changes and how we have to be ready to adapt. This advice has never sounded better. “Big Girl Pants” are what you need to walk away from a bad relationship, and this mid-tempo number featuring Allen’s stinging guitar and Deb’s vocals will show you the way. “Rogue” slows it down as Deb laments about a partner who “stole my joy and left me no peace.” The somber mood of the lyrics is matched perfectly by the sound of the band, especially Allen’s languid guitar. “A Few New Tricks” is the story of a man whose new tricks include being taught by his partner what it means to have a child and home to take care of. Danny’s piano plays well against Deb’s self satisfied vocals with the band lending able support.
“Danger Zone” is a Percy Mayfield tune that stays true to the original, but swaps Allen’s soulful guitar in place of the original sax, with words sung by Deb that are even more relevant today than they were seventy years ago. “Still Fighting To Be Free” opens with acoustic guitar and harmonica, singing the plight of blacks in this country. It builds like the frustration of a people whose ancestors started a fight for freedom that is still going on today. The band rises up musically as the song progresses to emphasize the point. The follow-up number, “Don’t Tread On Me,” uses a title originally meant as a battle cry for American independence from British rule, but here is relating to a more personal level. Deb sings that she’s her own woman and not anyone else’s pawn, with a funky beat and backup vocals of Charlene Holloway make her point.
The next two songs are Deb’s individual compositions on the disc. The slide guitar of Chris Aims and Tom’s drum beat are the lone accompaniment on “Cleaning House,” an ode to moving on, sung achingly about a woman making that leap of faith. The second, “Thought You Were My Girl,” shows the hurt of someone who lets a friend deep into their life, only to find out friendship isn’t always a two-way street. The full band participates here with Danny’s piano and Allen’s guitar being featured along with some razor-sharp lyrics that Deb sings with the feeling of hurt from betrayal. A funky Stevie Wonder like organ opens the track “Just What The Doctor Ordered,” an uplifting tune about finding the right person at the right time. Deb’s scatting and Allen’s guitar move right along with that chugging organ to provide a winning combination on this tune. The last song, “Anytime You Want,” is the only other non original and good choice as it ends the disc on a high note. Anytime you can get together with Deb Callahan and her band, it is a guaranteed good time!