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.