By Greg Johnson, Cascade Blues Assocation

When Kevin Selfe moved to Portland from Virginia back in January 2007, he quickly went about finding the right individuals to form a West Coast version of the band he had left behind, The Tornadoes. And those parts he filled to perfection with longtime Portland drummer Don Shultz and New York transplant Allen Markel on bass. This is not your typical run-of-the-mill bar band; they’re actually quite the ensemble. And by ensemble I mean that with the highest respect, because only those bands who know how to completely mesh and compliment one another while on stage deserve to be called such. Muddy Waters’ various bands are the ideal example of an ensemble. Each individual piece plays a major factor and perhaps the sound would just not come across quite right if somebody else were to be thrown into the mix. That is the kind of sense of feeling that I note when watching Kevin, Don and Allen play together. It almost seems like its second nature to them. Like those long-time couples who’ve been around one another so long that one can finish a statement started by the other without missing a beat. Even more important with The Tornadoes, they’re obviously having a good time.

Now they have finally come out with a recording of this band, which is way overdue and has been highly anticipated by their faithful followers who seem to grow constantly. Playing The Game packs thirteen original numbers that we have come to love from their live shows and a couple surprises here and there. But throughout it is quite apparent just how well these guys work together, whether they’re offering a jumping dance tune or a slow burning down in the gutter style blues. Kevin Selfe has a natural feel for songwriting catchy and well thought out tunes.

Of course, Kevin Selfe is front and center of this band as the vocalist. He carries the songs nicely and his guitar work is never overstated. It’s tasty and spot on with every number. The eight-plus minute opus “How Much Longer” is a guitar masterpiece, filled with burning solos that have me often envisioning Ronnie Earl laying down these same type of sounds. Incredible! The slide playing on “Long Greasy Night” is another highlight, while “Walking Funny” may find you singing the chorus along with the band. All tracks are well-conceived and more than just enjoyable, they breathe and have their own lives. The CD comes to a fitting close with the band showcasing the talents of all members nicely on the instrumental “Pulled Pork.”

When Kevin lived in Virginia he was recognized highly for his skills which led to regular gigs throughout the East Coast into the Midwest and South. Since moving to Oregon he has had a steady schedule of work, but mostly just within the western regions of the Pacific Northwest. Playing The Game is the type of CD that just might allow Kevin Selfe & The Tornadoes to break out far beyond their current environs. It’s that good. Blues played as it should be and you just can’t ask for more than that. Expect this one to be on a lot of “Best Of” lists at the end of the year. They’re not just Playing The Game, they’re playing for keeps!

Total Time: 44:46

Just Like Pulling Teeth / Blues Don’t Take A Day Off / How Much Longer / Walking Funny / Playing The Game / The Way She Moves / Lay It On The Table / Long Greasy Night / Good Dog To Kick / Pulled Pork