Willy and the Planks seem to have been purveying their brand of Juke Joint Blues for a while, yet their music is fresh and original. Their latest self-titled disc, continues the trend as it delivers seven tracks of lively music that is built around their unique sound. It is arguably one of the best recordings of its kind that has come across my desk this year. The band’s core includes Willy Gibbs (Guitar), Mark Noble (Vocal/Bass), and Chris Gibbs (Drums) – all of them exposed to the distinctively hard-driving Mississippi sound. Some bands prefer the control of a recording studio to achieve the sound they’re looking for, while others are all about playing live, feeding off the audience and ratcheting up the intensity.
Willy and the Planks sound clearly the latter type of musicians. Their playing is joyous, high-energy affairs that demonstrate their musicianship — Willy’s guitar is right up there with the very best in the business and Chris is a talented drummer, while Mark brings his distinctive bourbon-tinged vocal cords to the table — as well as their deep knowledge of and respect for American roots blues music.
Still, creating new music in the studio is essential to expanding any band’s repertoire of material, so the boys take an impressive and important step forward with this recording. The comrades shuffle tried-and-true elements of the blues sound, the fervent vocal intonations combined with gritty guitar, propulsive drums and the earthy tones of bass all imparting a ring of truth to the opening song “KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF HER”.
Immediately following, the muddy wail of Willy’s electric guitar hearkens to the Mississippi Delta together with the intense intonations of Mark, the combination of which works to render contemporary “THE DARK SIDE OF ME” and, by extension, the band itself.
“MISS MAYBELLE”, a blues standard, is given an intensive and alternative take by the power trio, before the insistent twists and turns of gritty guitar, bass and drums, on “YOU GOT ME CRYIN”, exhibit the lessons absorbed by Willy and the Planks, during an influential blues upbringing. As does the familiar tone and attack of “LONELY TOWN LONELY STREETS” where roots flavors the mix via the rousing guitar that’s further uplifted by the urgent drumming.
In contrast, Mark’s voice conjures much of the portentous air during “I FEEL GOOD, LITTLE GIRL” an atmosphere made all the more ominous with a throbbing bass line; like many of the surrounding cuts, this track thrives on its vibrant core sound, and a similar economy permeates the one immediately following, “SEE THAT MY GRAVE IS KEPT CLEAN”, the EP’s selected single. The spontaneity of the performance sinks in, along with the combination of gravitas and glee that permeates the recording as a whole.
Too often bands try to adapt or evolve to conform to the whims of the modern music scene, and in the end, forget who they are and from where they came. Fortunately, Willy and the Planks have mastered the art of blending tradition with contemporary influences; while mature and polished, the band maintains a ruff n’ raw, core rocking blues style and keeps it fresh and exciting. With this self-titled release, Willy and the Planks prove they are stalwarts of the authentic blues realm.