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Double Slide by Brian Cober & The Nationals

Brian Cober & The Nationals are a Toronto blues institution, and have recently reissued their third great CD, called Double Slide. The title comes from the fact that guitarist Brian Cober utilizes a unique-to-himself "double slide" technique. Cober has come up with the brilliant idea of using two custom-made slides, allowing him to create never heard before slide sounds that are thoroughly mesmerizing. Cober’s double-slide playing is a welcome sound to the ears wherever he appears.

The original artwork on the CD cover depicts this slide technique in action. There’s an early 1970s black and white photo of Cober’s old friend Ben Gadd (the CD’s dedicated to Gadd), in the liner notes, posing with the one and only Muddy Waters, allowing us to know that Brian’s interest in the blues has been a long-time commitment on his part.

Based in Toronto, Ontario, and seen mostly in the musically creative Kensington Market area of Toronto’s trendy west end, Brian Cober can be found every Sunday night hosting a jam at Grossman’s Tavern on Spadina Avenue, with bassist Paul McNamara and drummer Bill Hedefine. This original "Home of the Blues" in Toronto is the preferred stomping grounds, where many of the blues "elite" come to sit in with Cober or with their own bands. The creative force present at these jams transfixes audiences, which is why they keep coming back for more every week.

Cober and his band The Nationals are in high demand here and in the US, where Cober has performed with some of the finest of the old-time blues guitar originators. Brian has recently performed at European blues festivals in Finland with ex-David Bowie guitarist Tony Springer and has received much-deserved praise in reviews there. Cober previously appeared in Finland in 1997, in the Canada All Stars. Along with Cober in this all-star band were bassist Prakash John (Blues Angels; ex-Alice Cooper/Lou Reed), drummer Whitey Glan (ex-Alice Cooper/Lou Reed/Johnny Winter), blues harp player Jerome Godboo (ex-Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks) and guitarist Mike McDonald.

Double Slide begins with the powerhouse Brian Cober original (they all are, except for "Only the Lonely Knows" by Ted Taylor) "Lay It On." This tune effortlessly commands the audience’s attention and appreciation, with its rousing emotional appeal. It features some mild Cajun influences with a touch of rockabilly. The bluesy lead slide Cober comes up with is outstanding in every respect. Years of fronting bands and traveling to Europe and the US has led to Cober’s mastery in playing his unique style. His Telecaster is set up like a lap steel guitar and delights all the great musicians Brian comes in contact with in his travels. Just listen to the imaginative slide on "I Had A Dream." It’s both surreal and captivating all at the same time. Cober’s vocals have a distinctive and pleasant "sound," once heard, never forgotten and always enjoyed!

The guitar plucking and sliding on "Only the Lonely Knows" is a fitting intro to a lyrically poetic story that Cober unravels in his vocals in a way that keeps listeners on the edge of their seats. The slide in "Lonely Knows" would be at home in any Allman Brothers Band recording. Renowned guitarist Pat Rush (ex-Jeff Healey Band/James Cotton/Johnny Winter), has often joined Cober in a tune and was himself taught his amazing slide guitar technique decades ago by Duane Allman, when their bands used to tour the southern US "Chitlin’ Circuit" together.

More powerhouse blues occur in "Not An Ordinary Man." Ian Green’s drumming in this tune rocks it up real good, while the bass lines provided by long-time Cober side-kick Paul McNamara pound out their urgency added to by highly imaginative screams of double-slide emanating from Cober’s guitar.

Cober cries out he’s "on fire" in "Don’t Know What You Got." What this tune has "got" is a pounding drum beat that keeps the energy flowing through every note and vocal. "Better Get Ready" has "hit quality" stamped all over it. The rhythm and melody are mesmerizing! The story of relationships is told straight out, with "Ooh babe, look what we’ve been through. It’s the same for me -- and the same for you." This common story of human relationships is told in a very entertaining way with Tibi providing her fabulous background vocals.

"Pound of Pain" is an invigorating, medium-tempo blues tune, featuring Green’s hard driving drumming along with Cober’s energetic, commanding vocals. Again he provides more of his highly enjoyable double-slide technique and mind-boggling leads. McNamara’s laid-back bass lines add just the right bottom end to bring out the best in Cober’s creativity.

In "Nowhere Left To Ride", Cober screams out "It’s a cold, cold night, and you’re not here by my side .... ." Then his slide begins to scream like a good, close friend, backing up his claims of loneliness with every captivating note that his double-slide can command. In "Listen Up," Cober speaks about taking love for granted and the regret of love loss, but with the hope of "another chance." This tune is delivered from the soul and is crammed full of musical wisdom that’s good to reflect on. Cober’s country slide and leads are perfectly complemented by Green’s driving percussive beat. Eric Webster’s organ riffs add some mellow emotion to the proceedings. Tibi’s vocals answer Cober’s, providing just the right "woman’s touch."

Cober’s signature tune "Kensington Kat" (and this writer's favorite Cober tune) advises the listener, "Don’t try to take me into your home, ‘cause I might just have to run away and see you again some rainy day." The country blues guitar leads Brian plays are very southern US sounding. Images of the real Kensington Market in Toronto are evoked with lyrics like, "I think Joe at the Fish Market grilled some fine salmon today."

The distinctive character of the Kensington Market area of west central Toronto has spawned some of the finest musical creativity and artistry around and continues to do so today. Brian Cober’s appearances here and in the deep southern US, as well as in European festivals in Finland have garnered Cober many fans as well as positive media attention worldwide. This writer has read European newspaper reports mentioning a genuine appreciation for Brian’s unique double-slide guitar mastery, when he appeared there in 2003 with the Tony Springer Band (Wild T & The Spirit).

Double Slide effortlessly captures the essence of Brian Cober’s special "muse"-ical gift and is highly enjoyable to listen to. It’s a highly prized CD in my collection. I hope you add it to yours. You can listen to The Nationals at cdbay.com as well as purchase their Double Slide CD there. There's a Nationals Live At Grossman's Tavern CD slated for release sometime in 2007. It is currently being mastered.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Brian Cober & The Nationals
  • CD Title: Double Slide
  • Genre: Blues
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Reissue Original Release: 2001
  • Record Label: Chester #03
  • Tracks: Lay It On, I Had a Dream, Only the Lonely Knows, Not An Ordinary Man, Don’t Know What You Got, Better Get Ready, Pound ‘O Pain, Nowhere Left To Ride, Listen Up, Kensington Kat
  • Musicians: Brian Cober (double slide and lead/rhythm guitar, lead vocals), Paul McNamara (electric bass, background vocals), Ian Green (drums), Eric Webster (keyboards), Tibi (background vocals)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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