Thursday, December 5, 2019

Christone Ingram - Kingfish

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram has been on my radar for a while of course.  The kid – he’s just 20 – has been touted all over the place as “the future of the Blues”, so his name would be hard to miss.  It’s just taken me some time to get round to his debut album Kingfish.  And having done so, I can belatedly confirm young Christone is pretty darn good.
His quality is summed up by one song, ‘Been Here Before’.  One of several co-writes with producer Tom Hambridge, it’s a simple acoustic blues with a lyric based on his grandma’s perception of Ingram’s uncanny maturity – “that boy’s been here before”.  And the sentiment is borne out by the delivery, with a neat guitar motif, minimalist backing, and a
Christone "Kingfish" Ingram - "Get in there!"
“less is more” Kingfish solo.  And in large measure that’s the story of the album.  We have here a 20 year old with a rich, molasses-like voice, who prefers varied, subtle guitar playing to wanton shredding.  A grown-up, in other words.
Hailing from Clarksdale, a legendary stop on the Mississippi blues trail, Ingram nevertheless has a curiosity about the wider world, outlined on the opening ‘Outside Of This Town’.  A chunky riff is the entrée for his warm voice and quality phrasing, garnished with stiletto-like guitar licks that are precise not wasteful, and with tension and release in his solo.  As a piece of songwriting it’s not rocket science, but it is well constructed.  And in a similar vein ‘It Ain’t Right’ may be a fairly perfunctory 12 bar, but it’s well put across, with a sparkling solo combining quick trills and long sustained notes.
There’s well handled social commentary on ‘Believe These Blues’ and ‘Hard Times’, both penned by Hambridge with Richard Fleming.  The first is a slow to mid-tempo blues with a lyrical, varied first solo, that displays real feeling, while the second is another acoustic blues, on which Keb’ Mo’ contributes resonator guitar.
More uptempo variety comes by way of the crisply tripping ‘If You Love Me’, with Ingram showing off some pitter-patter vocal delivery simple drums from Hambridge, embroidered with some squawks of harp from Billy Branch.  And ‘Trouble’ is similarly upbeat, but with a Latin beat provided by congas, some subtle piano colourings from Marty Sammon, and effective guitar/vocal call-and-response work from Ingram.
In contrast the closing slowie ‘That’s Fine By Me’ is all languid resignation about the end of a relationship, with a sparse guitar opening accompanied by jazzy drums, a piano solo that catches the mood, and a fitting guitar solo that grows out of the melody, demonstrating that Ingram is capable of covering all the bases.
I do have a couple of questions mind you.  Like why bother to include ‘Fresh Out’, a song Hambridge and Fleming wrote for Buddy Guy?  Okay, it provides an excuse for Guy to add a verse of vocals and a solo.  But really it’s little more than an amped up version of ‘Come Back Muddy’, from Guy’s album Born To Play Guitar, and anyway I don’t think Ingram needs the leg up.
What’s more, Guy’s presence means that ‘Fresh Out’ features four guitarists.  And  Keb’ Mo’ may have come along to join the party for one song and stuck around to strum on a few more, but with the additional presence of Rob McNelley, several songs feature three guitarists.  There’s not exactly a ‘Born To Run’ wall of sound going on here, and Ingram copes fine as the lone guitarist on songs like ‘Trouble’ and ‘That’s Fine By Me’, so what are the others adding to the equation?
Whatever.  Those gripes aside, Christone Ingram is by no means one of those fly-by-night, over-hyped guitar “prodigies”.  On the evidence of Kingfish I wouldn’t saddle with him that “future of the blues” tag, but I’ve no doubt that he’s an artist with a very bright future.

Kingfish was released by Alligator Records on 17 May.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Laurence Jones Band/Matt Pearce & The Mutiny - Oran Mor, Glasgow, 1 December 2019

It’s three years since I last saw Laurence Jones play live.  And a lot has happened in the world of Laurence Jones since then.  He’s changed from a three-piece to a four-piece, bringing in Bennett Holland on keys.  He’s grown his hair and grown a beard.  He’s changed record labels.  And he’s released two albums, last year’s The Truth, and the most recent Laurence Jones Band.  He’s still smiling though, in the same rather endearing way as always.
Tonight’s set leans heavily on those two most recent albums, kicking off with ‘I’m Waiting’ from Laurence Jones Band.  With Bennett Holland giving it some welly on organ, and new bassist Jack Alexander Timmis supplying bubbling bass, it conjures up a surging late 60s
The guitar may gently weep, but Laurence Jones smiles 
rock sound that’s one of the strengths of the new album, and which continues through the following ‘Stay’.  ‘Wipe Those Tears Dry’ is funkier, with loose-limbed bass from Timmis providing a great groove, and its also apparent that Jones’ voice has developed further over the years, especially backed up by Holland and additional backing vocalist Abbie Adi.
By the time they get to the soulful, retro ‘Quite Like You’ it’s apparent that the new songs have that bit more oomph than on the album.  In sub-zero Glasgow, drummer Phil Wilson had come onstage swathed in a scarf, but by now he’s getting warmed up on the song’s bouncing rhythm, while Holland supplies some funky organ.  And on ‘Mistreated’, propelled by a great bass line, Jones delivers a big wah-wah solo which is the focus for them to collectively whip things up.
Jones reverts to a trio for Stevie Ray Vaughan’s slow blues ‘Lenny’, on which he does a good turn, with delicate use of his whammy bar contributing to interesting bendy segments.  Then he sits down with an acoustic for an appealing run through ‘Long Long Lonely Ride’, with bluesy piano tinkling from Holland and a tasteful, twanging guitar solo.
If I had to choose a song from The Truth for them to play live, the romantic ‘Take Me’ probably wouldn’t be it, and although Jones’ solo kicks off a rousing crescendo the ensuing singalong doesn’t seem a good fit.  ‘What Would You Do’ is more interesting though, a twitchily funky, danceable affair that grows from choppy riffing, through and organ solo to a call and response guitar and keys passage.
Personally I’m more interested in seeing what Jones can do with his satisfying guitar showcase on his slow blues ‘Thunder In The Sky’ than the admittedly decent stab at ‘All Along The Watchtower’ that precedes it, great song though it is.  And another cover in the form of CCR’s ‘Before You Accuse Me’ chugs along rather stiffly at first, but starts to swing nicely after a boogie-ing piano turn from Holland leads into a Jones’ solo, with Wilson playing nicely behind the beat.
They close with the Stonesy, good-time handclapping vibe of ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’, before returning to encore with ‘Live It Up’, a bit of a throwaway enlivened by Wilson
Phil Collins lookalike Matt Pearce gets stuck in
standing as he whacks out the drum intro, and some “Hey Hey” audience participation initiated by Holland.  Jones and co are a tight band, and they warmed up a freezing night, but I can’t help thinking Jones really needs to comb his repertoire for a couple of more powerful songs to create a set that really takes off.
Support band Matt Pearce & The Mutiny are no slouches, and make their own sizeable contribution to the evening’s entertainment.  Pearce, the guitarist with hard rockers Voodoo Six, is a dapper specimen in jacket, waistcoat and feather-adorned titfer, and a confident performer on both guitar and vocals.
‘Scarecrowing’ opens their forty minute set with tight-but-loose, funkiness, Pearce pitching in some controlled wah-wah playing alongside a clavinet-style solo from Joe Mac on keys.  ‘Like A Hammer’ is all slinky verse and crunching chorus, with Pearce getting into some busy guitar/bass harmonising with Kelpie McKenzie.  There’s a ballsy fuzziness to his guitar sound on ‘Ordinary Blues’, which as he hints in his introduction has a decidedly Rush-like riff going on under the verse.
He switches from Les Paul Gold Top to a hollow body to contribute slide guitar on the bluesy riff of ‘Gotta Get Home’, the title track from their first album, which also features some gutsy vocal harmonies on its Beatle-ish anthemic chorus.  New song ‘Got A Thing Going On’ is muscular and bright but also jazzy, and ‘Set Me Free’ is another well-constructed track, slower and with Pearce’s solo built around some strong themes.
They close with a medley of Prince’s ‘Strange Relationship’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’, giving it some serious biff on the latter, with fuzzed up guitar on the riff and some blazing organ, before going off to a big cheer.  Matt Pearce & The Mutiny are a serious proposition with their brand of rocked-up funk, and I fully expect them to be out there drawing their own audiences before long.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Malone Sibun - Come Together

It’s easy to tag Malone Sibun as a blues rock outfit, combining as it does the talents of Detroit-born singer and guitarist Marcus Malone, who has released a handful of albums here in Britain, and guitarist Innes Sibun, who has previously worked with Robert Plant and Sari Schorr alongside his solo career.  It’s a handy enough label for what they do, but Come Together, their first album working together, demonstrates that they’re not one-trick ponies - even if the psychedelic sleeve, featuring the two of them looking like they've been jabbed with cattle prods, is a bit of a decoy.
Malone and Sibun - not the psychedelic cover pic
Songs like ‘Let Me Love You’ and ‘Lovelight’ certainly fit the blues rock archetype.  ‘Let Me Love You’ opens up with a gritty, Zep-esque somersaulting riff, to which Sibun adds filigrees of slide guitar before it settles into the kind of territory that’s familiar from Malone’s earlier work.  Again, it’s easy to compare his vocal style with Paul Rodgers, but if the cap fits as you listen to this, while Sibun makes his presence felt with a needle-sharp solo.  And yes, there’s something vaguely Whitesnake-ish about   the vibe of  ‘Lovelight’, with its ripped out, ruff’n’tuff chords and catchy chorus complemented by smatterings of lead guitar, before a key change triggers a good solo from Sibun, and they take it down for the bridge before adding a guitar harmony segment for good measure.
The slow blues box is ticked by ‘So Tired Of Living’, a Sibun composition on which Malone comes over all Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland while his partner adds guitar licks over simple organ colourings from Stevie Watts, and shows bags of feeling on his solo, when he stretches things out and leaves plenty of space, though at times he does have a tendency to go to the other extreme with flurries of unnecessary notes.  And there’s even a hint of talking blues about ‘Rabbit Hole’, a slight but fun affair with a shuffling rhythm laid down by Malone’s long-time drummer Chris Nugent, more slide guitar from Sibun, and a rollicking bridge and solo.
But Malone and Sibun also like to veer into more soulful stylings.  ‘She’s My Girl’ may rock, with big chords and squealing Sibun slide, but at heart it’s a booty-shaking Sixties soul concoction with a “where have I heard it before” chorus that morphs into an irresistible “ooh, ooh, ooh-la-la” middle eight.   Meanwhile both ‘I Want You Back’ and the closing ‘Everyday’s A Miracle’ are relaxed and sun-kissed offerings, the former with Philly-sounding backing
Partners in crime getting down
vocals – but thankfully no syrupy Philly strings – and the latter with an optimistic lyric that’s
straight out of the Malone playbook, and a spot on solo from Sibun that glides over a key change.
There’s more good stuff too, starting with the opening 'Come Together' with its tough, stop-start riff and a Morse Code-like solo from Sibun, though I’m less convinced by its rather strained backing vocals.  It lays down a marker with its great sound though, bringing out booming drums from Nugent and grooving bass from Roger Inniss.  ‘Taste Of Your Love’ is reprised from Malone’s 2007 album Hurricane, and while I might have picked others from his back catalogue, provides some stylistic balance with its acoustic guitar opening reminiscent of Whitesnake’s ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry No More Today’ and patient, sometimes double-tracked vocals, before revving up and kicking ass from the bridge onwards.  And ‘Jodie’ is a rattling blast of roll, with honky tonk piano from Watts in the background and a scrabbling Sibun solo over a great bass groove from Inniss.
Ultimately I reckon Come Together is one killer song short of really knocking it out of the park, but that’s a compliment really – a sense that the best may still be to come once the Malone and Sibun partnership has matured.  But their first outing still confirms that these are blues rockers who have plenty of musical clubs in their bag, and who know how to swing ‘em.

Come Together is released by Redline Music on 31 January 2020.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Airbourne/Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown - Barrowlands, Glasgow, 21 November 2019

Well, that was a bit mental.  All the elements of your typical Airbourne show appeared to be present and correct the other night.  If my ears will stop ringing, let’s see if I can summarise.
“Here-we, here-we, here we fucking go,” into a ‘Sin City Ain’t Bad Place For Riff Raff To Give The Dog A Bone’ barrage of jackhammer riffage, a wall of not-quite-noise pounding out of a cliff-face of Marshall stacks.  Lead singer and guitarist Joel O’Keeffe pinballs around the place ripping out screaming licks while bassist Justin Street and rhythm guitarist Harri Harrison career back and forth, swapping sides of the stage in between delivering football terrace shoutalong backing vocals on the choruses of favourites like ‘Raise The Flag’ and ‘Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast’.
Joel O'Keeffe - that beer can's existence is almost over
There’s sweat, feedback, crowd-surfing, and helicopter-haired headbanging from Street.  There’s manic “Here’s Johnny!” leering from O’Keeffe, and colourful bouts of swearing from him devoted to the joys – no, the necessity, of getting pissed.  Twenty minutes in there’s his ritual shoulders-aloft wander through the audience during the magnificent ‘Girls On Black’, pausing only to smash a beer can against his head till it explodes.
But wait, what’s this?  During their long-standing ode to hanging tough, ‘Bottom Of The Well’ they get into some subtle dynamics, bringing things down between choruses and giving O’Keeffe room to undertake some meditative guitar explorations – well, almost meditative.
Cranking it out again on the likes of ‘It’s All For Rock’n’Roll’, O’Keeffe is sat on the apron of the stage soloing when a flight case emblazoned with the Gothic logo ‘Lemmy’s Bar’ is rolled on behind him, bearing 5 plastic pint cups filled with ice, a bottle of JD, and cans of Coke.  So O’Keeffe plays barman, doling out the Jack and Cokes and distributing them to band and audience members.
There’s an air raid siren solo by drummer Ryan O’Keeffe, accompanied by ear-splitting, thunder-laden sound effects, heralding his little brother’s appearance up by the PA stack.  There’s beer-throwing, and in the midst of it all the frenetic, anthemic ‘Live It Up’ and ‘Stand Up For Rock’n’Roll’, both good tunes beneath the mayhem and sheer volume.
They don’t go large on the new album Boneshaker – both the title track and the brief ‘Backset Boogie’ sit well amongst earlier material, but to these ears ‘Burnout The Nitro’ is a bit of a racket.  But the sound doesn’t seem great to be honest – everything is louder than everything else to the point nothing stands out.  But this ain’t my first rodeo with Airbourne, and let’s face it, nuance is scarcely the order of the day.  Their offering is an out-and-out, high voltage, rock’n’roll party – and that, they indubitably deliver.
This is though, my first live experience of Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown.  I’ve enjoyed their last two albums - the most recent, Truth And Lies, showing off a very modern-sounding hard rock band with a strong understanding of the blues in their armoury – so I’m keen to see what they have to offer.
The first thing to be said is that Tyler Bryant himself is a bona fide rock star in the making. 
Tyler Bryant shows off his star quality
Fashionably thin, clad in a loose-fitting shirt, skinny tie askew, and a waistcoat, with a boyish grin and hair that constantly needs to be flicked out of his face, he’s certainly photogenic enough.  But he’s also possessed of a distinctive voice, capable of both raunch and sensitivity, and shows off some zinging guitar skills as he skulks around the stage in a hunched duck walk.
And when they hit their stride, as on the driving ‘On To The Next’ and the rolling blues rock groove of ‘Ride’, The Shakedown sure as hell live up to their promise.
‘Weak And Weepin’’ sports a riff that could have come straight out of co-guitarist Graham Whitford’s band Aerosmith, and if there’s a satisfying Zep-like crunch to ‘Eye To Eye’, it also has some more twenty-first century touches in a manner similar to Dan Patlansky. I could live without their moments of full throttle squalling heaviness though, as on the set closer ‘Lipstick Wonder Woman’, and the spell when drummer Caleb Crosby comes to the front of the stage to belt the bejeezus out of a drum as accompaniment.  But maybe they feel the need to give Bryant more support, as Whitford is a stolid presence to one side of the stage and bassist Noah Denney seems almost to be pushed to the wings on the other.
But for my money they really show their worth when Bryant straps on a Resonator guitar and grabs a slide for a cover of ‘That’s Alright Mama’, which becomes a springboard for some anything but unplugged exploring of bluesy outer limits.  Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown surely have a big future, but I reckon their strength is really in their roots.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The World Of Mick - MICK I

Many and varied are the albums which cross the Blues Enthused threshold.  This week it’s MICK I (as in Mick One) by The World Of Mick, a combo put together by long standing session man Mickey Wynne, who has worked with the likes of Julian Lennon, Zak Starkey, John Entwhistle, and Georgie Fame.
Little surprise then, that retro influences are apparent right from the opening ‘Love Of My Woman’, a semi-acoustic, happy-go-lucky bit of skifflish rough and tumble, with some twanging stand-up bass and tickled ivories decorating simple guitar and drums.
Mickey Wynne does some woodshedding
There are more Sixties stylings on ‘Beautiful Thing’, ‘Northern Girl’ and ‘I’ll Always Be With You’.  The first of these is Merseybeat-esque bright and jangly pop, a bit slight, but with an appealing melody and some neat slide guitar from Phil Saatchi, plus some whooshing sound effects.  ‘Northern Girl’ is also Beatle-ish, this time in a gently acoustic mode, with a simple, pleasant melody and warm vocal, and interestingly mixed instrumentation that sounds to me as if it includes – I could be wrong – a harmonium.  ‘I’ll Always Be With You’ is folkier pop, based on picked acoustic guitar and accordion from Anja McLoskey.  It’s a bit winsome, and its simple melody feels rather derivative, but it displays a good sense of harmony.
Accordion is also in evidence on the most distinctive song on the album, ‘French Blooze’, contributing to a very Parisian musette feel.  It’s an atmospheric piece, with a distant, distorted vocal, a rippling guitar line that drifts from foreground to background over more stand-up bass, and a spoken French voiceover delivered in rumbling fashion by Patrick Bergin – yep, the actor who once played Robin Hood, who also adds some minimalist harmonica.
A couple of songs, ‘Don’t Be A Prisoner To The Past’ and ‘Free Ride’, add Celtic folk touches.  The former is ushered in by a tasteful vocal harmony intro, then strolls along on a loping bass line and strummed acoustic guitar, with more accordion from McLoskey and some satisfying fiddle embroidery from Glenn Somerville.  The latter adds some synth embellishments to the mix, and is enlivened by the electric guitar and drums.  But as pleasant as these songs are, they ultimately feel a bit tame.
A couple of tracks make use of snippets of the American comedian Bill Hicks talking about changing the world, “exploring space, both inner and outer” and such like, though to what purpose I’m not sure.  The first is ‘La Troc’, a gypsy folk-ish instrumental on which acoustic guitar and fiddle are joined by a thumping beat and clacking wood block, to good effect.  The second is ‘All Quiet’, which starts off with just acoustic guitar and distinctive, restrained percussion as the basis for semi-spoken vocals, before drums and electric guitar kick in to up the ante.
The stronger songs include ‘Fooled By You’, which with staccato vocals over guitar and pedal steel from BJ Cole warms up into something energetic with competing voices on its refrain, and ‘You Are The Message’, which ticks along on a pulsing backing track, with the electric guitar motif creating some urgency.  And the closing ‘Twin Flames’ similarly stands out with its yearning feel and a controlled, switchback melody, making use of nicely blended voices, and an elegant electric guitar break.
MICK I is neatly assembled, with occasional touches of Jackie Leven-like quirkiness, and ‘French Blooze’ in particular has a certain je ne sais quois.  But it could do with more of those sparks of the unusual to give The World Of Mick a stronger, distinctive identity.


Monday, November 18, 2019

Toronzo Cannon - The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp

I’ve been a bit slow getting around to this new album from Chicago’s Toronzo Cannon.  Not through any lack of interest – I’ve got Cannon’s previous albums, and enjoyed seeing him live in 2017 – but just because I took my sweet time buying the thing.  Blues Enthused, you understand, doesn’t rely entirely on freebies.  And now I wish I’d been quicker off the mark, because The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp highlights three things about Toronzo Cannon.  Firstly, he’s a damn fine blues guitarist.  But that’s not the whole deal because, secondly, he’s also a damn fine soulful blues singer, whose voice aspires to the resonance of Sugaray Rayford.  And thirdly, and most importantly, as a songwriter he shows a determination to be adventurous, with lyrics that have freshness and depth rather than ploughing the same old furrows.
Take the title track for instance.  ‘The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp’ is a hunk of
Toronzo Cannon shows off his Chicago-branded Telecaster
Pic by Mike White
brooding funk in the manner of James Brown’s ‘Down And Out In New York City’, with a withering lyric about the equivalence of different kinds of exploitative schemer.  “Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” says Cannon, making his point but not belabouring it.
But at the other extreme there’s fun in the form of songs like the ‘Insurance’ and ‘Stop Me When I’m Lying’.  The former is a mid-paced commentary on the necessity of health insurance, which has some spot on harp accompaniment from Billy Branch, successfully rhymes “third degree” with “colonoscopy”, and a hint of Elvin Bishop-like drollery with the single bass note that punctuates the end of each verse.  ‘Stop Me When I’m Lying’, which follows, is party time.  It’s got an offbeat rhythm from drummer Pooky Styx and honky tonk piano from Roosevelt Purefoy, some honking horns, and a suitably boisterous Cannon guitar solo.
Cannon also lays out a mini-suite of three songs, in different styles, about the nature of everyday relationships.  ‘That’s What I Love About ‘Cha’ is a straight-up boogie about a bickering but loving couple – “You don’t put up the toilet seat”, complains the wife – with a rollicking guitar solo to complement more honky tonk piano, grooving bass from Marvin Little, and guest vocals from Nora Jean as the missus.  ‘Ordinary Woman’ is a soulful, finger-clicking paean to the virtues of ordinary women, with some jazzy inflections.  And ‘Let Me Lay My Love On You’ is a reflective lament about being apart from one’s partner, with some piercing guitar from Cannon underlining the sentiment.
But if those songs celebrate the everyday, there are also songs with more dramatic intent.  Cannon mixes traditional blues with something lyrically unusual on ‘The First 24’, a meditation on the afterlife set to a rhythmic acoustic guitar riff and the restrained stomp of a kick drum.  But ‘She Loves Me (Again)’ is a real highlight, a tale of domestic murder set to a slow blues, opening with a controlled wail of guitar, with strong storytelling punctuated by guitar licks that capture the mood, and tense, squealing solos with a couple of novel twists.  And the album closes with ‘I’m Note Scared’, a song of defiance by characters who refuse to bow to abuse or prejudice, on which a strong riff contrasts with rippling piano, with some wiry, on point soloing and a slide guitar contribution from Joanna Connor.
The rest of the twelve tracks on offer are up to the mark too, but you can find out about them for yourself.  And you really should, because The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp is an impressive album from start to finish.  It is, I can personally assure you, well worth the money.

The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp is out now on Alligator Records.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Seamus McGarvey Band - Seamus O'Boogie

I’m sure lots of bands recording an album regard it as a labour of love, but Seamus O’Boogie is really in a different category.  Irish bassist Pat McGarvey had had a long-standing notion to record with his harmonica-playing brother John and their amateur musician dad Seamus.  But it was only with the passing of Seamus’s brother, sister and father-in-law that the idea crystallised, bringing this album into being.
Now in his seventies, Seamus McGarvey has been a lifelong music fan, collecting records 
Seamus sings the blues, in bars of twelve or less
and attending shows by many famous blues, rock’n’roll and country artists, as well as singing and playing guitar himself.  Seamus O’Boogie is a collection of cover versions that celebrate his enthusiasm and have personal meaning for the family, recorded in Edinburgh with the assistance of local guitarist Jed Potts and drummer Calum McIntyre.
McGarvey senior’s affinity for blues music is demonstrated by the feel of his vocal delivery on tracks like Robert Johnson’s ‘Rambling On My Mind’, and Sonny Boy Williamson II’s ‘Don’t Start Me Talkin’, on both of which John McGarvey’s harp and Jed Potts’ guitar combine very nicely, with Potts delivering a shivering and shaking solo on the latter.  The same is also true of songs like Lonnie Johnson’s ‘It’s Too Late To Cry’, an acid tale of a no good woman on which McGarvey captures the man’s breaking point with an emphatic “That did it!”, and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s ‘Walk On’, which opens reflectively with sparse harp and guitar accompaniment.
More upbeat blues comes in the form of ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’, with its snapping, lurching arrangement and a brittle-toned solo from Potts, as well as the sturdy grind of Elmore James’ ‘Look On Yonder Wall’.
Meanwhile McGarvey’s penchant for country music is well represented by ‘Sea Of Hearbreak’ and ‘Deep River Blues’.  On the former it’s apparent that while his voice doesn’t have the basso profundo quality of Johnny Cash, it does have something of Cash's character, with restrained banjo and amusing “bom-bom-bom” backing vocals from Pat McGarvey
Seamus and his sidekicks
providing some variety.  The latter is a more laid back, country-ish take on a traditional blues, with McIntyre providing washboard percussion that even stretches to the use of a bicycle bell.
Crossover tunes like Brook Benton’s pop hit ‘Hotel Happiness’ and Carl Perkins’ country/rock’n’roll ‘Honey Don’t’ feel like throwaways by comparison, and I’ll never go a bundle on a crooning-style Elvis tune such ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’, nicely enough done though it may be.  But on Duke Ellington’s ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’ the understated delivery and McGarvey’s liltingly romantic vocal are good enough to have me digging out a DVD of When Harry Met Sally, in which the tune gets the briefest of airings courtesy of Harry Connick Jr.  Such is the power of a classic song.
There’s some rock’n’roll too, in the form of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ and Jerry Lee Lewis’s ‘Break Up’.  The band rock away satisfyingly enough on the former, with McIntyre’s drums becoming more urgent in support of the guitar and harp solos, but the latter rattles along more vibrantly, with whoops of enthusiasm from McGarvey, and a nifty solo from Potts.
There are some curiosities added to the album too, harvested from a family cassette tape dating back to 1983 - snippets of song introductions and conversation, and renditions of a few Irish tunes on which Seamus McGarvey’s late brother John can be heard singing, add to the personal touch.  And even if these songs don’t mean much to me (other than ‘Mush Mush Mush Tooral-i-Addy’, familiar from the movie The Quiet Man) they underline my original point:  Seamus O’Boogie is a labour of love.

Seamus O'Boogie is available now on Johnny Rock Records.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Wishbone Ash - The Jam House, Edinburgh, 9 November 2019

There’s only one Wishbone Ash.  Well, actually that might be a rather contentious statement in some quarters.  What I mean to say is that there’s only one Wishbone Ash sound.  There may be a distant resemblance to Yes here and there, in the vocal harmonies, busy bass playing, and occasional pastoral mood, but that’s it – they really do stand apart with their twin guitar prog sound.
Mark Abrahams and Andy Powell get all wistful and elegiac
Which is clear as soon as they kick off tonight’s show with ‘Real Guitars Have Wings’, an instrumental that may be brief but still has room to show off those rippling guitar harmonies.  And having warmed everyone up with that, they then make a statement of intent by knocking out three humdingers in a row from Argus.  Mark Abrahams takes the lead with a wah-wah intro that builds into the classic riff of ‘The King Will Come’, while Andy Powell contents himself with laying down rhythm textures, and those vocal harmonies produce the icing on the cake.  They follow that with the Tudor-sounding opening theme that announces ‘Throw Down The Sword’, on which it’s evident that Powell, all salt-and-pepper and twinkling eye, still has a decent set of pipes, though it’s bassist Bob Skeat that adds the vocal fairy dust with his high harmonies – though verses and choruses are, as is often the case, the lesser part of the song, as Powell takes the lead guitar chair this time with a piercing, elegiac solo.  By which time the thought occurs that Robin Trower may sometimes be identified as a master of tone, but there can’t be many pairings out there to match Powell and Abrahams for crystal clarity. 
The third element of the Argus triptych is ‘Sometime World’, which opens in lyrical mode before revving up and building to its distinctive dah-dah-dee-dah vocal harmony section, before Powell produces an excellent solo underpinned by great bass runs from Skeat and ringing chords from Abrahams.
They make room for a new song, ‘We Stand As One’, which stands up well beside the older
material.  Written by Mark Abrahams, his prickling guitar lines are counterpointed by a jagged, rumbling riff.  But the final highlight of this first set is ‘Way Of The World’, a dynamic epic with a mountainous riff, and a blazing Powell solo over more big chords, and undulating bass from the beaming Skeat.  It then hits a fresh peak with a guitar harmony segment of byzantine complexity, followed by a screaming solo from Abrahams before they drop it down to create space for a crackling exchange of guitar fire between them.
They ratchet up the momentum again quickly in their second set, with Powell on a Telecaster for the boogie of ‘Blind Eye’, before the chunky, chugging shuffle of ‘Deep Blues’, which underlines that Joe Crabtree’s drumming is unfussy in the midst of everything going on around him, but exactly where it needs to be.
Andy Powell and Bob Skeat - old guns havin' some fun
‘The Pilgrim’ takes things back into epic territory in convincing fashion, its patient opening leading to a hypnotic rolling guitar groove.  But while ‘Tales Of The Wise’ features a very WA stately intro, and a faster middle section with expertly combined lead and rhythm guitar, for me it demonstrates that you can have too much of a good thing, as it goes on long enough to begin to pall.
But of course with their back catalogue they’ve got too many get out of jail cards to really lose their way, and they promptly rip out the gutsy riff to ‘Living Proof’ to get back on track, before trumping that with the catchy guitar figure of the swinging ‘Jailbait’, with Powell prompting an arm waving, testifyin’ singalong.
They encore with ‘Blowin’ Free’, of course, a classic which is really beyond commentary, and brings a cheerful conclusion to an effortlessly strong 2 hour performance, accompanied by some appealingly old-fashioned visuals in the form of a slide/animation/kaleidoscope show.
Wishbone Ash aren’t anybody’s star vehicle.  Powell may be the main man, but he’s happy to give his axe sidekick Abrahams plenty of space to shine, and it’s very much an ensemble performance.  Fifty years gone, and a new album coming next year, Powell tells us.  I dare say we’ll meet again.