Thursday, September 24, 2020

Listened To Lately - Jimmy Regal And The Royals, and Crawlback Featuring Johnny Bird

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!
Williams is responsible for six of the seven originals on offer, and is evidently a student of the North Mississippi sound.  ‘Sun’s Gonna Rise’ is a brooding, grooving outing that’s primitive and prickly, with a digression in which the guitar and harp go a-duellin’.  But ‘Going To The Fair’ has a different complexion – languid, swinging and simple in a way that would have fitted right into the North Mississippi Allstars latest album Up And Rolling, with another good groove and some meandering harp from Watkins that suggests he’s been at the mushroom tea recommended by the NMA gang.  And these two tracks set things up nicely for the later cover of Junior Kimbrough’s ‘All Night Long’, with Williams trying on a fuzzy guitar sound reminiscent of early Black Keys, and Watkins delivering a quavering, Gene Vincent-like vocal.
‘Regal Alley’ is an instrumental that kicks off with a spooky, midnight-in-the-graveyard intro, before deferring to a jabbing riff and some spiky lead guitar explorations from Williams, underpinned by a bass line that here and there sounds like – a tuba?  (There ain’t no bass player in the Royals.)  Meanwhile ‘That’s All It Took’ is another original, with a ringing ‘Girl Can’t Help It’ style riff and a brisk, punkish verve that makes the early Stray Cats sound smooth.

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!
follows, taking a more languid R’n’B tack that this time features sweet harp from Bird – including a literally breathtaking long note.
There are cracking renditions too, of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Forty Four’ and Junior Wells’ ‘Little By Little’.  Bird rips into the classic harp riff on the former, and if it’s ultimately in vain to compete with the Wolf vocally, Bird stands up for himself all the same, his gutsy voice pushed through a bullet mic by the sound of it.  ‘Little By Little’ grooves along nicely on Colin Griffin’s simple drums and Paul Hurley’s swinging bass, while Mark Phillips gets down to some stinging business on guitar with both the stuttering riff and his solo.

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.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Wily Bo Walker & Danny Flam - Ain't No Man A Good Man

Wily Bo Walker may be a London-based Scot, and his horn collaborator Danny Flam from New York, but it’s often N’Awlins that springs to mind listening to Ain’t No Man A Good Man.  And while Flam’s horn arrangements are a key ingredient in the sound, Walker’s trademark gravelly drawl is to the fore.
Take ‘Did I Forget’, for example, on which Walker makes like Louis Armstrong vocally, on a tune steeped in Fats Domino.  The Armstrong reference is underlined by squawking, muted trumpet, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts as a typically fluid arrangement takes in a woozy groove, singalong chorus, and swingalong horns.  Swelling female backing vocals from
Wily Bo gets his mojo workin'
Pic courtesy of John Bull
Chicago’s Brown Sisters provide a counterpoint to Walker’s basement voice, and there’s some nimble, understated playing from one of the cadre of guitarists contributing to the album.
‘Time To Forget You’ injects some Tom Waits jazziness and romance into a similar Fats Domino vibe, and adds some nifty, bluesy guitar soloing.  ‘St James Infirmary Blues’ meanwhile, is an uptempo take on the very, very old blues made famous by Louis Armstrong, propelled by racing double bass and deep-tooting sax, and with personalised lyrics by Walker and a zinging rock’n’roll guitar solo, plus call and response horns on an accelerated outro.  Me, I reckon I still prefer the downbeat feel of the Armstrong version, but the song stands up to reinterpretation.
Walker being Walker, there’s a tendency towards evocative, cinematic lyrics, typified by ‘Night Of The Hunter’, which shares its title with a very Noir-ish Robert Mitchum movie.  There’s piercing guitar and punchy horns, subtle keys, and an appealingly wonky guitar solo, while Walker sings of “Going to California with a suitcase full of sin”.  But regardless of the lyrics, Walker and Flam show the ability to evoke a mood, as with the languid ‘Walking With The Devil (Blood On My Hands).  Here the verse suggests cruising along the blacktop on a sultry, humid night, before reaching a neon-lit chorus.  And the closing ‘Build My Gallows . . . (Ain’t No Return)’, a slowed-down reprise of the title track, is a similarly brooding and down-low in the verses, part of an interesting arrangement for a tale of the impact of a femme fatale who’s enough to make a good dog break its leash.
‘Fool For You (2020 Hindsight)’ is a well assembled modern take on old-fashioned jazziness, with slide guitar played off against stabbing horns, fuzzy rhythm guitar and dabs of organ, as it evolves into a bluesy mid-paced strut.  And ‘Ain’t Hungry No More’ even manages to get reggae-fied, with ticking guitar in back and bobbing, guttural bass to the fore, before folding in bright horn injections and organ breaks as it switches into upbeat funkiness of a Big Easy “second-line” flavour.
The Deluxe edition of the album includes a second CD of songs previously recorded by Walker, now given a horn-inflected reworking courtesy of Flam, and re-mastered – Walker being the kind of studio-tanned honcho who seems never to be happier than when he’s taking material for a ride down roads not previously taken.  As ever, too, the album is glossily packaged in a sleeve redolent of the kinds of lurid B-Movies that seem to provide Walker with much of his inspiration.
In an era when blues is often taken to equate to blues-rock, Walker continues – in tandem with his horn-swoggling buddy Flam on this occasion - to provide something refreshingly different.  Ain’t No Good Man is another helping of his house-special-gumbo of blues, jazz and voodoo, and very tasty it is too.

Ain't No Good Man is available from Mescal Canyon Records, at www.wilybo.com.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Jim Kirkpatrick - Ballad Of A Prodigal Son

Air guitars at the ready?  Good, ‘cause you’re gonna want to strap ‘em on for this solo album by Jim Kirkpatrick, sometime wingman to Bernie Marsden, and guitarist with both melodic rockers FM and big band bluesers the Chris Bevington Organisation.
This isn’t to suggest that Ballad Of A Prodigal Son is a flat-out guitar extravaganza – Kirkpatrick is too interested in producing good songs for that.  But he sure leaves you in no doubt that he’s a fully qualified plank-spanker.
Take ‘Be Hard With It’ for example, a song that lives up to its title and then some, combining a rollercoaster riff, stomping drums, ripping chords, urgent vocals, and – oh yes, a wailing, wah-wah infused solo like a meteor whizzing past Space Station No.5.  And if you like that, axe fans,
Jim Kirkpatrick - he's got a guitar, and he's gonna play it
then you’re going to just lurve the penultimate track, ‘Brave New World’.  The album’s bona fide epic, it kicks off with a twinkling guitar motif and a sultry vibe as our Jim sings about being “bound for California”, before flexing its muscles and getting all big and dramatic en route to Kirkpatrick unleashing a veritable beast of a solo.  But brace yourself, because it turns out that’s him just warming up for his closing effort, which evolves into a howling monster that sounds like it’s escaped from Jurassic Park.  Or something like that.
Guitar hero is not Kirkpatrick’s default mode however, as the material on Ballad Of A Prodigal Son demonstrates.  ‘No Such Thing As A Sure Thing’ is a blues-infused rocker co-written with FM main man Steve Overland, with a rootsy intro of acoustic strumming and toots of harp that then gets sideswiped by a slamming riff.  It’s gritty, catchy, and well-constructed, and yes, you’ll want that air guitar handy for it too.  Meanwhile ‘Ain’t Going Down Alone’ is a mid-paced and moody affair that makes like something out of an early 80s Whitesnake songbook, and ‘Blue Heron Boulevard’ is an instrumental that sets Allman-like slide playing against sunshine-infused backing with a sheen reminiscent of Steely Dan.  The closing ‘All You Need Is All You Have’ also offers something different, a patient chill-out tune that swells and rolls likes the tide starting to come in on a sunset beach, before mustering a dramatic interlude, and another epic solo from Kirkpatrick over a ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’-like vocal refrain.
The one dud song on offer, relatively speaking, is the rather thin and predictable ‘Skin & Bone’.  But order is restored with the different blues facets evident in the following run of tracks.  ‘Always On The Road’, a co-write with Bernie Marsden, is good time, singalonga rock’n’roll replete with horns, honky tonk piano and Neil Murray on bass, that nods heavily towards Chris Bevington Organisation territory.  The following ’61 And 49’ is a tough and gutsy tale of the Clarksdale crossroads that’s appropriately stuffed with gritty slide, as well as some excellent, full-on backing vocals from Sarah Miller.  Then ‘Talk To Me’ is a blues ballad, kept simple but sprinkled with tasteful blues licks and a fluid solo, before ‘Gravy Train’, written by Rick Parfitt and John ‘Rhino’ Edwards, is a neck-snapping boogie express with a stinging guitar refrain to counterpoint the crunching riff.
But really you could guess at the quality of all this from the opening title track.  ‘Ballad Of A Prodigal Son’ features a snapping groove, a driving, stabbing riff, and strong vocals and harmonies typical of what follows.  It also features a simple little turnaround that doesn’t half remind me of Rainbow’s ‘Sensitive To Light’ – not that the two songs are really alike, but that gives you a clue to what the album is all about.  Call it blues rock, hard rock, or classic rock, call it what you will, Jim Kirkpatrick’s solo outing is a direct descendant of good stuff from days gone by, and it stands up pretty well in comparison.
So if you’re sitting there waiting with bated breath for the new Joe Bonamassa album, then stop it.  Breathe.  Relax.  And get your order in for Ballad Of A Prodigal Son.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Ballad Of A Prodigal Son is released on 4 September, and can be ordered here: http://www.jimkirkpatrick.com/merch.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Allman Betts Band - Bless Your Heart

Devon Allman has taken, I gather, to suggesting that the Allman Betts Band hail from “the United States of Americana”.  And that turns out to be more than just a neat line, because Bless Your Heart benefits from the variety that comes from venturing into some different, and modern-sounding, Americana territory now and then.  Which is just as well, because with an album weighing in at 72 minutes, ploughing a stereotypical Southern rock furrow from end to end could have been fatiguing.
So while the opener ‘Pale Horse Rider’ features some excellent guitar interplay, by turns harmonising and counterpointing, and Allman’s vocal is still yer typical Southern drawl, the overall effect is ruminative and shimmering in a way that hints at those indie folkies Fleet Foxes, who are scarcely anyone’s idea of good ol’ boys.
The Allman Betts Band show off their new Mod image
They’re closer to home on the likes of ‘Ashes Of My Lovers’ and ‘Rivers Run’ though, recalling different facets of the Drive-By Truckers.  The former marries twangy guitar chords to a loping rhythm redolent of Ennio Morricone, but with Duane Betts’ slightly nasal vocal and wails of harp from guest Jimmy Hall it has a ragged charm as it layers different textures on top of each other.  And the latter, with its acoustic strumming, is akin to the DBTs in “pretty” mode.  It may be overlong, and the lyrics a bit sappy, but the acoustic guitar solo is appealing, and there’s also a pleasing touch of slowed-down ‘Jessica’ about the climbing guitar line that appears halfway through.
If that stirs comparisons with the Allman Brothers though, it’s got nothing on ‘Savannah’s Dream’, which is likely to have Allmans fans drooling with pleasure.  Now, if you’d told me in advance that the album featured a 12-minute instrumental with some jazzy pretensions, I might have run for the hills.  But fair play to 'em, they make it work in style.  After some initial messing about a stuttering electric piano line triggers jazzy, tripping drums from John Lum, and then they’re off on an adventure that features some stylish guitar motifs, the three guitars working in concert very nicely, thank you very much.  There’s a damn fine, sonically interesting piano solo from John Ginty, bracketed by a couple of guitar solos, the second of which – from Betts, I’m guessing – takes them through the gears as it reaches for the skies, with Lum’s drums reinforced by R Scott Bryan’s percussion.  And if that’s not enough for you, then the later ‘Should We Ever Part’ could be its second cousin, with added vocals, some more propulsive drumming, plenty of urgency, and a catchy harmonised guitar riff.
Other highlights include ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’, a simple, sometimes Beatle-is ballad that leans heavily on Ginty’s elegant piano and atmospheric weeping guitar as the backing for Oakley’s sparing vocal, and is stretched out to good effect by a steely, Hispanic-tinged acoustic guitar solo.  Merit badges all round for that one.  Meantime ‘Southern Rain’ may start off with a rather prosaic verse, but it then grabs the attention with its falsetto refrain of ‘I believe in you’ and echoing guitar theme, before the guitars really go to work, playing off each other, off Ginty’s washes of organ, and Allman’s vocal riffing.  And I’ve also got a soft spot for the slide-and-sax-fired uptempo boogie of ‘King Crawler’, a good time tune that jangles along nicely.  It’s inconsequential but fun, and closes with a sax solo by guest Art Edmaiston that should have been higher in the mix.
They can’t keep up the standard across thirteen tracks though.  ‘Magnolia Road’ is an okay tune, but ultimately same-old-same-old sentimental Southern stuff despite another injection of quality piano from Ginty.  And things tail off in pretty tame fashion with ‘Much Obliged’ – on which Allman goes for a Johnny Cash vocal vibe, for reasons passing understanding – and ‘Congratulations’.
There is also, of course, a lot of slide guitar on offer.  Now, I love great slide playing, but there is a style of squeaking, slithering Southern slide guitar that’s too sweet for my tastes at times, and which duly becomes wearing after a while here.  Some more grit from time to time would be welcome.
But for all that, Bless Your Heart finds the Allman Betts Band broadening and deepening their sound, the whole being more than just the sum of their parts – and if they continue to explore new horizons, a serious proposition in their own right rather than keepers of an ancestral flame.

Bless Your Heart is released by BMG on 28 August.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Fantastic Negrito - Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?

Well, he’s back, and looking as out-of-the-box as ever.  Yes, it’s Fantastic Negrito, with his new album Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?  And on the cover he's wearing a fur-collared jacket that would suit Rasputin going for tea at the Winter Palace.
The Negrito formula remains much the same as on previous outings such as Please Don’t Be Dead – which is to say, he rejigs elements of black music genres like he’s fiddling compulsively with a Rubik cube.  “All kinds of things can happen in the world”, he sings repeatedly on the 55 second, syncopated-handclapping vignette ‘Shigamabu Blues’, and across the 11 tracks here goes about proving the truth of that statement.
Fantastic Negrito - zig-zagging his way through black music
Opening track ‘Chocolate Samurai’ is about as straight up as it gets, if that’s a valid description for what sounds like James Brown grabbing the core of Stevie Wonder’s groove on ‘Higher Ground’, shaking it upside down, and chucking in curve balls like a descending trill reminiscent of ‘Sir Duke’, a wonky guitar solo, a fabulously daft turnaround, and some jazzy piano.
  And while the lyrics include the album title, you may well recall more readily his admonition to “Eat less sugar, have more sex.”  Which sounds like a pretty good prescription to me.
Or there’s ‘Searching For Captain Save A Hoe’ – he does good titles, does Negrito – which is a staccato narrative delivered with punch à la Macy Gray.  Except the recipe also includes a doomy riff that now and then squelches and honks its way in from the margins, plus some sweet harmonies, a flurry of controlled rapping, and some groovy lead guitar.  And out of all that I come away with the thought that Negrito may well have spent as much time listening to Frank Zappa as the more obvious pathfinder Prince.
He can keep things relatively simple too, mind you.  Over the years his go-to schtick has often been a Moby-like transfiguration of a work song vibe, and you get that here with ‘I’m So Happy I Cry’, albeit with the core elements colliding with slithering organ and some wacky rapping from guest Tarriona "Tank" Ball, of Tank and the Bangas (nope, me neither).  And ‘How Long’ allies a dreamily vocalised verse to a chorus featuring a thudding ‘Mistreated’-style riff reinforced by clipped blasts of organ, to which yer man then adds a fluid, pinging guitar solo for further embellishment.
‘Your Sex Is Overrated’ is founded on vocals that are equal parts Sixties soul rasp and Prince-like head voice, over restrained, spacy backing that rouses itself as Negrito reaches a blissed-out peak.  And the guitar solo is mellow too, over perfectly melded bass, drums and keys, before it takes off to herald the conclusion.
A couple of tracks cut less mustard.  ‘These Are My Friends’ may have a punchy and snarling verse, and a swelling chorus that winks at the Fab Four, but it lacks any kind of killer twist, while the slower rumination of ‘All Up In My Space’, with its mantra-like chorus, is simply overlong, despite being enlivened by a funky, soulful organ break.
Speaking of funk though, the album closes with two corking examples.  First there’s ‘King Frustration’, which emerges from a mellow organ intro into a twitching, jerking funk groove like a puppet on a string, and throws in a trippy, hurdy gurdy bridge ahead of a squealing guitar solo and a suitably warped-classical slice of organ.  Then for afters there’s the throbbing, thrusting, grinding groove of ‘Platypus Dipster’, its brief guitar break sounding like it’s being squeezed out of a toothpaste tube.
Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? confirms that Fantastic Negrito is a non-conformist stirrer of rock/funk/soul and whatever else may be a distantly bleeping, clanking, rapping descendant of the blues – an evangelist for the musical misfits.  Dig it, people!

Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? was released on Cooking Vinyl/Blackball Universe on 14 August.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Walter Trout - Ordinary Madness

Sometimes an album just grabs you, right from the git-go.  So it is with Ordinary Madness, the latest offering from Walter Trout.  Right from the opening title track, the old blues-rocking warhorse is on the top of his game – and I’m not just talking about guitar-wrangling people.  No, Trout is in cracking form here on several fronts.

‘Ordinary Madness’ is an atmospheric piece of songwriting about everyday troubles, emerging out of a warbling electronic intro.  It’s brooding and claustrophobic, set to a loose beat like a wolf stalking you in the dark of the night.  It’s got clever lyrics, and a tense, strung-out guitar solo that eventually takes flight before sliding back into the metaphorical murk.  It’s really good – and it’s just the start.

In fact, the front half of this 11-track album is stacked with goodies.  ‘Wanna Dance’ is an

Walter Trout - just your everyday guitar madness
Pic by Christophe Losberger
uptempo counterpart to the title track, all ringing chords, urgency, and a need for release, sung with conviction by Trout and backed up by a wiry solo, over a stomping beat and crashing cymbals.  But it’s the following ‘My Foolish Pride’ that really elevates proceedings to a whole other level.  A reflective ballad that floats somewhere in the continuum between Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen, it makes the very most of picked guitar, occasional swells of organ, and a heartfelt vocal, to create something that’s simple and lovely.  Oh yeah, and there’s some guitar playing that’s perfectly judged in how it serves the song.
Interested yet?  How about ‘Heartland’, a third person narrative about a young woman’s dreams of something better, with a Tom Petty vibe full of retro Sixties leanings, vocal harmonies, and even some mournful accordion to counterpoint Trout’s razor-sharp soloing.

What you should have noticed by now is that I’m emphasising Trout’s imaginative song-writing and arrangements, and thoughtful lyrics with vocal performances to match, as much as his guitar playing.  But for anyone who's worried that there’s not enough mention of out-and-out blues, ‘All Out Of Tears’ will provide reassurance, and then some.  A straight-up slow blues, with some tasteful piano and organ in the mix, it rubs along very nicely, until the shift into the second segment of Trout’s first solo promotes it to another league, with some nice interplay from Johnny Griparic’s bass towards the end too.  Would it be pushing it to say that it could be to Trout what ‘Still Got The Blues’ was to Gary Moore?  Give it a whirl, and decide for yourself.

I’d be kidding if I said that the back end of the album consistently scales the same heights, but it’s still darned good.  In particular, ‘Final Curtain Call’ is a tough, mid-paced rocker with a trilling riff akin to The Guess Who’s ‘American Woman’, to which Trout adds some interesting twists with harp accompaniment – his own, I’m guessing – and vocal harmonising on the outro.  ‘The Sun Is Going Down’ is an unsentimental reflection on the ageing process, leading off with psychedelic-era harmonies and a reined-in guitar theme, more toots of harp for colour, clear-eyed lyrics – “Time, it’s brutally honest, and it’s so unfair” – and then a rocked-up coda shaken’n’stirred by some wang-dang guitar.  And ‘Make It Right’ is a rock-solid blues-rock song, with a bouncing rhythm and a downbeat mid-section with weeping guitar notes.

And you have to smile at the closing ‘OK Boomer’, a typically Trout-ish piece of social commentary, a raucous rock song that’s a tongue-in-cheek flipping of the bird to millenials’ criticism of the baby boomer generation.  “I like my music loud,” sings Trout, “I’m geriatric, and I’m proud!”

And so he should be.  Trout has delivered an album that shows off an impressive song-writing palette, equally impressively executed.  In a year that has seen the release of a remarkable pack of top drawer albums jostling for attention, Ordinary Madness is about to come hurtling up on the rails. Walter Trout is one Boomer who is definitely okay.


Ordinary Madness is released by Provogue Records on 28 August. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Kirk Fletcher - My Blues Pathway

Given that Kirk Fletcher is known first and foremost as a standout blues guitarist, it may seem odd to kick off a review of his latest album by talking about lyrics.  But hey, stick with me a minute here, huh?

Seems to me there’s a theme that emerges from a few songs on My Blues Pathway.  ‘Struggle For Grace’ is about the challenge of pushing troubles aside to make the best of yourself.  The Sonny Boy Williamson cover ‘Fattening Frogs For Snakes’ is about no longer doing the hard graft only for others to reap the benefit.  And in selecting Chris Cain’s ‘Place In This World Somewhere’, Fletcher also makes an assertive statement about the day-to-day trials of trying to

You're holding that guitar all wrong you know, Kirk.
Pic by Rick Gould
carve out a space for yourself.  It sounds to me like our Kirk is expressing a determination to make his musical efforts count, to be seen not just as a guy who “coulda bin somebody”, but as an artist whose work really does get attention.
Well, I reckon that with My Blues Pathway Fletcher shows that at his best he’s not just an outstanding blues guitarist, he’s an out of this world blues guitarist.  The first time I saw him live he blew me away, and several tracks here attain that same rarefied level.  This is a guy who can play within the constraints of the blues framework, but also come at you from fresh angles – and without resorting to raw speed.

Take ‘Struggle For Grace’.  On a fluid intro Fletcher effortlessly evokes BB King, all sweetness.  He gets his lyrical point across with a strong vocal, and then moaning horns create a floating backdrop for a fluttering solo of terrific control and lightness.  The outro shows his mastery of tension and release too, but that’s just a warm-up for what he does on the later ‘Heart So Heavy’.  Another self-penned song, it’s a classic slow blues in a minor key, featuring lots of interaction between his soulful vocal and responsive guitar licks.  Then Fletcher produces a couple of solos that go from teasing restraint, hanging back and hanging back, into sudden shifts of gear into higher revolutions, while he adds in twists and turns to wrongfoot you in the most beguiling way.

He can do this on more upbeat stuff too, like the funky cover of sax player AC Reed’s ‘Rather Fight Than Switch’, on which fun guitar breaks abound as he grabs your ear with an unusual wobbly guitar tone, and horns come in to fatten up the song for a bright ending.  Or the way he plays around with a discordant riff on the Texas blues-styled ‘D Is For Denny’, a tribute to his friend Denny Freeman on which some combinations of notes are enough to make me wonder if Fletcher is playing two guitars at once.  Meantime, on the light and breezy funk of ‘Place In This World Somewhere’, his solo plays around with the melody in a way that serves the song beautifully, before he conjures up some jazzy handbrake turns en route to a brief, bleeping fade-out.

‘Place In This World Somewhere’ is, however, one of the occasions when Fletcher sounds out of his comfort zone vocally, as is also the case on the single ‘No Place To Go’.  But he's more at home on the smoothly funky Robert Cray-style blues of the opening ‘Ain’t No Cure For Downhearted’ – also featuring a zippily neat and precise solo – and the gospel-tinged soulfulness of ‘Love Is More Than A Word’, and elsewhere he produces the most confident vocals I’ve heard from him to date, not least on the aforementioned ‘Heart So Heavy’.  And he relaxes nicely into the closing ‘Life Gave Me A Dirty Deal’, a simple old-style blues based on just guitars and harp, on which he’s content to yield the instrumental foreground to Josh Smith on resonator guitar and Charlie Musselwhite on harp – the latter stealing the show.

My Blues Pathway isn’t end-to-end brilliant - it takes a few songs to get up a head of steam, and there are those dips vocally.  But when it’s good it’s bloody marvellous, with strong songs and arrangements - and get ready to prick up your ears for some truly great guitar playing.


My Blues Pathway is released by Cleopatra Records on 25 September

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Chris Bevington Organisation - Sand & Stone

Sand & Stone, the fourth album by the Chris Bevington Organisation (including the first pair under the monicker of Chris Bevington & Friends), picks up where its excellent 2018 predecessor Cut And Run left off.  Opening track ‘It’s True’ is ushered in by a horn riff and stinging guitar chords, over a thumping beat.  It’s catchy, Scott Ralph’s singing is complemented by silky backing vocals from Kate Robertson and Sarah Miller, and it’s rounded out by a squawking sax solo from guest Chris Aldridge, and some ripping lead guitar courtesy of Jim Kirkpatrick.

Cool bassist Chris Bevington declines to go for the legs akimbo look
But the seamless handover of the baton from the signature exuberance of Cut And Run doesn’t tell the whole story.  Sand & Stone is a more varied affair, at times cooler in tone.  And that’s – well, cool.  It’s cool because it shows that CBO are still progressing from the collective who Chris Bevington recruited to record some favourite blues covers on their first album.  It’s cool because the songwriting duo of Ralph and Kirkpatrick are exploring different avenues rather than ploughing the same furrow.
So on this outing we get the soulful slowie ‘Already Got The Blues’, Ralph’s vocal winding around Neil McCallum’s terrific drum sound and guitar from Kirkpatrick that shifts from restrained to squealing as it competes with more emotive sax breaks.  The following ‘Blues Is Everywhere I Go’ is swinging soul on which the lead vocals are taken by Miller and Robertson, with a melody that offers some interesting twists and turns, an organ solo from Dave Edwards that kicks off by quoting Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, and a selection of horn breaks.  And ‘It Was Over’ is an epic-style moody slow number built on a rippling guitar motif and distant swirls of organ, anchored by Bevington’s bass.

Meanwhile acoustic guitar, and harp from Ralph, kick off the tipsy old-fashioned blues of ‘What Did I Drink Last Night’ against a backdrop of bar-room chatter, with Kirkpatrick adding a suitably woozy slide solo to go with chasers of sax.  The closing 'Sand And Stone' takes another different tack, exploring a work song vibe but applies it to the coal mines of Britain rather than the cotton fields of the South.  Moaning harp and anthemic vocal harmonies lead the way into the song, joined by simple chiming guitar and a drumbeat like a pickaxe, before Kirkpatrick applies the coup de grace with subtle slide guitar.

But if these tunes broaden the Organisation’s range, the spine of the 11-track album is still swinging, rocking blues, whether it’s the strutting funkiness of ‘Bad Bad Bad’, with stuttering horns from Ben Oakes on sax and Lewis Topping on trombone, ‘Deep River’ shifting from gutsy riff to a reliance on simple vocals and drums, or the funky R’n’B of the all-too-brief ‘I Got Time’.  This last, with its rolling horns, swinging rhythm section, squealing guitar break, and echoes of Etta James’ ‘Blues Is My Business’ as resurrected by Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul, is a track they could, and really should, have taken further.  And ‘Heaven Above’ is grindingly funky, with more harp to the fore from Ralph over a mid-paced swagger driven by McCallum’s tub-thumping drums, and Kirkpatrick contributing a wailing solo.

I don’t imagine Chris Bevington regards himself in any way as the leader of the Organisation that bears his name.  But he deserves credit for being the catalyst for a band that brings a distinctively big sound to the British blues table, and is now mining a rich seam of original songs from Jim Kirkpatrick and Scott Ralph, who have combined to become an impressive writing and production team.  Sand & Stone succeeds once again in taking a swinging blues style and giving it a modern freshness.  Which is, y'know, kinda cool.


Sand & Stone is available on all the usual digital platforms and on the band’s own websitewhere it can be purchased in digital, CD and vinyl formats: www.chrisbevingtonorganisation.com.