Blues - CD Reviews - Shake the Devil by Gus Papas
Guitarist Gus Papas has been a fixture on the Toronto music scene for decades. His band The Bottle Devils has a built-in fan base that never fails to draw a crowd at his shows. Many a time this writer has wished Papas would record a CD of his own material, so his fans can take a little of the Papas ‘magic’ on guitar home with us to enjoy. Papas has finally done this and his debut CD ‘Shake the Devil’ is out and ready to go!
Along with Papas on lead/rhythm guitar and lead vocals, there are two other absolutely impeccable musicians featured. Alec Fraser is well known for his years playing bass with Juno-winning blues guitarist Jack de Keyzer. Fraser is also currently bassist for the Jeff Healey Band as well as bluegrass/country/blues band Brokenjoe with guitarist Joe Toole and blues harp player Jerome Godboo (ex-Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks). He’s also one of the most respected sound engineers in Canada and has won numerous awards for his producing efforts at his Liquid Toronto recording studio. Fraser produced this Papas debut CD in addition to being bassist and background vocalist. On drums is Phil Michael, who’s also a well-known Toronto musician who cut his teeth over the decades with some of the best, including backing jazz legend Alfie Zappacosta and blues guitarist Paul James.
Although this is Papas’ debut solo effort, he has recorded in the USA in the Detroit area years ago and even had Ted Nugent on some of his recordings at his then-studio in Michigan’s Saginaw Valley. Papas has also opened for icons like Steppenwolf and Robin Trower. After opening for Irish blues guitarist Rory Gallagher, Gallagher invited Gus onstage to join him in "Bullfrog Blues," a favorite of this writer ever since hearing Canned Heat’s version decades ago on their 1967 album Live at Topanga Corral. He’s also been featured at Healey’s (Jeff Healey’s) Thursday night special guest night, backed by the Healey’s House Band (Jeff Healey Band), which included bassist Fraser, drummer Al Webster and keyboard player Dave Murphy. This writer saw some of that great show with Papas, while going back and forth across the street the same night to see Leon Russell’s awesome concert at the Big Bop. Toronto is definitely ‘music town’ in Canada!
There are 11 all-original Gus Papas tracks on Shake.... and each leaves an indelible Papas identity on them. The title tune "Shake the Devil" is the opener and features some heavy guitar rhythms and some intricate, ingenious solos resembling sitar-like leads. A ‘Back to the roots’ message unfolds with powerful, but simple lyrics like, "Goin’ back to the river to pray."
The desperate rhythm of "On the Edge" seems like a film noir mood set to music. Images of being at the end of one’s rope are masterfully evoked, with mention of "Kraft dinner .... When you’re flat busted, stressed out .... out on the edge." There’s some true escapism offered thanks to Gus’ wild guitar leads, the best way to leave one’s troubles behind .... especially if you happen to be a rocker like Papas or a fan who can travel to the ‘higher realms’ by giving a listen to his guitar expertise.
Although all the tracks on Shake the Devil are exceptional, there is one absolutely outstanding winner which this writer can’t get enough of. It’s a romantic ballad entitled "The Sound of the Rain." Papas’ beautifully created guitar melody on "Rain" is enchanting, as are the heartfelt, rough-edged throaty vocals sung by Gus with true conviction. Lyrics like "Love is here to stay .... Shinin’ through your summer eyes .... Rain on my sweet memories" can easily incite a pitter patter of the heartstrings. This tune has the earmarks of a true hit in this or any other decade. Papas’ serene guitar leads on "Sound of the Rain" are something special to be savored. It is fitting that this is the opening number on Papas’ myspace site: http://www.myspace.com/guspapas
"No Control" is heavy without even trying. The driving rhythm is infectious and a good tonic to get rid of the blues. Some fancy guitar tricks ‘whistle’ when Gus "lost control" for the "babe at the bar." The hard drivin’ drums from Phil Michael rev up the rhythm while Papas’ guitar leads scream out. They instantly become a captivating rhythm that in some parts of the song resemble the hypnotic beat of T-Rex’s "Bang a Gong," made famous decades earlier.
"Ecstasy" is just what the title implies, with lyrics, vocals and a heavy rhythm that do this tune justice. Papas’ guitar leads are a treat here to listen to. The tight rhythms of Michael on drums and Fraser on bass complete this musical picture. As the lyrics say, "Feel all, feel all, feel alright!" "Wasted" is up next and seems to evoke a feeling of the same name with its opening chords and images of nightclub/concert scenes from rock shows worldwide, where as the lyrics say, "Some poor folks look wasted .... and it doesn’t look pretty."
In "Once Over Three Times" Papas tells of a plane trip from Toronto to Detroit. He hurries to get to the airport on time, only to be stalled at Customs by "One hell of a woman, givin’ me the once over .... three times!" His guitar rhythms are scorching, and added to by Michael’s hard-edged drumming. Fraser’s consistently heavy-duty bass lines are like a wall of sound providing a firm foundation to this rockin’ winner!
"Making Love" is a beautiful acoustic rendering by Gus, which has an infectious rhythm, bass and intricate percussion that in some respects has some Spanish influences, especially in Gus’ splendid guitar leads. Papas singing, "The heat of the moment, when two souls connect .... can’t get us any higher", effectively reflects the title. "E.Z. Rest Motel" tells it all about being a hard workin’ musician always on the road, callin’ each and every motel and town "home" at the EZ Rest Motel. Papas’ vocals are vivid when he sums up, singing "This is home .... God bless the E.Z. Rest!"
It is fitting that a deeply creative composition like "Nothing to Fear" is the finale to this finely crafted CD of all original Gus Papas material. Papas’ guitar genius is easily showcased in his multi-layered leads.
This song is a romantic vocal duet featuring Ingrid Raudsepp and Papas. Their vocals blend in beautifully and harmoniously with one another in declaring "I feel there is ‘nothing to fear’ .... ", along with uplifting chanting of "Sunshine .... sunshine .... " Eastern-influenced guitar leads from Gus, complete this transcendental musical experience, while Ingrid’s shared vocals give it some life and hope!
Artist / Group Name: Gus Papas
CD Title: Shake the Devil
Year Released: 2005
Record Label: Independent - GPSTD2005
Musicians: Gus Papas (lead/rhythm guitar), Alec Fraser (bass/background vocals), Phil Michael (drums)
Label Website: http://www.myspace.com/guspapas
Rating: Five Stars