Friday, October 19, 2018

Jawbone - Jawbone

Good tunes, good tunes. Good words too, for that matter.
If you’re thinking that Jawbone sounds like the monicker of some thrash metal band, you can dispense with that notion pronto.  This four-piece featuring Paddy Milner on keys and vocals, Marcus Bonfanti on guitar and vocals, and Rex Horan and Evan Jenkins on bass and drums respectively, is actually named after a song on the eponymous 1969 album by The Band.  Which makes absolute sense when you listen to the stew of rootsy, bluesy, Sixties rock they’ve cooked up on this debut album.
But there’s a very British sensibility at work here too, so that whatever their influences their sound evokes the likes of Van the Man without the spiritual intensity, Gerry Rafferty without the dense production, and Jackie Leven without the eccentricity.
Jawbone get down and get with it, sitting round the table
Pic by Rob Blackham
And in fact the peak point of the album lies in two songs just after halfway, in ‘Rolling On The Underground’ and ‘Big Old Smoke’, each of which in its own way is a paean to the foursome’s home base of London.  The first has a Kinks-meets-Beatles feel, with stabbing guitar chords over rattling drums on the intro, Milner and Bonfanti sharing the vocals, and the kind of catchy melody that you’ll soon realise is a trademark, especially with it’s descending “Down, down, down, down” chorus.  The second is a rousing, brisk affair, on which Bonfanti does the singing in a typically gruff fashion.  The most booty-shaking grabber on the record, with a slide guitar riff, honky tonk piano and stinging Bonfanti solo, it’s simple but classic rock’n’roll.
Not that these are isolated winners, because there’s plenty of quality and enjoyment to be found either side of them. With Bonfanti and Milner sharing the lead vocal duties, sometimes duetting, and with Horan weighing in on occasional three-part harmonies, there’s variety to the delivery of the melodies, Milner’s sweeter voice contrasting with Bonfanti’s semi-hoarse rasp. They alternate on the opening ‘Leave No Traces’, a piano-led, swinging and spacious arrangement that’s typical of the feel they bring to the material.  There’s a great hook wrapped around the chorus, with the lines “Heaven doesn’t want me, And the Devil doesn’t know who I am” encapsulating lyrical theme.  With a relaxed guitar solo and a clever, round-like vocal bridge – hands up who remembers “rounds” from music in school? – over shuffling drums fromJenkins, it epitomises their ability in constructing a song.
At the other end of the album, ‘The Years Used To Mean So Much’ is probably the most Band-like tune on the album.  With halting piano, sweeps of organ, and the beautiful harmonies on the chorus, it’s a song of nostalgic reflection bathed in a warm glow.  Similar musical and emotional qualities echo through the earlier ‘Sit Round The Table’.
Clever lyrics abound, whether in the sharpness of the gleefully bitter ‘Get What You Deserve’, or the reflective but hopeful ‘Two Billion Heartbeats’, with its notion that each of us arrives with a quota of heartbeats to use wisely, and “Two hundred have gone just singing this song”, to which they add a tasteful piano line, novel percussion twists, and some sparkling guitar on the outro.
I could go on, but I’ll let you discover the delights of the rest of this album yourself.  Ten tracks, forty-five minutes – this is the way records used to be, and it’s an elegant sufficiency.  If what you’re after is a load of crash-bang-wallop – “shoddy rock music”, as Ian Siegal called it during a gig this year – then this isn’t for you.  But if you're the kind of listener for whom it’s all about the songs, then Jawbone is just the job.

Jawbone is released on 9 November.
Jawbone are touring the Czech Republic and Spain during October and November.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Jupiter Blues - The Jupiter Blues EP

Around and around and around we go, as Chuck Berry said and numerous others repeated.  It’s a line that comes to mind listening this debut EP by The Jupiter Blues, a neat and energetic four song outing that’s pretty straightforward in its own terms.  But it still prompts me to reflect a bit on how twists on the blues can overlap, loop around and intermingle.  But we’ll get to that later.
Opening track ‘Stinging’ kicks off with a very Keef-like choppy riff.  Augmented by some bar room piano, and twangy licks from guitarist Chris Mitchell, while singer Dale Orenda weighs in with a decent melody, it conjures up some good ol’ boy Southern rock’n’roll.  Well, a bit, given that this four-piece hail from the North-West of England.  In any event it makes for an enjoyable enough first acquaintance, with an appealing coda that mixes in some vocal
The Jupiter Blues take "Get down!" literally
harmonies and muted handclaps.
They enter the fray from a slightly different angle on ‘Six Foot Bulldog’, with a twiddly, Celtic-sounding riff that brings to mind Rory Gallagher.  Ross Brown’s drum sound could be stronger, but he still makes a busy contribution to an interesting arrangement, while his rhythm section partner Rick Davies (also responsible for the keys) comes to the fore with a gripping set of bass line variations.  Mitchell adds a fiery solo that fits the mood, while Orenda’s vocals take on a raw and rocking tone.  All in all, the bulldog has a big bark.
The pick of this four track bunch though, is ‘While The Sun’.  Opening with another Rory-esque urgent riff anchored by another bout of excellent bass from Davies, it mixes up slow and fast sections to good effect, dropping into a dreamy chorus and a bridge with acoustic strumming rounding out the sound.  I could swear I hear a bow being drawn over a fiddle here and there as well, but as there’s nothing of the kind credited I guess it’s a clever use of either keys or guitar.  With Orenda hollering away to good effect, a rippling, Southern-style solo, and multiple layers of sound beefing up the outro, it’s a well-structured effort that lives up to its ambition.  A bit ragged around the edges maybe, but still impressive.
Closing track ‘Little Moon’ is a bit of acoustic Stonesiness that comes as something of a calm after the storm.  Orenda doesn’t try to ham it up with Jagger’s affected country twang, but he doesn’t quite find his own voice either for this slight but sensitive song.  It still works, but there’s room for improvement.
So what was all that about the twists and turns of blues evolution?  Well, there’s a Black Crowes-ish Southern rock slant to The Jupiter Blues, and it seems to me that Southern rock evolved not just out of Delta blues and R’n’B, but out of the country sounds of the South.  Country music, in turn, originated in large measure from Scotland and Ireland – and bizarrely, melded it with a black instrument, the banjo.  And while for all I know The Jupiter Blues have no interest in Rory Gallagher, Rory inserted Celtic sounds into blues rock – from the source, not second or third hand. And if Southern rock bands copped an earful of the rocked up version of R’n’B created by the Stones, as time went by the Stones also twanged their way into country territory.
And so on, and so on, around and around.  The blues, in its pure form, may be a fairly constrained form.  But it evolves, it mutates, it survives.  None of which, I imagine, occurred to The Jupiter Blues when they recorded this EP.  But they’ve still captured the spirit pretty well.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saturday Night at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival, 29 September 2018

Saturday night at the Crown & Mitre Hotel, and it’s time for action again at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival.
John Bowie and Phil Saunders return to get the ball rolling with a more electrified set than in the afternoon, with a half-hour segue-way of rolling, pulsing blues including ‘Just In Time’ and ‘Roadhouse Blues’.  Bowie is on electric guitar this time, serving up some delicious warm tones, while Saunders lays down a percussive groove, weaves in more guitar, and injects occasional harp to boot.  Then they pick up the pace towards the end, revving
Northsyde - plenty to smile about
everyone up for the rest of the evening.
Northsyde follow, fronted by husband and wife duo Jules and Lorna Fothergill on guitar and vocals and respectively.  It’s the first time I’ve come across them, and the immediate impression generated by Lorna Fothergill’s singing is, basically, holy cow!  The woman has a resonant, rhythmic voice with buckets of oomph to spare.  “Tina Turner”, it says in my notes – which is bizarre, given that we’re talking about a woman whose look is tall, blonde, sinuous and slinky.  Whatever, she puts it out there with style and conviction, while the rest of the band cook up a funky groove, and husband Jules weighs in with a spot-on solo.
They follow that up with ‘Who’s Been Talking?’, on which Fothergill’s vocal gets fathoms-deep – though it soon becomes clear that she can go both low and high with equal facility. The arc of their reading goes from a quiet opening, through some jazzy and smoky moments, towards a well honed dying ending.
They get funky again on ‘Cherry Picking’, lock tight, punctuating the arrangement stylishly, and playing with smiles on their faces – Lorna, is visibly intoit, while Jules watches her moves with a grin on his face and a glint in his eye.  ‘Tuesday’s Flowers’ is a new song with a deeply Stevie Wonder-like bass line, and a solo from Jules that recalls Steely Dan.
Lorna Fothergill - yoga, d'you reckon?
Apparently Northsyde have a penchant for bending and twisting covers, and tonight’s selection is ‘In The Air Tonight’ – yep, the Phil Collins song.  They take it a bit more uptempo, with a ton of reverb on the vocal.  It’s less tense/intense than the original, but still cleverly done, and La Fothergill carries it off in the mode of an old-fashioned rock chick in a smart black dress.  This is nothing though, compared to the following ‘Travelling Shoes’, which starts with a spartan beat over which Fothergill delivers a bravura, gospel-style vocal – growling, soaring, with skilful melisma, the woman is stupendous. Not to be outdone, Jules produces a great solo, buzzing, halting, diving and dashing, as a prelude to another beautifully controlled quiet ending.  
That’s the highlight of a set that then shifts through a version of ‘Today I Sing The Blues’ that could be a bit more down to earth, with a less jazzy guitar solo, to the Allman Brothers’ ‘Whipping Post’ on which they deliver an all out instrumental section, and finally a mash-up of ‘Smokestack Lightning’ and ‘Spoonful’ on which they give it large.  Northsyde may not quite have a stand-out, signature sound of their own, but they’re not run of the mill either, and in Lorna Fothergill they sure have a knock-your-socks-off singer.
Thorbjørn Risager - suited and bunneted
Having seen Mike Vernon and the Mighty Combo at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, we decide to retire to the bar for a while, because in my book they ain’t really that mighty.  Which gives us the chance to regroup in readiness for the night’s headliners, Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado.
And their headline status is justified, because Denmark's finest are a very good band. I mean, really good.  From the first bars of ‘If You Wanna Leave’, with its crunking, Quo-like, two-guitar riff, the space between the stage and the front row of seats is immediately filled with dancing punters, and by the time Hans Nybo rips out a wild sax solo the blue touch paper is well and truly lit.  They follow that up with the stomping, Stonesy groove of ‘Maybe It’s Alright’, with its big soulful melody, swirling keys, and sizzling solo from Peter Skjerning.
You know what?  A few years ago I was in a pub when a covers band started knocking out hits by the Stones, the Who, Bad Company et al, and the clientele, of a similar vintage to me, couldn’t help but get up and dance.  Thorbjørn and chums have exactly that effect – and with fresh, original material that absolutely stands comparison with those classics.
As they go on to prove by knocking out the funkier ‘Paradise’, before cooling things off with ‘I Used To Love You’, a beautifully constructed song that’s restrained but has all the right parts in place, and features a lovely solo from Risager as the icing on the cake. And these songs slot into their
Maybe It's Alright?  Hell yeah.
set alongside cyclonic (geddit?) reworkings of blues standards like ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ and ‘Let The Good Times Roll’.
An injection of piano boogie from Emil Balsgaard gradually leads into the rock’n’roll of ‘The Straight And Narrow Line’, with more honking sax from Nybo, before they find room for a new song in the form of ‘Over The Hill’, which does absolutely nothing to diminish the appetite for dancing down the front, and has room for a singalong that succeeds at the first time of hearing.
They slow things down again with the cinematic ‘China Gate’ – well, it does come from an old film, after all – which again underlines their ability to deliver something different.  But from there on its pretty much party time, with the likes of the aforesaid covers, ‘Train’ with its imaginative percussion from Martin Seidelin, the growling ‘All I Want’ with Risager’s gravelly voice to the fore and its teasing false ending, and the suitably titled ‘Rock’n’Roll Ride’.
You think I was taking copious notes amidst all these fun and games?  To hell with that.  I was up dancing with my other half, having a ball like the rest of the Carlisle audience.  Which sums up the irresistible charms of Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado.  When this lot are onstage the good times do indeed roll.

You can find a review of the Friday night session here.
The Saturday afternoon session is reviewed here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Saturday Afternoon at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival, 29 September 2018

It’s the afternoon after the morning after the night before.  Saturday afternoon that is, around about lunchtime, and the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival is getting under way again.  It’s a gentle warm-up in the semi-acoustic hands of John Bowie and Phil Saunders, with the former delivering some hypnotic acoustic picking, and slide on a resonator, while Saunders plays an assortment of oddball guitars, a box with a foot pedal, and harp on a rack.  Their relaxed set includes Dylan’s ‘Crash On The Levee’, the rhythmic, pulsing ‘Stranger Blues’, and a highly effective folky reworking of ‘Johnny B. Goode’, featuring fluid interweaving of picked guitars to conjure up an elegiac mood.
Deke McGee gets aboard the Gravy Train
Then we get a sideways step from folk blues to post-war jump blues’n’jive in the hands of the Deke McGee Band, led by the sharp-suited cool dude Mr McGee on sax and vocals.  Right from the off, with the honking ‘Gravy Train’, it’s toe-tapping, hand-jiving stuff.  There’s a slower groove to Eddie Vincent’s ‘Kidney Stew’, with jazzy, brittle-toned guitar from Conor Smith, who later produces a great solo on the uptempo dance number ‘Jumpin’ Jesus Holy Cow’, from Deke’s 2016 album All Night Long.  Along the way Tim Brough garnishes ‘Mr Cornbread’ with excellent honky tonk piano to go with David Stone’s bouncing drums, and also adds the woogie to ‘Swanee River Boogie’.  Hank Williams’ ‘Jambalaya’ is a delightfully swinging affair, with great stand-up bass from guest Al Gare.  It’s all a bit incongruous at half one in the afternoon, but with McGee’s sax playing at its core it’s a quality display of what “small big band” vintage R’n’B is all about.
A bit of time travel is needed after that to get in synch with the sound of Rainbreakers.  On opener ‘Need Your Love’ the Shrewsbury four-piece meld funky, driven riffing with soulful but gutsy vocals from rhythm guitarist Ben Edwards and a balls-out solo from lead guitarist Charlie Richards.  It’s the start of an impressive set drawing heavily on their debut album Face To Face.  ‘Got Me Where She Wants’, with its stop-start riff, features some very Hendrixy guitar and a big bass motif from Peter Adams, but they’re also capable of more laid-back sounding funk on ‘Set Yourself Free’, and blissed-out soul-blues on ‘Lost With You’ - introduced as “totally a love song” and displaying good variation as well as some novel guitar-vocal harmonising that could have been extended.
Rainbreakers - blissed out soulful funky Hendrix-esque blues rock
The slow and suspenseful ‘On My Knees’ is just one example of their strong songwriting, with a quavering vocal from Edwards and a tough bridge.  And there’s more variety in the form of ‘Waiting On You/Moving On’, with its shimmering wah-wah and cymbal intro, and delicate strumming a la ‘Rain Song’, and an impressively soulful vocal at its heart.  It’s different, and also bravely sparse, whereas the following ‘I’ll Be Ready Now’ explodes into life with a big riff and crashing drums. Mid-tempo but weighty, it showcases a howling solo from Richards ahead of a powerful finish, and garners a big round of applause from the crowd.
Edwards makes a frank admission of his connection to the issues of mental health that inspired set closer ‘Heavy Soul’, and the honesty is done justice with effective use of distorted chords over a heavy drum beat, a rattling riff courtesy of both guitars, and some audience participation over wailing guitar notes.  Job done, Rainbreakers appeared to be shifting a bundle of CDs to new fans at their merch stall, and justifiably so.  They’re a sophisticated band, worthy of continuing attention.
Closing the afternoon session, The Stumble are everything I hoped they would be on my first encounter with them live.  They let loose with three salvos from their rollicking 2016 album The Other Side, with opener ‘Just Stop’ inspiring an immediate outbreak of dancing in the corner of the room.
From the git go, singer Paul Melville simply owns the room, blending powerful vocals with
The Stumble - Lancashire's answer to ZZ Top?
teeth-clenching passion and wry schtick as they crank out hugely entertaining songs from the pen of drummer Boyd Tonner.  They’ve been at it a long time these guys, and know exactly what they’re about.  Tonner, along with bassist Cameron Sweetnam and guitarist Ant Scapens, dig out deep foundations over which Melville leads from the front, ably supported by sax man Simon Anthony Dixon and lead guitarist Colin Black, who rocks a Billy Gibbons look resplendent in long coat, long beard, and big hat, and delivers a great slide solo on ‘New Orleans’.
Frankly I’m having too much fun for systematic notes, but ‘My Life’ is a ballad with heartfelt vocals from Melville and a defiant uptempo coda, ‘C’mon Pretty Baby’ is rock’n’rollin’ R’n’B that brings to mind Bob Seger, and ‘Bus Stop’ (I think) is Stax-like soul featuring squealing sax from Dixon.
A new song called ‘Walk In The Park’ (maybe) has a restrained verse and tough, staccato chorus, building to a wild guitar/sax collision and a ballistic finish, before a big bluesy ballad dedicated to BB King.  But these are details.  The Stumble are a band built to entertain, and they do it with a bluesy rock’n’roll brew that’s all their own.  Catch ‘em if you can.

You can find a review of the Friday night session here.
And the Saturday night session is reviewed here.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Proven Ones - Wild Again

That’s Proven Ones in the sense of a proven track record – drummer Jimi Bott and guitarist Kid Ramos are both former Fabulous Thunderbirds, and other band members have a host of awards and other credits to their name. And on this 10-track outing, half and half originals and covers, they live up to their credentials big time.
A surge of B3 from Anthony Geraci heralds the opening R’n’B blast of ‘Cheap Thrills’, augmented by crunching guitar chords from Ramos, and a rock solid bottom end from Bott and bassist Willie J. Campbell, while Brian Templeton weighs in with gutsy vocals.  And that’s just the start.
The cream of the crop is the penultimate track, a cover of Fenton Robinson’s 1967 slow
The Proven Ones - they're a blues band, okay?
blues ‘Loan Me A Dime’.  I’m not one for tracks that outstay their welcome, but here, over the course of 11 minutes of stunning intensity, washes of sombre organ underpin guitar from Ramos that shifts from fluidity to attack, while Templeton adds to the dynamics with emotional, soulful vocals.
Along the way they funk it up on ‘City Dump’, featuring a wailing sax solo from Renato Coranto, before Templeton brings some James Brown-style pleading to an amped-up version of Fats Domino’s ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ on which Ramos’s guitar practically talks.  Fleetwood Mac’s ‘If You Be My Baby’ features reverb-heavy, pinging guitar over woozy barrelhouse piano, while both Geraci’s ‘Why Baby Why’ and the Kim Wilson co-write ‘Right Track Now’ venture into Southern soul meets R’n’B territory, with horns adding to the big sound.
‘Road Of Love’ starts haltingly, builds with a rolling riff and tough horns and organ, and allows Ramos to show off his slide chops, before Templeton’s muscular vocal, reminiscent of our own Stevie Nimmo, competes with fuzzed-up guitar on the mid-paced title track.  The curtain falls with a bright but dreamy reading of the Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ - with tripping drums from Bott, it gets increasingly blissed out as Ramos layers sparkling guitar fills on top of each other.
The whole shebang benefits from top-notch recording and mixing courtesy of Bott, not least in the form of a whopping drum sound.  Wild Again is the real deal – proof positive.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Friday Session - Carlisle Blues Rock Festival, 28 September 2018

It’s Friday, it’s 5 to 7, and it’s standing room only in the ballroom of the Crown & Mitre Hotel as we arrive for our first visit to the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival.  But it turns out to be well worth standing for the duration to see the four acts on offer.
First up are local favourites Redfish, and they turn in a much stronger performance than when I last saw them, in a support slot in Edinburgh. They deliver a solid set of old school R’n’B, with warm vocals and relaxed patter from bunnet-wearing front man Stumblin’ Harris.
Redfish - Bunnets Are Us
There are funky undercurrents on the likes of Bill Withers’ ‘Use Me Up’, with nimble bass from Rod Mackay and some neat drumming diversions as a bonus.
Their own material fits in well alongside a punchy version of ‘Messin’ With The Kid’ and Magic Sam’s ‘Every Night And Every Day’, with measured solos from guitarist Martin McDonald and boogieing piano from all action keys man Fraser Clark.  It all adds up to an entertaining set that has me acquiring their new EP at the interval.
The Chris Bevington Organisation have produced one of the albums of the year so far with Cut And Run, so I was looking forward to seeing them live, and they didn’t disappoint. With a nine-piece line-up it’s no wonder that other commitments mean there are stand-ins depping for two of three of the usual band, and sadly this includes guitarist and core contributor Jim Kirkpatrick.  I suspect the loss of his interaction with co-conspirator and vocalist/guitarist Scott Ralph dilutes the dynamic of this ensemble affair a bit, but Jordan
The Chris Bevington Organisation get cookin'
Swann does a good job of filling in.  He contributes a sizzling lead guitar intro on ‘Coming Down With The Blues’, eloquent playing on ‘Tin Pan Alley’, and a squealing solo on the excellent ‘Got To Know’. The last of these also features pumping bass from Chris Bevington, gutsy rhythm playing from Ralph, and strong punctuation all round.
‘Better Start Cookin’’ features a trumpet solo and call and response organ and guitar, underlining the variety they can bring to bear.  Ralph fronts operations with brio, and by the time they get to ‘Ain’t Got Nobody To Love’ his Cheshire Cat grin sums up the enjoyment both on and off the stage. They close their 50 minute set with the totally danceable ‘Rollin’’, closing a live show that emulates the vibrancy of their latest album.
Elles Bailey unshackled 
Elles Bailey is a more soulful proposition, but gets the ball rolling with a couple of familiar barn-burners in the form of ‘Let Me Hear You Scream’ and ‘Same Flame’ from her album Wildfire, before offering us something new in the form of the soulful ‘What’s The Matter’.  A cover of Levon Helm’s ‘When I Go Away’ suits her nicely, with some very Stax-like keys from stand-in ivory tinkler James Graham, and some good vocal interplay to boot. Depping drummer Craig Connett also shows up well, with good cymbal work to rev up the intensity on the Muscle Shoals tribute ‘Perfect Storm’, with its strong melody, while another newie in the form of ‘Medicine Man’ is offbeat, driving and dynamic, with appealing slide from Joe Wilkins.  
‘Shackles Of Love’ continues to be my favourite among her material though – a song with a great hook that wouldn’t be out of place on a Bonnie Raitt album.
She tells us that another new song, the thumping, train-like ‘The Road I Call Home’ will be the title track to her new album in the spring, before returning to familiar territory with the emotive ‘Girl Who Owned The Blues’, with its stomping conclusion, and ‘Wildfire’ with its moody slide solo from Wilkins.
Elles Bailey’s amiably daft and self-deprecating chat always makes for an engaging performance.  But more to the point she has a great voice, strong original material, and bags of potential still to be explored.
Guitar totin' Siegal and Cigaar
Topping the bill for the night is Ian Siegal, who has gone way past the point of being described in terms of potential.  Still, I do believe that he’s found another gear this year with the release of his latest album All The Rage.  Coming on wearing a headband, with his festival lanyard flapping around his knees, he eases in with the characteristic, immediately sing-able melody of ‘Shotgun Rider’.  He and the band raise the temperature with the clacking favourite ‘I Am The Train’, with inimitable guitarist Dusty Cigaar being – well, inimitably Dusty.  But they really hit the bullseye with ‘The Shit Hit’, on which a wild slide solo from Siegal is a prelude to a bout of finger wagging, electrifying truth telling.  On an entirely different note, the classic blues of ‘John The Revelator’ interpolates ‘Back Door Man’ in rowdy fashion, and leads to an outbreak of dancing from some of the ladies.  Then it’s back to Siegal at his most withering with ‘Eagle-Vulture’, its spiky guitar line embellished by wafting notes from Cigaar.
A different kind of highlight comes with the North Mississippi Hill Country blues of CeDell Davies’s ‘She’s Got The Devil In Her’.  It’s followed by ‘Gallo Del Cielo’, which apparently a patron begged for tonight, and on which the poor damn chicken inevitably meets a sticky end once again, before Siegal closes out the night with the lovely ‘Sweet Souvenir’.
The clock strikes twelve and it’s time to head for bed.  Will twelve hours be enough to let us rest up for the next day’s fun and games?

You can find a review of the Saturday afternoon session at Carlisle here.
And the Saturday night session is reviewed here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Evening Session - Edinburgh Blues'N'Rock Festival

Due to other commitments, I was only able to get along to the latter half of this year’s Edinburgh Blues’N’Rock Festival, promoted by the Edinburgh Blues Club.  But it has to be said that the sets delivered by The Rising Souls, Dana Fuchs and Ten Years After were still worth the price of the ticket, and then some.
Walking onstage as her band crank out a big fat soul groove, Dana Fuchs is revealed to be a tall woman – like, seriously tall.  And when she gets going with opening track ‘Ready To Rise’, all flailing ringlets of hair, the American singer quickly becomes a compelling
Dana Fuchs and band - a Stax load of soul
presence.  Rousing the audience after a lengthy interval, she and her 6-piece band soon garner a bigger crowd at the front of the stage.
Her sometimes lengthy song introductions about “all being in the boat of life” may seem corny to a British audience of a more laconic disposition, but as she peppers these monologues with interjections of “Fuck that”, I still find her down to earth and not a diva.  And there is a point to her chat, because the experience of pain and loss she describes, and her attitude to it, are what make her tick as an artist, and bring meaning to her material.
Drawing heavily on her most recent album Love Lives On, recorded in Memphis, it’s clear that Fuchs has the southern soul sound down pat, epitomised by her cover of Otis Redding’s distinctly blues-rooted ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’.  This turns into a genuine soul-funkathon, on which Fuchs ends up laying back on the monitors in acclamation of Aaron Liddard’s sax solo, while Walter Latupierissa shows off his grooving credentials.  She
A little bit country
naturally taps into this kind of vibe on her own ‘Sittin’ On’, which features a great chorus and hook, and turns into an extended workout with a great trumpet showcase from Simon Finch.  Meanwhile pork pie-hatted guitarist and co-writer Jon Diamond shines on the following ‘Sad Solution’, complementing its rousing, anthemic chorus with great funk guitar and a biting solo, while drummer Piero Perreli gets deep in the pocket.
It’s not just undiluted soul music that they have to offer though.  Both ‘Callin’ Angels’ and ‘Long Long Gone’ show that Fuchs have a handy way with injecting some countrification into the Stax vibe, the latter in particular being a “whiskey song” on which Diamond delivers seriously twangy, jangling guitar, and Latupierissa spanks the hell out of his bass.  And just to underline the point, Fuchs straps on an acoustic herself for the set closer of ‘Ring Of Fire’ – though I’m sure it really lends itself to the singalong she leads.
Generally though, Fuchs is the real deal as both a front woman and a vocalist, whether on the convincing slowie ‘Faithful Sinner’, inspired by her father’s troubles, the hazy, woozy ‘Sedative’, which she delivers crouched at the stage apron, or the upbeat songs she delivers with wit and energy throughout the bulk of her set. It all adds up to an irresistibly entertaining, booty-shaking performance.
Now I’ll be honest, and say that Ten Years After aren’t a band I’ve ever followed closely, having missed their late Sixties/early Seventies heyday.  A passing familiarity with the “best of” is the best I can claim. And I’m always a bit nervous about bands that are soldiering on without a late lamented main man – and strange to say, but I’ve never encountered Marcus Bonfanti live either.  But fair play to ‘em, TYA closed the festival with a set that blew away any doubts.
Right from the off Bonfanti weighs in with a good mid-range rocking vocal, with plenty of attack, and on something that may or may not have been called ‘Down The Road’ he also
Marcus Bonfanti - post-Woodstock, ever so slightly
shows up as a really kinetic guitar play, in addition to getting down to some lock-tight interplay with veteran bass man Colin Hodgkinson.  And by the time they get to the mid-tempo blues groove of ‘Hear Me Calling’ their fierce approach is stimulating some wig-out dancing among some of the audience.
Hodgkinson increasingly becomes a star of the show, underpinning some blues rock riffery with bass playing that’s powerful rather than overpowering.  Then he tops that with a solo bass and vocals rendition of Robert Johnson’s ’32-20 Blues’ that is simply extraordinary, playing both rhythm and lead guitar on bass, and bringing new meaning to the lyric “Gonna shoot my pistol, gonna shoot my Gatling gun”.
They deliver a likeable unplugged segment, comprising ‘Don’t Want You Woman’, ‘Portable People’ and ‘Losing The Dogs’.  The first of these is a delightful, swinging affair, while ‘Losing The Dogs’, with its bright, spangly guitar, bobbing bass and pattering snare drum is eminently danceable.
‘Say Yeah’ offers a jagged, tasty riff, and nice piano runs from Chick Churchill, but I could do without the drum solo centred ‘The Hobbit’. Ric Lee’s blistering drumming on the following ‘Love Like A Man’ more than makes up for it though, as a patient opening gives way to a memorable riff of ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ proportions, and more guitar and bass interplay.  Indeed Bonfanti and Hodgkinson prove to be quite a pairing, contributing a guitar/bass duet/duel on a stonkingly heavy version of ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ that’s another highlight of their set.
A rip-roaring rendition of ‘I’m Going Home’ incorporates bursts of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘Hound Dog’, as well as incendiary guitar from Bonfanti in a display of rock’n’roll fireworks. They encore with the good-time rockin’ boogie of ‘Choo Choo Mama’, bringing the curtain down on a job well and truly done. Ten Years After are no museum piece – with Bonfanti and Hodgkinson out front they’re still a powerful blues proposition.
Earlier, Edinburgh locals The Rising Souls made their second EBRF appearance with a set of 21stcentury blues-inflected rock.  They’ve come a long way from the stripped back semi-acoustic trio I first encountered a few years ago, and now ally Dave Archibald’s soul-inflected vocals with Led-heavy backing on songs for which their toughened up cover of The Black Keys’ ‘Next Girl’ is a good fit.
They lay down a marker early doors with, er, ‘Lay Me Down’, which partners a bone-crunching riff with big, ker-chunking drums from Reece Braid, who adds a rocketing drum break for good measure.  The short and to the point ‘Set Me Free’ stirs dynamic shifts of
The Rising Souls - get the Led out
volume into the mix, along with an undulating riff and a strong, soulful melody.
This is just an appetiser for ‘Walk On’ though, a song that really suggests what they’re capable of as they crank out a huge, very Zeppelin-like swooping riff as a platform for Archibald in full-on Paul Rodgers mode.  They hold the pressure down in the verse before crashing into the chorus like a juggernaut.  A mid-section of scat duelling between Archibald and the guitar provides a breather, before Braid’s drums accelerate to kick start a brief, breakneck guitar solo. If I have a complaint, it’s that here and elsewhere they need to extend passages like this to round songs out to their full potential.  
They do change things up a bit though.  On ‘I’m Coming’ a bright, Hendrixy riff a la ‘Crosstown Traffic’ stops and starts around Archibald’s rasping vocal, and they break things down into a convincing subdued segment.  More downbeat still is the moody ‘Escape’, for which Archibald dons an acoustic guitar as they essay a modern day Bad Company sound, with Roy ‘Kelso’ Laing’s bass harmonising impressively with shimmering lines from their own, shades-sporting Jimmy on guitar.
What The Rising Souls need to do now, having broken onto the hard rock festival circuit this year, is stop faffing around with EPs and singles, and cut an album that will hammer a stake into the ground.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Sari Schorr - Never Say Never

Sari Schorr’s theme song should really be something like ‘Gypsy Roadhog’, because the woman seems to be in perpetual motion. Even the making of this second album seemed to take in a few locations before settling into The Grange Studios in Norfolk.  But there are no signs of fatigue on Never Say Never.  Far from it.  This is an adrenaline-fuelled set, full of ideas both musical and lyrical.  So strap yourself in for the ride.
The intro to opener ‘King Of Rock’N’Roll’ is deceptive, a Dire Straits-ish bit of mood music that blends brooding guitar and tinkling piano until all concerned shake themselves into action, and Schorr weighs in with a husky vocal.  It climbs into a rousing chorus, and Ash Wilson gives it plenty with a scorching guitar solo and more fills besides.
Ash Wilson and Sari Schorr - fireworks abound
Pic by Rob Blackham
And right there you have the twin engines that will power this album into your consciousness, in Schorr’s powerful, versatile vocals and Wilson’s fizzing guitar work.  Oh, there’s plenty more besides, in the form of quality songwriting, the tight but flexible rhythm section of Mat Beable’s bass and Roy Martin’s drums, and the colour added from Bob Fridzema’s keyboard palette.  But there’s no getting away from the Schorr/Wilson axis – and believe me, you won’t want to.
‘Thank You’ features a squelching wah wah intro, and supercharged guitar chords and organ on its pre-chorus, with Schorr delivering catchy ascending vocals in the chorus itself. It makes good use of dynamics, and Wilson gets mightily stuck in again with a solo.  Then they cool things off with a reading of Bad Company’s ‘Ready For Love’ that respects the original but adds its own seasoning.  It’s a perfect fit for Schorr’s blues rock tendencies, and her ability to be sensitive as well as towering.  There’s a nice interweaving of guitar and keys to deliver the signature theme, and Fridzema delivers a delicate, halting piano solo ahead of an elegant, dying fall to close.
‘Valentina’ and ‘The New Revolution’ display different faces of Schorr’s wordsmithing skills.  The former features a narrative about a lonely woman “living in a trailer by the sea”, and is a no-nonsense, straight-up rocker with a gritty riff, another impressive solo from Wilson, and full-on vocals from Schorr.  The latter convincingly expresses Schorr’s political
Sari Schorr unleashes a vocal tsunami
consciousness with a Townshend-esque lyric, set to a curious amalgam of a taut, Stonesy riff, like a slowed down ‘Jack Flash’, and a melody on the verse that brings to mind Robbie Williams’ ‘Let Me Entertain You’ of all things. Whatever, it works.  And later, penultimate track ‘Freedom’ plays a similar lyrical card, with a literate rant laden with irony about the agenda of “bible and gun” as it whips up a righteous storm.
At the mid-point of the album, ‘Beautiful’ ushers a shift towards Diane Warren-ish AOR territory on some of the remaining songs, on which Schorr’s resonant voice takes on a remarkably Cher-like complexion at times.  ‘Beautiful’ itself is a ballad with a low key opening, and piercing guitar from Wilson as he adds another couple of well-pitched, emotive solos to the mix. ‘Turn The Radio On’ is musically in a more upbeat vein, although a tale of relationship pain and envy, with Schorr unleashing her voice on the chorus, while ‘Back To LA’ has a sunny feel, and a strong hook, over a snapping snare drum from Roy Martin.  Meanwhile Schorr’s vocal reaches tidal wave proportions at times, to the point where you could imagine ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ being next on the track list. 
In and around these big, glossy affairs, ‘Maybe I’m Fooling’ seems a bit slight, though it’s still appealing enough with its bumping rhythm and catchy chorus.  But the aforementioned ‘Freedom’ raises the roof again, with both Fridzema and Wilson letting rip, before Ian McLagan’s titular ‘Never Say Never’ rounds things out in restrained and soulful fashion – maybe a more downbeat conclusion than ideal for me, but still a strong song, with imagery that’s a good fit for Schorr’s style.
Never Say Never is an album that will grab you by the scruff of the neck and not let you go. I may prefer the blues’n’raunch side of it to the slicker, more constructed later songs, and I’d have liked a pinch more of the funkiness evident on A Force Of Nature to be added to the recipe somewhere.  But it is, quite simply, a bang-up job.  Schorr’s commitment to her material is absolute, the guitar fireworks from Ash Wilson are often stunning, and the musicianship from all concerned is top drawer.  And guess what, the album’s not even out yet and the gypsy queen is back out on the road. Go see her and enjoy this stuff live.

You can find Sari Schorr's tour dates here.
Never Say Never is released by Manhaton Records on 5 October.