Nick Schnebelen – What Key Is Trouble In?
VizzTone Label Group – 2023
13 tracks; 59 minutes
Nick Schnebelen returns with his third solo album for Vizztone since leaving Trampled Under Foot with which he and his siblings enjoyed such success, including winning the IBC in 2008. On an all-original program, Nick is supported by his regular rhythm section, Adam Hagerman on drums and Cliff Moore on bass, plus either Red Young or Aaron Mayfield on keys; George Thorogood saxman Buddy Leach guests on one track. Nick wrote all the material, with assistance from Adam and Cliff on three cuts. Nick, of course, handles all guitars and vocals.
The album kicks off with a rocking “Ten Years After, Fifty Years Later”, a tribute to the venerable British band; Nick’s guitar work here would have surely made the late Alvin Lee smile. The title track shows where Nick’s heart lies when confronted by some of society’s problems: “Sleeping in the park, down on your luck; what key is homeless in?”, all played with some fine Albert King inspired guitar licks. “Love In My Heart” completes a trio of up tempo tunes, Nick double-tracking his rhythm and lead parts. The first slower tune is “Blues Nights” which opens with some fine, latin-tinged guitar work before Nick’s gravelly vocals describe anxious, sleepless nights before we learn about the “Hard Driving Woman” who seems to be giving Nick a tough time: “She’s a hard driving woman, everything I do is wrong. It’s just so hard to please her, never get along.” Again, plenty of strong guitar work to appreciate here, as there is throughout the album.
“Will I Stay” is a rocker in which Nick seems on the cusp of whether to stick with the relationship or not, while in the next song he states that “Life is pretty good”, provided you put “Pain Aside”, played to a bright shuffle. Nick’s social conscience is again on display on “Poor Side Of Town” in which he describes the poverty endured there over a churning blues. Nick reprises “Jonny Cheat”, a song he recorded with Trampled Under Foot, a boogie tune about taking revenge on the guy who stole his girl, here further enhanced by Buddy Leach’s gritty sax solo. Mind you, if Jonny’s sad tale gets to you, beware the next track as Nick’s torrid guitar work and the heavy rhythm section underpin the terror of the “Big Mean Dog” that is ready to catch the escaping prisoner! “Over The Cliff” is tough blues-rock with lyrics that involve aliens and space travel, “Throw Poor Me Out” a jagged rocker with Red Young’s piano and Nick’s slide work to the fore, another lyric about rejection in love. Perhaps unsurprisingly, after so many angst-filled songs, Nick concludes the album with “People Worry About Me”, screaming guitar set over doom-laden organ and the heaviest rhythm section work on the album.
Nick plays fluently throughout what is a pretty heavy set of tunes, musically and lyrically. It would have been good to have a little more light and shade but there is plenty for Nick’s many fans to enjoy here.
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