|Full Tilt is the title of Peter Veteska & Blues Train’s seventh release in eight years, but it might just as easily be the musical motto for this hard-charging band of East Coast blues ‘n’ rock guys. They’ve been playing full tilt for enthusiastic fans up and down the coast since they hooked up in 2013.
They’ve done well. The band’s 2021 release, Grass Ain’t Greener On The Other Side, was chosen by Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation as their entry in the best self-produced record competition at the 2022 International Blues Challenge. Now, as a follow up to last year’s highly touted So Far So Good, the Jersey guys are back on track and headed for a stop near you with Full Tilt – loaded with eight crisp new tunes from Veteska and four smartly chosen covers.
In addition to the power Train trio of Veteska on vocals and guitar, Alex D’Agnese on drums, and Coo Moe Jhee on bass, they get plenty of help here from Jeff Levine on B3 and piano, Chuck Hearne and Rick Prince on bass, Mike Scott on sax, Tony Perruso on trumpet, Jen Barnes with vocals, and Mikey Jr., adding harp and vocals. It’s all tightly packaged by producers Veteska and Joseph DeMaio of New Jersey’s Shorefire Recording Studios.
Everything gets rolling on this energetic session with “Go Find Another Man,” a bluesy track filled with tough love advice featuring Mikey Jr.’s blistering harp throughout, bouncing off Levine’s punchy B3 work. “I Wasn’t Wrong” follows with Jersey’s Jen Barnes taking a fiery vocal turn, once again wrapped in B3 and Veteska’ s tight riffs. “Sad And Blue” sounds exactly like what it says, with a torchy Veteska vocal over still more eloquent B3. The first cover turns up as the band soars through Albert King’s “I Get Evil” with Scott’s sax and Perruso’s trumpet laying down strong horn lines. “Pack of Lies” is Veteska fronting a lover’s lament about how “those sweet kind words were all just pack of lies.” Next, “2 In The Morning” is a hard-driving duet with Barnes while a wicked guitar solo highlights two lovers passing unseen in the night.
The Beatles’ “One After 909” gets the rocking Train treatment, with Veteska and Mikey Jr. sharing vocals and Mikey adding some train-coming-down-line harp. Barnes returns for another scintillating duet as Jen and Peter swap scorching vocals on “Take Back What You Own.” Levine’s gorgeously understated piano leads Veteska into a sensitive reading of “Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down and Out),” the classic written by pianist James Cox in 1923 and turned into a blues anthem by Bessie Smith. “Slow Down You” is a searing slow blues that gives Veteska a splendid showcase for his powerful vocals and razor-sharp guitar, adding yet another bluesy B3 solo midway. “Man About Town” is a blazing instrumental that features Scott’s sexy sax trading blows with Levine’s rocking B3 in a romping album highlight. The closer is an early holiday (or anytime) treat as Veteska croons the R&B classic “Merry Christmas Baby,” written by Johnny Moore, featuring Levine’s gift-wrapped piano stylings.
This is a great sounding album, no doubt due in large part to session production values as well as the all the talented musicians. As Veteska notes on the album cover, it was “recorded live with minimal overdubs. The goal was to produce a finely tuned studio album without sacrificing the vitality and spontaneity of our live performances. Seeking that balance opened a pathway to honing the Blues Train sound and distinguishing Full Tilt from my previous releases.” If that’s not enough, he adds: “No guitar pedals were used.” That should be more than enough to keep this hard rocking blues band running at full tilt until the next Train leaves the station.
Jim White (a former music writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette & now writes the Blues Roadhouse)