BLUES BLAST MAGAZINE
AUGUST 11, 2023 BY STEVE JONES
Blending blues, roots and Americana, rock and soul, The Flame continues the rite of passage for Denise LaGrassa. Her North of 40 video blog showcases her journey through her life after 40. Inspired by the closing of central Illinois’ Lincoln College, LaGrassa expanded her work writing songs and performing to replace her time at Lincoln teaching jazz studies. Her songs touch on social change and a better nation and world, with the hope that the spiritual part of each enough will be enough to make the world a better place.
LaGrassa handles the vocals and keyboards. Her band is Alexander Kleiner on guitar, Steven C. Manns on bass, and Mike Gee on drums. She has some top notch guests appearing, too, who are noted below.
The album begins with “Dawn of the New Day” and features Pierre Lacocque from Mississippi Heat on the harp. LaGrassa sings with authority about the revelatory changes coming and Lacocque blows some greasy and cool harp. “Love Is Like An Elevator” is a fun cut about how love just stops at every floor like and elevator and like a yoyo going up and down and stringing you along. Anne Harris plays fiddle here in a rootsy/American sort of cut with slide guitar and a cool country sound.
“Lucy Mae Blues” is up next, an acoustic cut with Denise and Kleiner on guitar, a stripped-down sound with nice finger picking and LaGrassa passionately giving it her all. Up next is “Right Step,” a funky cut about making choices. Stinging guitar by John Kregor on this and some sultry vocals are featured here.
Ellen Miller adds her harp to “Better Day’s Coming,” mixing some roots into a blues rocker tune. Denise sings with power and conviction and the harp and band play with equal, forthright sound. “Wide Eyes” is next, a haunting and somewhat daunting cut.
“Amen To Happiness” follows with a funky and rootsy groove. LaGrassa sings and slide guitar accompanies her with this cut with a bouncing and vibrant feel. “Sewing Good Seeds” is a song that plays of the Biblical theme of sewing good seeds; it’s got a jazzy, soulful feel. This one also features a poignant electric guitar solo.
“Cut It Right Out” is a romping and jumping cut with acoustic guitar and a driving beat. LaGrassa gets down low in her vocals as she and the band rock it out through this one. More ringing guitar work is featured here. She concludes with “Judge a Little Less,” a song giving us advice not to be too judgmental. Funky and slick stuff, great guitar and a big cut to finish things off.
LaGrassa lets her faith and beliefs drive her songwriting. She showcases her ideas and delivers performances filled with the emotions she feels through the songs she has written. Her background is in jazz but here we see a side of her in rootsy blues rock and Americana where she and her band and guests give some very impassioned performances.