When the blues had its humble beginning in the Mississippi Delta, who would have imagined that its journey would take it to international places like Russia? Don't expect jazz piano from this proficient trio, but rather innovative blues-rock with sophisticated influences. Throughout eleven songs, you will hear everything from rollicking Texas shuffles ("Don't Miss Your Train") to contemporary jazz-fusion ("In the Cold Light").
Arsen Shomakhov's 44-minute release features eight originals and three covers. His versions of "I'm Ready" and "Dirty Girl" are fresh, and welcome you to listen up. The latter is used as a framework to showcase sizzling guitar. Shomakhov seems less inhibited on the original numbers. With five instrumentals, it is obvious he is more comfortable just playing his guitar.
This triad comes with a refreshing approach. Their primary focus is the enticing guitar and distinct-ful songwriting of Shomakhov. Perhaps there is too much acknowledgement of Shomakhov's Texas influences, yet you can't deny his controlled guitar work is full of feeling. This Russian doesn't impress with muscle, but rather with substance. Missing your favorite Russian NHL hockey stars this season? Let these comrades cure your blues.
Being a blues radio DJ for 10 years, you get some great artists that seem to "raise the bar" a few notches, and when you thought you'd heard it all, along comes this Russian bluesman, who goes right over the top. Such is young Russian blues player Arsen Shomakhov, and Ragtime. Blues for me is "feel it in the guts" stuff, and from the first track, that's exactly where it got me. Not only can this guy write great new blues material, but sing it, and put his brand on it as well. Two albums I received, and they haven't left my player (except for airplay). Now, we all know blues is world-wide, boy, and aren't we glad. Russian blues has given us Arsen Shomakhov! If you're still a "non-believer", check out some "sound bites" on his website, and your ears will thank you for it. Arsen, my man, go forth and multiply, more music of this calibre will only enhance the way people perceive our great genre of music that we call "BLUES"...
Arsen Shomakhov hails from Russia and "Troublemaker" is his new 11-track CD album. In his home country he is widely reckoned to be the Number 1 hotshot Blues guitar slinger...on hearing his playing for the first time you soon recognize that you are listening to an extremely accomplished player. Arsen lines up one track each by Willie Dixon, T-Bone Walker & Jimmie Vaughan...the remaining 8 cuts are his own compositions, a mix of songs and non-vocal pieces. Notable by their impact & presence are Aslan Zhantuyev (bass) & Sultanbek "Bek" Mamyshev (drums) with very tasteful tenor sax on 3 tracks by Grigory Martirosyan. From swing to shuffle to dirty funk, Arsen Shomakhov & his band have all bases covered. I predict that folks further afield will soon begin to experience Mr. Shomakhov's soulful delivery.
Unlike their debut album, the new album of Arsen Shomakhov and Ragtime contains only three covers. The choice itself is quite unusual. "I Am Ready" is a common song in the repetoire of hundreds of blues bands around the world. Arsen has a difficult task to find his own approach to this well-known song; he put aside the aggression of the original and turned it into a viscous and captivating shuffle. Another cover, "T-Bone Shuffle", is not over-played in Russia, but its original version is too well-known. One has to be impudent to choose a song so much associated with the classic, but the way the band plays the song is far from being impudent. Instead, it is full of implicit passion. And the third cover is Jimmie Vaughan's "Dirty Girl", a soft and tasteful improvisation in the manner of cool swing. The whole album represents an original mix of blues shuffles, funky rhythms and jazz concept of improvisation. Arsen sings without accent; also, unlike many of our Russian blues guitarist-singers, Arsen has a very good voice. The album is a high quality blues product, which is so rare for Russian blues. The CD cover made by the guitarist's wife, Zhanna Shomakhova, adds a final stylish touch to the release. Russian experts say that Arsen Shomakhov's blues possess virtuosity, novelty, and high emotional expressiveness. Looks like Arsen Shomakhov & Ragtime are going to become big.
If this were a word association game and I had to respond to "Russia", my impulses would probably lead me to say "Khrushchev", "Cold War", "Communism", "Drago" (Rocky IV), "Vodka or "Red". The word "Blues" would never enter my mind........until now that is. Interestingly enough, had this been the era of the cold war, this CD would have been delivered to me by the FBI instead of the USPS. OK, enough of my idiosyncrasies and on to the music. RAGTIME is a band that has made quite a name for themselves on the Russian blues scene, and now they are being discovered by the American Blues Community. They recently created quite a stir in Memphis, TN as representatives of "blues.ru" at the International Blues Challenge. The band is led by singer/songwriter ARSEN SHOMAKHOV on guitar and vocals and the rest of the band consists of ASLAN ZHANTUYEV on bass, SULTANBEK "BEK" MAMYSHEV on drums and as a guest on several tracks, GRIGORY MARTIROSYAN on tenor sax. The band chose three very well known covers - "I AM READY", "DIRTY GIRL" and "T-BONE SHUFFLE" - to compliment the eight outstanding originals by ARSEN on "TROUBLEMAKER". I compliment their decision to do this and I compliment their choices of covers as well. Doing covers by Willie Dixon and T-Bone Walker requires a bit of guts. Do them bad and you leave a sour sound in some purists ears, automatically making it hard to like the rest of the CD. On the other hand, do them well and you make a statement. RAGTIME made a statement. The band is secure enough with their musical talent to feature four instrumentals and I enjoyed every one of them. "TICK-TOCK" is a slightly progressive, slightly funky number which features lots of great bass by ASLAN. "DON'T MISS YOUR TRAIN" is a hot, fast paced track featuring ARSEN and SULTANBEK putting on a two man show on guitar and drums respectively. To say "SHE'S DANGEROUS" is an all out jam would be putting it mildly. This one features all three of these fine young musicians absolutely on fire. "I DON'T KNOW", in addition to the three previously mentioned covers, is one of the originals on which ARSENS vocals can be appreciated. For a relatively young man and one whose roots do not stem too deep into the genre, he sings the blues with the confidence of a Chicago veteran. His guitar playing also highlights this one. The title track, "TROUBLEMAKER", closes as well as opens the CD. This track shows several different styles of ARSEN'S guitar playing abilities and clearly establishes this fine player as a true guitar virtuoso. His is a name that, one day, could become a household name in the blues community. Too bad, that forty years ago, our countries didn't use blues musicians as ambassadors. Had they, the Cold War would have been non-existent.
"Troublemaker" - Tom Branson, Bluesrockers, October 2005 I have for sometime now been searching for good blues and blues/rock artists based out of the old Soviet Union, as this is one of the areas not well represented on our web site. While my search has up to now been fruitless, I am pleased to announce that I now have two that I will be recommending to you. The first comes via an excellent tip from one of our readers who sometime back alerted me to the outstanding work of Arsen Shomakhov & Ragtime. Arsen Shomakhov is a world class guitarist, and at least based upon his work on "Troublemaker", very much an electric blues guitarist. While most of the modern blues/rock guitarists demonstrate more of a Stevie Ray/Hendrix flavoring, Shomakhov manages to blend these two influences with a huge dose of T Bone Walker, creating a most enjoyable sound. He is supported on this set by the outstanding rhythm section Ragtime comprised of Aslan Zhantiuyev on bass and Sultanbek (Bek) Mamyshev on drums. The 11 tracks on the CD are 8 Arsen Shomakhov original tunes combined with 3 well chosen covers, demonstrating that Shomakhov is also a very capable song writer. The CD is well engineered, varied in tempo and style, contains some of the better electric blues instrumentals I have heard, and in general is excellent from beginning to end. The set opens up with the stinging electric blues number (and Shomakhov original) title track and just continues to build momentum throughout. Along with the title track, some of my other favorites include a wonderful remake of Aaron Walker's "T Bone Shuffle", the fabulous electric blues tune "Give Me A Sign", and a great instrumental track "Don't Miss Your Train". But, as mentioned before, this is a CD well worth consuming from beginning to end. If you are a fan of guitar driven electric blues style music, "Troublemaker" is going to be a MUST OWN for you. "Troublemaker" from Arsen Shomakhov & Ragtime receives my highest possible recommendation to you. This is a brilliant artist whose career I will be watching closely and one from whom I expect to see and hear great things in the future. The CD is available online from our good friends at CD Baby (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/shomakhov). You may also visit the band online at www.arsenic.blues.ru. Tom Branson
Eastern Europe is known for a lot of things -- Lenin, borscht, the Yugo, but blues music? You might be surprised. By Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Times August 5, 2008 Eastern Europe is known for a lot of things -- Lenin, borscht, the Yugo, but blues music? You might be surprised. Arsen Shomakhov is an up-and-coming blues musician hailing from Russia. He moved to Vancouver with his family only three months ago to pursue his dream of playing the blues for a living, and one of his first major gigs will be right here at the Maple Ridge Jazz and Blues Festival. Born in the south Russian town of Nalchik, Arsen was exposed to the blues in the late 80s. Records were sparse, but after the Soviet Union began opening up to the west, he got to hear some music by legends like Stevie Ray Vaughn; instantly, he was hooked. "It's kind of an addiction, once you get infected by this blues music you never get over it," Arsen says. "It's getting worse and worse! And the more blues musicians you get to know, the more difficult it is to get out of it." Arsen spent years playing blues in a band comprised of friends from his hometown. But Nalchik was a small city, and the blues community was non-existent. So, last year, he moved to greener pastures in Moscow, but it was not all he had hoped to be. Even in that city of 10 million, there were only three dedicated blues clubs. "It was an interesting experience," he said. "We got involved with the blues society [blues.ru, Russia's largest blues website], they liked our tapes, so we started to go to Moscow to play... We never really had a chance to play, maybe once or twice a month, so it was really difficult." Arsen described Moscow as a city that was "always crowded," where "no one was smiling." While in Moscow, his application for Canadian citizenship was approved, and it wasn't a hard decision to move to Vancouver. "That was my longtime dream, to emigrate to Canada," he said. "It's just a really beautiful place, very nice all the parks, the ocean, the mountains, everything. And what I liked best of all was the best conditions for the kids, so I was thinking it's probably the perfect place for my son. We have friends here, that was also part of the decision for this particular place...they really helped me a lot, and are still helping me." Since coming to Vancouver, Arsen has been playing in a lot of the local blues jams at venues like the Yale and the Old Admiral. Arsen was relieved that the local blues community has been so welcoming to him, and he's made lots of contacts in the scene. He's quick to acknowledge all the help he's had in making a name for himself on this side of the pond. He's hoping that by playing the Maple Ridge Jazz and Blues Festival, he'll be able to build up some exposure and make some further contacts within and beyond the scene. As for his music, Arsen is pretty modest about his playing and songwriting. He tries not to be too heavy, and just wants people to have a good time at his shows. His songs are more about fun and lively tunes than a deep message, but at the same time, he tries to be original, and mix things up. "You just fool around on the guitar," he said. "I don't take it too seriously. I write songs, I try to do it, but it's difficult to write in not your native language, I still have a lot to learn. But hopefully when [I'm] in an English-speaking environment, I'll be able to write better." Arsen may be humble, but his accolades are many. In addition to plenty of positive press from publications in many countries, he won the Best Emerging Artist Award from the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival, and he's been keeping a fairly busy performing schedule, including another appearance at the Arkansas Festival. But his move to Vancouver is not without challenges, mainly because of the small local scene. -© (c) CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.
Buie and Shomakhov to meet in blues ‘showdown’ By Alex Browne - Peace Arch News Published: February 26, 2009 4:00 PM The former Soviet Union has been described as many things – but surely never as a breeding ground for the blues. That perception may be forever changed by the concert coming up this Saturday (Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m.) at the White Rock Elementary Theatre (1273 Fir St.). Victoria-raised guitarist Jason Buie, a local treasure famed for his impassioned and endlessly inventive solo flights on the frets, will play back to back – and shoulder to shoulder – with fellow guitarist Arsen Shomakhov, who emigrated from Russia just over seven months ago, but is already causing a stir in the Lower Mainland blues scene. The ‘East Meets West’ concert, as co-promoter Phil Davey terms it, will see Buie and Shomakhov, and their backup bands, each do a separate set – and then join forces for what promises to be one wailing, transcendent finale. If the stars align correctly – both in space and on stage – it could even turn out to be one of those “I was there when” moments for Peninsula music fans. That’s what Davey, of Q Sound Productions, and his associate, Janice Savage, of Beyond Scarlett Arts & Entertainment Group are betting on. Davey had the vision for the concert after he persuaded Jason Buie to come down and take in a performance by Shomakhov one night at the West Beach Bar & Grill. The local favourite was transfixed by the emotional power and sizzling technique of Shomakhov’s playing. “As soon as I started watching Jason watching Arsen play, I started getting the idea for this concert,” Davey added. “To tell the truth, I was jealous,” Buie admitted, during an interview with Shomakhov, Savage and Davey. “Arsen’s a great, world-class blues guitar player. I’m sure lots of people will be surprised how good he is and the style he has. “On top of that he’s a really nice guy – he’s a sweetheart as far as guitar players can go, and they can be real egomaniacs. “It’s going to be a showdown.” Adding to the ‘anything can happen’ excitement of the concert is that while both guitarists have listened to, and admire each other’s playing, they haven’t yet collaborated musically – beyond a little jamming when Davey got them together for a photo shoot. But it’s clear they share a lot of common ground musically – from the same influences down to having worked with some of the same musicians, albeit in locations thousands of miles apart. “But we have absolutely different styles,” Shomakhov said, in excellent, only slightly accented English (he studied it in university in Russia). “That will make it more satisfying for the listener.” He is swift to add his admiration for Buie’s playing. “I’m impressed with his raw energy and the authentic blues style he’s playing.” Shomakhov’s sense of authenticity was something the largely self-taught guitarist had to hone mainly from recordings by Stevie Ray Vaughn, B.B. King, and some of the original early blues artists – and occasional visits of Western blues musicians to Russia. Now that he’s come to Canada, he is finally able to soak up the North American blues ambience first hand, he said. “I come from Malchik, in the southern part of Russia, not too far from Georgia, between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea,” he said. “It wasn’t a musical town at all.” “It’s a city full of talented people, but not a place that has this kind of music. Me and my band didn’t have a lot of chance top play in front of people, but we were having fun rehearsing and trying to record our ideas.” In 1991 he formed the group Ragtime, which, after exploration of various roots music styles settled into the blues and became one of its leading exponents on the Russian scene, including playing at the legendary B.B. King Club in Moscow and recording two albums.
You wouldn’t think that a little sit-down theatre (with no bar!) would be the logical place to hold a ripping blues show, but that’s exactly what transpired last Saturday Feb 28 at the White Rock Performing Arts Centre, for the Q-Sound Productions and Beyond Scarlett Arts & Entertainment Group presentation of local bluesmen Jason Buie & Arsen Shomakhov. Blues is certainly well represented in this town, and this show had a near-capacity roomful of avid devotees; fans and fellow players alike. White Rock Blues Society president Rod Dranfield was on hand to check out the show, probably just as curious as the rest of us to see if the blues can fly outside the good-time groove of the venerable Sandpiper jams, or the Society’s well-established home-turf Rhumba Room. I suppose if SRV can play Carnegie Hall, anything is possible, but I’m sure all in attendance were floored by the evening. The show was a veritable ad for Fender, and although both players are Strat men, the similarities end there. Despite, or perhaps because of it, the contrast between Jason's killer quad reverb/tube screamer/univibe combo and Arsen's super-clean Blues Junior/Tremolo setup made for a very enjoyable show. The two distinct styles minimized ear fatigue while showcasing some serious chops. If you haven’t seen (or heard of) Jason Buie then you simply don’t get out enough. He’s there night after night on various stages all over town (and beyond) keeping alive the flame lit by Buddy Guy, Hendrix and Stevie Ray. Jason was tearing it up Saturday, opening the show . . . as well as the curtains. He was sporting a wireless rig that allowed him to roam around the stage and into the crowd at will; and he’s not shy, he’ll come right up and show ya how it’s done. The sound was exceptional, and his playing was dynamic, fluid and a little down and dirty, reaching full tilt on a cover of Hendrix’s Manic Depression. Knowing that you’re only as good as your back-up band, Jason was joined by his smoking hot “sidemen”; award-winning drummer Al Webster, bassist Brian Scott, and keyboardist/vocalist Sig Schnellert. Arsen Shomakhov came on next, looking very slick in a grey suit with a white Strat, understated and slinky cool; a little Colin James, a little Robert Cray elegance, a little mystery. His playing is tastefeul, clean bends and sharp staccato lines, with nice jazz chord colour and counterpoint rhythm. He played some originals and some classic blues covers, his backing duo (drummer) Adam Drake and Bruce McNeil (upright and electric bass) giving him exactly what he needed to make the songs breathe & strut. The finale was a 3-song jam with Jason joining Arsen’s band, trading rhythm and lead, both players bringing it down to a whisper, then back up to a roar. This is how the pros do it, kids. Co-organizer Phil Davey forgot for a second that he was the MC, and got caught in the tractor-beam of excitement as he appeared from the sidelines to belt out the final chorus of an old blues tune to cap off the jam. This show was proof that there’s more to the blues than a few licks in “E”, a fancy hat, and yet another version of Mustang Sally. It’s about feeling and attitude, a little swagger, and a dash of showmanship. Although the Blues is an established form, it’s only as rigid as you allow it to be. Moving it forward requires being mindful of the tradition as you strive to add your own intangible “thing”. White rock is a small town, but there is definitely room for individual players like Jason and Arsen, with distinct styles, original songs and a dedication to the blues that is infectious. Even without beer. - s. schonfeld -