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The Balkun Brothers Get Good And Swampy

Fans of the Red Hot Chili Peppers — or, going back even further, maybe Mountain — will find much to enjoy about the Balkun Brothers, a local trio often billed as a blues band but who just as frequently push into hard rock territory.

They do play blues; the Balkuns were named Best Blues Band at the 2013 Connecticut Music Awards, and guitarist Steve Balkun, 26, was a top-ten finalist Guitar Center's Bluesmaster Competition last year. As a group, they're at their best playing unison power-trio riffs and steamy funk, with pockets of drum-fill bluster.

Steve, who also sings, is a charismatic frontman, dipping his knees in ecstasy as he tortures strings. Nick Balkun, 24, who took up drumming only a few years ago, lays down a solid backbeat. The interplay between siblings exudes brotherly love, and maybe some rivalry; that extends to bassist Caleb Battersby, who learned to play his instrument largely by jamming along with Nick.

During his formative years, Steve became a regular at Black-Eyed Sally's, where he first learned to play with other musicians. It took some time before Battersby and Nick were able to catch up. "We'd always been tight as brothers growing up," Steve Balkun said. "He'd been following me around in the various bands I've been in." As soon as Nick picked up the drums, the brothers started playing together. "I remember when he could hardly play at all, and now we're playing every week."

The Balkun Brothers could slide easily into the festival or jam-band scenes, where they'd likely turn fans of Tedeschi Trucks Band or Gary Clark Jr. onto their music. But they're still equally at home performing for the more conservative CT Blues Society crowd (they'll get their chance on March 29, when they play the Blues Blizzard in West Hartford). Even now, when the Balkuns stretch out into funk or heavy rock, "it's all just blues," Steve said. "That's where I started, and everything comes back to it... The history and tradition and where we stand in that lineage is definitely something I think about in our music… But depending on the crowd and what's happening, we'll change up our set."

Nick Balkun handles most of the booking and other industry-type stuff, leaving Steve to focus on the creative side. "[Nick] is probably the engine that runs this whole thing," Steve said. "We wouldn't be doing the majority of what we're doing without him... He's very business-minded and keeps us on schedule." The guitarist is more of the opposite. "I'll just show up and do my thing. It's definitely good to know I've got someone reliable behind me who keeps this whole operation moving... A lot of people in bands can't rely on that."

The Balkun Brothers currently have a six-song EP, "God Bless Our Fallout Shelter," available for purchase or streaming. Within six months they hope to record a new full-length album. Awards and accolades are likely to keep coming. "They're not really our main focus," Steve said. "They're not really a focus at all, just things that happened by chance. It's more just because we're putting ourselves out there... I still feel like we have a lot of work to do."

"I'm sure there are all kinds of stories about brothers in a band that have been good or not so good," Steve continued. "We're lucky that we're really tight. We just like hanging out together in general, and that translates into shows. Caleb's tight with us too."

THE BALKUN BROTHERS play on Saturday, March 29, at the CTBS Blues Blizzard, Hannon-Hatch VFW Post 9929, 83 South St., West Hartford, with Jake Kulak & the Lowdown, the Danny Draher Band, Jr. Krauss and the Shakes and others. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Suggested donation $10-$15. Information: ctblues.org.

Copyright © 2015, CT Now
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