Monday, February 17, 2020

Flashback #11 - Suzi Quatro

A few months back I collared a copy of The Very Best Of Suzi Quatro.  Why the hell am I telling you this, you ask?
Well, I was on a major Dr Feelgood kick at the time, and after listening to Lee Brilleaux growling his way through a heap of excellent stuff I found that in some idle moments I was hearing his voice rumbling through the chorus of Suzi’s number one hit ‘Devil Gate Drive’.  Bizarre I know, but true.
Anyway, this took me back to my school days, as I was eleven when Quatro first broke through with the stomping and wailing ‘Can The Can’ in June 1973, adding to the innocent
Suzi Quatro cans the can - whatever that means
pleasures I found in the glam rock canon of the time.  And it’s maybe worth emphasising “innocent pleasures”, because even as an impressionable school kid I never really found Suzi all that sexy, regardless of her leather jumpsuit with low slung zipper.  Her readily apparent tomboy nature dispersed pretty much any sense of sultriness there might have been.
What she did seem to exhibit though, was an enjoyment of rock’n’roll that imbued her big hits.  She didn’t write them of course – they came off the assembly line of songwriting and producing duo Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who also came up with hit singles for Sweet and Mud among others.  But when the Chinnichap pair clicked with an artist they could really deliver the goods, and in Suzi Quatro’s case that meant three million-selling singles, culminating in the wonderful ‘Devil Gate Drive’.  It was corny to be sure, not least in the Top Of The Pops appearance linked above, where her band embarked on a dorkish dance routine in the bridge.  But to a kid starting to enjoy music it was three minutes and something of irresistible, ramshackle fun.
So with this in mind I went out and got myself Suzi’s Very Best Of cd - or to be entirely accurate, double cd.  Hell, it only cost £5.99.
Unsuprisingly, imagining that Quatro’s best demands two cds was fanciful on someone's part, to say the least.  Her run of hits peaked with ‘Devil Gate Drive’, and pretty much ground to a halt within the year, in Britain at least – and the one big success she subsequently managed in 1978, ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love’, was the most godawful country mush, foreshadowing some dreadful later recordings.    Maybe Chinn and Chapman were spread too thin, servicing other acts, but one way or another the collection tails off into quite a lot of dross.
Still, Suzi may have been groomed (as it were) by Mickie Most, the owner of her record label RAK, her hits may have been penned by others, and her vocals often have a banshee tone to terrify the local dog population, in her better moments she had an endearing commitment to the virtues of old-fashioned rock’n’roll.  Her so-called Very Best includes her belting out the likes of ‘All Shook Up’, ‘Shakin’ All Over’, Cliff’s ‘Move It’, a rollicking live version of Little Richard’s ‘Keep A Knockin’’.  She even gives it some welly on a cover of Johnny Winter’s ‘Rock And Roll Hootchie Koo’.
So maybe it’s not really so bizarre to wonder what a Feelgood-like R’n’B band would make of ‘Devil Gate Drive’.  And whatever her evident limitations, Suzi Quatro will always be part of my pre-teen musical firmament, god bless her.  Happy days.

Coincidentally, I’m currently reading Stuart Maconie’s book Cider With Roadies, about the evolution of his musical fandom.  Maconie is of the same vintage as me, and writes a highly entertaining chapter about the glam rock era.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Rory Gallagher - Check Shirt Wizard - Live In '77

Where do you begin with this?  I mean, really, where in the world do you begin? Check Shirt Wizard – Live in ’77 comprises 20 tracks and lasts two hours, and it’s got my brain buzzing like a jar full of wasps.  Well, here goes . . .
First thing is, this is my favourite Rory Gallagher line-up – not that he ever had a bad band.  But here we have not only his long-standing right hand man Gerry McAvoy on bass, but also somewhat unsung piledriving drummer Rod De’Ath, and also Lou Martin’s keys, which add some flavours I like.  Others will prefer his power trio period, but for me this is the best of the best.
Rory Gallagher - a wizard, a true star
Such a great songwriter as well, who was so fresh lyrically - Rory is never a peddler of the usual clichés.  Here you get a great reading of the near-jazzy yet infernally catchy ‘Calling Card’.  ‘Tattoo’ed Lady’ is so evocative, but economical, with lines like “I spent my youth under canvas roof, as I roamed from town to town”, and set to such an original, swinging tune.  And of course ‘A Million Miles Away’ is incomparably atmospheric.  Hell, even when it’s just a matter of riffs the man is a magician - witness the high-tension-wire tautness of ‘Moonchild’ and the crackle-and-jab of the high octane ‘Secret Agent’.
Rory’s inventiveness and playfulness are a joy.  Take ‘Bought And Sold’ for example, a chunk of boogie that Quo might have chugged away at merrily in a straight line for several minutes.  But in Rory’s hands it takes off in fresh directions like a kite in a stiff breeze.  McAvoy and De’Ath put the hammer down at one point, but Rory’s playing remains relaxed, like a genius footballer who always seems to have more time than anyone else, before they take it down into a great ‘pizzicato’ passage and then one of his trademark guitar/voice harmonising segments.  Your jaw will drop at similar excursions on a regular basis.
Rory was doing ‘unplugged’ segments before the word had even been thought of, and here he straps on his acoustic for ‘Out On The Western Plain’, which sounds like it must have been forever.  I’d normally run for the hills in response to ragtime guitar, but Rory makes it work on ‘Barley & Grape Rag’ because he finds the earthiness and fun in it, whereas to my ears most exponents just sound twee. ‘Too Much Alcohol’ is a raucous slide affair, on a resonator methinks.  Then there’s long-standing favourite ‘Going To My Hometown’ on which the rest of the band gradually reappear.   I mean, where the hell did he get this from?  He barks away enthusiastically over rattling mandolin, while the audience claps along in anticipation of the stomping beat, and Lou Martin adds a fun piano solo, combining to create a classic that’s a one-off if ever there was one.
The energy levels are staggering, notably on ‘I Take What I Want’, a Sam and Dave soul hit that gets shaken’n’stirred and turned inside out and upside down, with chords flying around like shards of metal and needle sharp lead playing, some Celtic leanings, and a mind-boggling second solo.  I’m listening to it again as I type, and I’m breathless.
But they really get into the red zone when Rory lets rip with fiery slide playing, as on the unstoppable foot-to-the-floor rock’n’roll of ‘Souped-Up Ford’, where he whips up a veritable storm and Martin boogie woogies away on the Joanna.  Or of course on the climactic, surging ‘Bullfrog Blues’, with its iconic “Well did you evvaaah” opening.
But slide or not, Rory’s guitar is a joy to listen to, right from the glorious fuzzy warmth of both rhythm and lead playing on the opening ‘Do You Read Me’ to the encores ‘Used To Be’ and ‘Country Mile’, by which time I’m recalling the famous phrase describing the playing of the jazz cornettist Bix Beiderbecke - like “shooting bullets at a bell”.
Enough.  I’m worn out with enjoyment.  If there’s a better album than Check Shirt Wizard in 2020, I’ll be dumbfounded.  This is the work of a rock’n’roll genius, sitting on top of the world.

Check Shirt Wizard - Live In '77 is released on 6 March, and can be pre-ordered here.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Albert Cummings - Believe

This latest album by Massachusetts singer and guitarist Albert Cummings was recorded in Muscle Shoals, with the legendary Jim Gaines in the producer’s chair.  So there’s little surprise that when it kicks off with a horn-laden cover of the Sam and Dave hit ‘Hold On (I’m Coming)’ the resulting sound is big, rich and soulful, with Cummings doing a sterling job vocally.  It’s the first of several enjoyable songs of a soul-blues bent on Believe, and if someone were to pitch them as the soundtrack to a remake of The Commitments, I’d reckon that sounds like fun.  But at the same time I’d venture to say it’s indicative of how Believe plays it a bit safe at times.
Albert Cummings - a new rehearsal studio may be an idea
On the one hand this collection of originals and covers features some cracking stuff.  For example there’s the catchy ‘Queen Of Mean’, which may lean on a familiar sounding ‘Take Me To The River’-like riff but benefits from stinging guitar from Cummings.  And there’s the bluesy dig of ‘Call Me Crazy’ - all big ringing chords and a scrabbling, feedback-howling solo, with snappy lines like “You think I was born yesterday, but I stayed up late last night”.  But on the other hand it includes a pretty redundant cover of Little Walter’s ‘My Babe’, and a bland country-soul reading of Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ that lacks any Van-like depth.  As covers go though, there’s nothing “little” about his take on ‘Red Rooster’, a slow-grinding chunk of R’n’B that nods towards the Howlin’ Wolf original rather than the sparse and reedy Stones’ version, with Cummings’ vocal booming in resonant fashion and his guitar kicking in with an impressive solo that’s full of tension, release and dynamics.
‘It’s All Good’ picks things up with a Delbert McClinton slice of chirpiness after ‘My Babe’, featuring some sprightly guitar, but Cummings really hits his stride in the home stretch.  ‘Going My Way’ is strong but subtle, reverb-heavy guitar cutting through over a strolling rhythm, while stuttering, twanging licks are strewn around casually.  It’s a good precursor to the wallop of the aforementioned ‘Call Me Crazy’, and then the album-closing rendition of Freddie King’s ‘Me And My Guitar’, which has plenty of punch, a funky groove to engage one’s butt, and a fleet-fingered, wah-wah inflected solo.
That closing trio of tracks would sit happily alongside any of Buddy Guy’s recent output, and demonstrates the impact Albert Cummings is capable of delivering.  Believe is an enjoyable album, but it could have been a standout if the drive and swagger of its best moments had been maintained across the piece.

Believe is released by Provogue Records on 14 February.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Scottish Blues Weekend - St Bride's Centre, Edinburgh, 7-9 February 2020

There are weekends, and there are long weekends.  The second Scottish Blues Weekend, organised by the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, is one of the latter, with 10 gigs taking place over four days from Thursday.  I managed to get along to three shows, and very good they were too.

Nicole Smit Band, with Delightful Squalor

Singer Nicole Smit and her band entertained a sold out crowd on the Friday night with a largely R’n’B centred set, grabbing the attention early on with a swinging take on Junior Wells’ ‘Little By Little’, and Koko Taylor’s swaggering ‘Wang Dang Doodle’.  And as anyone
familiar with Smit’s voice would know, she has the range and power to bring a punch to both tunes without, it has to be said, resorting to Taylor’s throat-scrapingly guttural approach.
Taking a different turn, they belt through Wanda Jackson’s ‘Fujiyama Mama’, a country-rockabilly affair on which Smit bounces around with the same kind of glee that she gives to the yelps of the title line.
Charlie Wild and Nicole Smit do some wang dang doodle
The band depart while Smit is joined by Cera Impala from support act Delightful Squalor on acoustic guitar, for a duet on a subtle original – ‘Release’, I think – that they’ve recently co-penned, the pair of them blending their voices in sublime fashion.
There’s reflective emotion too in Smit and the band’s rendition of Billie Holliday/Nina Simone oldie ‘Tell Me More’, but also a ton of energy on uptempo numbers like Sugar Pie Desanto’s ‘Witch For A Night’ and Marie Knight’s rattling ‘I Thought I Told You Not To Tell Them’.  Guitarist Charlie Wild contributes rock’n’rolling guitar breaks to add extra spice, and on the latter Smit also shows off her diction with the rat-a-tat delivery of the lyrics.
One of Nicole Smit’s specialities is foraging for overlooked barn-burners by female artists, as evidenced by most of the songs listed above.  The result isn’t just a refreshing change from the standards that many blues artists would lean on, it’s the basis for a belter of a show.

Delightful Squalor are a duo comprising the aforementioned Cera Impala, who mostly employs banjo as her weapon of choice, and Texan singer-guitarist Lake Montgomery, who together offer a selection of old-fashioned roots tunes featuring exquisite, breathy harmonies.  They also produce a couple of ukuleles at one point, and to paraphrase Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, “I hate ukuleles, Jock – I hate ‘em!”  At times they’re a bit twee for my tastes, but to be fair, at their best they conjure up echoes varying from Steve Earle in his breezier moments to early Joan Armatrading.

Blues Afternoon – Dana Dixon Band, Liz Jones Trio, and Charlotte Marshall & The 45s

Storm Ciara is approaching Edinburgh on the Saturday afternoon, but there’s shelter from the storm as a full house welcomes a trio of female-led blues acts.
Dana Dixon - harp at the ready
First up are the Dana Dixon Band.  Ms Dixon is pretty much your archetypal blues belter of a vocalist, but she’s also something you don’t find every day – a female harp player.  She
duly gets her wail on when they crank out John Lee Hooker’s ‘Good Rocking Mama’ to good effect.
This kind of uptempo R'nB is their natural beat, as on a crackling version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Rock’n’Roller’, with Dave Dixon producing some nifty guitar picking along the way.  He’s a mite overfond of his trick of sticking his right hand at the top of the neck like a capo, while shredding away with his left below it.  But that takes nothing away from the vitality of their rakish, garage band-like closer ‘The Boy From New Orleans’.

The Liz Jones Trio are essentially half of Liz Jones’ band Broken Windows, in semi-acoustic form with Jones accompanied by John Bruce on guitar and Suzy Cargill on percussion.
John Bruce and Liz Jones search the floor for the lost chord
Their 45-minute sets deliver something rather more reflective, Jones’ songs lending themselves well to a stripped back format.  ‘Strum’ alternates between a hypnotic shuffle propelled by Cargill’s pattering djembe drum and the urgency of the chorus.  ‘No Classic Love Song’ is jazzier fare, swinging along effortlessly on its delicious melody with a lyric that’s an evocative tribute to a maverick couple of Jones’ acquaintance.
My favourite on this occasion though, is the 2018 single ‘Lover’, with its catchy, ringing guitar line over Suzy Cargill’s mandolin, its complementary ascending middle eight, and Jones’ thoughtful vocal floating patiently over the top.  A new album from Broken Windows is in the works, and I look forward to its arrival for another helping of something out of ordinary.

I have no idea whether Charlotte Marshall & The 45s are assembling a debut album, but if they aren’t then they damn well should be.
Charlotte Marshall marshals her troops
It’s probably a bit hackneyed to tag the diminutive Aussie chanteuse as the Divine Miss M,
but her performance sass does bring to mind Bette Midler.  More to the point, she knocks out high quality original songs across a range of genres, from New Orleans moodiness on ‘Full Moon’ to fun country on ‘Baby Say You’ll Be My Valentine’; from a James Brown-style funk refrain on ‘Do You Remember’ to the no messing R’n’B raunch of ‘Mama’s Spring Cleaning (And You’re The First To Go)’.
The songs are the subject of clever arrangements, delivered with conviction by the 45s, who are clearly well, er, Marshalled.  Comprising sax, trombone, guitar and keys in addition to the rhythm section, they whack out a tasty miscellany of solos throughout the set, and turn on a dime at the wave of a hand from their boss.
Marshall, meanwhile, gets right into character to inhabit the songs, winding up the set with more stylistic variations in the form of the warm and soulful ‘Dig My Love’ and the NOLA jazz stomp of ‘Bootleg Liquor’.  Now let’s be having that album, Charlotte.

Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters

I’ve seen Jed Potts and his trio numerous times, and they never fail to impress.  But I have to say this Sunday night show was something special.  The boys have clearly been busy, because their two sets are dominated by original material, some of it well-seasoned to be sure, but much of it fresh out of the box to the point where I’m only guessing at some of the titles.
In fact one of my favourites of the whole night is supposedly a work in progress, to the point that it still goes under the working monicker of ‘Prototype Rory-ish Groove in F’.  And yeah,
Jed Potts - a man happy in his work
maybe the melody still needs a little work, but boy do they manage to channel a rattling, Gallagher-like energy, with ringing slide and a scudding solo from Potts going down a storm.
There’s a relaxed vibe from the outset though, with opener ‘Swashbucklin’’ the first of a clutch of new songs that culminate in the crunching ‘Where’s Your Man’.  They swing easily throughout, with Charlie Wild mostly content to be a steady Eddie holding down the groove on bass, while Jonny Christie has the freedom to add accents that underline the variation in Potts’ guitar work.
A trio of songs from their first album culminates in the frisky instrumental ‘Puttin’ It Aboot’, then the catchy, twirling guitar line of ‘How Am I Meant To’ precedes the Rory groove, and they close the first half by putting their foot down on what I believe is an old original, the Dick Dale-like garage rock of ‘Burn It’.
Their second set opens with a moody, bass’n’drums intro to a slow blues, on which Potts lays down more noteworthy slide playing en route to an uptempo passage which rocks big time.  And they must have been in the mood for slow blues epics lately, because a few songs later they get into something that may or may not be called ‘Hey Baby’, but builds to what can only be described as a guitar wig-out by Potts.
They slip in some favoured covers after that, including Elvis’s ‘Trying to Get To You’ and the set closing boogie of ‘Days Of Old’, wrapped around a new arrangement of Charles Brown’s aptly-titled ‘Drifting Blues’.  But they go out with a bang on the encore, a breakneck take on their own ‘Ain’t It Rough (When Your Baby’s In The Huff)’.
In the course of the evening Jed Potts assures us they’re intending to record all this new material soon for a new album.  Here’s hoping that his definition of “soon” means that it’ll see the light of day this year!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Listened to lately - The Jimmys, and Ruzz Guitar's Blues Revue

The Jimmys – Gotta Have It

Well this is fun.  The Jimmys, hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, evidently have a fondness for prime time blues and rock’n’roll, which they translate into original material with commitment and no small degree of panache.  A seven-piece featuring horns, led by keys man Jimmy Voegeli, this is an ensemble outfit designed to put a smile on your face.
The cast assemble for new movie Ocean's 7
Opening track ‘Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’ comes over like ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ pepped up by horns, which push matters along amid snappy guitar, simple tinkling piano, groaning vocals and booming drums.  It’s a swinging Chuck Berry vibe they explore further on the mid-tempo ‘Hotel Stebbins’, a tale of partying that includes “midget wrestling on a Saturday night” to the accompaniment of rinky-dink piano from Voegeli crowned by a boogie-woogie solo, alongside spot-on interjections and some great vocal harmonies.
In between they display a musical sense of humour on ‘Grim Reaper’, with its spooky, stalking groove, a tasty sax solo from Pete Ross, and trills of piano and guitar around the simple rhythm.  ‘Write A Hit’ is a catchy co-write with Marcia Ball, who also duets on this dialogue of domestic breakdown, which ironically carries musical echoes of the Glen Campbell and Rita Coolidge hit ‘Something ‘Bout You Baby (I Like)’.
They also show some different blues tendencies on ‘Started Up Again’, an apologia for failed sobriety that has a laid back vibe akin to Willie Dixon’s ‘Walkin’ The Blues’, albeit less sub-baked in feel and with more bells and whistles.  And ‘Words And Actions’ is in silkily soulful blues territory, à la Robert Cray, with a suitably smooth guitar solo from Perry Weber, replete with pinpoint notes.
Things tail off a bit in the second half of the album, though there are enjoyable nods towards Fats Domino in the woozy ‘Drinkin’’ and the slow blues of ‘Someday Baby’, while ‘Take You Back’ conjures a great groove around a strutting beat, to which Weber adds a piercing solo.
Gotta Have It is an infectious affair, full of humour and vibrant musicianship – the horn arrangements hit the mark every time – all stylishly captured by producer (and some time Bonnie Raitt drummer) Tony Braunhegel.  The Jimmys are well worth a spin to put you in a good mood.

Gotta Have It was released on 31 December 2019.

Ruzz Guitar’s Blues Revue – Live At The Louisiana

Is it a coincidence that the opening two tracks on Live At The Louisiana are covers that also featured on Jimmie Vaughan’s latest album, namely the instrumental ‘Hold It’ and Lloyd Price’s jaunty ‘Baby Please Come Home’?
Perhaps not, given that Vaughan is an avowed influence on Ruzz Guitar.  But either way, they provide a good indication of what Ruzz and co have to offer.  The former is a bright affair trading guitar and organ, and the latter is a swinging, jazzy bite of Texas blues that
Ruzz Guitar gives it some Gretsch
works a treat.  Call me a philistine, but I actually find the Ruzz fella’s zinging guitar tone on
his Gretsch more appealing than Vaughan’s too-oft tinny sound, and it’s backed up here by a strong sax solo from Michael Gavaghan.  On the other hand, it has to be said that across the album Ruzz’s vocals are regularly a smidgen flat – though as the timbre of his voice is pleasing, and he goes at it with feeling, that’s the last I’ll say about it.
In any event, there are numerous other plus points to enjoy.  A thudding beat from drummer Mike Hoddinott kicks off the rockabilly-ish ‘Back Home To Stay’, which then gallops along nicely, a racing bass line from Joe Allen and skipping drums underpinning another tasty sax solo before Ruzz hits top gear with a stinging guitar solo that also takes in some horn harmonising.  ‘ Under Your Spell’ is slow and smoky, featuring trumpet early on from Jack Jowers ahead of a mellow, understated organ outing from Paul Quinn, and then a big guitar solo as the tempo picks up.
Personally I don’t go much for the romantic 50s instrumental ‘Sleepwalk’, a slow and, up to a point, atmospheric thing featuring lots of weeping whammy bar action.  But given that it featured at the close of the movie La Bamba, and has also been performed by the likes of Jeff Beck and Brian Setzer, what do I know?
Whatever - they swing mightily on the energetic R’n’B of ‘Sweet As Honey’, with some chugging rhythm guitar and lively organ, before another damn fine RG guitar solo with impressive tone, incorporating a tasteful downbeat passage to create some dynamics before rocking to a conclusion.  And if anything Buddy Johnson’s ‘It’s Obdacious’ is even, er, swinginger, drawing the album to a good-time, rock’n’rolling conclusion with lots of fun soloing.
Live At The Louisiana may have a few imperfections, but they’re outnumbered by some spankingly good moments of floor-filling R’n’B and old-fashioned rock’n’roll.  On this evidence you’d be well satisfied with the fun quotient delivered by Ruzz Guitar and his gang if you caught them on a night out.

Live At The Louisiana is released on 10 February, and can be pre-ordered here.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Ben Poole - Trio - Live'19

The journey towards maturity of Ben Poole continues.  I’d like to be able to report that with Trio – Live ’19 he has at last emerged definitively into the sunlit uplands, but that would be pushing it.  However in partnership with drummer Wayne Proctor and bassist Steve Amadeo – and you’d better believe that’s pretty good hired help – he does build up some significant credit with this live album, sharp looking cover and all.
After warming up with a couple of stolid numbers that could’ve done with a few more beats per minute, the rubber really hits the road courtesy of Jude Cole’s 80s hit ‘Start The Car’, a catchy affair which has plenty of zip as Proctor knocks out a snappy groove and Poole delivers some fizzing guitar licks.
Watch you don't fall there, Ben!
Pic by Robert Sutton
But they really get cracking in the middle of the set, kicking off with ‘The Question Why’,
which opens in slick, soulful fashion, with a snazzy bass line from Amadeo, before its appealing melody kicks in.  There’s sparky guitar work from Poole, and as he gets into a second solo Proctor’s drums propel matters with a sense of urgency.  ‘Further On Down The Line’ is a well-constructed tune that throbs along nicely with Proctor playing just behind the beat and Poole piquing interest with a squelchy, fuzzy guitar tone.  Then ‘Don’t Cry For Me’ makes a bid for pièce de resistance status, a slowie that makes effective use of Poole’s vulnerable, quavery vocal.  It’s a good tune, and Poole deploys an intriguingly wobbly guitar tone on an excellent, pinpoint guitar solo before shifting gear satisfyingly, not going overboard and lent top drawer underpinning by Proctor and Amadeo.
I’m not sure they ever reclaim those heights, though ‘Lying To Me’ does maintain the momentum, with tough, slightly discordant riffing and a nifty, tumble-turning bridge ahead of a brief solo.  ‘I Think I Love You Too Much’ is melodically slight, but benefits from sprightly opening guitar licks over a rock solid groove featuring rich, bubbling bass, and an assertive second guitar solo.  On ‘Found Out The Hard Way’ Poole’s light voice never manages to communicate real emotional depth, sounding more like teenager with a petted lip than a grown man in a dark place.  But the middle eight gives it a lift, and Poole delivers an impressive, piercing solo improvising around the pleasing melody.  Then they regroup more
convincingly with the offbeat rhythm and punchy riff of ‘Stay At Mine’, exploring funkier terrain that would have benefited from a more resounding ‘let it rip’ conclusion.
Ben Poole - same to you mate!
Pic by Gernot Mangold
But sometimes when Poole spreads himself, as he likes to do, more focus is required.  His brittle-toned solo guitar intro to ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’ rambles on for a good four and a half minutes, taking in the first verse, and is only intermittently interesting, before Proctor and Amadeo arrive on the scene, and more minutes go by before it rouses itself to something wirier and emphatic.  ‘Anytime You Need Me’ is better, setting off on a strutting beat and resonant riff, with a spiky little solo and some spitfire vocals, before they take it down for Amadeo to deliver a restrained and arresting, guttural-toned bass showcase. But boy do they take an age to climb out of that to a sinewy crescendo - throwing a few sharp combinations to end the round, in boxing parlance, would have more impact.
The closing ‘Time Might Never Come’ is overlong too at fifteen minutes plus, but I’ll given them the benefit of the doubt this time.  Slow and reflective, it aspires to a John Mayer-like intensity at times, as an aching, dramatic solo then builds to passages of scrabbling fretwork then strung-out notes, before the vocals re-enter to the accompaniment of ringing chords.  Quite why they then choose to tack on a meandering coda is beyond me.
Listening to Live – Trio ’19, I still think Ben Poole has work to do to build a stronger repertoire of songs, with a definitive voice, that will produce a real breakthrough.  That breakthrough may have eluded him here, but there are enough positives to suggest that if he keeps working at his craft, keeps polishing, then one fine morning he may find he’s arrived.

Trio - Live '19 is released on 31 January.  Ben Poole starts his British tour the same night - look here for details of all dates.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Gary Moore - Live From London

I daresay there will be lots of hard core Gary Moore fans salivating at the prospect of a firework display of axemanship from yer man, courtesy of this previously unreleased live recording from the Islington Academy in 2009.  Me?  What I want to hear is the kind of freewheeling ease and blues feeling that was evident on Moore’s first blues outing, Still Got The Blues – an album that was a real attention-grabber for me.  Suffice to say there’s enough happening on Live From London to satisfy both constituencies.
Gary Moore in characteristically chilled performing mode
Balance is the key.  There’s a cracking stretch in the second half of the set where Moore spreads out on Donny Hathaway’s soulful slowie ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’,
breezes through ‘Too Tired’, hits the bullseye with the restrained ‘Still Got The Blues’ (my all-time favourite GM track), and then coasts merrily through ‘Walking By Myself’, throughout all of which I’m a veritable happy bunny.
‘I Love You More . . .’ is a real highlight, as delicate as it gets, with long organ chords from Vic Martin providing the foundation for a vocal delivered with real feeling, and an excellent slow guitar solo.  ‘Still Got The Blues’ is even better in the slow blues stakes, with a great melody and a lovely guitar refrain, and ultimately a wonderful solo that communicates emotionally.  In between, ‘Too Tired’ is simply good fun, with bobbing bass from Peter Rees, and a playful guitar/organ passage (even if here, as in other places, Vic Martin’s organ sound is distractingly trebly to my ears), while they swagger along with the stop-time riff ‘Walking By Myself’, Martin adding piano on this occasion and Moore knocking out some of his best nimble-fingered fretwork.  All of this is a real purple patch, and the following ‘The Blues Is Alright’ ain’t too shabby either.
There’s a similar hot spell earlier in proceedings, even if it doesn’t quite reach these heights.  ‘Since I Met You Baby’ has a stop-start riff on the verses, and a swinging chorus, plus some scorching soloing from the main man – raw, varied, and high on entertainment value.  John Mayall’s ‘Have You Heard’ is a slowish affair that could do with more dynamics on the volume front, but features satisfyingly diverse guitar work – some typical breakneck licks to be sure, but also slow segments and long, sustained notes.  Then ‘All Your Love’, the Otis Rush classic captured by the Bluesbreakers on the Beano album, kicks off with a quiet, twinkling intro before Moore cranks out its distinctive riff and going on to deliver it with admirable moments of subtlety.
Across the piece, right from the punchy opener ‘Oh Pretty Woman’ to the closing ‘Parisienne Walkways’, the rhythm section of Rees on bass and drummer Steve Dixon keep things rock solid.  And while that periodically plinky-plonk tone of Vic Martin’s keys may get on my wick, he still provides a suitable foil for Moore’s guitar, especially with the deeper, long chords on the likes of ‘Have You Heard’.
Personally I could live without ‘Parisienne Walkways’, a song I’ve always found overrated, but I guess that’s a minority view, and Moore certainly gives it some oomph with a big, dramatic solo.
When Gary Moore returned to his roots with Still Got The Blues it sounded to me like he’d finally found the key to the highway, after all his previous musical peregrinations.  Recorded 14 months before his untimely death, this performance shows that he could still wrangle a fretboard in the manner guitar freaks will adore.  But more importantly, the sound of Live From London is that of an artist who still knew just why he played the blues.

Live From London is released by Provogue Records on 31 January.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado - Come On In

“Do not quench your inspiration and your imagination,” said Vincent van Gogh.  “Do not become the slave of your model.”
Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado have probably never come across old Vincent’s advice, but I reckon they’ve observed the sentiment anyway with the creation of Come On In.  Because this is an album that respects their blues roots and inspirations, but dares to deliver songs and arrangements that are mouth-wateringly fresh.  And in doing so it sets a dizzyingly high standard for new blues releases in 2020.
"Oi - Thorbjørn! Stop posing and get your round in!"
Pic by Christoffer Askman
The opening title track sets the tone.  The lyrics may give a nod and a wink to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘The House Is Rocking’, but the delivery takes a different tack.  A pulsing drum beat sets things in motion, locked into a subdued guitar riff, generating a near motorik feel that’s then augmented by some boinging bass and occasional twangs of ghostly guitar.  “There’s a jukebox over in the corner playin’,” sings Thorbjørn Risager in that rumbling bass voice. “Won’t you come on in?”  Hell yes, that’s what I say!
Acoustic guitar figures heavily in some of the songs, notably the elegiac ‘Two Lovers’, which opens with some simple acoustic strumming, which is then joined by spare, haunted slide guitar notes from Joachim Svensmark and a slow, sombre beat.  More textures are added by hints of wood block, deep bass, and hints of horns and organ, creating the kind of noir-ish cinematic experience they’ve previously mastered with their cover of the Fifties film theme ‘China Gate’.  And they summon up a reflective romantic mood with ‘On And On’, all halting guitar, plangent horns and sparse chimes of piano.
The opening verse of ‘Never Givin’ In’ also leans on nothing more than an acoustic guitar motif and Risager’s expressive voice, before Martin Seidelin’s percussion – bongos, perhaps? – brings a quickening rhythm.  It nags at you like an itch you can’t scratch, and is embellished by a moody bridge, with low moaning horns and more spooky guitar that has the feel of a plaintive harp.  ‘Sin City’ has more old-time sensibilities, with acoustic picking and a simple, muffled beat supporting an archetypal blues melody, before an outro that centres on a repeated phrase from Peter Kehl’s muted trumpet.  The closing ‘I’ll Be Gone’ is in a similar vein, all acoustic strumming and picking of a classic blues riff, with squeaks of electric guitar for emphasis.
The Black Tornado can still whip up a storm though.  ‘Last Train’ may start off with chugs of acoustic guitar over handclap-like percussion, but it lifts off when the drums kick in, with guitar hitting stinging chord sequences and notes as the horns offer support in the background.  ‘Over The Hill’ goes back to Risager’s early influences, swinging like BB King with its walking bass, glittering guitar fills and bursts of horns, and what once upon a time they might have called a ‘hot’ sax solo.  “Good times comin’ my way,” sings Thorbjørn, and he ain’t kidding.  Best of all in this vein, there’s ‘Love So Fine’, with its urgent, crunching guitar riff over the propulsive rhythm section of Seidelin and bassist Søren Bøjgaard.  It could almost be ZZ Top with added horns, not least because of Risager’s voice as he drawls away like Billy Gibbons, while Svensmark adds a cracking guitar solo as the cherry on the cake.
They even have room to get vaguely Latin with ‘Nobody But The Moon’, with a Hispanic-leaning descending guitar riff over what sounds to these untutored ears like a salsa rhythm conjured up by the bubbling bass and drums, leading to an aching chorus.
Risager has said that some of the songs reflect some uncertainty about where he is in his life, but also an assertive and defiant response, and those themes are certainly apparent on the likes of ‘Never Givin’ In’ and ‘Sin City’.  Me, I have no doubts.  With Come On In Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado have reaffirmed their status as torchbearers of modern blues.

Come On In is released by Ruf Records on 31 January 2020.