A tasteful and elegantly modern blues band with jazzy overtones, the Hollywood Flames came together in 1975 on the West Coast as the Hollywood Fats Band, led by guitar phenom Michael "Hollywood Fats" Mann and featuring Larry Taylor
on bass and drums, Richard Innes
on piano and Hammond B-3, Fred Kaplan
on piano and guitar, and harmonica whiz and vocalist Al Blake
. The group specialized in a kind of informed update of the classic electric blues bands of the 1950s, but were also capable of eerily accurate acoustic versions of old country blues standards from the 1920s or shifting into New Orleans piano romps, keeping traditions alive while giving them a sonic push forward at the same time. Mann's death in 1986 brought the band to a close until 2005 when the original members reunited as the Hollywood Blue Flames, this time with guitarist Kirk Fletcher aboard, and continued making vital blues music in the same vein as the original group. Deep in America
is the band's third album released under the Hollywood Blue Flames name, and while it would be wrong to say that Mann isn't missed, Fletcher plays on these tracks like the only feasible substitute. It works, and it works for the same reason the Hollywood Fats Band worked -- passion and intelligence. These guys know the history of the blues but they seem to understand the genre's emotional center as well, with tracks like the perfectly and wearily poised "Leavin' California," and they also don't forget that people need to step it up and dance -- check out the easily rolling piano shuffles "Crescent City Rock" and "Hushpuppy" for proof of that. A second disc is included in this package that features vintage live cuts from the original Hollywood Fats Band -- so in a way, Mann is aboard here, too.