Sunday, December 9, 2018

Jock's Juke Joint Volume 4 - Various Artists

Happily, the first thing to be said about this latest selection of tunes from a range of Scottish blues artists is that they all pass muster - no duds, and with a pleasing degree of variety on display.  Several of the acts featured have been covered at Blues Enthused before as well, so watch out for the links below to learn more.
But to begin at the very end, the least blues-like and most astonishing offering here comes in the form of Neil Warden’s album closer ‘The Alchemist’.  With his Weissenborn lap steel guitar to the fore, over dreamy soundscapes courtesy of Stuart Mitchell, the veteran Edinburgh guitarist delivers an instrumental that comes over like a cross between an Arabic
Neil Warden - prepare to be astonished
version of ‘Cavatina’ and Angelo Baddalamenti’s theme for Twin Peaks.  Calling this atmospheric is like saying Usain Bolt is a bit nippy – listen and be struck dumb.
The opening track is an entirely different kettle of fish, in the form of ‘Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now’, the title track from the latest album by Andy Gunn.  A slice of good-time boogie infused with the spirit of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, it references Gunn’s youthful discovery of “Jerry Lee, Little Richard, Fats Domino” as it barrels along with handclaps, rocking piano, and a fizzing solo from Gunn.  Its closest relation here, stylistically, is the rockabilly-leaning ‘Pebble By Pebble’ from Used Blues, an energetic romp garnished with shots of blues harp from front man Andy ‘Honeyboy’ Smith to complement the guitar of Jim Gardner.
Of a trio of R’n’B tracks scattered across the album, Five Grain Whisky’s ‘Sidewinder Blues’ is the pick of the bunch to these ears.  The rasping voice of Alex More is to the fore, sounding like he’s woken up from a long session on the aforementioned hooch as he snarls that “You’re lower than a snake’s belly-oh”.  It’s likeably simple, swinging and well-constructed, with a pleasing organ solo from Marty Wade.  ‘Temporary Man’ from Chasin’ The Train doesn’t have quite the same vim, but it sets off imaginatively with an intro of crackling vinyl grooves and slide twangery of ‘In My Time Of Dying Man’ proportions, before settling into a lively chug-a-boogie topped off by a biting guitar solo from Rory Nelson and wailing harp from Bob Clements.  Redfish add a convincing Stax soul twist to the formula
Redfish - not immaterial men
on ‘Immaterial Man’, riding along on a bobbing bass line from Rod McKay.  Fraser Clark’s organ playing fits the bill, though lacking the St Vitus Dance visual dimension of his live performance, but this leaves more room to admire the slithering, jabbing quality of Martin McDonald’s guitar.  And there’s a suitably soulful quality to the vocals of Stumblin’ Harris, on a song that here and there reminds me of Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and ‘Stormy Monday Blues’.
There’s a different brand of soul in evidence on ‘I’m The Boss’, by Melissa Kelly & The Smokin Crows, one of a clutch of songs from outfits led by female singers.  Think ‘Think’ - in the sense that Kelly manages to produce a convincing Sixties sound in the vein of Aretha Franklin, full of parping horns and funky riffing as a foundation for Kelly’s energetic vocals – including a fresh-out-of-the-box whoop near the end.  The Lynsey Dolan Band offer an alternative proposition on ‘I Won’t Bring You Bring Down’.  With the light vibrato of Dolan’s vocal, a lush sound with piercing guitar from Gavin Bussey, and a yearning chorus laden with harmonies, it would do a good job as the closing theme to a movie romance.
Broken Windows, featuring singer-songwriter Liz Jones, produce something more personal with the song from which they take their name.  Is it blues?  No. Does it matter?  Same answer.  Across seven minutes ‘Broken Windows’ is a captivating affair, with Jones communicating intriguing imagery with sensitivity against a backdrop of subtle shadings from the rest of the band. It’s a rich rhythm section, with Marc Marnie’s drums augmented by
Broken Windows' Liz Jones gives it big licks
Suzy Cargill’s percussion and some bendy fretless bass from Rod Kennard.  Meanwhile John Bruce, a guitarist more often to be found playing straight up R’n’B or late Sixties American rock, explores a different palette that leans towards a Carlos McSantana vibe, and with Ali Petrie on keys the whole crew give the track a rousing crescendo.
Glasgow-based Aussie Charlie Marshall is a firecracker of a singer and frontwoman, and with the 45s serves up an animated, sassy performance that conjures up the ambience of an old-time N’Awlins speakeasy, drawing on the horns of Gordon Dickson and Fenwick Lawson, jungle drum rhythms from Michael Harrison, and jazzy piano from Tim Brough. The thing is, this is just a vignette of what Charlotte Marshall & The 45s can deliver – see them live to get the full effect.
Also in a New Orleans vein is ‘Velvet Windows (Treme Trippin’), from London-based Wily Bo Walker. A rich gumbo of a tune, it features Walker’s gravel-voiced storytelling over funky bass from Tommy Rhodes, tripping drums from Max Saidi, a battery of horns, keys colourings from the ubiquitous Stevie Watts, and some neat guitar from Mike Ross.  All told a minor work from Walker perhaps, but still a satisfying one.
Strolling a less rumbustious path are the Simon Kennedy Band, and Al Brown & The Blue Lighters. Kennedy’s ‘All Or Nothing’ ambles in on a ripple of piano and bursts of organ, and builds to an anthemic chorus given a gospel swell by some uncredited female backing vocals, while Kennedy adds some understated guitar licks wherever it takes his
Firecracker chanteuse Charlotte Marshall
fancy, ahead of a tasteful solo.  Meantime Al Brown is smoother than a silk stocking on the aching heart blues of ‘Caller Unknown’, as restrained a piece of bluesery as you’re ever likely to find, with some ooh-ooh-ing backing vocals reaching towards doo-wop territory.
Mike Bowden and the A917 Band offer a different form of subtlety with the semi-acoustic sounding ‘Poor Man’.  It’s plaintive and beguiling, understated but resonant, with an earworm of a chorus and a subtly Latin rhythm courtesy of the wonderfully named Big Vern on percussion. In it’s simplicity, ‘Poor Man’ is another of the standouts of the album.  Stoney Broke, alias multi-instrumentalist Jake Scott, is still more acoustic, a warm and dreamy affair with a nice melody and a well-judged electric guitar solo that complements the song.
Also stripped-back, but in a different fashion, is the Delta stomp of Andrew Robert Eustace’s ‘Broken Down And Beat’.  With a hypnotic groove, Eustace’s growling voice, a brittle guitar solo and a catchy chorus, it's one of the highlights of his album Stories.  And as old-style Mississippi as it may sound, the steady grind of it provides a curious link to the alt.blues of Black Cat Bone and Full Fat.  The former capture their lead-heavy, grungy blues rumble well on ‘Morning Light’, with groaning vocals and howling harp from Ross Craig over a dirty, fuzzy bottom end.  Full Fat don’t demonstrate quite the same raw conviction, but the trio’s ‘Temper Temper’ still has an offbeat, discordant energy that shows promise.
So there we have it – 18 tracks that show off a variety of contemporary sounds from artists with a Scottish connection, tracing their roots to the blues to a greater or lesser degree.  Get yourself along to Jock's Juke Joint, find your own favourites, and go explore!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Jonathon Long - The Long And The Short Of It

Let’s face it, this album from Louisiana’s Jonathon Long is going to get attention because it represents the first bash at producing by the increasingly popular Samantha Fish, whether listeners know much about the Long fella or not.  And it would be easy to assume that because it’s self-titled, it’s Long’s debut recording.  Easy, but wrong.
The thing is, Jonathan Long is undergoing a kind of metamorphosis, because he’s had two previous albums, under the moniker Jonathon ‘Boogie’ Long - 2012’s  Jonathon Boogie Long & The Blues Revolution, and in 2016 Trying To Get There.  And the new outing marks an evolution in his sound, focusing a bit more on the Americana leanings that were evident on a few songs on his earlier releases.
"So you discovered my alter ego, huh?"
As Long himself puts it, "There was a time I played a lot of shuffles, but now I'm in a different blues genre,  I've been Boogie since two years old, and now it's time to be just Jonathon Long."
Those two earlier albums must be pretty duff then eh?  Wrong again.  To these ears they stand up really well beside his latest effort.  So this piece isn't just a review of the new album, though we'll get to that in a minute. It's more of a general introduction to Jonathon Long for the uninitiated - of whom I was one until recently.
Let's start with the fact that that he's been in the game since he was a kid.  According to an article on a website from his home town of Baton Rouge, Long quit high school in 2003, aged just 14, to go out on the road as a bass player with a band - his parents having to grant partial custody to the band leader to allow Long to travel across the state line.
All growed up now, he's a burly looking guy who would look right at home in a classic Southern rock band - or maybe showing up at the CMA Awards.  And with his Louisiana accent his voice is a natural for songs on the new album like 'Shine Your Love' and 'The Light', that lean in the rootsy direction of, say, Chris Stapleton or Patrick Sweaney.
The former opens with sparse strummed guitar and light, sensitive vocals, before picking up a head of steam topped off with one of Long's typically impressive guitar solos.  The latter features a keening vocal over a train-like rhythm, with twinkling guitar in the background, and a different style of solo in which he plays off against the fiddle playing from Michael Harvey which decorates the track throughout.  Meanwhile 'The River', on which Long duets with his producer Sam Fish, is a spacious, dramatic slowie garnished with slide guitar, that builds to a crescendo over which Fish sprinkles her own brand of vocal stardust.
Across 11 tracks occupying just 38 minutes, Long still manages to pack in plenty of great guitar work across a range of material, whether it’s the shimmering effort that tops off the staccato riff and big chorus of opener ‘Bury Me’, or the elegant solo that colours ‘That’s When I Know’, with its strong melody, four-on-the-floor strut, and deep bass from Chris Roberts.  (Fish contributes guitar to both of these, by the way, which I reckon accounts for the intriguing array of buzzing, humming, squiggling background noises filling out the sound on them.)  And on the closing ‘Pray For Me’, the bluesiest outing here, a tough, ringing riff and stomping rhythm section lay the foundations for a punchy solo that I’d bet Long will dial up even more live.
It’s not all about the guitar though, because as a songwriter Long likes to explore different styles. There’s a country rock vibe to both ‘Living The Blues’ and ‘Natural Girl’, the former a stinging reflection on financial hardship, and the latter a breezy affair powered by crunching guitar chords, featurin a high-revving belter of a solo from Long, swirls of organ, and beefy drums from Julian Civello, all in the service of describing the kind of girl who probably drives a flatbed Ford in Winslow, Arizona. ‘This Road’ is more of a Southern rock thang, with a solid riff, a slide solo and expansive drums – and room to grow live, I’m thinking.
More daringly, there’s room for the boozily humorous ‘Pour Another Drink’, with barroom piano from an anonymous keys contributor, and the warm jazziness of ‘Where Love Went Wrong’, which is rhythmically subtle and shows off warm guitar tones on a solo played over acoustic strumming.
There’s no denying the quality of these songs, or Long’s quality as a guitarist.  And Sam Fish, together with recording engineer Michael Harvey, also deserves credit for a strong, clear sound on her first outing at the helm.
Revolution come, revolution go
I must admit though, I miss the warm funkiness evident some of the time on Long’s earlier albums. Don’t get me wrong, there was still variety in his material back then, but there was a backdrop of those blues shuffles referred to earlier. As he said in an interview with Country Roads magazine back in 2012, "When you come to see me live, expect blues-rock, face-melting.  When you listen to my music from the studio, you're hearing me as a singer-songwriter."
I dare say he's toned down the face-melting since then, but the opening track of that debut album, 'Bad Day', is a good example of what Long had going in the studio, with strutting chords heralding a first sizzling solo on an unhurried affair, his vocals a languid drawl over a laid back, shuffling rhythm.  At the other end of the the album, closer 'Mr Mister' has busy drums from Terrance Houston and rumbling, jazzy bass from Zachary Matchett, allowing Long the freedom to chuck handfuls of sparkling guitar over the top, before closing out with a chunky riff.
There are Southern rock stylings to both 'Do Right Woman' and the fun 'Goin' Somewhere', the latter featuring plenty of guitar embroidery, building up to some extremely nimble-fingered fretwork on the solo itself.  Contrastingly, his reading of 'Catfish Blues' is slow, relaxed and subtle, with good phrasing and dynamics in his vocal.  'Lonesome Road', on the other hand, foreshadows the Americana aspects of the new album.
Long's songwriting range is most evident though, on the wit and imagination of 'Floating With My Baby'.  Honest to god, this could be a song from some movie musical ready to be turned into a standard by Frank Sinatra - except delivered by a grooving blues band.  Long's guitar is jazzy, Houston's drums swing along behind the beat, and there are great bass lines from Matchett.  And these are some of the characteristics that make Long's earlier stuff different - a liking for swing and syncopation, allied to Long occasionally singing in a lower, more relaxed pitch.
What you also get from Long across all three albums is the ability to pack a lot of content into relatively short songs, while keeping them coherent.  So on the two and a half minute title track of Trying To Get There, fired by a stop-time riff, he drops in a neat middle eight that creates extra dynamics, done with ease and no fuss.  There are some more of those country-ish tracks too, with 'Crescent City Girl' a forerunner of 'Natural Girl' on the new album - maybe a bit by-the-numbers, but with a strong chorus and a nice ending on which Chris Roberts' bass is a good foil for Long.  'Go Out And Get It', meanwhile is a slow-ish number with country-style lyrics, kept simple but musically amusing,  with offbeat drums from Jay Carnegie this time, and Long's guitar tracking the vocal melody here and there.
A bit of face-melting, perhaps?
On the other hand, 'Call The Preacher' is essentially straight ahead R'n'B, but Long's soloing fireworks go fine until he goes a bit large on a trilling guitar trick that crops up a little too often - and if I do have a criticism of these earlier albums, it's that here and there - not often - Long overplays a bit.
'I'm A Fool' is one such instance, but I'll forgive him because otherwise it's a classy soul ballad with a good melody, well sung and with a burst of should falsetto along the way.
So here's the point.  Jonathon Long's new album may represent a sharpening of focus, but it's not a one-trick stylistic pony.  And beyond that, his earlier recordings suggest still more strings to his bow, as both a songwriter and a player.  Hell, his Facebook page lists influences as broad as Joe Bonamassa, Steve Vai, Robben Ford, Eric Gales, Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder and Rascal Flatts.  I'd wager that he can draw on all of that range to put on a live show that can turn a few heads.  He's touring in the States just now as support to Samantha Fish - so when's he coming this side of the pond, so we can see if I'm right?

Jonathon Long is available on Wild Heart Records.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Andy Gunn - Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now

First impressions can be dangerous.  A few years ago I saw Scotsman Andy Gunn playing a support slot, and was left underwhelmed by a set that seemed lacking in direction.  In particular, guitarist Gunn took on only occasional vocal duties, and had a female singer at his side who seemed uncertain of her role.  So I had low expectations of Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now, and paid it little attention for months after its release in February this year.  This was a bad call on my part, and I owe Andy Gunn an apology, because it’s a damn fine album with a clear sense of purpose.
Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now is old school blues.  If you like, say, Eric Clapton’s
Andy Gunn does some interleaving with blues harp
reading of ‘Third Degree’ on
From The Cradle, then my guess is you’ll like this.  Or as Gunn himself has said in an interview, it started out as a guitar, keyboards and blues harp recording, partly inspired by the album Buddy And The Juniors, by Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and Junior Mance, to which Gunn subsequently decided to add a rhythm section on several tracks.  
The underlying tone of the twelve tracks on offer is caught by songs like ‘Sorry Mess Blues’ and ‘Battlefield Blues’. The former is contemplative, with restrained piano from Andy May, and minimalist brushed drums from Jim Walker – who is just the man for the subtleties of this album.  Gunn’s guitar, meanwhile, is of the less-is-more variety, in which the spaces in between are as significant as the notes themselves. The latter is back porch stuff, with rootsy-as-you-get slide playing superbly interleaved with harp playing from Spider MacKenzie.  And on both these tracks Gunn delivers spot-on vocals in a crooning, moanin’ an’ groanin’ blues vein.  ‘Suffering Man’s Blues’ treads a similar downbeat path, with subdued guitar, a tasty organ solo from May, and the rhythm section of Walker and bassist Al James finding the pocket perfectly.
Straight ahead meditative blues like these aren’t the be all and end all of the album though.  ‘Back On Song’ may be low key, right from its murmured count in, but it’s a singular, boundary-melting offering, with backing vocals from Liz Jones of Broken Windows.  Leaning on warm piano playing from Mays, it has a lovely melody, beautifully sung by Gunn and Jones, that has a smidgen of ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’ about it, and
Groaning the blues
measured guitar playing that focuses on serving the song.  The final track ‘Going Home Again’ almost reaches the same heights, quoting ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ and bringing matters to a mellow but uplifting close.
Elsewhere, Gunn brings some sparkling, fuzzy guitar to the relaxed and swinging
‘Mississippi Ground’, with neat variations in rhythm from Walker, and wah-wah to ‘Eidyn Shuffle’, an instrumental with impressive, breezy harp from MacKenzie, flourishes of organ, and skipping drums.  The most upbeat moment though, comes in the form of the old-fashioned rough and tumble boogie of the title track, which recounts how Gunn got hooked on the blues, and where the musical addiction led.
For those who aren’t familiar with his story, it’s worth mentioning that Andy Gunn has good reason to feel an affinity with the blues.  Born with haemophilia, he contracted HIV and Hepatitis C from a contaminated blood transfusion, and went off the rails for a spell with addictions of a non-musical variety.  As a consequence of his illnesses he has also had to contend with two episodes of cancer and a related heart attack.  But for all these troubles, Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now presents a convincing case that the Gunndog, as Andy Gunn likes to style himself, is now in fine fettle.  He is, one might say, back on song.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Sharpeez - Wild One

The cover of Wild One features a clapped out jalopy sitting in front of a shotgun shack.  Don’t be fooled though, because the vibe of the latest album from The Sharpeez is far more Seventies London than Thirties Mississippi Delta.  Which is fair enough, because these guys were there back then - Seventies London that is.
It’s probably no coincidence that one of the tracks on offer is titled ‘Dr Feelgood’, as the crackling energy on display recalls Canvey Island’s finest, and the likes of Eddie & The Hot Rods.  But that comparison’s simplistic too, because there’s Knopfler-ish embroidery, and more besides, adding colour to the sound.
The Sharpeez - All The Young Dudes
On brisk outings like the opening ‘Automatic Man’, the aforementioned ‘Dr Feelgood’, and ‘Heat Of The Night’, the guitars of Loz Netto and band leader Bill Mead bristle and compete, with Netto’s slide playing generally occupying the foreground to embellish the catchy riffs.  In fact calling Netto a slide guitarist is selling the guy short, because he’s by no means your average bottleneck honcho – his playing is expansive, by turns spiky, mournful, twinkling and slithery to cast different spells over the material.
Meantime Mead’s vocals are crisp and edgy, but with a few clever little splashes of echo for extra colour, and souped up by excellent backing vocals from Teresa Revill, which are generally double-tracked to bring a hint of the B-52’s to the overall sound. And their vocal efforts are applied to some neat and interesting narrative lyrics which give the songs a fresh twist, even if the stories on ‘Dr Feelgood’ and ‘Stiletto Heels’ could be more satisfyingly resolved.
While all this is going on Baz Payne’s bass holds down the bottom end in the background, but Brendan O’Neill drumming is all-action on occasion, with crashing cymbals complementing Netto’s typically refreshing slide on ‘Losing Hand’, and bags of flair on ‘Stiletto Heels’, on which Netto’s cracking solo is cleverly played off against Revill’s backing vox.
Other highlights include the lower key, moody ‘Bullet’, with its strong chorus, and ‘Heartache Express’ where Netto executes cute variations on a clever, descending guitar line, and a jittery solo dotted through the outro as a bonus.  The slower, churning closer ‘Desperate Man’ is a co-write between Mead and blues maven Pete Feenstra, which treads a different lyrical path in a road movie-ish tale of a hero on the run for the border – the Essex county line, maybe?  Joking aside, it sports another imaginative slide showcase from Loz Netto to bring down the curtain.
This batch of nine originals, largely from the pen of Bill Mead with a few co-writer credits, may not be a 5 star standout.  But it does deliver sorta New Wave-ish R&B with stylish sonic detailing, striding the city streets like a confident latter day Mod.  Or something.  Get your shell-likes round it and write your own slogans.

Wild One is released by 3Ms Music.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Main Street Blues - Bluest Blue

It’s taken a while for me to get round to it, but on the strength of Bluest Blue, this summer's release from Main Street Blues, their moniker is a good pointer to the style of this Scottish blues band. Their sound, to these ears at least, descends in a pretty straight line from the Three Kings, through the British blues boomers influenced by them, and on to later exponents of sophisticated electric blues.
The ten-track collection mingles three originals from guitarist and singer Derek Smith, a few familiar covers, and some less common or garden finds from other artists, and it has to be said that Smith’s homegrown material stands up to the competition.
Derek Smith and John Hay take a stroll down Main Street
The first of these, the mid-paced ‘Dusty Road’ opens proceedings with gutsy chords and washes of organ to underpin Smith’s vocals, which are mellow and tuneful in a Clapton/Cray vein – it comes as no surprise that they’ve covered Eric’n’Bob’s ‘Old Love’ on a previous album.  Smith’s guitar tone is one of his strengths, here and throughout, while John Hay’s five-string bass bubbles away contentedly and Iain Hanna’s keys solo fits in nicely. It all boils down to a pretty good marker for what’s to follow.
With ten songs lasting over an hour, you’ll appreciate that Main Street Blues like to lay back and spread out a bit, but they still succeed in making the time pass by without any dull longeurs.  There are a couple of seriously extended workouts in there, with over nine minutes’ worth of Smith’s own composition ‘Move On’, and title track Alvin Lee’s ‘The Bluest Blues’ coming up on the rails.  Smith’s tone on the former is excellent, contributing to the mood as he demonstrates good variation in pace on an extended solo, while Hanna contributes meditative organ and, by the sound of it, some subtle synth for additional textures. On the latter Hanna’s keys are also well to the fore, with delicate piano contributing to an imaginative, widescreen arrangement, while Smith’s vocals combine good phrasing and expressiveness.  His guitar could be higher in the mix though, and one of my reservations is that sonically they would sometimes benefit from more – to use a technical term – wallop.
A good example would be their reading of Coco Montoya’s ‘Last Dirty Deal’, which features a stinging riff with a very Sixties feel, and tasteful bass from Hay, but could do with more grit vocally, and with the guitar being a bit more in yer face to capture the bitterness of the lyric.  But on the other hand Smith’s ‘Cold Cold Bed’ effectively combines gritty guitar chords and surges of organ with a touch of funk and a bit more vocal edge from Smith.
The two familiar friends in the track list are Storyville's ‘Good Day For The Blues’, which has a tripping rhythm and sunny air to match its winning melody, and an uplifting keys solo from Hanna that melts into Smith’s guitar, and the covered-by-everybody ‘Breaking Up Someone’s Home’, which comes with a fresh, Clapton-ish arrangement that’s all stuttering riff, shuffling rhythm and spangly guitar.
It’s worth noting that due to a bit of a Spinal Tap-style exploding drummer syndrome, MSB were without a sticksman during the recording of the album, and so opted for drum programming by Smith to fill the void.  And generally he does an impressive job of it, though on the aforementioned ‘Cold Cold Bed’ the groove gets a tad predictable, and on ‘Breaking Up Someone’s Home’ the drum sound could be a bit thicker.
Between them Smith and Hanna provide enjoyable bursts of soloing throughout, the latter demonstrating a fondness for Jon Lord-meets-Booker-T organ playing on the likes of ‘Write If You Find Love’, while on Willie Dixon’s ‘The Same Thing’ Smith conjures up a sparkling solo that moves through some revved up chords into a piercing second section and then a lyrical segment dovetailed with the keys – and with good vocal phrasing to boot.
Bluest Blue is a well satisfying take on modern electric blues with a classic British bent.  It won’t take you on a journey to the centre of the universe, but it will keep the home fires burning.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Grainne Duffy - Stramash, Edinburgh, 8 November 2018

Grainne Duffy is a songbird. That’s not the be all and end all of what she has to offer – we’ll get to the rest in a minute.  But as a vocalist the girl from Co Monaghan in Northern Ireland demonstrates tremendous range and control, with enough power to fill the room too.  She really should be mentioned in the same breath as some bigger names in the female singer bracket as a matter of course.
Grainne Duffy gets laid back, sorta
Pic courtesy of Stuart Stott
That appeal is evident right from the opening track of this show, ‘My Love’, taken from her Where I Belong.  With its whooping chorus, interwoven guitars between Duffy and the slide playing of husband Paul Sherry, and some skelping drums from Darren Beckett, it makes for a dynamic start.
Duffy then delves back into her first album for the relaxed groove of ‘Each And Every Time’, the country rock audience participation of ‘Driving Me Crazy’, over strutting bass from Phil Donnelly, and the ballad ‘I Don’t Know Why’, on which she delivers soulful singing and also an emotional solo on her Les Paul Gold Top.
She picks an imaginative cover in the funky form of Koko Taylor’s ‘Voodoo Woman’.  Anyone less like a voodoo woman than the charmingly girl-next-door Duffy would be hard to imagine, but it’s still great fun as she shows her ability as a genial front woman, dancing cheerfully and contributing a wah-wah solo as a precursor to a bass showcase from Donnelly and a wailing outro from Sherry.
There’s a bit of a lull in the set before a classic gritty blues riff heralds Bonnie Raitt’s ‘Love Me Like A Man’.  Vocally this is right in Duffy’s wheelhouse, and collectively they do it justice as the whole band turn it up a notch or two.  In fact it seems to me that for the latter part of the show they benefit from the sound being cranked up generally, giving extra bounce to the reggae rhythm of ‘Sweet Sweet Baby’, with its fun, scrabbling solo from Sherry, and plenty of oomph to the crunching riff of ‘Bad To Worse’, with its bump’n’grind second half and “Whoah-oh-oh” singalong.
Then, would you believe it, just as they kick off Duffy’s trademark reading of Etta James’ ‘I Would Rather Go Blind’, a bunch of extra-curricular punters take up residence in the balcony area and obliviously start a loud conversation.  Credit to Grainne Duffy, she doesn’t allow it to phase her, and overpowers their prattle with a spine-tingling crescendo.
There’s just time for the rousing title track of her second album Test Of Time, including a nod to the Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’, and a final encore of ‘The Shape I’m In’, all ringing chords and harmonies, and with a curiously banjo-like solo from Sherry – how’d he do that?.
Personally I’d have liked to hear more of the upbeat material from Test Of Time, which is well suited to her – and Sherry’s – capabilities in a Bonnie Raitt/Tedeschi Trucks oeuvre.  But in a venue that can all too easily suck the energy out of a performance Grainne Duffy and co still deliver a warm and entertaining set to dispel the chills of an autumn night.
Liz Jones dares to be different
Pic courtesy of Stuart Stott
Edinburgh’s Broken Windows offer a refreshing change from the usual blues support band
fare.  Led by singer and songwriter Liz Jones, with her husky vocals, their opener ‘Strum’ incorporates a Latin groove courtesy of percussionist Suzy Cargill, and with the addition of breezy guitar from John Bruce takes on an air of Laurel Canyon-ish West Coast rock.  ‘Dangerous Game’, meanwhile, is a low cut and slinky slowie featuring Parisian-sounding organ chords from Andy Barbour.  There are different dynamics elsewhere, on something I took to be called ‘Well Being’, on which a slow tempo charges into an uptempo phase with Latin-sounding guitar from Bruce accompanied by ample hair tossing from Jones and a rasping vocal.
The Stones’ ‘Play With Fire’ is a good benchmark for their sound too – swinging, chugging boogie, slightly held in check, and coloured by rippling piano from Barbour. ‘Broken Windows’ itself has subtle guitar shadings, a big middle eight, and a tasteful solo from Bruce, while new song ‘Angel’ is ringing, happy-go-lucky, and an out and out winner.  Combining fresh songsmithery from Jones with musicianship from stalwart Edinburgh musos like Bruce, bassist Rod Kennard and drummer Gary Davidson, in addition to Cargill and Barbour, Broken Windows dare to be a bit different, and do a good job of it to boot.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Nimmo Brothers - Oran Mor, Glasgow, 2 November 2018

No prizes for guessing what music accompanies the Nimmo Brothers as they take the stage.   And they’re not just back in town, they’re in their hometown, in front of a packed sell-out crowd that is ready for a good time. Which the brothers duly supply.
They light the blue touch paper with hard-hitting twin-guitar riffing on ‘Bad Luck’, and follow it up with the ZZ Top-like boogie of ‘The Shape I’m In’, including the first singalong of the night, of which Alan Nimmo comments “That’s fucking garbage”, before demanding an improved effort.  It’s indicative of an atmosphere where there’s already smiles all round, and big fun going down onstage.
The Chuckle Brothers
But the Nimmo boys can deliver emotionally charged material as well as rockers, as with the ‘Long Way From Everything’, which starts off sensitively before Stevie delivers a searing solo - knackered arm and all - over the solid rhythm foundations provided by Craig Bacon’s drums and Mat Beable’s bass.  Alan then chips in with his trademark pin-drop solo to total hush, ahead of a howling conclusion.  Similarly 'If I Could See Through Your Eyes' is a lovely ballad that clearly comes from the heart, matched by Peter Green-like subtlety on his guitar solo.  ‘Waiting For My Heart To Fall’ meanwhile, is heralded by spangly guitar work, and peaks with four successive, impassioned solos, two from each brother.  It’s an epic, barnstorming affair, that suggests these guys were born to be here, doing this, right now.  And on material like this the fact that they are both excellent, soulful vocalists also shines through.
They can funk it up too of course, on the likes of the breezy ‘Gotta Slow Down’, with meaty chords in the middle eight, and a lengthy party time solo that makes laughter and dancing unavoidable, while ‘Still Here Strumming’ is a tougher brand of street funk.
They go all the way back to their Backwater Blues Band days for a song that’s new to me, featuring a sledgehammer riff and Stevie on slide, as well as a guitar face-off that displays well nigh telepathic understanding.
A funky bass intro from Mat Beable announces the arrival of set closer ‘Black Cat Bone’, a ten minute affair full of lick trading and of course their octopus-like “I’ll play your guitar, you play mine” signature moment, to top off an irresistible show.
Just how irresistible is demonstrated by the scorching encore of ‘Ain’t No Love (In The Heart Of The City)’, on which the crowd bawl out the singalong section in a manner that defies Alan Nimmo to repeat his earlier banter.  And as it ends Craig Bacon immediately cracks out a brisk tempo to ignite their spanking reading of the Allman Brothers’ ‘One Way Out’.
It’s not quite Guy Fawkes Night, but the Nimmo Brothers delivered bucket loads of fireworks with this performance.  It was a show brimming with simple enthusiasm, that gave the punters exactly the reunion celebration they wanted.  And it does make you sigh over the fact that they didn’t achieve more success back in the day, because in all seriousness they produce a twin guitar blues rock experience to rival just about anyone.  Both Stevie and Alan Nimmo have other fish to fry of course, but let’s hope the Nimmo Brothers project resurfaces again in due course.  Altogether now, we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when . . . .

Monday, October 29, 2018

Lightning Willie and the Poorboys

Good ol’ fashioned rock’n’rollin’ countrification.  Or maybe shakin’, rattlin’ rockabilly.  Or country-style Texas blues boogie.  Whatever label you want to stick on the music of Lightning Willie and the Poorboys, it’s damn fine stuff.
They’ve come all the way from LA for a run of Scottish dates that’s even taken in Orkney, but in no time at all make me feel like I’ve been transported to Robert’s Western Warehouse in Nashville.  Sporting a look that recalls Sam Elliott playing the cowboy in The Big Lebowski, and toting one helluva Gibson ES-5N geetar, Willie leads a band who make playing rock’n’roll look easy as pie.
Lightning Willie - not any old hat, not any old guitar
Kicking off with a rollicking instrumental, they draw heavily on latest album No Black No White Just Blues, getting their mojo working with material like the swinging ‘Can’t Get That Stuff’, which sounds like it could have been recorded in Sun Studios with a young Sam Phillips at the controls, and the simple, strutting ‘Eyes In The Back Of My Head’.   Then they cool things off with the smoky ‘Locked In A Prison’, Willie all soulful vocals while his fellow guitarist Pete Anderson contributes halting, teasing guitar licks, before Willie himself goes on to show that the spaces between the notes can be as telling as the notes themselves.
They cover the bases from something that's essentially a re-tooling of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Who’s Been Talking’, on which Anderson contributes slide guitar, to something with what Willie rightly calls “a butt-shaking rumba feel”, and on to the rueful tale of young love ‘Phone Stopped Ringing’, which is twang central from both Willie and Pete, over brooding drums from the baby of the band, Jeff Sorenson.  Then they close out their first set by really revving it up on ‘Lookin’ Out My Window’, with the two guitars picking away fit to bust over an uptempo shuffle, and Anderson weighing in with a high-speed, countrified solo.
They fire up their second set with ‘Couldn’t Do Nothin’’, which is equal parts Chuck Berry rock’n’roll and Texas blues – Lightning Willie originally hailing from Texas, after all – and follow up with more boogie in the form of ‘Tears Tears Tears’, with a suitably rattling piano solo from Michael Murphy, who’s also responsible for providing the bass work with his left hand on Korg synth.
Pete Anderson - guitarist and Harvey Keitel lookalike
But they also lay back with the loping, droll ‘Crazy’, and the slow blues of ‘I’m So Worried’,
on which Anderson delivers a slide solo that’s both pinging and woozy, while Willie acts out the lyrics persuasively as he delivers them in a voice that brings to mind Louis Armstrong.  In between, they share funny stories about freezing their asses off in Orkney and getting lost in Stirling in the course of the previous few days.
Down the stretch there are more Wolf undertones to the slinky ‘Fuss And Fight’, and a Mexican influence on ‘Tears Falling Down, with accordion-style keys from Murphy, and some sweet, sad guitar from Willie.
They wig out on Elvis’s ‘Little Sister’, which was also a hit for Dwight Yoakam with input from Anderson, who duly runs riot with the twangin’.  And to close they head back down Texas way for the distinctly ZZ Top-flavoured boogie of ‘Shake My Snake’, with rollercoaster slide from Anderson.
What Lightning Willie delivers may seem like simple stuff, but simple ain’t so easy to create, or deliver, with character and panache.  Willie does it though, ably assisted by Pete Anderson, laying on a show that’s full of wit, warmth, and musicianship.  If he’s playing near you then get your dancing shoes on!