JULY 7th, 2020 – Evelyn Rubio was born in Mexico and performed as an actor, singer and dancer before getting a slot as fea-tured vocalist and sax player with The Calvin Owens Orchestra. She called this album Crossing Borders because she ventured away from her latin toots to incorporate rock, blues, soul and country influences, aided and abetted by producer Larry Fulcher who involved his bandmates from The Phantom Blues Band (Johnny Lee Schell on guitar, Mike Finnigan on keys and Tony Braunagel on drums, plus Larry on bass), as well as bringing in a host of other familiar names. Recorded in LA and Texas, the long list of players includes David Grissom (Joe Ely), Josh Sklair (Etta James), Al Staehely (Spirit), Kenny Cordray, Zach Person and The Mighty Orq on guitar, Red Young and Barry Seelen on keys, Terry Jerome on harp, Kirk Covington and Brandon Jackson on drums, Jorge Orta Cro Cro on percus-sion and Mark Andes (Spirit) on bass; Nicoya Polar and Lori Michelle provide backing vocals and a string quartet is added to one cut. Evelyn handles all lead vocals and saxophones, mainly alto and occasional tenor. The songs come from a variety of sources with five from Kevin Brandt who is mainly known for writing songs for the likes of Faith Hill, Travis Tritt and Randy Travis; Jeff Paris, Aaron Barrera and Guillermo Duefias wrote one song each, Evelyn provided one and there are covers of a latin classic by Consuelo Velasquez, one from 70’s band Rhinoc-eros and one from Al Staelhey and Patti Dahlstrom. Three of the songs are reprised in Spanish as a bonus at the end of the album.
To be honest this is not really a blues album though songs like “Mistake” have sufficient blues DNA to appeal, the groove of the tune and the rousing sax work on this one are great. That is one of Kevin Brandt’s five songs and the choppy shuffle rhythm of “Cruel” features Mike’s piano alongside Evelyn’s alto while “Still On Your Side” has echoey guitar and an anthemic chorus, the middle section graced by a fine solo from David Grissom. In contrast “I Don’t Understand” is an emotional ballad about those tragedies that surpass our understanding. a child with a terminal illness or “another life lost because of the colour of his skin”. Eve-lyn shows her vocal range on this one and her alto solo soaring above the strings is terrific. Those four songs of Kevin’s were all recorded with the Phantoms whereas his “What A Way To Go” is very much a rocker with a distinctly Texan feel as David and Zach exchange some great guitar passages.
Three songs are definitely more rock than anything else: opener “One More Last Time” is a mid-paced rocker with excellent back-ing vocals to the chorus and some fine guitar work from the Tex-as team; the lengthy title “He Did Me Wrong But He Did it Right” is Al and Patti’s song with the Spirit pair involved and the Rhinoceros song is “When You Say You’re Sorry”. Evelyn sticks to vocals on these three cuts and leaves her sax behind. She is clearly very much at home on the tracks that have a latin feel and all of those are strong cuts. “Just Like A Drug” has that latin vibe that all fans of Santana will recognize and on songs like this you can’t help thinking back to Gloria Estefan in the 80’s as David nails the latin-tinged guitar work and Evelyn’s busy alto solo lights up the tune. Guillermo Duefias’ “Border Town” is the song that in-spired the album’s title and features the two ex-Spirit musicians along with guitarist Kenny Cordray who passed away soon after this recording. Evelyn’s own “Port Isabel” is a lilting instrumental with some wordless vocal gymnastics added and is the tune on which Josh Sklair appears. Finally lat in classic “Besame Muds” transforms into a Delta blues in a front porch acoustic version with Larry on bass and foot stomp, Terry’s harp and Mighty Orq’s resonator, closing the album on a definite blues. The three Spanish language tracks are versions of “Border Town”, “Cruel” and “He Did Me Wrong But He Did It Right”.
Evelyn has a good voice and does not resort to screaming (as so many female vocalists do), she plays her sax well and the musi-cians involved are first class. Blues purists will complain that there is not enough blues content but I enjoyed the album.
Reviewed by John Mitchell