Contrary to popular belief, the blues is mostly about restraint; a few carefully chosen and timed notes are almost always preferable to a shower of technically precise show-offery. Luckily, the Snake Charmers don't have this problem. The Houston quartet's latest CD, Been Gone Too Long, opts out of anything flashy, with just enough instrumental adornment to supplement singer Marie Angell's sultry vocals. The songs are mostly standard fare about feelin' bad and feelin' good ("Can't Trust a Heart," "[I Wanna Be a] Hoochie Mama"), and Angell invests them with a languorous Peggy Lee-like longing that works especially well on jazzy slower songs like "Ain't Nothin' But the Blues" and "Just a Little Kiss." Her bandmates — plus guests Otis Futhermucker on harmonica and guitarist David Coronado — slide in and out of the spaces around Angell's vocals with a minimum of overplaying, though the muted Allman Brothers boogie of "No Mercy" and "Hoochie Mama" suggests they're more than capable of cutting loose if they wanted to. Choosing not to, though, gives Been Gone Too Long a touch of class, and elevates it a step above run-of-the-mill barroom blues.
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