Energetic, rich, yet no-frills guitar and vocals blues from Joe and Vicki Price is what makes up this new recording of 10 originals. There’s plenty of slide guitar in the mix, and both their instruments take turns thumping, plucking, droning, screaming, swishing and scratching for some of the best toe-tappin’ front-porch friendly blues music you’ll ever hear. Joe’s voice is sandpapery, while Vicki’s soprano is sometimes languid and in lounge mode –perfect for the type of music the duo performs. Sometimes the music is crackly, dusty, greasy and even sleepy – but always excellent.
The CD starts out with “Honey”, and sets the tone with an old-timey, blues-jazz lounge kind of feel to it, Vicki’s drawling yrics pulling you in, slowly…then…Joe’s high-pitched slide hits the accelerator and you can’t help but practically bounce in your seat – if you’re still sitting. The songs are all quite good, although a couple of others could bear mentioning.
For pure energy and feel-good clap-your-hands-stomp-around fun, there’s “Airline,” a slide-heavy instrumental that channels the soul of Hound Dog Taylor and a more rough-edged Elmore James with its “Shake Your Moneymaker” kind of beat. As the Dog would have termed it, party music or “house-rockin’ music.” Further down the list is what almost sounds like Chet Atkins, an instrumental called “Whoopee Pie.” And, to show just how “blues” this blues CD really is, the final track “Beer Away,” with a typically bluesy beat and chord progression, although a little more lighthearted than most, has these lyrics: “He calls me up, he needs a ride. He’s at that bar and he’s too drunk to drive. I said ‘Get another beer and drink it slow. By the time you finish, I’ll be ready to roll. I’m a beer away…call me night or day, I’m only a beer away.”
So get yourself a cold one, and get ready to enjoy the ride.
There is a joyful noise coming from the front of Joe and Vicki Price’s house as the duo wrangle, wrestle, and call to order musical chaos. Night Owls, their most recent release, savors its recording echoes, speaker distortions, and ambient noise that is as much a part of the album as Joe Price’s Blues as he gives elasticity to the tunes. Rubbery rhythm strums and foot stomps mark the beat on “Sad Luck and Trouble”, determined percussion taps and firefly fast notes are the ingredients of “Whoopee Pie” as the guitar pops like a thermometer in July heat for “High Blood Pressure”. Joe and Vicki Price carry a well-lit torch in Iowa for Delta Blues. Vicki Price complements Joe’s guitar work with Country Blues vocals asThere is a joyful noise coming from the front of Joe and Vicki Price’s house as the duo wrangle, wrestle, and call to order musical chaos. Night Owls, their most recent release, savors its recording echoes, speaker distortions, and ambient noise that is as much a part of the album as Joe Price’s Blues as he gives elasticity to the tunes. Rubbery rhythm strums and foot stomps mark the beat on “Sad Luck and Trouble”, determined percussion taps and firefly fast notes are the ingredients of “Whoopee Pie” as the guitar pops like a thermometer in July heat for “High Blood Pressure”. Joe and Vicki Price carry a well-lit torch in Iowa for Delta Blues. Vicki Price complements Joe’s guitar work with Country Blues vocals as she warns to watch out for the pie stealing “Fat Cat”, haunts “Bones” with a stalking vocal that wanders like mist, and fires up a barn dance burner with “Honey”.she warns to watch out for the pie stealing “Fat Cat”, haunts “Bones” with a stalking vocal that wanders like mist, and fires up a barn dance burner with “Honey”.
The new album from the northeast-Iowa blues duo Joe & Vicki Price is called Night Owls, and the cartoonish cover art (by Vicki) features five literally skeletal figures (including a man and woman each with a guitar and amp).
The title couldn’t be more appropriate, as the 10-track collection of originals often has the casual feel of a post-midnight jam – intimate, a little on the sleepy side, wholly devoid of self-consciousness. Just two people performing with their guitars, voices, and feet.
The sound is similarly straightforward, unadorned, and unfussy, and some tunes feel so dusty that they’re only missing the pops, crackles, and hisses of neglected vinyl or degraded tape. Even though the album was recorded in Nashville, the production is largely (and intentionally) artless.
Yet despite the cheeky cover illustration and lightly electrified tunes that might as well be 60 years old, there’s a real vitality in the duo’s songs (written, with the exception of “Bones,” separately) – and the recordings. The bare-bones (sorry!) instrumentation and the choices in style and singing are employed with rigor, and the more you listen to the album, the more it’s apparent how carefully constructed it is.
“High Blood Pressure” is particularly striking, with an understated funk in the lead guitar, a gentle counterpoint in the other guitar, and sandpaper vocals from Joe (a 2002 inductee into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame). Those components would be enough to carry the song, but in one passage (and only one passage) Vicki pairs her voice with her husband’s, and it’s the perfect little touch matching the slightly askew guitar interplay. That lead guitar sounds a little tipsy – deeply eloquent but drunk enough to stumble and momentarily lose the tempo, and sober enough to finish the song with a bravura dancing, percussive flourish.
Opener “Honey” invokes Night Owls’ drawling vibe immediately, with slow blues licks and Vicki’s sweetest singing, but within a minute the song shows the album’s giddy-up, as deliberate gives way to rollicking guitar and soulful belting. “Dark Bar,” as its title suggests, sustains the pleasantly listless mood for its entirety, with Vicki in lounge-singer mode and contrasting guitar styles – jazz on the one instrument and slightly blown-out blues on the other.
The relaxed, unforced singing on Nights Owls is well-suited to its laid-back atmosphere, and the two vocalists provide a natural variety, with Vicki showing an ample range on her own. But in truth, there’s not much that needs to be said (or sang): Joe’s and Vicki’s guitars say, moan, screech, and shout plenty on their own, fully evident on the instrumentals “Airline” and “Whoopee Pie” – very different tracks that push the blues into rockabilly territory. The former rocks, and the latter is spare, precise, and lovely, with the light percussion (on a guitar body) skittering around.
The lead on “A Beer Away” effectively mimics a horn section without ever losing its electric-blues character. The guitars on “Fat Cat” are playful and upbeat, while on “Love Kills Slowly,” the bass-heavy playing is slightly ominous and off-kilter, a smart complement to Joe singing, “Love is murder.”
So the first impression of Night Owls might be of something tossed-off quickly and easily, and that feeling is reinforced throughout. Yet the minimalist aesthetic and comfortable blues disguise an album that’s sneaky in its richness.
Joe & Vicki Price will perform on Sunday, May 3, at a Mississippi Valley Blues Society (MVBS.org) benefit concert at the River Music Experience (129 Main Street, Davenport; RiverMusicExperience.org). Doors open at 1:30 p.m., and other performers include Ellis Kell, “Detroit” Larry Davison & Charlie Hayes, “Detroit” Larry & Blues Rockit, Mercury Brothers, Hal Reed & Mississippi Journey, The Candymakers, and Robert Jon & the Wreck.
JOE & VICKI PRICE/Night Owls: A husband and wife that sound like they like each other is a pretty big event right there. About the music this duo makes? It doesn’t get any more duo than this, they both pick guitar formidably with the heavy lifting done by Joe while Vicki does the heavy lifting on vocals sounding like a thrush from a speakeasy on the wrong side of town in the 1920s. Serving up blues based roots music throughout, this is one of those little treasures we’ve been hiding out here in the heartland waiting for the rest of you to catch up with to hear what white people with the blues in Iowa can deliver. A really great, heartfelt diversion from the mainstream. Check it out.
Vintage Guitar: “Iowa may not be known as a blues mecca, but from the opening “Hornet’s Nest,” it’s clear that Waterloo native Joe Price is the real deal. He beats his National Steel with the kind of power associated with Bukka White, Big Joe Williams, or Mississippi Fred McDowell and sings in a style that is as lowdown as it needs to be without sounding at all affected…..Somewhere, Hound Dog Taylor is smiling.” --- DF Vintage Guitar Mag. Sept. 09
DownBeat Magazine Somewhere between traditional & unconventional, this seasoned Iowan singer-guitarist sounds fully involved with controlling the tension in his plain-spoken “ruff and tumble” blues. Neither showy nor too self-effacing, he applies his metal tube to strings in mostly solo performances, adding his talented guitar-playing wife, Vicki, on 3 songs.......Frank-John Hadley JULY 2010
"Price has the authenticity of the country blues guitar pioneers of the 1920s, and his writing is always upbeat and occasionally ("Too Little Too Late," "Last Stop Now") a direct link to the early masters of the idiom."--- Jeff Johnson, Chicago Sun-Times
Night Owls Joe and Vicki Price Album Review by Scott Cochran On June 8th, 2013, Joe V. McMahon's Wow and Flutter Studios in Nashville, TN. burned to ground—and with it the tapes of the latest album by Iowa's premier blues artists, Joe and Vicki Price. The tapes were lost and there were no back up files of any of the material. In addition, Joe McMahon lost everything and had no insurance on the studio. I can tell you, recording tape is expensive. Some 2" tape goes for $400 or 500 a reel and, at 30 inches per second, a reel is 16 minutes long. McMahon's losses had to be massive, but he vowed to rebuild, and Joe and Vickie, loyal people that they are, waited and saved to start over, with McMahon in the control room. Fast forward now to late 2015. The newest Joe and Vickie Price CD arrived, well worth the wait, and possibly even better than the 2013 recordings. Joe and Vickie had now performed and lived with the songs and, over time, like fine wine, the songs developed and second reincarnations of them were fully realized. Joe and Vicki Price are Iowa's ambassadors of real blues—earthy, elemental, down and dirty—call it what you like. This music is as real as it gets, and is serious as a heart attack when it wants to be. But as anyone who sees them live will tell you, there is something rootsy and joyous and fun about their blues, and the joy and love they share with each other is abundantly conveyed to the listener, a rare thing in our modern world. A fine example of that joy is expressed in "Honey," the CD's opener. Vicki's vocal and guitar propels the song forward, while Joe's slide, like a roller coaster on 2 wheels, teeters on the edge of the rails, but never leaving the track. Deliciously reckless, but always on point. Joe's "High Blood Pressure" explores the delicate balance of a relationship between men and women, and their consequences. "Airline," summons up thoughts of Elmore James, the high priest of slide. Mr. Price is clearly a devoted disiciple, and I, for one, am one of the true believers. Vicki's "Dark Bar," could be be pulled from a 78 rpm recording from the 1930s. You can almost smell the alcohol, and cigarette smoke, and hear the creaking to the bar stools. The protaginist has a serious case of the blues, and tonight, her best friend is the bartender. In previous recordings they issued had songs by Joe, or songs by Vicki, but this one even has collaborations, as in the case of the track "Bones," a spooky, day of the dead exercise in the macabre. Howlin' Wolf dances and howls from his grave, his music liberated again. One of my favorite tracks follows, "Fat Cat." Another number that sounds like it's from 1927, this song resonates on so many levels, that it's a perfect metaphor for what ails our country in the 21st Century. Vicki tells it like it is. Joe's "Love Kills Slowly," is, as Muddy used to say, "some deep blues." Mournful, and low, like the shine has kicked in and he just realized his old lady went back to mama. A much cheerier "Whooppe Pie," is an instrumental that features Joe's footwork, which is something to behold. Normal people can't do even one part of this, let alone do it simultaneously. "Sad Luck & Trouble," is a Joe and Vicki tour de force, both guitars weaving in out, again Joe's footwork is astonishing. The guy is a marathon runner with a resoglass guitar and a folding chair. As he humbly says, "trying to play the blues" Last, and certainly not least, Vicki's gem, a crowd favorite from their live show, "A Beer Away." The lyrics tell the tale, but I'll let you find out for yourselves, if it's new to you. This is where the humor and the joy of Joe and Vicki Price meets the blues. It's as good as it gets. This CD is one of a select few that never leaves my car. It's too good and too much fun to leave home without it. I cannot say enough about everything that is right with it. Joe and Vicki Price are the real deal, and this album is as well. Maybe it's the phoenix that rose from the ashes of that room in Nashville, better than ever.