Release date: August 20, 2022
By Curt Brown
Andrew Duncanson, Ronnie Shellist, Gerry Hundt
With so much of what passes for blues today represented by endless guitar excursions stuffing countless embellishments into a stanza as if the players were paid by the note, where amps are turned up to their ear-splitting highest, with vocalists who do not sing and tell a story but rather often seem unnecessarily on the cusp of hysteria, along comes the cool summer breeze of a band on a sweltering August day.
The Dig 3 includes Gerry Hundt, the wizard of blues and purveyor of older times music, the personification of an adaptable artist, someone who is equally adept in the role as a full bandleader or sideman, in aggregations ranging from full-size groups all the way down to duos. Where Hundt has also proven his extreme talent and skill is in his one-man band format, where his multi-instrumentalist proficiencies are laid bare, though he is a genuine sensation, no matter what the format, plying his trade on guitar, mandolin, bass, and unique percussion tools. Hundt exercised his broad skill set with Nick Moss & The Flip Tops for six years, and has contributed to the Corey Dennison Band, playing with the band and appearing on the group’s self-titled 2016 release on Chicago’s famed Delmark Records.
Andrew Duncanson, who most blues fans will know from The Kilborn Alley Blues Band, has a voice that reflects the stirrings and authorities of Bobby “Blue” Bland, Bobby Womack, Andrew “Big Voice” Odom, and Jimmy Johnson. His poignant singings assure any listener will fully understand the lyrical topic-at-hand, as his ability to convincingly convey those emotions makes him stand out high on today’s blues scene. Duncanson’s extensive guitar efforts have brought acclaim and a loyal audience following to The Kilborn Alley Blues Band, as they rightfully should.
Ronnie Shellist brings his two decades plus experience as a blues harmonica artist and teacher to The Dig 3. He began his performing career in the American musical hotbed of Austin, TX, where departed blues harmonica virtuoso Gray Primich mentored Shellist; he also worked with Hugh Fadal.
Shellist took his music to Colorado, where opportunities to play with local artists and refine his craft, eventually allowed him to open shows for blues titans such as B.B. King, Robert Cray, and Charlie Musselwhite, among others. In Chicago, Shellist has worked with Kenneth Kinsey, Eric Noden, The Kilborn Alley Blues Band, Gerry Hundt, and Corey Dennison, amidst others. He also teaches blues harmonica in workshops, and is a Hohner Music artist and endorser.
The Dig 3 is a collection that is simply awe-inspiring in its breadth of quality and devotion to taste and substance over the averageness that, at times, passes for recorded blues output today. Upon a cursory first listening of The Dig 3, the listener will hear echoes of John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers, Walter Horton, Hammie Nixon, Sonny Terry, and Little Victor, amongst others. Yet, this output is no slavish homage. For a three-piece outfit, there is more top-tier musicality dispensed and constructive interplay than found on many of today’s offerings with larger aggregations. The listener will want to swear there are more than a trio of artists at work here. The three participants can create a racket, but a highly-satisfying one, at that. This band is locked-in so tightly as to be immovable.
Vocals are never forced and/or cheekily delivered; rather, they are the perfect module for the tales of life’s moods manifestations. The usual existence themes are focused upon; loss, love, betrayal, lack of trust, desire, and good times, but they sound distributed anew, as if, perhaps, this is the first time they conversed musically. Bravo, Duncanson!
In many ways, the whole of this yield is a time capsule back to when both the story told and the melodic backing mattered. But this is not retro; the premises are universal in time.
There is not a throwaway tune in this collection of 14 songs, and to indicate no filler in a modern blues recording is quite unique. It is inspirational.
“You’re The One” is insistent in composition, with the harmonica heightening the tension and drama, while the entirety churns and lurches ahead, whilst the vocals profess love and devotion. “Every Drop” utilizes unique percussion effects while the harmonica wails and groans with deep heartstring pullings. In totality of sound, it is akin to Junior Walker’s seminal “Shotgun”. The emotional wounds exposed via the harmonica offerings in “Christmas Coming” are deep. “Double Cross,” possibly the most classic post-war Chicago sounding tune, is layered in deceit leading to a journey downward into sinking spirits, further causing embitterment on the effects of a woman spreading bad words. On “One Left One Right”, an acoustic song of joy and affirmation, the rollicking overall tenor brings a smile.
“Don’t Slip” is an ode to a woman doing too much partying, a cut where the guitar and harmonica interplay comes to the fore. “Rock That Boat” has love and happiness at its strutting core, and comprises a superb guitar solo and solid harmonica bravado; it is a walk into joy, a song of adoration. The sum of the group testifying is a fetching complement to the proceedings. “Chicken Kiss” has a country-ish framework, and a playful take on the desires relating to love. Probably the biggest departure from the whole of the songs on this release, “Southern Fantasy” is, in many ways, a modern dance floor workout, a fantastic story tune, with moving vocals that soar and croon.
“Reposado Rock” encompasses blaring Walter Horton-esqe harmonica, though it is assumed that both Shellist and Hundt contribute harmonica on this rousing instrumental; the squalling is delicious. On “Run & Hide”, the listener is treated to a hoedown on the contradiction of love’s immediacy versus possible regret.
The last three cuts on this CD, “Love Me Some Of You”, “Tell Me The Place”, and “In My Kitchen” are highlighted as “bonus tracks”, and include guest artist Rodrigo Mantovani (from the current Nick Moss Band) on upright and electric bass, and are the most modern sounding of all the cuts on this collection.
“Love Me Some Of You” includes a tasteful, swerving, and veering guitar solo, and falls upon the theme of unabashed love. “Tell Me The Place” includes a distorted lashing slide guitar driving matters forward, the theme imploring the good times of being out on the scene. Finally, “In My Kitchen” is a light-hearted, joyous ode to an enjoyable Friday night, replete with beer, food, and companionship. Hundt’s mandolin and Mantovani’s bass provide agreeable moments.
Not enough can be said about Duncanson’s vocal prowess, and his leathery delivery dispenses the tenor of any song with assuredness and profoundness of aim; the listener believes his assertions as sung.
The Dig 3 by The Dig 3 is refreshing in its honesty and the aggregate of the talent assembled, and is highly recommended without qualification. We all owe these gentlemen a robust, “Thank you.”
For info or to buy the music: https://gerryhundt.bandcamp.com/album/the-dig-3
About the Author: Curt Brown is the author of the weekly “Curt’s Blues” blog (Curt's Blues - Blues. Only. Spoken. Here. (curtsblues.com). He was the long-time late-night blues radio host on WSND FM 88.9 Notre Dame/South Bend. His Master’s Degree thesis from Indiana University dealt with the notion of travel in blues lyrics. He previously published a weekly blues article for the student newspaper of Indiana University South Bend, and has been interviewed by newspapers and magazines regarding the blues.