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Sound Stage

Rock Island Rollers

1/23/2013

In a town that prides itself on the quality of the blues music it produces, it can take quite a lot to make an impression. Even judging solely by the performance Saturday night — to say nothing of the quality of its lineup — the Rock Island Rollers should have no problem convincing anyone of its bona fides.                

Heath Alan of the Rock Island Rollers performed at Star Bar on Saturday, Jan. 19.

Heath Alan of the Rock Island Rollers performed at Star Bar on Saturday, Jan. 19.

If anyone tries to tell you that John Locker isn’t the best bassist in the city, go ahead and call him or her a liar. You’ll be doing God’s work. Locker’s efforts are consistently capable of redefining your appreciation for the bass, and in the Rollers, his pairing with drummer George McCutchen ensures that the low end is very well represented.                

Equally noteworthy are keyboardist Justin Appel, guitarist Jeff Banks and saxman Heath Alan. Banks and Alan share the brunt of the vocal work for the group, and while Alan’s true gift is for the saxophone, he’s a very gifted front man, with a voice that’s practically custom-made to sing the group’s material. There’s not a weak link in the bunch, ladies and gents. This is the first five-piece I’ve seen where each and every member is capable of doing something to make you shake your head. The set at Star Bar on Saturday was laden with crowd-pleasing covers, and the Rollers have the talent to make each song its own, and make you feel like you’re hearing even the classics for the first time.             

The Rock Island Rollers perform again this week at the Winter Blues Fest, before taking its act on the road for the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn. As far as representatives of the state of blues in Iowa go, Des Moines can do a lot worse than these five men. CV

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