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October 1997

Greg Piccolo and Heavy Juice
Red Lights
Fantasy Records

Red Lights, Heavy Juice's second album, is less varied and exciting than Acid Blue, its 1995 debut. There's the feeling of an inviting, in-the-groove R&B date, but this one lacks the electricity of its predecessor. On Red Lights Piccolo sings more and has a greater number of original tunes. Healso plays alto saxophone in addition to his usual tenor and guitar. The first album included additional horns and Ron Levy on organ. This one features Piccolo's working band: organist Barry Seelen, bass guitarist Ed Spargo, drummer John La Moia and percussionist P.J. Plenninger. (In all fairness, Acid Blue was a knockout, a hard act to follow.)

After more than 20 years with Roomful of Blues, Piccolo knows how to sell a band (without selling out its integrity) on the gig and on records. Performances such as "Cleanhead" Vinson's "Old Maid Boogie" and Ray Charles' "What Would I Do Without You" travel time-tested blues and R&B paths, while Piccolo's "My Baby's Gone (Alicia's Song)" show a softer ballad vocal style reminiscent of John Pizzarelli. For his tough tenor work, there's nothing like Freddie Mitchell's "Moondog Boogie."

Listeners need working bands like Heavy Juice and Roomful of Blues. They offer accessible music-accessible in two ways: tune-wise and travel-wise-and they convey the beat and communication of a lived-in ensemble.

Originally published in October 1997
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