JIMMY VOEGELI – F is for Blues
For a musician of his stature, Jimmy Voegeli has got to be one of the most unassuming and downright shy people in the business. The rare artist who is nearly ego-free is frequently consumed by self-criticism and insecurity, perhaps an unspoken reason that this album took nearly six years to make. There are other reasons listed in the credits, where Voegeli recounts the whole process as “a template for how not to make an album,” including cash shortages and three computer crashes that resulted in some or all of the songs being lost. A host of personal issues also slowed down production: a divorce, his father’s death, even 9/11 and the last two presidential elections. But if the results of “F” is For Blues is any indicator, this method is a template for how to make an album because it is one of the best to ever come out of the Mad City.
“F” is For Blues is permeated with class. From the first strains of the opening cut, “Give it Up,” which deftly blends the smooth, soulful feel of Little Feat with blues-rock era Rolling Stones, it is apparent that this is no ordinary musical exercise. Just look at the cast of players assembled here: The Crashers’ Mauro Magellan, Jon Wartenweiler and Gary Hendrickson; the Moon Gypsies’/Stellanovas’/Bob Westfall Band’s Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines; the incomparable talents of Clyde Stubblefield and Billy Flynn; the world-renowned Jon Nicholson; percussion wizard Pauli Ryan; local legends Mel Ford and Tom McCarty – and the list goes on. Co-produced by Voegeli and Broadjam’s Roy Elkins, the album is seamlessly exquisite despite the tribulations of its production and the use of multiple studio facilities over a long period of time. The album’s design (splendidly done by Broadjam’s Donny Sellon with photos by Stephanie Essex Elkins) is noteworthy as well. The cover depicts the actual Monticello High School report card on which Voegeli received an “F” in band class from one Mr. Mike Korth. In a twist of fate, Voegeli has Korth play a trombone solo on “So Go Love,” which Voegeli promptly rearranged in editing. Now that’s rolling with the punches.
Voegeli is probably best known for his keyboard work with the Westside Andy/Mel Ford Band but has been a mainstay in the music scene here, thanks in large part to his supreme skills on Hammond organ, which figure prominently on several of the tracks, including “Don’t Know Why,” an absolutely killer blues tune. However, the real surprise throughout F.. is Voegeli’s sensational lead and harmony vocals. His smooth delivery and expressive range are augmented by Mary Gaines and she matches him precisely in phrasing and inflection, making this one powerful vocal pairing. Jon Nicholson also turns in a fantastic vocal performance on the soulful “Fool,” which contains one of the best lines: “I poured out my heart to you / And you drank it like cheap wine.”
Voegeli’s talents on piano are featured on much of the album’s second half, including two tunes with central Wisconsin’s blues trio Blue Shadows and a great boogie-blues track called “Waiting for You.” The latter is a duet with Derek Hendrickson on brushes, a song that sounds much larger than just piano and brushed drums.
He saves the best for last, too. “Booga Brain” is a smokin’ hot blues instrumental with the similarly smokin’ lineup of Stubblefield, McCarty, Ford, Flynn and Ryan. “Papa’s Waltz” breaks the mold completely. Voegeli’s beautifully played piano is graced by Mary Gaines’ cello and Chris Wagoner’s accordion and violin. A tribute to his father, Voegeli performed this at his funeral. It’s heartbreakingly tender and, somehow, very Wisconsin.
Why the best art is born of suffering is an enigma for the ages and the foundation for the form we call the blues. Yet so much joy emanates from this recording it becomes a reflection of life itself, a triumph of the human spirit by any measure. “F” is For the Blues is institutionally Madison and belongs in every music lover’s home.