Catfish Lucy rolled into Beverly, Massachusetts to impress the crowd at Kitty O’Sheas’s on Cabot Street. Not only does this band have all their songs and blues idioms down to a science, this high-octane unit knows how to have fun and send out a positive vibe.
It is truly exciting how well this band swings, its rhythms and grooves powering their songs and opening space for the lead guitar and lead singer. Opening with “Jesus Gonna Be There” by Tom Waits, Jim Christo played riveting rhythm guitar blues using a small interval of notes to make the music swing like a pendulum. Lead guitarist Jerry Smith came in with soulful precision while the rhythm section dropped thick dollops of beats and grooves. Over it all, Catfish Lucy’s lead singer Suzanne Walsh sent her husky jewel of a voice out like a lasso before tugging it back in. One song into their first set and the group had the audience in the palm of its collective hand.
Funky riffs and a danceable beat kept Bill Wither’s “Use Me” moving along at a bopping pace. Although Walsh is a blues chanteuse through and through, lead guitarist has the primary responsibility for serving up the soul. His phrases were steeped in feeling and he made the songs feel good as well as sound good. The Catfish Lucy take on The Spinner’s 1970s’ hit “I’ll Be Around” gave him another chance to deliver the soul gravitas. Guest rhythm guitarist Christo brings out another dimension to each song and he adds more meat, potatoes, and gravy to the rhythm section.
Catfish Lucy has a singular ability to put tons of oomph in to a song. Walsh’s voice succeeded not because of a rasp but because of the soul in her voice. She smiled happily during each number, as if each was her very favorite. Walsh had fun with Aretha Franklin’s “Baby, I Love You” when she brought guest singer Kim Bowen up to sing backing vocals. Walsh and Bowen also enjoyed singing Chaka Kahn’s “Ain’t Nobody” at the end of the show. Walsh said Bowen never sang in public before this gig, and I think the special occasion brought personal joy to each woman.
A Catfish Lucy original song called “Breathe” sounded even better live than on their My Space page. Walsh’s voice flowed more smoothly in the live setting and there were great changes in the mellow groove. So much strength is heard in her voice as she sings the word “breathe.” She pulls it out with much sustain in her voice.
Catfish Lucy served up Brian Setzer’s “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” from the swing-rock era of the mid-1990s, with plenty of riffs sounding funky and old fashioned at the same time. There was plenty of magic in their rendition even though they don’t have horn players and nobody put on a zoot suit. An interesting song selection also benefited this band, or, benefited its audience. Catfish Lucy threw in the Big Mama Thornton version of “Hound Dog” and it was pure blues, Walsh belting it out in perfect measure. Lead guitarist Jerry Smith sang the lead vocal on “Burning House Of Love” by X and Walsh blended perfectly with his mellifluous voice on the chorus. If that wasn’t enough male-female harmony, the two duet sang “What Do Ya Do?” by Lyle Lovette and Francine Lee.
Walsh’s vocal skill showed itself in the plaintive Ben Harper tune “Show Me A Little Shame” because she gave the song its plea quality and ended with a belt she slowed to a whisper. Bass player Chuck Vath made “I Can’t Wait” by NuShooz danceable with subtle picking and he gave “Hit The Road, Jack” a good hook.
The second set allowed Catfish Lucy to show off their hard-driving funk side. “Blame It On The Devil” by Frank Morey, “Step It Up” by Alice Russell, and “Big Hot Money Spot” by Bomb Squad were a few of the songs they drove home with aggression rhythms and heavy beats. The group brought it back to gentler R&B with Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man” and back to the blues with “John Law” by Chris Thomas King.
It was their feisty close out with Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” and Prince’s “Kiss” that really got the crowd the most excited. The band that can bring a blues feeling to everything they do have the most fun on the driving rhythmic songs. Covering many angles in the roots genre and being unafraid to take risks and being unafraid to amp things up make Catfish Lucy a top notch nightclub act.