Deb Callahan Band brings ‘Backbone’ to the blues

by Tom Beck
Posted 7/13/23

Deb Callahan Band’s first album was released in 2002, but the group is still churning out exciting new blues music.

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Deb Callahan Band brings ‘Backbone’ to the blues


The Deb Callahan Band’s first album was released in 2002, but more than 20 years later, the group is still growing and churning out exciting new blues music. Residents of Chestnut Hill can hear selections from the group’s latest album, “Backbone,” at next week’s edition of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s summer concert series in Pastorius Park. The free show starts at 7:30 p.m. on July 19. The presenting sponsor is Temple Health – Chestnut Hill Hospital, and admission is free.

All of the Deb Callahan Band’s albums are based on the blues, Callahan told the Local in a phone call last week. But the new album, the Mt. Airy resident said, has more elements taken from soul, funk and roots music than previous projects.

“We have a really good rapport with each other,” she said, “I think it came together really well.”

The new album also “has a flavor of coming out of the pandemic,” she said, in which various social justice-theme topics are explored.

“Still Fighting to be Free” and “Big Girl Pants” are just two examples of this from Callahan’s latest release. “Still Fighting to be Free” deals with much of the racial injustice throughout America today, Callahan said. “Big Girl Pants” deals with Callahan’s attitude toward wanting to fix those societal problems.

In fact, Callahan called the album “Backbone” because it’s necessary to have one if you’re going to make it in today’s world.

“I think living in these times requires a certain amount of standing upright, being solid and having some strength,” she said. “I think this record speaks to that.”

The songs are about “standing in my truth, and showing up for myself,” she continued. “The word ‘backbone’ describes that to me.”

Her music channels the likes of some of her biggest influences, including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples.

The record also includes two covers: “Anytime You Want,” originally written by Sean Costello, and “Danger Zone” by Percy Mayfield. At her live shows, Callahan does additional covers, often by artists like Etta James and Bonnie Raitt. But the atmosphere of those shows changes, she said, depending on the venue. At small intimate venues, Callahan tends to perform slower, more “rootsy” songs with which people can sing along. At bigger shows, especially free events like next week’s Pastorius Park performance, she tries to do more covers and provide more opportunities for dancing by playing more upbeat songs. 

“I’ll keep it fun and engaging for a wide range of people,” she said. “I think it’ll be more energetic.”

Callahan’s music is relatable in large part because she’s a working woman herself. In fact, music is just one of her two careers. She also runs her own psychotherapy practice.

“I feel like my day is never really done when I come home,” Callahan said. “There’s a lot to do all the time.”

But her practice creates a balance in her personal and professional lives that comes through in her music.

“Singing and performing is my own therapy,” she said. “It’s just a different way of relating to people.”