Uncle Nef, “Blues” (Ropeadope)

First off, the leaders representing Uncle Nef are drummer and vocalist Shannon Powell and guitarist Darren Hoffman. Okay, that explains that though with Powell aboard it’s easy to have certain expectations  – rarely a good idea – of what direction the music might take. The title of the four-cut EP, Blues, offers evidence  to the material though at first listen the results still come as a bit of a surprise.


The disc opens with Hoffman’s guitar almost acting as a bass on the John Lee Hooker staple, “Shake It Baby.” Brooklyn-based Sami Stevens enters sounding, with the help of over-dubbing, like a hip group of R&B backup singers. Powell, who’s been digging in on  drums and who, of course, can play any style, finally comes in on vocals and is instantly recognizable. Hoffman offers some stinging guitar that, understandably, speaks of a more modern era.

“Sinbad’s Blues,” a Hoffman original, works out on an ultra-slow beat with the big B-3 organ manned by Kyle Roussel providing a wonderfully thick bed of sound. The guitarist bends notes and electrically extends the style to move it further out. Bam, bam goes Powell.

Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floors” is in good hands with Powell at the microphone. Hoffman settles down to some solid basics on this one. It ends with a burst of drums and Stevens’ multiple voices stretching out the final note.

Hoffman strums some fat chords on a very earthy, traditional blues, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night (In the Pines).” It is emotionally delivered by vocalist Sami Stevens. The somber, somewhat gospel flavored tune, rounds out a disc that begins on a somewhat puzzling note and winds up believable and sincere.