Roll The Dice, released in 2017, is the third album by Héctor Anchondo, a blues singer/guitarist from Omaha, Nebraska, who also happens to be the winner of the 2020 International Blues Challenge for solo/duo performance. In contrast to 2014’s Young Guns, Anchondo’s previous album from 2014, Roll The Dice has a bigger sound and fuller arrangements, with a result that is more ambitious—and perhaps more accessible—than its predecessor.
The album opens with “Dig You Baby”, a brassy, rollicking duet with a female guest vocalist, followed by “Masquerade”, a vintage-sounding rock & roll tune. The title track (“Roll the Dice”) is more soulful and pop-inclined, while “Face it Down” is a hard-driving roadhouse boogie, a la ZZ Top.
Included among the originals is a seven-minute cover of the pre-Buckingham/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac composition “Black Magic Woman”. Anchondo’s version features an extended introduction, with a flurry of sweep-picked guitar notes that build to a crescendo, before breaking into a four-to-the-floor bass drum rhythm. For a song that has produced so many iconic recordings—especially Santana’s 1970 version from Abraxas—the Héctor Anchondo Band provides a fresh take on a classic song.
The overall production of Roll The Dice is top-notch, and avoids the creeping sonic sterility that would otherwise leave the album sounding dated to the current era of digital recording technology. As for the musicianship, Anchondo can seriously shred, effortlessly switching from virtuosic Van Halen-esque arpeggios to sparse, crying blue-note leads. Moreover, though guitar may be his primary instrument, the guy can definitely sing, most notably on the album’s penultimate track “On Your Mic, Get Set, Sing”, where Anchondo’s vocals approach a Jeff Buckley-level of honeyed melodiousness. The harmonica playing also deserves a special mention, especially for the intricate harp-work on the first couple of tracks.
With Roll The Dice, Héctor Anchondo may not be trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to classic guitar-driven rock and roll, but he is clearly willing to take chances with songwriting and musical arrangements. While remaining firmly rooted in blues-rock territory, the album covers a lot of ground, both stylistically—from the Doors-y minor key jam of “That’s How It All Goes” to an almost 1980’s New Wave sound in “Jump in the Water” —and thematically, featuring lyrically humorous songs as well as heavier material throughout the ten tracks.
The combination of musical variety and skilled execution on Roll The Dice provides a satisfying experience that stands up to repeat listening.