1. “fantastically authentic-sounding originals”


    “Just when I start to think that maybe Americans have given up and ceded all rights to authentic American music to the Europeans, a band comes along to restore my faith in my musician countrymen. The B-Stars out of San Francisco is one of those bands. If you love the sounds of hillbilly boogie, western swing, and Hank Williams style honky tonk, then you owe it to yourself to check out the band’s second record, West Coast Special.

    The B-Stars, a five-piece combo with a few guests here and there, are a joy to listen to. The songs on this record—nine fantastically authentic-sounding originals and three great covers—explore several different styles of classic country. The recordings also sound exceptionally authentic. The record was recorded at The Wally Sound in Oakland on vintage analogue tape equipment through vintage microphones. Personally, I’m not sure how much difference that makes over digital recording methods, but if it helps the band capture the right mood, then more power to ‘em!

    The record starts off with a cover of Groovey Joe Poovey’s “Careful Baby” which leads into one of the band’s fine original tunes, “Still Waiting” and with these two numbers, the band establishes that they can deliver original songs that stand right up against the classics.I think this record leans mostly toward western swing, but like I said, there are plenty of other styles represented here too. It’s mostly western swing right through to cut number six, where the band shifts into more of a hillbilly boogie sound with “Time is Money.” Rhythm guitarist, Greg Yanito wrote the song as well as about half of the other originals, and sings a duet with Lil’ Anne M. Yanito, and the two sound great together. They both have well-crafted hillbilly voices and they blend well together. And the song was a great choice for a duet.

    Next, the band pays homage to the great Hank Williams with “When the Darkness Turns to Light,” another Yanito tune. Far from trying to pretend they’re not trying to sound like old Hank, the band outdoes itself making everything about the tune sound like a Williams recording. Really nicely done. They resurrect this sound on the last cut, another cover, “Honky Tonkin’ Rhythm,” which is also about as close to a rockabilly tune as you’re going to hear on this record, complete with a cool slap bass interlude by the band’s other lead vocalist and song writer, Eric Reedy. While Reedy usually plays a more laid-back bass, on this tune he cuts loose.

    Rounding out the band are Billy Zelinski on drums, Pierre Laik on lead guitar, and Larry Chung on steel guitar and fiddle. Clearly these guys have done their homework and they master not only the sound, but maybe more importantly, the styles. They are all very talented musicians, but they feel no need to prove how good they are. There’s no showing off here (well, maybe just a little!) Instead, these guys play off each other perfectly as the style would dictate. The guitar weaves in and out to create space for the fiddle or the steel guitar, each taking their turn to handle the feature part. That kind of interplay makes this style of music so interesting to me. And it’s that kind of subtlety that is lost on so much modern music. Modern Rock guitarists seem to think that if you pile enough distortion onto a guitar solo, a million motes a second sounds great. But it’s just so much noise compared to the clean sound—and cleanly played guitar and steel parts on recordings like this.

    The instrumentation and arrangements on “West Coast Special” are really great and very, very true to the genre. And the song writing is also very solid. There are some really fun songs on the record…oh heck, they’re all fun! Check out “Chicken Fried” for the classic slightly silly hillbilly boogie tune. It’s definitely one of my favorites. It paints a great picture and you can just see the guys sittin’ on the porch after the work’s all done not quite able to get all the way through the tune without laughing. It’s just such a fun song, and one which really encapsulates the joy of authentic country music as it was created before Nashville’s elites realized what a money machine they had in a gentrified country music.

    All in all, this is just a really fine record. It’s a load of fun to listen to, and it tells story after story as only hillbilly music can.
    My recommendation: Well, if you haven’t figured it out already, let me try to make it clear – you need to own this record!”

    -Buster Fayte, September 30, 2014

  2. “you have to love it”

    “San Fransico’s The B-Stars is a quirky quintet with West Coast Special their second full-length CD release. In 2010 they released their debut album Behind the Barn With The B-Stars. The style of The B-Stars is original Hillbilly Bop and Honky Tonk in the tradition of Hank Williams and Merrill Moore, music from the early ‘50s with the typical yodel and the saccharine sound of a steel guitar. You have to love it. If the the music of Wayne Hancock and Davy Jay Sparrow appeals to you, this album is an absolute must. West Coast Special offers twelve tracks of which Yanito (vocals / lead vocals) and Reedy (vocals / upright string bass) have written nine.” – Drifter Country,  Oct 2012

  3. “…straight out of a Texas honky-tonk”

    Behind The Barn with The B-Stars (Rust Belt Recordings, 2010)

    “Hailing from San Francisco, this five-piece band is simply marvellous as is the music which they are all responsible for. Sounding as though it has come straight out of a Texas honky-tonk, they demonstrate that despite the digital tinkering in Nashville there is still a strong appetite for music like this which sounds as though it was recorded straight onto vinyl.“Women And Wine” is arranged differently from the others with the main vocals driving the song forward. An all-round, bona fide great tune it also has the added benefit of the pedal steel being used to sound like a train. Not saying this is the only fantastic track as there are many examples to choose from such as the superb “Pretty Baby.” Opened up by rockabilly piano tinkling, this is country and western music performed as it should be with many other songs on this record following the fine example of this tune. As Waylon Jennings sang about in “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” this band certainly does. If only mainstream Nashville acts followed the example laid down by the B Stars, country music would improve dramatically.”

    -Russell Hill, Maverick Magazine

  4. “you can’t beat The B-Stars”

    West Coast Special (Rust Belt Recordings, 2012)

    “Love bands like the Lucky Stars or good old fashioned western swing and classic honky tonk? Then you can’t beat The B-Stars, the Bay Area’s premier outfit of that genre mix.  Individually they are all masters of their instrument, together the quintet propels you back to the late ’40s when Bob Wills filled dance halls and the early ’50s when Hank Williams moved the nation with heartfelt stories about cheating and drinking.

    Covering Groovey Joe Poovey’s catchy hillbilly Carefuly Baby and Bob Wills’ western swing classic My Window Faces the South, the Californians prove they can write good tunes, too. Still Waiting is a great honky tonk number with fine picking and King of Fools features boogie licks.  Time is Money is a lively male/female duet while another Greg Yanito original sounds like ole Hank: When the Darkness Turns to Light with memorable steel guitar. One More Beer features an accordion and lines like “one beer one shot is all I’ve got to try and take you home” – a new honky tonk classic.  This is a fun 12 track CD with excellent sound, recorded on vintage equipment.”

    – Gaby Maag-Bristol, Blue Suede News #99, Winter 2012/13

  5. “you won’t go wrong with West Coast Special”

    West Coast Special (Rust Belt Recordings, 2012)

    “A few months ago, amid the CDs that arrive at CMP hoping for a review was a 7” 45 rpm vinyl single. I enjoyed the irony of how receiving a vinyl single in 2012 was such an effective piece of promotion, and I enjoyed firing up the Technics to hear it, even if it would have been simpler to go on-line and visit CD Baby. That single featured two tracks by San Francisco combo The B-Stars and I’ve been waiting for the full-length album since. Incidentally, eight tracks from this album are available on 10” vinyl for the “full high fidelity experience.”

     The band describes their swingin’ hillbilly sound as “a hearty stew of honky tonk and hillbilly hits” and are rooted firmly in the 40s and 50s. They’re retro and proud of it, and this, their second full-length album,was recorded on analog tape to capture the warmth and feel of a 1950s recording. The seeds of these purveyors of the Western boogie beat were sown when main man Greg Yanito teamed up with upright bassist Eric Reedy in 2005 (Yanito and Reedy also supply the nine original songs here). The current line-up is a five piece capable of putting the bop in your country better than probably anybody since Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. Of course it doesn’t hurt having Dave Stuckey producing, as he himself made the modern day swingin’ cowboy boogie album by which all others will be judged, Get A Load Of This, twelve years ago, and if anyone knows his way around an authentic sound it’s him. And authentic it is. The original tunes perfectly capture the spirit of their heroes Lefty Frizzell, Carl Smith, Hank Penny, Faron Young, Bob Wills, and Hank Williams Sr. – When The Darkness Turns to Light is very Hank Sr. and I’ll bet Wayne Hancock wishes he’d written it. No Work Blues is similarly Williams-esque.

    The covers include the Groovy Joe Poovey rockabilly classic from 1958, Careful Baby, the Western Swing standard My Window Faces The South, and the nicely obscure Bobby Sisco track, Honky Tonkin’ Rhythm which is sure to be equally welcomed by the rockabilly crowd as much as it will the lovers of vintage country. These sharp dressed guys sure can keep the toes tapping and dance floors boppin’ and if you’re partial to Big Sandy, Wayne Hancock, or even BR5- 49 you won’t go wrong with West Coast Special.”  –Duncan Warwick, November 2012, COUNTRY MUSIC PEOPLE

  6. “solid original songs that seem like classics”

    West Coast Special (Rust Belt Recordings, 2012)

    From the cover art on you know what you going to get from The B-Stars; five guys in matching snap button shirts, white neckerchiefs and short brimmed western hats playing upright steel, double bass and vintage guitars. You won’t be disappointed if that’s the kind of music that appeals to you. Thank goodness there are a host of acts through the years who play hillbilly bop and country boogie that is a galaxy away from what Nashville calls country these days.

    Here there is a sense of fun and fulfillment present that suggests these guys know they are never going to sell tons of records or play to arenas, but that doesn’t take away from the music on offer. Skillful re-creators, they capture a sound that  raises a smile and gets the feet moving. There is an argument against such studied retro-revivalism, but without bands like the B-Stars keeping the music alive many would not experience first hand the joys of the music from an earlier era.

    These guys write solid original songs that seem like classics, which is a bonus and a reason for any band to put out their own albums. Mixed with covers like  My Window Faces the South and Honky Tonkin’ Rhythm are a set of songs written by band members Greg Yanito and Eric Reedy that sound right and righteous. Add the B-Stars to that list of band who make music for the very best reasons and who are so obviously in love with what they do that the infectiousness is catching and makes West Coast Special well – special.

    -Lonesome Highway, October 2012

  7. “authentic honky-tonk tunes with a touch of western swing”

    West Coast Special (Rust Belt Recordings, 2012)

    “The San Francisco based B-Stars’ latest is a collection of authentic honky-tonk tunes with a touch of western swing. The influence of Hank Williams is strong, particularly on Honky Tonkin’ Rhythm and No Work Blues, which features yodeling reminiscent of the Williams classic Long Gone Lonesome Blues.

    One of the better tunes is When the Darkness Turns to Light, on which Greg Yanito’s vocals recall Wayne Hancock. Other standout honky-tonk tracks are King of Fools and One More Beer, reminiscent of some of the work of Carl Smith. The standout Revolution 45 celebrates the era of jukeboxes and vinyl records. The western swing sound of Asleep at the Wheel is evident on My Window Faces the South, while the opening track, Careful Baby, has the more modern swing feel of Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys.

    The instrumentation is excellent throughout with Yanito (vocals, rhythm guitar), Eric Reedy (vocals, upright bass), Billy “Possum” Zelinski (drums), Pierre Laik (electric guitar) and Larry Chung (steel guitar, fiddle). Produced by Dave “Pappy” Stuckey (Dave and Deke Combo) along with the band members, The B-Stars entertain.

    -Robert Wooldridge, Country Standard Time (Oct 2012)

  8. West Coast Special: “superb!”

    West Coast Special (Rust Belt Recordings, 2012)

    “The previous album by this San Francisco group put a spell on me, and the charm is far from being broken. One word can sum up what they offer: superb!

    The mix of Hillbilly bop/western swing is identical, as is the virtuosity of the players, in spite of personnel change within the quintet, right now made up of Greg Yanito, Eric Reedy, Pierre Laik, Larry Chung, and Billy Zelinski. The only non-hillbilly bop or western swing title is a hillbilly blues one, “When The Darkness Turns To Light.” Out of the 12, there is not a weak track. The large majority of which are originals so good you’d think they’re out of the 1950s and you could mistake them for covers, which is no small compliment.” –Bernard Boyat, Rock and Roll Revue, Dec 2012

  9. “songs that sound like little classics”

    Behind The Barn with The B-Stars (Rust Belt Recordings, 2010)

    “A particularly strong debut for the San Francisco based combo. This five piece band (Greg Yanito – guitar and vocals; Eric Reedy – string bass and vocals; Bill McKenna – electric guitar; Mikiya Matsuda – steel guitar; Billy Zelinski – drums) rips through a set a good ol’ country music. Both Yanito and Reedy sing and compose – and they know how to write songs that sound like little classics – which also keeps the set varied. You’ll only find two covers, Gene O’Quinn’s Texas Boogie and Carl Smith’s Back Up Buddy, Smith being an obvious influence on the band. Carl Sonny Leyland sits in and plays piano on four tracks adding a good dose of country boogie and even rock ‘n’ roll (Pretty Baby) to the mix. There’s also some country swing (Duckin’ and Dodgin’), a bit of Bakersfield (Women and Wine, Sweet Little Things) and a superb Hank Williams influenced number (Trouble Free State Of Mind). It is tastefully produced by Lee Jeffriess and you can hear his touch on some steel guitar/guitar arrangements reminiscent of his work with Ashley Kingman in the Fly Rite Boys.
    If Carl Smith, Hank Williams, Merrill Moore, Wayne Hancock, Big Sandy are sweet words to your ears, be sure to add the B-Stars to your list. And it’s not only a pleasure for your ears, but also for the eyes as it comes in a nicely designed digipack.”

    -Fred “Virgil” Turgis, Jumpin’ from 6-6, November 2010

  10. “as authentic as they want to be”

    Behind The Barn with The B-Stars (Rust Belt Recordings, 2010)

    “Vinyl is the only thing missing in the authenticity department of their CD, Behind the Barn with the B-Stars, but this is a small point.  The sepia and Sun Records motif of the artwork, the pilgrimage to Wally Sound recording studio in Oakland, and a producer like Lee Jeffriess (Big Sandy, Johnny Dilks) are enough to tell us that something traditional is afoot.  Think Lucky Stars for a contemporary reference or Lefty Frizzell for an older one.

    There are minimal present-day references among the original songs by band leader Greg Yanito and bass man Eric Reedy.   One such is “Ink Free Baby of Mine” which celebrates untattooed women, a theme that would have never occurred to Frizzell.  Guest appearances by keyboard maestro Carl Sonny Leyland liven up four tracks, particularly “Pretty Baby” which introduces a tasty power boogie boost into the midsection of the CD.  “Trouble Free State of Mind” is a standout track that celebrates California, and it’s a tune where Yanito wanders dangerously close to a full-blown yodel.  Perhaps there are yodels and more tricks of the voice waiting for the next CD; that’s the promise of things to come from this one.

    The playing is the CD’s strongest suit thanks to a bare minimum of studio and production frou-frou which freed the band to be itself.  The arrangements are clean, the presentation is straightforward and the CD’s release was timed to be harvested at the band’s current peak.  It’s a tasty plum well worth the pickin’.”

    -Jose Segue, Hicks with Sticks