January 2006

Rock This House
Danny Brooks and The Rockin' Revelators
Rock This House CD Release
January 13, 2006Hugh's RoomToronto
The Gospel Truth
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
Danny Brooks is a phenomenon. Friday night, there was a group of eleven other musicians on stage with him, The Rockin’ Revelators, and they lived up to their name but the focus was on Danny. The first time I saw Danny he was singing, playing guitar and harmonica, bouncing up and down with the rhythm and just pouring out his soul for well over an hour in front of a coffee shop at the Port Credit Jazz and Blues Festival. I couldn’t understand how he could keep it up, putting so much passion in every note, phrase and movement. Accompanied only by Dennis Pinhorn on bass, Danny was mesmerizing. Imagine that unrelenting energy leading a twelve piece band. That is what we witnessed last night at Hugh’s Room and oh, what a lucky Friday the 13th it was.

Danny Brooks and The Rockin’ Revelators launched the show with the title song from their new CD, “Rock This House” and before the end of that first tune, the crowd was shouting and clapping. The house certainly was rocking, but the lyrics “(He’s going to) Take away whatever’s wrong and make it right” and “Yes I know and I believe He’s going to rock this house tonight” laid it out plain and simple, Danny wasn’t singing about his or his band’s power to rock the house.

But Danny is powerful. When he sang “You’ll Find A Way”,,, “Sometimes you have to hit the wall before you see the light of day” ... he sang it with the conviction he once used to fight his way clear of a self-confessed 20 year fog of addictions. When he sang “Down On My Knees”, it was personal and intense. Danny sings like his life depends on it. Maybe it was too intense for some, one couple left. As for the rest of the audience, they sat riveted, still and silent until the end when they broke into tumultuous cheers and applause. The buzz at intermission, “this guy is amazing”.

Danny is like the great bluesmen he admires. He is authentic, and he is telling the truth of his experience. His singing voice has a raspy quality that he knows how to use. His speaking voice was a little hoarser as he introduced a new song he'd written, (not yet recorded), “Ain’t That The Truth”. It was inspired by memories of sitting up in the balcony of Toronto's Colonial Tavern at the age of fifteen listening to one of his favourites, Muddy Waters. Going to the Colonial was like going to school for him, listening to people like John Lee Hooker (“you don’t get more real than that”), Howlin’ Wolf, Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. “My, those boys could play the blues, it don’t get better than that”.

Of course, classic gospel is also a big presence in this music and after doing six songs from the new CD, Danny strayed from the set list, (“I always do that, the band is used to it, they’ll catch on”) with “Who Rolled the Stone Away?”, a song from gospel great Rosetta Tharpe. It was a stirring version, replete with nice saxophone work, some gospel piano from Michael Fonfara, vocal harmonies, rhythmic call and response and a fine solo from Amoy Levy.

Along with the gospel and blues in Danny’s music lies the influence of many major R&B and soul singers, some of whom he mentions in his “Hold On” (to those good ole songs). People like Percy Sledge, Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Sam Cooke, Bobby Blue and Gladys Knight. The band, especially the singers, had fun with this one, and I couldn’t help thinking, this is what you can never capture on a CD, no matter how good. The smiles flashing from person to person, the dance moves, the spontaneity of it all. The feeling in the room.

You don’t usually get stories either and Danny told us an interesting one in the midst of the song “Still Standing Tall” that he dedicated to his friend, John Donabie. It was a smokin’ boogie that started with a reference to Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues”. Papa John King’s usual electric rock-blues guitar sound took on a honky tonk twang until the horns and the vocal harmonies joined in, gospel style.

Then Danny brought the volume down and told the band to keep it going as he told us a story. This is how it went: I was in Fayetteville in the early 1960s and I’m colour-blind so it was explained to me that the soda crackers stay on this side of town and the chocolate balls, (those were the terms used) stay on the other. Well, I was wearing a frilly yellow shirt, I guess I was a big fan of Little Richard at the time and I wanted to walk on the other side, so I did and I heard this singing that just sent shivers down my spine, I think it was Blind Willie McTell singing a song I learned later from Taj Mahal, and then Danny started singing again, “I raised my hand and testified”.

Back in the bluesy vein, I did miss hearing “Yonder Cloud”, one of the most compelling pieces on Rock This House. It’s a low-down blues with a wailing harmonica, a crying guitar and heavy bass, accented by gritty vocal growls and metallic percussion like railway spikes pounded by hammers (is there a chain gang at work?). But there’s light on the horizon, a new day coming.

Danny’s music is uplifting and inspiring. When he sings The Blind Boys of Alabama’s great rollicking tune “I John Saw the Holy Number” and hits the words “Some people think I’m noisy, Well I belong to a noisy crew. I like to sing and shout when I’m happy” you know it’s true, and that happy feeling is infectious, whatever your faith or lack thereof. That happy feeling is what people took home with them from Hugh’s Room. And that is a great gift.

The band
Danny Brooks – vocals, guitar, harmonica
Hiram Joseph – vocals
John Mays – vocals
Steve Ambrose – vocals
Amoy Levy – vocals
Dennis Pinhorn – bass
Michael Fonfara – keyboards
Bucky Berger – drums
Papa John King – guitar
Joe Allen – trumpet
Ed Zankowski – tenor sax
Paul Cousee – tenor & baritone sax


We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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