Down Beat - p.64
"These compassionate humanists treat blues as living music, so pertinent to the present day."
Living Blues - p.54
"Freund sings and plays with great conviction on the straight blues material....The remaining instrumentals on IS WHAT IT IS push the stylistic envelope."
Personnel: Dave Specter (guitar); Dave Specter; Rob Waters (Hammond b-3 organ); Harlan Terson (bass guitar); Steve Freund (vocals, guitar); Mark Hummel (harmonica); Barrelhouse Chuck (piano); Marty Binder (drums).
Audio Mixer: Steve Wagner .
Liner Note Author: Dan Kening.
Recording information: 06/17/2004/06/18/2004.
Photographer: Peter Amft.
The long established musical relationship between guitarists Dave Specter and Steve Freund goes back nearly 20 years, when Specter sought out Freund as a guitar teacher. They have shared many stages, but this marks the first occasion that they have recorded together. In the best of the Chicago blues tradition as illustrated by the legendary Delmark label, Is What It Is is a loose, swinging, tough blues date filled with great tunes, inspired playing and loose-groove vibes. While Specter has become well-known for his jazzy blues playing, his former teacher Freund has stayed close to the roots of the Chicago sound. That contrast works beautifully here on both covers and originals. Freund's tunes are some of the bets on the set as evidenced by the opener "My Little Playhouse." One of the reasons for this is his deep, clear soulful singing which adds punch and nuance to the dueling guitars Specter brings classy elegance to the set in his instrumentals, like the title track that carries a deeply Southern-fried funk to the more urban Chicago sound and the shuffling gutbucket stroll of "Riverside Ride," where the two players wind around and through one another exuberantly. Other highlights include a beautiful reading of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," with guitar interplay that is every bit as symbiotic and sensual as the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden." Elsewhere, an instrumental version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" adds colorful textures between the inventive rhythm performance by Freund and Specter's careful yet innovative play on the melody. The stomping slow blues in Freund's "Hovering Hawk" is raw, raucous and tough. Again his voice pushes the guitars into the pocket and keeps them there. The stinging, hip-shaking read of Peter Green's "Rollin' Man," and a graceful "Albatross" are wonderful surprises, as is the gorgeous version of Otis Spann's "She Needs Some Loving," that closes the set and caps a banner date. ~ Thom Jurek