We’re going harp-tastic today here at Blues Enthused, with reviews of two albums of different blues flavours, but both with harmonica well to the fore.
Jimmy Regal And The Royals – Late Night Chicken
That ol’ Thames Delta is still producing R’n’B, evidently, as demonstrated by this ten track collection of originals and covers from South London’s Jimmy Regal And The Royals – who do not, in fact, include anyone by the name of Jimmy Regal.
What we have here is an itchy and scratchy vibe that’s part North Mississippi Hill Country, and part Seventies post-punk R’n’B’n’rock’n’roll, the latter evident right from the off in the title track, a spartan, urgent, devil-may-care affair, with blasts of harp from singer Joff Watkins over CJ Williams’ barbed-wire guitar and Sammy Samuels’ rushing drums.
|Jimmy Regal And The Royals - gimme gimme gimme fried chicken!|
The other covers are well-served too, with a crashing version of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Commit A Crime’ that’s suitably attired in gusts of harp, and sounds like it belongs in some dirt floor juke joint. And Dr John’s ‘Lights Out’ is a flash-fried reading that’s in and out, over and done inside two minutes – flat-out rock’n’roll built for a sweat-strewn club.
But the most imaginative choon here is the marvellous ‘Can’t Cry No More’, a spangly, pretty, coruscating affair from the pen of Williams that runs to over six minutes, with additional percussion from Alan Hughes and kora – a 21-string African instrument - courtesy of Diabel Cissokho adding an extra dimension to Watkins’ sweet, Mark Feltham style harp playing.
Gotta say, this Late Night Chicken is pretty juicy, notwithstanding its gnarly, garage rock aesthetic. Jimmy Regal And The Royals are a combo who sound like they’ve written a manifesto for jagged, bed-of-nails R’n’B, and are intent on delivering it.
Late Night Chicken is released on 25 September by Lunaria Records.
Crawlback, featuring Johnny Bird – Crawlback
Hailing from South Wales, Crawlback (the title of a track by Mississippi bluesman Frank Frost, btw) pursue a vintage R’n’B approach on this debut album populated predominantly by covers – though they do throw in a couple of curve balls along the way.
Led by harp player and singer Johnny Bird, Crawlback are in the “little big band” vein, as illustrated by jump blues opener ‘I Got No Reason’, with Bird’s harmonica occupying the space that would often be taken by a sax man, and some rocking piano with an appealing bumpity-bump left-hand rhythm, as I’m sure no piano teacher ever called it. Jimmy Reed’s ‘Found Love’
|Johnny Bird - blow that harp, boy!|
One of the curve balls comes with the self-penned ‘Cash Flow Problem’, which on one level is traditional R’n’B, but gets funky with it and features Bird rapping the verses about modern-day privations. At the other extreme comes ‘Caravan’, the Duke Ellington instrumental which they deliver in style, tapping into its tripping, nimble rhythms neatly while Bird serves up both the snake-charmer-like theme and some bird-like high pitched soloing.
They also have the option to call on Bella Collins to deliver female lead vocals, and duly do so on a jazzy, swinging reading of Etta James’ ‘Good Rockin’ Daddy’, on which Phillips deploys a more liquid guitar tone than the brittle, pinging style evident on some other tracks. Collins also adds tasteful backing vocals to the effervescent rockabilly of ‘Blues Stop Knockin’’ (once recorded by Lazy Lester and Jimmie Vaughan, methinks), with Bird getting jaunty on harmonica. But she really shines on the slow blues of ‘More Than One’, with a fluid, soulful vocal underpinned by Bird’s tooting harp, while Phillips adds some squeaking slide guitar.
‘Wild Man’ brings proceedings to a relaxed close, belying its title with a strolling tempo, warm guitar chords, and rinky dink piano fills to go with Bird’s woozy harp. You can almost see the tendrils of smoke from the weed mentioned in the lyrics.
Crawlback may feature Johnny Bird, but this is an ensemble effort for which all concerned deserve credit. It may be old-fashioned, it may be mostly covers, but it’s done with both quality and heart.
Crawlback is available for £5 here.