Marc Stone Band, “Live in Europe” (Independent)

Well, ain’t this a gift that keeps on giving. Ace blues guitarist, songwriter, singer and bandleader Marc Stone produced this special spring release, which opens in the studio with “Digitized”—a swampy romp that rallies against the soulless, blue-faced reality of people absorbed by their smartphones. A solid protest anthem for the times, to be sure, but the song swings courtesy of an all-star roster: Alvin Youngblood Hart (harmonica), Terry Scott, Jr. (cajon and kick drums), Mike Dillon (congas, bongo, tambourine, shakers, bells), Richard Moten (upright bass), and soul-stirring backing vocals (Marilyn Barbarin, Papa Mali and Deanna Bernard) join Stone on vocals and National steel guitar. The opening single then gives way to a jaw-dropping night of blistering blues recorded last July in Austria. Long a fixture of the local scene (both in the nightclubs and on WWOZ airwaves), Stone has in recent years ramped up his live-performance game. His annual opening slot for the Radiators reunion run at Tipitina’s and his summer tours of Europe are testament to that progression. Recorded live and later mixed and mastered by Jack Miele at Music Shed Studios, Live in Europe captures lightning in a bottle as it delivers Stone’s voice, words and guitar wizardry in a stellar showcase propelled by the considerable talents of his backing band. Playing originals and covers, he slays both his Stratocaster and Supro slide all night, with particular highlights coming in “I’m a Rock,” which builds to an Allmans-esque climax of “Mountain Jam” proportion, and his collaborator John Mooney’s tune “Sacred Ground”’ (“for the real blues fans,” Stone says by introduction), which weaves in deft slide-guitar wizardry. The psychedelic swirls filling the jams in “Pterodactyl” carry the frenetic edge of Pigpen-era Grateful Dead. Yet perhaps it’s when all of the Marc Stone Band flexes their individual muscles that they provide this magical night’s best track: the all-instrumental “Bap Bap,” where Hendrix-like licks burn into a series of super-funky piano rolls from Christof Waibel and a nasty bass breakdown by Lorenzo Wilson that meshes with a grooving drum solo by Terry Scott, Jr.