By Bill Copeland on September 15, 2022
Name Droppers II is an appropriate title for this Connecticut band’s sophomore album. It isn’t just their second album. It’s a junior to the senior, a continuation of the DNA in their first album. The Name Droppers combine old school rock and roll, blues, and R&B idioms to create fresh new songs within their range of genres. The Name Droppers make one feel that a Motown band or a Stax band never grew old and retired but still continues writing and recording those tunes that had has dancing to them when they were new and dancing to them at our grandchildren’s weddings decades later.
Opening cut “Diddy Wah Diddy,” a Willie Dixon cover, aside from having an old fashioned title, consists of fun, quirky story lyrics as well as snappy guitars and keyboards. One can almost picture the guitarist and the keyboardist nodding to each other as they player their interactive dance of chords. The listener is already glued to the tune even before it’s hooky chorus roots it in a memorable catch phrase. Harmony vocals thicken that chorus, helping to make this song a trip down memory lane as well as fetching new rendition.
“Fake It Til You Make It” finds lead vocalist Rafe Klein engaging his band mates with an alluring call and response chorus. Swirling organ and a jittery lead guitar phrase add to the pop-R&B flavorings. Soulful vocals imbibes this piece with a personality, a presence that makes us picture the lead singer at the microphone smiling and winking at us as he unfurls his length of affable street corner charm
Rafe Klein’s fret work on “My Blue Guitar” flavors an oldies rock and roll groove with a sweet, colorful six string phrase. While his band mates harmonize quaintly behind him, Klein whips out a razor sharp rockabilly line. That guitar parts colors the song with its tone while adding an emotive edge to the undertone of loss pervading all. As if the song couldn’t get any better, Ron Rifkin puts riffy, barrel house influenced keys beside that guitar.
A slight surf guitar tone permeates “Love Expressway.” A self-restrained vocal cruises the melody line, infusing emotion without seeming to try. With this platform to work on, The Name Droppers merely need to adorn this one with warm, shiny organ swirls and an unobtrusive groove. It’s a song that knows where it’s going and how to get there without a chugging metabolic engine of volume, dynamics, or tension. It’s a beautifully breezy number and it stands out by taking its sweet time, respecting the listener’s ability to take it all in as it takes its merry time unfurling its mellow message.
Equally beautiful and expressive is “Nights In November,” a lilting, easygoing song. A handsome lead vocal cruises over the instrumentation with as much flow as the instruments. We feel this song’s engine, a pulse that can take us somewhere, even though it drives slowly through the back roads. It’s a down tempo blue eyed soul song and it works as it remains low key, a gentle touch to a tender soul.
The Name Droppers redo their late member Charlie Karp’s “Too Bad On Your Birthday,” a song covered by Ram Jam and Joan Jett years ago. Here, bluesy piano chords, barrel house notes, soulful organ, and a jumpy lead guitar flavor things with expanding colors and tones. Snappy instrumentation support soulful raspy vocals while the adept rhythm section keeps the busy upper registers moving along like a lively party train.
The more assertive “Cry For You,” benefited by a bulbous groove from drummer Bobby “T” Torrello‘ s well placed fills and bass player Scott Spray‘s elastic, flexible low end line. Both played in Johnny Winter’s bands over the years and they know how to anchor into a locked in groove. Over their magic is a tightness with the guitar line, also cool. Meanwhile, a lead vocal, backing vocal call and response keeps this number feeling coolly old-fashioned.
“I haven’t Heard From You” is another breezy, mid tempo tune. And again, the boys carry it all along with their beautiful take on blue eyed soul. A large vocal presence matches a wide sweep of instrumentation. A simmering organ stretches wide, encompasses everything warmly. Tasteful guitar phrasing dots the landscape with sweet bits of notes, shining brightly within the context of this after-the-breakup song. One can picture a man suffering the mixed emotions of remembering what he once had while lamenting that that sweet time is now passed.
Close out track “You Must Be From Heaven” concludes the fine, soulful craftiness of this album. A pretty, docile lead guitar line whistles through a landscape of tender picking, gentle grooving, and emotive piano tinkling. Next to that guitar is a honey smooth vocal, a singer who can finesse the lyrics, pulling a lot of emotive grist from each word.
The Name Droppers make it seem easy to come up with these fine albums. Listening to Name Droppers II makes one feel as if someone had dug a classic album out of their collection and played it for us, as if it’s something we already know because the old school styles are played so authentically. Not only would this album, produced by Vic Steffens at his Horizons Music group in Connecticut, go over well with long time fans of this band, anyone who likes old school R&B, soul, blues, and oldies rock and roll would dig it too.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom
Connecticut-based blues rocker and guitar-wielding dad Rafe Klein first caught my attention when I watched a virtual livestream of his solo set in mid 2020. But it wasn’t just his cool guitar chops (he studied with the legendary Charlie Karp in his 30s) and singing that impressed me. He had a presence — an unmistakable confidence and earnestness in his delivery — that piqued my interest and kept me listening. So I was particularly excited about his latest project
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Behind The Brand with Prestige & EZ Bluez: Rafe Klein
Connecticut’s rock quartet Name Droppers have a storied history. Name Droppers used to be the backing band for legendary local performer Charlie Karp. Karp passed away after walking into a hospital to find out why he hadn’t been feeling well for a days. Hospital doctors discovered he had liver cancer which took him during his visit. Name Droppers’ debut CD was initially going to be a Charlie Karp And The Name Droppers album. The backing band completed the album under their own name and play out as often as they can. Simply titled Name Droppers, the CD stands up on its own merits.
Opening track “One Last Song” is marked by Rafe Klein’s edgy vocal and brisk, twisty lead guitar approach. There is an unusual contrast within this music, a combination of the upper registers’ tightness with the rhythm section aganist a looseness in how these four make the song move. The lead vocal is loaded with character and personality, making this into a song that you feel is talking to you.
By Bill Copeland on March 19, 2020
Ron Rifkin becomes the second lead vocalist for “Valentina,” a haunting song to play his keyboards on. His swirling organ notes blend well with Rifkin’gs nimble, perky lead guitar phrase, creating a dark, smoky atmosphere that makes one wonder more about what’s going in this scene. The song sprawls out with many hints of desperate desperados.
“Whiskey” is a funkier number with the rhythm section pumping out an undeniable, thick groove. Drummer Bobby Torello, who also sings lead vocals here, keeps the backbeat infectious as bass player Scott Spray put a thick, lilting low end over the beat. Rifkin’s support vocal adds another dimension of cool as Klein’s guitar riffs adorn colorful feathers over that danceable motion.
This disc’s down tempo cruise “Days Like This” puts a soulful vocal and choir-like backing harmonies over a sunny lead guitar line. One starts to imagine Otis Redding or Stevie Wonder singing lead vocals over a classic rock band from the 1970s. Like those bands of yore, this tune has a sublime acoustic guitar line that can make as many melodic curls as Carole Sylvan’s guest lead vocal.
The vintage Jimi Hendrix bluesy work “Red House” gets a sensitive revisit here. While not as knobby in the groove as the original, and the guitar is played with a gentler touch, this has its own strengths. A soulful tinkling on electric piano give it a new feeling. Charlie Karp’s lead vocal is mellow, less world weary sounding than Hendrix. Yet, he does sing it with more bluesy pain. His acoustic guitar interpretation brings out more of the lyrics’ sensitivity. His electric guitar work unravels the muddy blues of the original but gives its own indictment of lost love within its free flow phrasing.
“Music In Me” features Rake Klein singing in a Van Morrison type balance between crisp and soulful. Choir-like backing vocals from Carole Sylvan tone it further in spiritual hues. Beneath the warm emotive quality is a neo hippie vibe coming from a Ron Rifkin organ, a low key rhythm section, and a nimbly picked lead guitar line. This song makes one feel good.
“Silent Partner” is a shuffling ode to the need for flunky to handle all the things one does not want to handle. Rafe Klein’s character voice is fully utilized here, making himself come across believably and understandably annoyed with having to find someone to do his dirty work. Karp and Sylvan’s call and response chorus bring more character and humor as the rest fill in bright upper notes for this charmer.
Sounding Dylanesque, Rafe Klein uses his steady vocal to coat “Memories Of The Past” with a late 1960s vibe. He sounds matter of fact as he sings in a smooth flow about our violent tragic American incidents. Moving onto losing his hair and other issues of aging, this singer takes us into another journey, one of personal reflection. Lacking pretense in his delivery, he turns this into a heartfelt reflection of everything his life and his generation’s life has been. The sunny accompaniment has a bittersweet undertone that fit this song like a glove.
Name Droppers manage two feats at once on this debut album. They preserved some fine documents of Charlie Karp’s work while presenting samples of their own fine talents. Everyone in the music scene is likely going to enjoy this peak into Karp’s last few days in the studio while appreciating what Name Droppers can do in their own right. Producer Vic Steffans turns the knobs just right for both phases for Name Droppers’ career, backing band and a band carrying their own creativity forward.