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Wednesday, 07 December 2016 12:14
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BLACK MOUNTAIN — The joint was jumping when Asheville-based band Virginia and the Slims performed at the White Horse nightclub on Nov. 5.

The jump-blues band played a nearly two-hour first set, followed by an almost hour-long final set, split by a 15-minute  intermission. About 60 people attended.

The show closed with a riveting version of the Notting Hillbillies’ 1998 hit, “Run Me Down” — and the thinned-out crowd clapped appreciately at the end. There was no encore.

In addition to jump blues, the band skillfully performed songs from other genres, including swing, jazz and rhythm and blues.

Virginia and the Slims includes Joanna Best, lead vocalist; Sean Anderson, guitarist; James Kamp, saxophonist and vocalist; Sid Heilbraun, bassist and vocalist; Bill Maddox, harmonica player and vocalist; and Brian Gant, drummer.

Wearing flashy clothes and exuding attitude galore, Virginia and the Slims showcased fun and an uptempo vibe, as the band members gyrated and did some improptu choreography — at points — that scored a hit with the crowd. 

The night’s indisputable highlight was a rip-roaring rendition of Louis Prima’s 1956 classic (with his wife and demure sidekick Keely Smith), “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody,” featuring Maddox and Best letting loose with their masterful vocal pyrotechnics.

Also notable was Best’s smashing and sultry vocal cover of Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 megahit, “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”

Others highlights included  Prima’s 1956 classic “Jump Jive an’ Wail,” Floyd Dixon’s 1954 “Hey Bartender” (which closed the first set), “Potato Chips” and “Northside Gal.”

Also, a particularly fun song was Best’s sassy rendition of  Irma Thompson’s playful 1959 classic, “(You Can Have My Husband, But) Don’t Mess With My Man.” The words say it all — and, from this critic’s observation, the women in the audience appeared thoroughly amused by the song’s sentiments.

Other first set standouts included “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock Around the Clock.”

Other memorable second-set songs included “Sunday Kind of Love,” “Is You Is/Hit the Road,” “Stagger Lee,” “Spooky,” “Crazy,” “Love Me Like a Man” and “The Thrill Is Gone.”

On the critical side, Virginia and the Slims’ rendition of the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” sounded a bit off-key — and it was too bad that Best and/or Maddox were not singing lead on it.

A delightful nostalgic touch was the use of a retro-style microphone by the Best, who, through most of the show, sparkled vocally and visually.

However, Best, at times (especially when someone else was in the spotlight), looked sad or (perhaps) a bit bored. As an audience member, it was disconcerting to see her flashing a dazzling smile and acting enthused when she was showcased — and then other times looking downcast.

Also, Best’s choreography was somewhat stilted and inhibited — and she would benefit greatly from some coaching in that area, as she has the voice, the look and the charisma to go far.

Also, at times, a group member stood in front of (at least temporarily and apparently unwittingly) a soloist who was being showcased — and that detracted from an otherwise terrific show. 

Virginia and the Slims deserve a salute for performing jump blues, described as an up-tempo style of blues, usually played by small groups and featuring saxophone or brass instruments. It was popular in the 1940s and was a precursor of rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll.



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