That voodoo that U do
Blues band Voodoo-U is set to release its debut CD
One of the Reno area’s blues hot spots is slyly disguised as a biker bar (although the owner wouldn’t necessarily like the biker classification). Scoot past the massed hogs outside Alturas on East Fourth Street, make your way downstairs to the cozy performance space in the basement, and you’ll most likely find local blues heroes Voodoo-U holding down the stage.
“Alturas is a big supporter of Voodoo-U,” says drummer/vocalist Hal Daniel. “We consider it our home.”
Formed about a year ago by bassist Joey Banks (originally from Clear Lake, Calif.) and guitarist Gordon Bulcock (of Redwood, Calif.), Voodoo-U auditioned a succession of singers and drummers before finding the perfect combination of both talents in Daniel. Harmonica player Eli “The Giant” of Sparks was added to the mix, and the group recently recruited singer Wanda Freeman to round out the band’s lineup.
On a recent night at Alturas, it was obvious that the right group of people had found each other. The members of Voodoo-U work together like a well-oiled blues machine; whether churning out high-octane rave-ups or slow blues jams, this band sounds like it’s been together for years.
The group’s first set was a grab bag of moods and styles, from an unusual up-tempo rendition of the B.B. King classic “Every Day I Have the Blues” to a faithful cover version of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “Born with a Broken Heart.” But not everything on the program came from the blues tradition. Voodoo-U’s sultry cover of the soul classic “Fever,” while certainly blues-inflected, is well outside of the blues mainstream, and it was one of the most impressive performances of the evening. Another interesting song choice was “Stray Cat Strut,” a perennial favorite of 30-something punkabilly fans; that performance was also good, but more of a curiosity than a revelation.
The one original composition of the set was one of the best, a slow and contemplative tune called “Life Is a Journey.” The lyrics were written by singularly named Bobmer of the Branded Few Motorcycle Club, a longtime friend and supporter of Voodoo-U, and the music was composed by Bulcock.
That song will be the title track of the band’s debut CD, which has just recently passed its final mix and is slated for release next month. The seven tracks on “Life Is a Journey” are almost all covers (three of them Kenny Wayne Shepherd compositions), and interestingly, the band’s strengths appear to be different in the studio than they are in a live setting. In the smoky downstairs lounge of Alturas, Voodoo-U really shines on the up-tempo numbers, drawing people onto the dance floor every time Daniel and Banks lock into a fast shuffle. The slower songs work well also, but don’t generate quite the same excitement.
On the CD, it’s the slow blues numbers that work the best, and those are the tracks on which Bulcock really shines. While his phrasing tends to be a bit boxy and predictable on such up-tempo fare as "Every Day I Have the Blues" and "Born with a Broken Heart," he sounds inspired on "Rock Me Baby" and "Life Is a Journey." Any guitarist will tell you that slow blues is the hardest thing in the world to play, so this is impressive, as is the CD overall, which Reno-area blues fans should anticipate with eagerness.