Saturday, October 24, 2020

Mike Ross - The Clovis Limit Pt.2

Incongruities – there’s a good word.  A couple of examples spring to mind when considering Mike Ross’s album The Clovis Limit Pt.2.  For one thing, the cover features a space helmet, and the contents include intermittent snippets of bleeping and droning, but the music is far from other worldly, being an earthy soup of Skynyrd, and the Black Crowes, and Creedence, and Joe Walsh, and – well, you get the picture.  And for another thing, Mike Ross lives in Brighton, on the South coast of England, but his voice sounds like he hails from Jacksonville, Florida.  Verily, the guy inhabits the vibe he’s exploring.
Mike Ross auditions for a remake of Easy Rider
And that vibe is well represented by opening track ‘Thanks A Lot’.  A sci-fi electronica intro is interrupted by crunching chords, heralding a sturdy riff of layered, or one might say Lynyrd, rhythm guitars.  A couple of verses later it suddenly changes gear and turns into a hurtling rock’n’roller, before downshifting again into a languid solo.  There’s a passage of falsetto-voiced, slide infused honky tonk, then it drifts away with a steely, pin-pricking solo outro over that robust riff.  It’s a five and a half minutes mini-suite of what Mike Ross is all about.
If that hard rockin’ segment in ‘Thanks A Lot’ suggests that Ross is prepared to get heavy, he confirms it on ‘None Of Your Business’, on which he transports a ‘Stormbringer’-like juddering riff to Dixie, takes things down into a dreamy guitar solo over cooing backing vocals and subtle organ, then hits the throttle again.
Joe Walsh echoes are evident on the witty and swinging ‘The Only Place You Ever Take Me Is Down’, and later on ‘Don’t Say A Word’, both tracks featuring crackling, abrasive slide playing.  The former also benefits from an expressively contemptuous vocal, and some swaggering slide/organ interplay en route to its amusing vibraslap finish, while ‘Don’t Say A Word’ kicks ass with a stomping beat and fuzzy rhythm guitar.
Ross has more clubs in his bag though.  ‘Hammer’ belies its title in wistful, plaintive style, with soaring harmonies and glittering guitar picking, a shimmering bridge and an airy solo.  ‘The Loser’ combines acoustic guitar and Rhodes piano in a simple, understated and rootsy way.  ‘Leviathan’ is something else again, evolving from an Electric Ladyland psychedelic intro until it acquires more shape with a slithering electric guitar reading of the melody from ‘The Loser’, before Ross comes in with an echoing vocal to evoke an eerie blues vibe – the song is delightfully off-kilter.
A couple of instrumentals are more straightforward.  Fizzing guitar opens ‘Tell Jerry’, which shifts shapes between two guitar motifs over carefree, bopping bass from Ricky Kinrade.  ‘Unforgiven’, meanwhile, is an Allmans-like shuffling affair on which Darren Lee’s swinging drums are essential to the lightness of mood, while Ross’s guitar switches effortlessly between its catchy theme and sparkling soloing, and Stevie Watts weighs in with a typically groovy organ solo.  And the latter is dreamily reprised on the closing ‘Unforgiven (Ramport Transition)’, its elements of acoustic guitar, cosmic synth lines, and ethereal harmonies repeating the title played off against fuzzed up guitar.
But before that there’s the nine minutes’ worth of ‘Shoot You If You Run’, which is a game of two halves.  Upfront there’s serrated slide over fuzzed up rhythm guitar, creating an edgy tense atmosphere reinforced by the stumbling rhythm, pushy, competing voices, and a squealing solo.  Then it all dissolves into an arresting, if decidedly oddball, second segment, comprising spooky, unaccompanied guitar over barely discernible radio voices and Sputnik signals.
It’s easy to find late Sixties/early Seventies American rock points of references across The Clovis Limit Pt.2.  But Mike Ross draws them all together with his own personality, and makes them sound fresh and contemporary.  And aside from the rhythm section and organ, it’s just him deploying a swathe of instruments to deliver this many sided, hugely enjoyable, fun album.
I just have one question.  What the hell is the Clovis Limit?
 
The Clovis Limit Pt.2 is released by Taller Records on 30 October.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Connor Bracken and the Mother Leeds Band - Nightbird Motel

Right, let’s get the obvious bit out of the way first.  Who the hell is Mother Leeds, and what’s she got to do with the price of fish?
Well, legend has it that Mother Leeds was the mother of twelve children in the backwoods of Noo Joisey, way back sometime.  Child number thirteen was the last straw for mother dear, who cursed it – and it metamorphosed into a creepy creature with wings and hooves known as the Jersey Devil.  And Connor Bracken and the gang come from New Jersey, see?
And what Connor and co seem to have been getting up to in the land of the Sopranos is cooking up their own brew of Gaslight Anthem-esque, post-punk, scratchy Strokes-like pseudo-Iggy garage rock.  Or something of that ilk.  I bet they like to get all sweaty into the small hours on the cramped stages of NJ clubs.
Connor Bracken and the Mother Leeds Band - no wings, no hooves
As a singer, front man Connor Bracken makes for an energetically spiky guitarist.  His vocal style is of the throw it out there and see if it locates the melody variety – not bad, but a bit shaky, and now and then prone to wander.  Which, to be fair, kinda fits with the shouty backing vox his pals chuck in here and there.  That barbed wire guitar playing is engaging though, bringing a likeable edge to proceedings.
The opener, ‘When The World Stops Turning’, combines jagged riffing from Bracken and his guitar sidekick Jeff Linden, the aforementioned teetering vocals, a propulsive bass line from Chris Dubrow, and a spiky guitar solo.  It’s also said all it’s got to say about a minute before it ends.  But all in all, it’s pretty good fun.  And that pretty much sums up these rock’n’roll Jersey Devils.
They do like to incorporate some light and shade now and then though, in the form of prickling, intros like the ones on ‘Read On You’ and ‘Nightbird’, before they burst into exuberant life.  Actually, ‘Read On You’ sounds a bit like the less sophisticated little brother of 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Up’, but in a good way.  On ‘Nightbird’ though – well, did I mention that they hail from Asbury Park, New Jersey?  No?  Well I didn’t want you making assumptions.  On ‘Nightbird’ though, the twinkling intro ultimately leans into some distinctly ‘Darkness On Edge Of Town’ chords, and a Springbean-like plaintive Sixties-ish vibe, and they dial things down quite nicely too, notwithstanding Bracken’s sometimes caterwauling vocal.
On ‘Blame On Me’ they make good use of nearly six minutes, emerging from a droning intro into a reflective verse before getting all angsty and fiery to the strains of a somersaulting guitar line. They follow that up with the simple fun of the jingle-jangling ‘Liquorstore’, a slice of punky pop with a bridge decorated by jostling, ringing guitars that would suggest The Undertones if only they valued brevity a bit more.
That last comment sums up the key learning point for the Mother Leeds boys’ – when the song’s done, move on.  They don’t always overdo it though – on both the aforementioned ‘Blame On Me’ and ‘Voice On The Radio’, with its pulsing bass and drums overlaid with scraping, ghostly guitar, they extend themselves to imaginative effect.
Anyway, you know what?  I like ‘em despite their flaws.  So what if they’re not the finished article?  There are some decent hooks kicking around, Bracken’s guitar work has a ragged charm, and it’s kinda hard to sneer at their naïve enthusiasm.
Connor Bracken and the Mother Leeds Band are still a bit immature, still learning their trade, but Nightbird Motel shows promise.  I expect better things to follow.

Nightbird Motel was released on 25 September, and can be ordered from Bandcamp here.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

King King - Maverick

Family, love, brotherhood, bereavement, togetherness in the face of the storm, defiance in response to music biz frustrations.  These are themes that King King main man Alan Nimmo sings about with heart-on-sleeve conviction.  Really, this album should be called Manifesto, rather than Maverick.  But maybe someone had already taken that one.
It’s been three long years since King King’s last release, Exile & Grace, and three-quarters of the line-up at work here didn’t feature then.  But when Maverick kicks off with ‘Never Give In’, it’s right in the Bad Company/Whitesnakey kinda territory they’ve made their own over the last decade, with big ringing chords, surging organ, and the new rhythm section of Andrew Scott and
Alan Nimmo delivering his manifesto
Pic by Jon Theobald

Zander Greenshields giving the bottom end a big fat sound, while Nimmo expresses his determination to overcome obstacles put in his way.  And later, on ‘I Will Not Fall’, a lyrically biting reaction to the sourness of business relationships, the rhythm boys are at it again, with a thumping backbeat from Scott and throbbing bass from Greenshields laying down a funky foundation, augmented by tidal waves of organ and bubbling clavinet from Jonny Dyke.
Verily, the foursome sound like a band.  But it’s impossible to ignore the contribution made by keys man Dyke.  He’s had to wait a while to make a record on which he could emerge from the shadow of his predecessor Bob Fridzema, but boy what an impact he has here.  And it’s not just the power of his organ playing on the upbeat stuff, or his work on the arrangements with Nimmo, it’s what he brings to the more reflective material – and these are the songs that really raise Maverick to another level.
The absolute standout among these, the cream of the crop, is ‘When My Winter Comes’, a ballad for piano and voice alone, co-written by Nimmo and Dyke, which is so much more than its minimal parts.  With Nimmo’s delivery of an inescapable melody intertwining with Dyke’s subtle piano chords and embroidery, and some perfectly pitched harmonies, it’s a meditation on roots and the ageing process that will have the hairs on the back of your neck prickling.  Guaranteed.
Not far behind that highlight comes ‘Whatever It Takes To Survive’, a song about loss graced by subtle and soulful verses that take me back to the smouldering tunes on Standing In The Shadows.  It toughens up for the assertive chorus though, with Dyke’s organ again swirling purposefully in the mix.  And there’s a harmonised guitar segment - which will just beg for new recruit Stevie Nimmo to get stage front with his brother for a twin guitar moment - as a prelude to a scorching Nimmo solo and a big climax.
Being honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced by ‘By Your Side’ at first.  Which goes to show that sometimes I can be a schmuck.  With another piano-led intro, this is a grower with what feels like a deeply personal lyric about relationships and observing a loved one’s suffering, and a lovely melody enhanced by wonderful harmonies.  It builds gradually, until Nimmo carves out another spine-tingling solo.
Upbeat songs like ‘Fire In My Soul’ and ‘End Of The Line’ may not carry the same emotional heft
Cheer up guys - the album's a winner!
as the slowies, but there’s still depth to the lyrics amid the radio-friendly swell of the sound.  On the former, keyboard flourishes from Dyke combine with gritty riffing from Nimmo, while Andrew Scott gives his kit a fair old walloping.  Album closer ‘End Of The Line’, meanwhile, may not mention Nimmo’s brother Stevie by name, but it more or less anticipates his recent recruitment to the band as it contemplates past adventures and future possibilities.  It’s an easy-going, lightly funky tune, with a great little guitar solo, but it’s still earnest in expressing the belief that “Together we can face this world, and never be alone.”
Along the way ‘One World’ harks back to societal themes previously explored on Exile & Grace, against the backdrop of a vibrant sound built on stuttering bass, bubbling keyboards and stabbing chords, and ‘Everything Will Be Alright’ is similarly bright and confident, ranging from swelling organ and backing vocals to warm electric piano and a stinging guitar solo as Nimmo sings about faith and trust.  And ‘Dance Together’ is a kilt-swingin’ party tune with an underlying metaphor about community, its pumping bass and propulsive drums driving a that big sound, embellished by prickling chords and a spot-on Nimmo solo squeezed out like toothpaste.
Was this album a moment of truth for Alan Nimmo, after all the vocal problems, the line-up changes, and whatever else over the last three years?  If so, he and the new look King King have hit back with a bang.  Maverick is a big-hearted, uplifting record – a musical and emotional antidote to these trying times.

Maverick is released on Channel 9 Music on 6 November, and can be pre-ordered here.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Louisiana's LeRoux - One Of Those Days

Gotta be honest with you, I’d never heard of Louisiana’s LeRoux till this album turned up, despite the fact that they’ve been kicking around for 42 years - off and on, with one line-up or another.  Little wonder perhaps, given their peak success was way back in the day, since when it’s largely been confined to their home turf around America’s Gulf Coast.  But whatever their profile, seems to me these guys are good.
Not just good, in fact, but very much at ease with a sound of their own.  Now, an eight-piece band from the Deep South featuring two lead guitarists, two ivory tinklers, and a dude on percussion in addition to yer standard rhythm section, is likely to invite certain comparisons.  And yeah, Jim Odom and Tony Haseldon offer up a few stretches of guitar playing of a vaguely Allmans-like bent.  But that’s about as far as that particular comparison goes.
Louisiana's LeRoux - harmonies at the ready!
Figure this, for one thing.  In addition to lead vocalist Jeff McCarty – who has a strong, crystal clear set of pipes on him – four of these guys contribute backing vocals.  And another five fellas seem to have lined up to add their voices to the fray. (Including Bobby Kimball, original singer with Toto.  Hold that thought.)  So it’s no surprise that songs on One Of Those Days often come drenched in lush harmonies.  On ‘No One’s Gonna Love Me (Like The Way You Do)’, which is easy like the Commodores on a Sunday morning, the layered vocals are the primary focus, even if Rod Roddy chips in with a Rhodes piano solo and Messrs Odom and Haselden conjure up a harmonised guitar segment as a prelude to one of the many sharp guitar solos scattered across the album.  And on the punningly-titled ‘Lucy Anna’ (geddit?), with its strong hook the harmonies take on an Eagles-like hue over the shuffling rhythm.
These guys clearly know what they’re doing in the vocal department, and those voices are given an extra shine by the pristine, high gloss sound – which is no surprise when Jeff Glixman, sometime producer of choice for Kansas, is at the controls.  And in fact that kind of AOR-style polish might invoke comparisons with the likes of the aforementioned Toto at times, such as on ‘Lifeline (Redux)’ – 'redux' because it’s a reworking of a LeRoux toon from 1983 – which has a cracking melody to which McCarty adds interesting vocal twists and turns, while all concerned make the most of seven minutes to explore the possibilities to good effect while continuing to serve the song to good effect.
But if you’re thinking all this sounds a bit too sweet to be wholesome, they can toughen things up too.  Both ‘Don’t Rescue Me’ and ‘Nothing Left To Lose’ have a swagger that I reckon Ronnie Van Zandt would smile down on.  The former gives more space to punchy rhythm guitar, matched by a penetrating mid-range solo with plenty of tension and release, while the latter has a stuttering Southern funkiness, slide guitar injections, and a distorted, quavering guitar solo with a slick, modern feel.
They have a handy way with words at times too.  ‘Nothing Left To Lose’ offers the observation that “Love is blind, but it deaf and dumb”, while ‘One Of Those Days’ itself shakes up the old Eagles image of a girl, dear Lord, with a flat-bed Ford into the rather more lubricious “I saw an angel standing on the Interstate, jeans cut off clear up to heaven’s gate” – both tracks penned by Odom and Haselden.  The title track also benefits from some quasi-Latin rhythm courtesy of Mark Duthu’s percussion and Randy Carpenter’s drums, as well as plenty of fluttering licks from one of those guitars.
Fellow Louisianan Tab Benoit pops up to add lead guitar to the closing ‘New Orleans Ladies’, another retake from their early repertoire, which has something of a ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ vibe to it – NOLA style – but with more of those smooth harmonies adding to a soulful vocal from McCarty.
My other half loves great harmonies, and she gave this album a distinct thumbs up right from the off.  I have to agree with her – well, when don’t I?  Louisiana’s LeRoux are a bunch of greybeards who know what a good song sounds like, and what to do with it.  With One Of Those Days they really shouldn't be the Gulf Coast's big secret.

One Of Those Days ia available now, on Gulf Coast Records.

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.