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Laura Bell & ‘The Blue Aces’
Laura Bell is joined by band members (from left) Michael Zeal, guitarist Michael Clancey, keyboardist RB Blackstone, and drummer Jerry Clayton. Along with lead guitarist Will Owen Gage, trumpeter Al Gomez, and tenor saxophone players Henry Rivas and Albert Garcia, they form Laura Bell &“The Blue Aces.”
When one thinks of blues music, South Texas seldom is the place that comes to mind. But Wilson County actually is home to blues singer Laura Bell, who last year released her first CD, “Laura Bell & The Blue Aces.” The disc, released in early 2012, is perhaps a best-kept secret of the area’s music scene and is the culmination of a lifelong dream for its lead singer.
Those who choose to lay down $15 to purchase the CD are in for a treat, which begins before cracking the cellophane covering the jewel case. This artistic journey begins with the cover art, a painting by San Antonio impressionist Robert Wilkens. The image of a bright, bold full moon amid saucer-like stars above a still pond below a lone oak tree is reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 masterpiece, “The Starry Night.”
Wilkens, however, said the inspiration came from the grounds of Nicki Gibson’s property where Bell resides on C.R. 117 north of Floresville. He said that when listening to certain pieces of music, it is easy to envision colors. Listening to the music from the CD, Wilkens said he imagines the color blue, which is fitting for the musical genre and the title of the disc.
For more information about Wilkens’ art, contact him at 210-260-1168 or email@example.com.
With the CD open and playing, it is quite easy for the listener -- amid Bell’s powerful vocals and the captivating instrumentals -- to daydream of blues clubs seen in old black and white movies. Bell lists songstresses such as Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin, and Billie Holiday as her major influences, which is apparent in her vocal delivery that shifts fluidly from velvety smooth to razor sharp.
“You get a myriad of emotions,” said guitarist Michael Clancey. “She goes through every emotion in that album, from joy to desperation. We try to bring out the best that Laura has, the best songs for her voice. I believe this album is very credible.”
Clancey is among a group of Bell’s longtime friends who join her on the 51-minute auditory delight that is her first album.
The group adopted its name, “The Blue Aces,” based on a band that has backed Bell for decades, despite its members changing over time. At its foundation is bass player Michael Zeal of San Antonio. Zeal, who has been playing bass guitar since 1965, has played with and sung backup for such acts as “The Shirelles,” “The Diamonds,” and “The Coasters.” In addition to playing bass guitar on the album, he also plays the electric bass and the upright bass.
Clancey, a vocalist and guitarist, has played with Bell for at least 20 years in venues throughout the region. Along with Bell, Clancey chose the songs for the album and mapped them out for the other musicians.
Drummer Jerry Clayton also is the album’s engineer. The album was produced at his studio, Radio Dog Recordings in San Antonio.
“I’m really proud of the finished product,” Clayton said. “I think it accurately portrays Laura’s talent, documenting the great music Laura has been singing.”
On keyboard is RB Blackstone, who said he wrote his own tracks and recorded them separately from the rest of the band. Blackstone said he has worked with acts such as “Tower of Power,” Ricky Skaggs, and “Freedom Isn’t Free.”
Other band members include Will Owen Gage on lead guitar, Al Gomez on trumpet, and tenor saxophone players Henry Rivas and Albert Garcia.
Bell dedicates the CD to the memory of her brother, Bruce; she promised him that she would one day record an album. One of the moments that shaped her career followed a blood transfusion she received following a 1977 car crash, in which Bell contracted Hepatitis C. Despite the debilitating illness, she has managed to be the mother of a son and daughter, and is now the grandmother of two children.
“My career was taking off as a singer,” Bell said. “I was doing jazz primarily, Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald. It kind of fell through the cracks. Now I’m older and wiser and trying really hard to get it together.”
She pledges to work on a second album when given the all-clear by doctors when her chemotherapy is complete.
Tracks on the CD include Van Morrison songs “Moondance” and “Domino,” Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s “When Something is Wrong with My Baby,” Ella Fitzgerald’s “Round Midnight,” and the song Bell considers her signature -- Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”
For more information about Laura Bell & “The Blue Aces,” write Bell at P.O. Box 107, Floresville, TX 78114 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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