Though it's been available at gigs for almost two years, a new distribution effort now puts this doll on actual store shelves (right next to Shreddin' Barbie?). That's good news for Mark May, Houston's premier blues-rock singer/slinger. And yes, there is a difference between straight blues and blues rock, my friends.
Above all, Doll Maker is a great party record. From the swampy, menacing tear-up of the title track and the funky good time of "Pimp Daddy" to the laid-back Latin grooves of "Gone Too Long" and raucous energy of "Busta Blues," May and drummer Greg Grubbs, bassist Dan Cooper, second guitarist JZ and a series of guests pepper the collection -- which consists mostly of May's original tunes -- with fire and passion, and May belts them all out authoritatively in his distinctive voice.
May had a short stint in the Dickey Betts Band, and the Ramblin' Man's distinctive six-string lines are all over this record. Betts himself plays on the album, and echoes of his sound also can be heard in May's own guitar work, especially on the phenomenal "Dig Your Ride" and the tribute "Place Your Betts," which May played live at Betts's 2002 show at Fitzgerald's. The record closes with the Albert Collins chestnut "I Ain't Drunk (I'm Just Drinkin')" sung by Cooper, whose declarations of moderation sound plausible at first but grow ever more full of shit as the song progresses. It's a funny take on a proven crowd-pleaser.
Though a couple of tracks overstay their welcome ("Gangsta's Blues," "You Ain't All That "), it seems a quibble to say so in light of the record's overall impact. Your summer porch party now has an additional item on the shopping list of beer, mosquito repellent, beer and meat for the grill: Doll Maker. And did we mention beer?