“Cream of the Crop” – Tommy Schneller

3 stars (out of 5)

0

Cream of the CropYou have to wonder how Henrik Freischlader spends his spare time, or if he actually has any. Over the last twelve months, he’s released two self-produced studio albums, a four-CD live set and he’s produced albums for singer-songwriter Layla Zoe (“The Lily”) and now this album from saxophonist and singer Tommy Schneller. He also plays guitar drums and bass on “The Lily” and “Cream of the Crop” while providing the music for Tommy Schneller’s lyrics. He’s done a few tours in support of his own albums as well.

Tommy Schneller’s “Cream of the Crop” is a few steps away from Henrik’s own blues/rock material, with a much greater emphasis on influences from the early rock and pre-rock years in the playing and the arrangements, particularly the use of the three-piece horn section. This album feels a little like a Tommy Schneller showcase, demonstrating his instrumental ability as well as a gruff blues voice, both of which work well across the wide range of styles on display. The album is built around some superb arrangements (particularly for the horns) which sound authentic in each of the styles tackled. Henrik Freischlader’s guitar, bass and drums are augmented by Gregory Barrett (organ), Gary Winters (trumpet), Dieter Kuhlmann (trombone) and a cameo appearance by Moritz Fuhrhop (organ) on the opening track.

The album opens and closes with the straightforward slow blues songs, “Hands in the Air” and “You Don’t Seem to Care” which feature the quality of blues playing we’ve come to expect from Henrik. “She’s So Good to Me” and “Super Hero” are both big seventies-style tunes with classic horn arrangements by Gary Winters which wouldn’t sound out of place on any of the early Southside Johnny albums. Sandwiched between these songs is the title track, a swing pastiche with bragging lyrics which don’t really belong in the twenty-first century.  Ain’t No Maybe” and “What Did I Do” push the funk buttons quite effectively but there are three remaining songs which all stand out for different reasons.  Isn’t it New” is a great pop song complete with a perfect sing-along chorus, while the minor key “Your Somebody Else” (and that’s not a punctuation error on my part or Tommy Schneller’s) features some wonderful guitar lines in the style of Albert Collins and a breathy sax solo from Tommy.  Higher and Higher” has a funky, almost seventies disco, feel and a completely mad instrumental section with the horns having great fun ripping through several stlyes  and a trucker’s gear change before leading back in to the verse.

There are some great moments on this album and I certainly want see the band live on the strength of this; the musicianship is flawless and it feels like the musicians are having fun.  There are a few great moments but I think the album would be better if Tommy Schneller was looking forward rather than back and if the band were doing what they want to do rather than showing what they can do.  If you like your songs served up with Hammond and horns, this is definitely worth a listen.

Out now on Cable Car Records (CCR 0311-43).