Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Dom Martin - Buried In The Hail

Personality. Originality. Talent.
There isn’t a simple formula for making standout, attention-grabbing music, but I reckon those three qualities will probably get you a long way – and Dom Martin has them in spades, as his third album Buried In The Hail demonstrates.
This isn’t yer common-or-garden blues-rock album.  Dom Martin goes his own way, right from the start.  ‘Hello In There’ is a dreamy, zephyr-like opener, Martin’s folkie acoustic guitar picking
Dom Martin gets electrified
Pic by Tony Cole
Dconjuring up a pastoral mood, embellished by faint background noises like children’s voices in a playground.  And he doesn’t feel the need to make a grand statement at the other end of the album either, where ‘Laid To Rest’ is the dying fall its title would suggest.  Over minimalist tapped out percussion, punctuated by an unusual harp-like springing noise, Martin picks away at a sparse, repetitive guitar line, with a tone that’s almost banjo-like in its brittle steeliness.  And that’s all folks.
As on his previous album A Savage Life, at times he draws on some John Martyn-like Celtic folk stylings in his own distinctive way, as on ‘Government’ and ‘The Fall’.  The former marries glistening acoustic guitar chords and a halting drumbeat to Martin’s gruff but sensitive vocal, as he intones a weary, mantra-like lyric about how “It’s time to call it a day” until the song stalls like an unwound clock.  Meanwhile ‘The Fall’ progresses from isolated, frost-bright strums of guitar into glittering picking like a winter stream, accompanying Martin’s patient, drawn-out vocals.  Has he overdubbed guitar parts to create the intricate guitar-scape that develops?  I dunno, but it sure sounds like there’s a whole lot of picking going on.
Things get more obviously bluesy on a few tracks.  ‘Daylight I Will Find’ has a rootsy vibe, as Martin rolls out tumbling acoustic blues guitar over a simple thudding beat, creating a swaying, hypnotic feel decorated by a few slide guitar fills, while he delivers a characterful vocal, full of good phrasing, about how “It’s been a long old road to ruin / Daylight I will find”.  ‘Howlin’’ has an old-fashioned Delta blues feel, with prickling-and-pointing electric guitar over snappily shuffling drums, creating something jaunty and irresistible.  ‘Buried In The Hail’ itself is a brooding, atmospheric affair that combines restrained electric guitar and Martin’s gruffest vocal, rumbling away in the murk of a stormy night, in a manner akin to a distant cousin of Zeppelin’s ‘Bring It On Home’.  And ‘Lefty 2 Guns’ is absorbing blues storytelling, with a simple, looping guitar line, hesitant bass, and dragging drums, until Martin’s gritty guitar takes off into SRV-ish territory with some scurrying soloing.
Martin can pack a punch too when he wants to though, as on ‘Belfast Blues’, on which his dirty, fuzzy guitar describes a ringing, revolving figure over a stomping drum rhythm that gradually acquires more character as it develops into a driving shuffle, while Martin groans out the vocal and adds dashes of slide.  On ‘Unhinged’, meanwhile, he cranks out some barbed, spiky guitar with squeals of added emphasis, crunches into a classic three chord progression at the end of each verse, before the guitar and drums start slamming into each other with controlled aggression, as a precursor to our Dom goes off on a soloing jaunt with Celtic undertones.
In the midst of all this there’s also a startling, sui generis cover of the Patsy Cline hit ‘Crazy’, which sounds like it’s been relocated from Nashville to a smoky Parisian cellar, with just twinkling guitar notes to accompany Martin’s slow, Tom Waits-like vocal, eventually giving way to some Gary Moore-like electric guitar divertissements over splashes of drums.
It may sound from some of this like there’s nothing dramatic happening here.  No crackerjack electric guitar show-offery.  No bouts of epic, cinematic grandeur.  No wailing vocals.  And that’s true – but at the same time everything is happening.  Like some musical Jedi, Dom Martin casts a spell and draws you into his web.  Buried In The Hail is the sound of a special talent.
Buried In The Hail is out now on Forty Below Records.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Starlite & Campbell - Starlite.One

Once upon a time there was the largely blues-rock focused Starlite Campbell Band.  Now there’s Starlite & Campbell - a minimalist bit of rebranding to introduce some new adventures in hi-fi from Suzy Starlite and Simon Campbell, reflecting different elements of their musical tastes.  But bearing in mind some of the influences they mentioned in a Gimme 5 feature in these columns, such as Tom Yorke of Radiohead and Laurie Anderson, I approached Starlite.One with some trepidation.
Needn’t have worried though, really.  Okay, so the sounds here aren’t always in my natural
Starlite & Campbell get windswept and interesting
Pic by Paul Husband
wheelhouse, but if the direction of travel is kinda art-proggy it’s never so outré as to be alienating.  They still like to produce appealing melodies and hooks, and they know how to combine instruments combine to produce good sounds.
Opening track ‘Saving Me’ has a link to their past selves, as Campbell’s crooning, patient vocal recalls the title track of their last studio album, The Language Of Curiosity, and it has a penetrating little guitar motif to bring cutting edge to its undercurrent of throbbing bassline and Kraftwerkisch bubbling and bleeping synth sounds, as well as one of the aforementioned appealing melodies.  And ‘The Voting Machine’ burbles along with motorik pulsing, augmented by washes of keyboards, and with injections of biting, twirling guitar themes.  But this time the singer is Suzy Starlite, with her clear, pure English voice redolent of . . . who?  Julie Covington, maybe?
Suzy’s vocal precision is also evident in the brief vignette that is ‘Everything’, with spot-on tuning and phrasing over minimalist keys.  And she also takes the lead on ‘The Coat’, singing yearningly and hesitantly as she captures images and emotions from a relationship in the process of breaking-up, over a backing of tooting keys and little else, except some interpolations of atmospheric drums from Hugo Danin.
There’s a more naturalistic air to the elegiac ‘Blow Them All To Pieces’, with a soft and wistful vocal from Campbell over simple acoustic strumming and harmonium-like keys, before the strumming takes a different, appealing turn.  With the addition of some Wakeman-esque twiddly synth it takes on a Yessy pastoral-meets-electronica vibe akin to, say, ‘Wondrous Stories’ – with added filigrees of flute.  Campell then revisits his crooning mode on ‘This Time (Is Gonna Be The Last Time)’, but bending it into a Scott Walker-ish timbre (Walker being another avowed person of interest to the duo) over more squelching, shoulder-twitching synth rhythms, given extra urgency by crisp Danin drumming.
Danin’s drum elaborations also help to ground ‘Shine On The Light On Me’, a love song set to Ultravox-esque electro-bleeping, with patient harmonising from Suzy and Simon, spoken word reflections from the former, and occasionally corny lyrics about “Splendiferous isolation, you are my constellation”.
Another vignette in the form of ‘Mother’, in which spooky, sci-fi backing blends in Vocoder-like vocalisation effects doesn’t really do it for me.  But the closing ‘A Part Of Me Is Broken (Part 2) is edgily convincing, with solid, brooding guitar work over a tripping, revolving drum rhythm and an undertow of keyboard machinations.  Campbell’s guitar then gradually breaks free into some sturdy meditations, counterepointed by more swirling synths, until La Starlite adds some more spoken work musings about “memory eroded by dementia, replaced by the fallacy of eternal youth” and such-like.  Whatever you say, Suzy – the important thing is that this is the strongest track on the album, stirring up vague echoes of Steve Hillage’s ‘The Glorious Om Riff’.  Well, maybe.  How about a cover of that in your live set, Suzy and Simon?
Starlite.One perhaps won’t fit the bill for some fans of the blues-leaning Starlite Campbell Band. But there’s mileage in these here explorations.  Hop on board their spaceship, and see where it takes you.
Starlite.One is out now, and available here.
Starlite and Campbell are touring Britain from 29 September.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Lance Lopez - Trouble Is Good

When ‘Jam With Me’ kicks in, it seems apt that Gregg Bissonette is guesting on the drum stool, because the lead single from Lance Lopez’s new album Trouble Is Good doesn’t half remind me of Dave Lee Roth’s ‘Knucklebones’, on which Bissonette did the tub-thumping.  It’s a catchy, bouncing tune with a good-time vibe that declares “A little rock’n’roll sets you free”, and underlines that sentiment with good riffing, a bundle of slide fills from Lopez, a squealing solo, and some neat variations in the backing.  All in all it’s three and a half minutes of rocking goodness.
Lance Lopez weighs the benefits of wearing shades indoors
‘Jam With Me’ may be the high point on Trouble Is Good, but there are some other goodies worth hearing too.  At one end the opener ‘Easy To Leave’ comes with a jarring riff over thumping bass’n’drums, while adopted Texan Lopez delivers his vocal with a satisfying rasp redolent of Albert Castiglia.  There’s a skating slide break too, plus a nifty revolving bridge and a punchy Lopez solo, all banged out with conviction.  And at the other end the closer ‘Voyager’ is a quite different proposition.  A seven-minute quasi-epic ostensibly in three parts, it opens in atmospheric style, combining swirling guitar and phased drum sounds, then some Blackmore-like Arabic picking over washes of keyboards.  The mid-section leans on some Page-like, discordantly jangling chords, on the way to a swooping’n’soaring conclusion, before a wistful coda, illustrating Lopez’s musical range.
Okay, so along the way from alpha to omega the quality can be a bit variable, with the off-the-leash power of ‘Take A Swing’ sounding rhythmically messy, while ‘Trying In The Tri-Star State’ is a mid-tempo paean to Nashville that’s a bit of plod.  But Lopez’s guitar playing is always there to grab your attention, with a blistering solo on the former, and some harem-scarem fretwork enlivening the latter.  And if the title track is a tad predictable, it's still well done, a sturdy thing that has balls and swing to give some younger hotshots a run for their money, embellished with some warped slide work and a squawking harp solo to add a rootsy vibe.
‘Uncivil War’ is also convincing, not exactly a ballad but a fatigued reflection on modern times, offering the bitter comment “I'm getting sick and tired of this uncivil war”, dappled with some watery Fender Rhodes piano.  ‘Slow Down’ is another nod towards Diamond Dave territory – slower and glossier, with a bright spiky riff matched to a loose, inviting rhythm, and if the chorus is a bit simplistic it’s still effective enough.  ‘Reborn’ is even better, with a bit of swing and a 60s vibe reinforcing an upbeat lyric and mood, and with some nifty guitar breaks suggesting that Lopez is having plenty fun.
The PR bumf suggests that Lance Lopez is a descendant of the Texas blues scene that fostered Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top, but those aren’t really the kind of sounds that I hear.  To my ears Lopez is more of a hard rocker, sometimes suggestive of Ted Nugent in the bright and breezy form of Weekend Warriors – though ‘Voyager’ shows that he also has other strings to his bow. Trouble Is Good makes for a pretty enjoyable 40 minutes – and it’s definitely worth getting an earful of ‘Jam With Me’.
Trouble Is Good is out now on Cleopatra Records.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Coco Montoya - Writing On The Wall

If you’re a fan of classic electric blues stylings, then this album by Coco Montoya may be just the ticket.  Let’s face it, as an alumnus of John Mayall’s bands in days gone by, Montoya should know what he’s doing in this musical sphere – and Writing On The Wall confirms that he does.
Opener ‘I Was Wrong’ is a archetypal slow-ish blues, with a lyric that pleads for forgiveness complemented by stinging but conversational guitar licks, and an interesting arrangement featuring some staccato segments and flutterings of organ adding colour in the background. And Montoya goes on to confirm his chops in this department with both ‘Stop’ and ‘What Did I Say?’. The Lonnie Mack slow blues ‘Stop’ is nothing special as a song, but it’s still sensitively delivered,
Coco Montoya - "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go!"
Pic by Victoria Smith
with an expressive solo from Montoya that’s augmented by organ from Jeff Paris. And ‘What Did I Say?’ is even better, a smoochy ballad that has echoes of the Clapton/Cray tune ‘Old Love’, with controlled playing and tone from Montoya, and a sincere, contemplative vibe that puts me in mind of Walter Trout in slowie mode.
It's not all solemn fare though, and in a more upbeat vein a couple of the highlights are Frankie Miller’s ‘Be Good To Yourself’ and the title track.  ‘Be Good To Yourself’ is suitably lively, and just about lives up to Miller’s version, though Frankie probably had a touch more personality vocally. Meanwhile ‘Writing On The Wall’ underlines Montoya’s range, with a JJ Cale-like country-ish feel founded on shuffling drums from Rena Beavers, and featuring acoustic guitar, honky tonk piano, and a piercing guitar solo from multi-instrumentalist co-conspirator Paris, while Montoya contributes a rasping vocal.
‘Save It For The Next Fool’ is bright and bouncing too, with an undulating bass line from Nathan Jones bringing extra suppleness to the laid back rhythm, while some neat and playful Montoya soloing emulates novel lyrics like “You can’t talk the jam back in the jar”.  And there’s much fun to be had too on the Chicago R’n’B stylings of the Don Robey song ‘You Got Me (Where You Want Me), with Montoya duelling with Ronnie Baker Brooks on guitar in fine fashion, over tripping drums.
Songs like ‘(I’d Rather Feel) Bad About Doin’ It’ and ‘Baby, You’re A Drag’ may be a bit lightweight, but in the former case it’s still a neatly loose and funky shuffle, with producer Tony Braunhagel taking over the drum stool as it delivers some humorous takes on biblical episodes.‘Late Last Night’ is a simple but satisfying slice of mid-tempo boogie, a tale of a night on the tiles for which the title is a serious understatement, with a sparkling guitar solo to partner neat lines like “I climbed Blueberry Hill, sure enough got my thrill”.
The album closes with two more songs that go down melancholy and sunny roads respectively.‘The Three Kings And Me’ is a mellow reflection on being alone at Christmas – sounding a bit out of place as I’m listening to it in August – apart from the music of the titular three Kings on the stereo, with subtle guitar remarks and a couple of nods to ‘Winter Wonderland’ along the way.  Contrastingly, ‘Natural Born Love Machine’ is a breezy strut with a swinging chorus, in which the narrator reflects that he’s punching above his weight with a sexy woman.
Writing On The Wall is a good solid album, with numerous highlights and no out-and-out duds. Credit is due to Montoya and his writing partners Jeff Paris and Dave Steen for fashioning ten enjoyable originals to go with the three covers, and overall it’s assembled admirably (and economically) under the direction of producer Braunhagel.  It’s not an album to shake your foundations, but it should make you nod along with satisfaction.
Writing On The Wall is released by Alligator Records on 1 September.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Robert Jon & The Wreck - Ride Into The Light

What can I say about Robert Jon & The Wreck that I haven’t said already?  Precious little perhaps, but here goes anyway, with their latest album Ride Into The Light.
The first thing to note is that some of this album may sound familiar to you, because it includes all four tracks from their One Of A Kind EP released back in March, just a month before their hefty Live At The Ancienne Belgique outing. Now, in this day and age I think the Wreckers may be onto something by departing from the “album every two years” kinda release schedule of past decades, especially when many artists overburden those albums with 13 or 14 songs.  Of course, it helps when you’re as prolific at writing belting songs as Robert Jon Burrison and co,
Robert Jon & The Wreck draw straws to decide who's not getting a seat
Pic by Rob Bondurant
but maintaining your profile with regular new music seems like a good scheme to me.  Can’t say I’m quite so convinced about including the entirety of an EP on your next studio album just a few months later, but hell, what do I know?
Whatever.  Ride Into The Light underlines the Wreck’s sublime talent as purveyors of good rockin' tonite.  Like the Stones, they’re not heavy like metal, but they sure do rock’n’roll.  Opener ‘Pain No More’ clatters into life with a staccato riff before downshifting for Burrison to deliver a conversational verse, then they ramp up through a harmony-enhanced chorus before cycling back to that neck-snapping riff.  And then lead guitarist Henry James (aka Schneekluth) gets to work in typically fine fashion.  But here’s the thing – they’re just getting warmed up.
A little later ‘Come At Me’ is a trump card and then some – top quality, in yer face rockin’, chock-full of big riffing, clever little turnarounds on the tense verses, and a surging, headbanging, shoutalong chorus, to which James adds a sharp, stinging guitar solo.  But the Wreck really do know when they’ve got their hands on a killer hook, and they batter you over the head with this one to create three minutes and fifteen seconds of dynamite.  Then they follow that with the juddering, slamming ‘One Of A Kind’, replete with slaloming slide fills and another blistering James solo.  I mean shit – what do these guys take of a morning to get this juiced up?  A quart of OJ and Red Bull?  Each?  And just to be clear, I mean all of ‘em, because while Burrison and James are out front shaking up a storm, that vibrant sound is an ensemble affair, driven along by a crack rhythm section in drummer Andrew Espantman and bassist Warren Murrel, plus additional organ voltage and piano decoration from Jake Abernathie.  Oh yeah, and they dial up killer harmonies all over the place too.
And those harmonies are well to the fore on their more mellow side, typified by the excellent Eagles-style country rock of ‘Who Can You Love’, which surfs in on some shimmering guitar before conjuring up another chorus to die for.  Seriously, where do these guys find all these hooks?  Did they stumble over a treasure chest of ‘em buried in their backyard or something?  Or sell their collective souls to the devil in Joshua Tree National Park some on some chilly Californian night?  Mind you, their other ballady-type outing here, the Thrills-like ‘West Coast Eyes’, is a smidgen too mellow for my tastes, notwithstanding some more standout slide guitar from Henry James.  Is it a duff tune?  Hell no, it’s plenty stylish and well put together – just a bit too sweet to be wholesome. 
Along the way there’s ‘Bring Me Back Home Again’, a dynamic affair veering between a slow, storm-laden mood with stomping drums from Espantman and slithering slide commentary from James, more reflective piano and vocal moments, and soaring vocals from Burrison on the chorus.  ‘Don’t Look Down’ features another rattling, helter-skelter riff, a punchy melody with Robert Jon giving it less than his full tilt holler – just – plus some guitar duelling and a nah-nah-nah singalong to close.
After all that, the closing ‘Ride Into The Light’ is a lighter, summery affair to send you on your way, possibly cruising down the highway through Big Sur to the accompaniment of its catchy harmonised guitar line.
If you haven’t been Wrecked by Robert Jon and his buddies before now, it’s not too late.  Ride Into The Light is a lip-smacking introduction that will have you digging into their impressive back catalogue until their next release comes along – which will probably be in a month or two.
Ride Into The Light is out now on Journeyman Records.

Robert Jon & The Wreck are touring Britain from 13-24 September.  Full details of all tour dates, and tickets, are available here.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Jimmy Regal and the Royals - First And Last Stop

What to make of Jimmy Regal and the Royals?   With a set-up that’s essentially harp and vocals, guitar, and drums, they don’t follow yer typical blues group rules of engagement. Mind you, they’re not quite as stripped down as that on First And Last Stop, because guitarist CJ Williams also contributes bass and lap steel when occasion demands it, and harmonica man Joff Watkins picks up a guitar now and then to augment Williams’ picking.  And what’s more, they call on a gaggle of horn players for some tracks, plus djembe player Alan Hughes, and backing vocalist Tricia Davies Nearne here and there.
Jimmy Regal & The Royals - "Which one's Jimmy?"
So what kind of sound do they make from these varied resources?  Well, the Royal boys don’t plough a single furrow, and dare to be different on several tracks.  But the results include some pluses and also some minuses.
Among the high points are ‘Empty Streets’ and  ‘Bones To Dust’, both of which show their handy way with North Mississippi Hill Country influences.  ‘Empty Streets’ majors on a revolving, typically hypnotic North Mississippi guitar groove, peppered with slide remarks and some zinging soloing from Williams to create interesting textures.  And later on ‘Bones To Dust’ deploys a classic push-pull guitar riff’n’rivvum, which they then play around with to good effect, adding a halting, interesting guitar break from Williams, a bee-buzzing bridge, and a punchy sax intervention from Chris Rand.
They also have fun on a couple of tracks that travel further down the Mississippi.  The opening ‘(Got To Make A) New Flame’ has a tub-thumping rhythm, some fuzzy rhythm guitar, and a second-line funk vibe from the horns that hints at N’Awlins, with an appealing chantalong chorus, and a pinging guitar break from Williams.  And penultimate track ‘Fat Man’s Chicken’ is something of a Cab Calloway-like blast, with paradiddling drums, shouted out chorus, more NOLA-like horns – including a piercing trumpet solo from Titch Walker - and a train-chugging harp break from Watkins.
They’re interesting too, when they tap into some different blues roots.  ‘Ain’t Done Yet’ for example, brings together tripping drums, bobbling bass and Morse Code horns, but most interestingly some undulating guitar work from Williams that suggests he’s been listening to Malian types like King Sunny Ade and Songhoy Blues.  Rippling guitar and djembe percussion are also key to the title track, which develops a mesmeric feel even as Tricia Davies Nearne chips in with backing vocals and Watkins adds a layer of tootling harp.
A different upbeat moment – and a familiar-sounding one – is ‘You Can’t Run’, featuring tooting horns over a stumbling rhythm and more pattering drums from Sammy Samuels.  It took me a while to figure out what it reminded me of, but ultimately the answer, with the horns and that rhythm, is Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’, embroidered with some spiky, edgy guitar and a squawking harp break.
There are some less positive aspects though, one of which is Joff Watkins’ singing.  He gets better as the album progresses, but on the first couple of tracks, ‘(Got To Make A) New Flame’ and ‘Ain’t Done Yet’, he leans towards a quavering tone that just isn’t my thing.  He sounds a bit more confident on the loping, slinky groove of ‘Can’t Keep From Losing You’, with its woozy slide guitar and moaning harp, but he’s still outshone by Nearne’s warm backing vocals.  And a few songs are on the thin side too, such as the languid ‘Do Whatever You Can’ and the twitching, skipping ‘Show Time’.
Still, credit is due to the Royals for trying to find some new grooves.  When they start playing off New Orleans, North Mississippi and West African sounds they get particularly interesting – and they may have the potential for even better blues-fusion cooking with those ingredients in the future.
First And Last Stop is out now, and is available from Lunaria Records here.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Sugaray Rayford - Trasimeno Blues, Castiglione del Lago, 22 July 2023

“You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?” chuckles Sugaray Rayford as he addresses the audience at the Trasimeno Blues Festival, giving them his customary spiel about how “This ain’t a concert, it’s a party.”  I reckon more of them understand him than he thinks, not least because a chunk of them are tourists, and English is often the lingua franca among Europeans from different countries.
Anyway it really doesn’t matter, because they all understand Sugaray’s soul-blues language - 
Sugaray Rayford makes a soul connection
they wouldn’t be here otherwise.  When he and his band crank up the opening ‘Who Is He (And What Is He To You)’, a soul-funk riot á la James Brown, you just know that everyone is on board, encouraged by Sugaray’s calls of “Come on!”
They bring a lighter, Motown-ish touch to ‘Is It Just Me’, but if anything it’s more danceable.  They cool things down a bit with the suitably brooding, strutting groove of ‘I’d Kill For You, Honey’, but only to take a breath before the bright and bubbling ‘Gonna Lift You Up’, during which Sugaray pursues his mission to connect with the crowd by going walkabout among them – not for the last time.  Following that with his take on ‘Bricks In My Pillow’, a song that goes back to Robert Nighthawk and beyond, he achieves his goal of hosting a dance party, with a spot on Memphis soul groove and the embellishment of some wickedly squealing guitar work from Danny Avila.
Dancing gets a bit more tricky with the staccato funk of ‘Miss Information’, with its skipping rhythm and Latin-style horns.  But they get right back on track with long-time favourite ‘Big Legged Woman’, on which Sugaray proclaims that “Big legs, short skirts, are back in style”, shaking it all about himself and encouraging Avila to get bopping too.
They unfurl a more romantic soul vibe on ‘I Don’t Regret A Mile’, with Rayford contemplating all
Sugaray checks that Danny Avila is in party mode
the travels he’s undertaken on his musical journey, getting deep-rooted for a trumpet solo and some wailing sax playing – but along the way, characteristically, managing to take a detour into a playful burst of reggae.  And they get even more into romantic mode with a slowie on which Sugaray reflects ruefully that “The way you used to love me baby, is the way you hate me now”, while a few more solos are shared around.
Rayford takes the time to reflect on the impact of the Covid pandemic and how, despite being a serial award winner, he began to wonder if he’d had just about enough of the music business, until his wife observed that he was in too deep to stop now, inspiring the title track of his 2022 album In Too Deep, a tough and resilient affair.  ‘Invisible Soldier’ follows, like ‘Miss Information’ in a twitchy, less dance-friendly funk vein, but once again an R’n’B oldie restores the party vibe, as they belt out a warmly received ‘Grits Ain’t Groceries’.
Rayford’s playful tendencies are underlined when long-standing keyboard buddy Drake Shining leads the way on their version of Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’, and if Shining’s delivery is slightly tongue in cheek, there’s nothing silly about the way Avila transitions from shimmering guitar backing to a suitably screaming solo.
At the end of the night though, it’s Rayford who’s on stage alone, seated on a chair, as he delivers an a cappellaversion of the song he says is his long time favourite, ‘What A Wonderful World’.  It’s a pin-drop moment from a singer who’s a commanding presence.  Sugaray Rayford may be a genial dance party host, but as a performer he’s also much more than that when he wants to be.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

GA-20 - Trasimeno Blues, Castiglione del Lago, 21 July 2023

Lately I’ve been getting into some rackety stuff.  Less of yer typical blues and blues-rock tropes, and a bit more garage band - a bit more noise.  And with that in mind, Boston trio GA-20 at the Trasimeno Blues Festival was a must-see kinda show.
The venue is a bit incongruous for these guys, mind you – a neat outdoor amphitheatre in the grounds of a Renaissance fortress, rather than a low-ceilinged club with sweat running down the walls.  But when they amble on stage, and get cracking on ‘No No’, the place rocks just the same.  Guitarists Matt Stubbs and Pat Faherty (ain’t no space for bass in this line-up) begin with
Pat Faherty lets the wild cat out of the bagl
capos set way down the neck, and crank out something wonderfully cacophonous to wake up the ducks on the adjacent Lake Trasimeno.
It's not all crackling static energy though, as ‘Just Because’ demonstrates, though there are still warped guitar licks on this dreamy Fats Domino-style ballad, as Stubbs and Faherty swap lead and rhythm.  It’s a vibe they explore again a little later on ‘Dry Run’ – romantic but punctuated by thrusting rhythm and spiky lead guitar.  Fats, of course, is generally tagged as a rock’n’roll pioneer, and while GA-20 like to style themselves as heavy blues merchants, it’s rock’n’roll that I hear buzzing around my ears when ‘Double-Gettin’’ meshes a rattling vocal from Faherty with a jolting, loping guitar motif, while drummer Tim Carman plays with a maraca in one hand, splashing it off a cymbal.
They really hit paydirt though, when they dive into ‘Give Me Back My Wig’, the first of a few selections from their tribute album to Hound Dog Taylor, Try It . . . You Might Like It.  What they serve up here, and on Hound Dog’s ‘She’s Gone’ which follows, is simply, the dirtiest, messiest, most danceable groove you could hope for to get up and shake your tush.  And there’s more where that came from on ‘Lonely Soul’, driven along by an irresistible Diddleying rhythm from Carman, and with a solo from Stubbs that’s wirier’n one of those wire hangers that
The GA-20 boys get down and get with it
used to breed in your wardrobe.  Not to be outdone, Faherty tunes into a guitar tone from The Twilight Zone on the mid-paced outing that follows.  He likes a small-bodied guitar, does Faherty, judging by the two on display tonight, but they’re lean’n’mean beasts that spit’n’squeal like wild cats.
Stubbs relates a bit of their history, playing two-bit gigs and having enthusiastic punters express disbelief that they were playing blues music, and offers the view that “If you don’t like blues, you’re listening to the wrong shit”.  Which sounds like a pretty good manifesto to me, when GA-20 are knocking out the kind of big, ringing stuff and splurges of howling slide that feature towards the end of this set, or the set-closing delight of Hound Dog Taylor’s twitching, screeching ‘Let’s Get Funky’.  This, plainly, is the right kind of shit, ‘cause I like it a lot.
Earlier, Roberto Luti and Luke Winslow-King delivered a rootsy two-handed support turn, with Luti providing subtle colourings on a Fender Strat, while Winslow-King switches between acoustic guitar and a tambourine as well as supplying the vocals.  ‘Out On The Western Plain’ is given a subtle, reflective treatment, with patient, sensitive slide from Luti, and there’s a great sense of rhythm between the two guitars on later songs such as the wicked groove of ‘Peaches’.  Winslow-King’s brings intimacy to the vocal on ‘Farewell Blues’, and plenty of personality to ‘Flash Of Magic’, which has a touch of Curtis Salgado about it.  But as good an appetiser as the duo served up though, I could have done with them making way sooner, so I could get to the rock’n’rolling main course.

GA-20's latest album Live In Loveland was released in March 2023.