Review: Street Corner Holler brings the Delta sound up North: Street Corner Holler transforms Putnam Den; Skidmore band Diego Sandbox opens

Posted by Dale Obbie

"We're gonna go back to the old times now," says Mark Tolstrup, setting down his Fender Telecaster and picking up a National resonator guitar. He plugs the steel acoustic guitar into an amplifier and glides his glass slide down the strings, letting forth a sharp, twangy chord that resounds throughout the smoky bar. Surprised by the swampy sound, the people playing pool at the other end of the bar pause their game to look up and watch.

The band begins playing old-school, gospel-style blues that ring true to its name — one that brings to mind images of a Louisiana Delta bluesman sitting on the corner, singing and playing guitar for the passersby: Street Corner Holler.

Street Corner Holler's performance on Feb. 2 was the third in a series of shows presented by bassist Tony Markellis of the Trey Anastasio Band. A longtime Saratoga Springs resident, Markellis plays with a number of local musicians and once a month he plays with a different band at the Putnam Den.

Although Street Corner Holler's sound harkens back to early Delta blues, it is not a one-man act. Drummer and back-up vocalist Dale Haskell accompanies Tolstrup with his bullfrog voice and his understated yet reliable backbeat. Upright bassist Markellis completes the trio, providing the foundation for the group's groove-locked sound.

Between the amplified instruments and drums, the slide guitar and the wailing, gravelly vocals, Street Corner Holler sounds something like a mix between the Chicago and Delta blues traditions. The trio pays tribute to the blues in all its forms — a fact evident not only in their instrumentation, but also in their choice of songs. They played anything and everything, including a slow and gritty Muddy Waters-style blues, a danceable, boogie-woogie "Ray Charles number" and a Bob Dylan cover that, according to Tolstrup, they had "bluesified."

Opening for Street Corner Holler was a newly formed Skidmore band called Diego Sandbox. The band consisted of saxophonist Aaron Wallace '12, bassist Carlo D'Angelis '12, drummer Anthony Princi '12, guitarist Robin Shore '14 and keyboardist and vocalist Johnny Duennebier '13.

They played some well-executed covers, including Billy Cobham's funk classic "Red Baron," a funky rendition of the Miles Davis standard "So What" that transitioned into Traffic's "Low Spark of High-heeled Boys" and even Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing," for which they were joined by guest vocalist Kortney Sumner '12.

Although not many people attended the show, both bands played their hearts out. Diego Sandbox got things started with its high-energy funk and its mellow R&B, and Street Corner Holler played raw, heartfelt blues late into the night.

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