Friday, June 24, 2022

Gimme 5 - Adam Rigg of modern rock'n'rollers The Bad Day gets down to business

Adam Rigg is the vocalist and bassist with modern bluesy rockers The Bad Day (formerly The Bad Day Blues Band), whose eponymous second album The Bad Day has been shaking the British rock'n'roll tree since landing at the start of June.  So here he is serving up a Gimme 5 menu of songs that have been on his radar recently, artists who have been a big influence on him, and the guests he'd like to invite to his ideal long lunch.  Strap yourselves in, folks!

Gimme 5 songs, old or new, that have been on your radar recently.  [Check out the links to listen to all Adam's selections.]

The Bad Day posing somewhere posh, including the be-hatted Adam Rigg
'In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning'
by Frank Sinatra:  "Stumbled across this when researching concept albums, apparently one of the first. Although I think the album has more of a running vibe than a concept, I love this opening track. Full of memories and smooth swagger. Nobody could do it quite like Frank."
'Moonlight Sonata' by Beethoven (various versions):  "I became a little obsessed with this. It’s one of the most ‘alive’ pieces of music I’ve ever heard. The flow, the tempo changes in the fingers are hypnotic. There’s a reason this piece of music is still so well known to this day. Beethoven was indeed a genius."
'Don’t Answer The Door' by BB King and Bobby 'Blue' Bland:  "This is the live version and I’m not sure there is a studio version. The chemistry between these two blues legends is brilliant to listen to. Humour and friendship filters through the painful bluesy lyrics. The band are great, really tight. BB is the conductor perhaps but Bobby is the soul of the piece."
'Stars' by Simply Red:  "This passed me by when I was younger, despite being a huge hit. The vocals are obviously world class and actually delivered with a nonchalant ease rarely mastered as well as this. The song itself is extremely well crafted and holds up well to repeat listening."
'Good Year For The Roses' by Elvis Costello:  "I am just discovering Mr Costello after resisting his songs for a number of years, mainly because I didn’t think he was a great singer. I was wrong. The unique voice is one of the things that gives great character to this song, as well as being very lyrically clever. I’m not sure if I’m taking the title hook as sarcasm and that’s why I like it."
Gimme 5 artists or bands who have had a big influence on your work. 
Steve Marriott:  "I first came across him on an old episode of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Loved his version of 'Black Coffee'.  The Humble pie era, just outstanding. Often people say he was underrated, and that is probably true in respect of the public (probably due to poor management from what I have read) but not by others musicians as his talent is undeniable. One of the coolest voices ever. A natural gravel that others have tried to replicate ever since. Allegedly
The small but perfectly formed Steve Marriott
nearly joining the stones but Mick knew he was the better singer. Humble Pie were amazing, and obviously The Small Faces had some great hits. Had the pleasure of interviewing his daughter Mollie for a radio show once and she is also a great singer, keeping the Marriott legacy rolling."
Cream/Jack Bruce:  "I learnt to play the bass by copying Jack Bruce bass lines. Love all the classics like 'Sunshine Of Your Love', 'Crossroads', 'Badge' etc. But I also appreciate some of the less well known songs like 'Tales Of Brave Ulysses' and 'Strange Brew'.  Great band, wish they could have stayed together longer."
The Beatles:  "I know, I know. But they are simply the greatest band ever. The band that got me into music in the first place. My first ever record was a vinyl single of 'Long Tall Sally' and I never looked back from there. Paul McCartney needs special mention, although recently I think people are realising he was the driving force in the band, I think in a hundred years time people will look back on him as one of the greatest songwriters to have ever lived. Abbey Road is my number 1 album of all time and a massive inspiration for our recent concept album."
BB King:  "He makes it seem so easy, his guitar playing is sublime, and along with Gary Moore I think the best at making the guitar sound like it’s talking. Nothing crazy flash but mesmerising. So many of his tracks are blues standards and we often play some at gigs and jams. For me he was the King of the Blues."
Eric Clapton:  "I know I mentioned him already as part of Cream, but I feel he deserves his own mention for his solo work. From blues to pop to rock and back to the blues, he has done it all and you have to say been successful in all of these genres. Not many people have achieved
Tom Waits - "I'm sitting next to who?"
that. That is down to his guitar skills, and just as importantly his songwriting and arranging ability. I adore Back To The Cradle as an album, and can appreciate his rockier stuff like 'Layla' which is beautifully written."
Gimme 5 guests you’d love to invite to your ideal long lunch.
Jack Nicholson:  "He would be great at a dinner party, some great stories and actually I could just watch him and be entertained, so charismatic and interesting."

Bob Mortimer:  "He makes me laugh even when he doesn’t say anything. Imagine him with Jack Nicholson. We need to make this happen."

 Cerys Matthews:  "She loves the blues and seems like a laugh, I imagine good chats."

Tom Waits:  "So talented and so unique. Legendary stories and also could chat with him about acting as well as music. I’d probably sit next to him."

Carol Kaye:  "Legendary bassist. I could listen to her stories for hours about the countless number of hits and musicians she has played with."
Just one track – pick one of your tracks that you’d share with a new listener to introduce your music.
"For my pick lets go with ‘Devil’s Lullaby’. It feels like it captures where we are at the moment musically and also I’m very proud of the writing element to it. This was the track that started off our idea of The Bad Day as a concept album, and originally it was written as a duet between two arguing musician lovers. So it has a very definite image in my head when I sing it or hear it. Also the arrangement of the version on the album is very nice, all the instruments give each other just the right amount of space and the guys really knocked it out of the park with the vibe."

Check out forthcoming festival appearances and shows by The Bad Day here.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Rolling Stones - San Siro Stadium, Milan, 21 June 2022

I don’t much like stadium gigs, to be honest.  Spending an arm and a leg to see performers strutting their stuff maybe 100 metres away, or more likely watching them on a very large TV screen, isn’t really my kind of gig.
But once in a blue moon I make an exception.  Somehow, I’ve never seen the Stones before.  That’s partly down to the above issues, and also a case of never the right place and time.  So this is a bucket list thing, right?  If that’s not an insensitive comment in the wake of Charlie Watts passing away at the start of the year.
Just yer average little Stones club gig for Keef'n'Woody

And when the lights go down, the show kicks off with a montage of Charlie on the big screens, accompanied by a thumping backbeat.  Then the handbrake is yanked off and they fairly rip into ‘Street Fighting Man’.  It’s a day-glo opening, all turquoise and pink and topped off by Keef’s bright yellow tea-cosy hat. Ronnie Wood is spiv-like with slicked-back hair, while Jagger is out of the blocks and immediately rallying the troops.And you know what?  They actually sound good.  That may sound like a weird thing to say about “the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world”, but I’ve heard about them being, er, sonically challenged on occasion.
“Ciaoo Milanoooo!” Mick howls as they conclude the opener.  It’s the first of his numerous excursions into Italian, and as mechanical and Deptford-nasal as they sometimes sound, the natives lap them up.  Meanwhile Keith and Woody are thick as thieves, facing off and perhaps getting themselves in synch.  But after a while they cut the cord and Ronnie wanders and capers further afield, while Keith hugs the drum riser.  Here he is, one of the most famous plank-spankers in the business, but for long spells his profile is low (yellow hat notwithstanding); ego-free, if you like, just getting on with the job, fidgeting away at extra textures to the sound.
Still, his voice may be a raggedy old thing, but he delights in adding some decent harmonies on the phones-aloft moment of ‘Wild Horses’.  And if his later lead vocal on ‘Connection’ is a bit ropey he’s rather more at home inbetween, in a Dylan-esque fashion, when he and Ronnie take to the acoustic blues of ‘You Got The Silver’.
A few songs in they drag ‘Out Of Time’ from the vaults, and turn it into a swaying, Latin-ated singalong, with a ker-thunking beat from Steve Jordan and lots of bum-wiggling from Jagger.  In the best possible way, it’s a complete hoot.  And you gotta think, a band that can pull out an old chestnut like this, and turn it into a highlight, have maybe got a little somethin’ going for them.
When you get down to brass tacks, and when they’re on form like this, the Stones are the ultimate singles band.  Yeah, folk can burble on about Exile On Main Street being a masterpiece if they like.  And maybe not every song has been a chart hit.  But still, this is a party led by a band with their own personal jukebox the size of a lorry, many a song being greeted with squeals of delight from its iconic opening bars.
‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ is a case in point, right from its French horn intro.  There are lovely organ fills, a cracking Ronnie Wood solo, and then it reaches anthemic
"Ciaooo Milanooooo!"
Pic courtesy of Corriere Milano
altitude before surging into a gospel wig-out.  And when Chuck Leavell starts whacking a cowbell everyone knows instantly it heralds ‘Honky Tonk Women’, on which Keef takes a front seat, aided by rattling piano from Leavell and some honking sax to boot.  Meanwhile ‘Miss You’ is all about Mick throwing some shapes to the bass groove, and for all it’s branded as a disco excursion the rhythm plotted by Steve Jordan is more tricksy than straight four-on-the-floor.
The signature sound of interweaving guitars gets revved up going down the stretch though.  There’s a tense guitar’n’harp opening to ‘Midnight Rambler’ – I’ve got no idea how good Jagger is as a harmonica player, but he convinces me.  Woody chips in with a splintering solo as the tempo rises, then he gets together with Keith for a spell of typical cross-riffing, before the latter stalks Mick down the catwalk to add to the song’s sense of menace, then they slip in a brief chorus of Robert Johnson’s ‘Come On In My Kitchen’.
Keef leans forward to deliver the opening chords of ‘Start Me Up’, igniting the crowd big time, and ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ is alive with different elements, from the samba-style percussion (I dunno my samba from my salsa, but you get the idea), to Keef’s angular licks, and the criss-crossing guitars as it progresses.  Then Keith chops out the riff to ‘Jack Flash’, possibly the crowning glory of that churning, counterpointing two-guitar sound.
There are encores, course there are.  It’s striking just how structurally simple ‘Gimme Shelter’ actually is, but boy oh boy is its drama heightened by the classic, ball-busting female vocal part, here delivered by the tiny, sparkling Channelle Hayes, going toe-to-toe with Jagger and then some. Then they bring down the curtain with ‘Satisfaction’, with Jagger scarcely needing to conduct any singalong – the “Hey hey hey, that’s what I say” line being an especially convulsive trigger for crowd participation.
I’m no diehard fan, with a completist album collection and campaign medals from tours aplenty.  But hey hey hey, I say this was a rockin’ good show, and it’s worth considering that they could probably have replaced three-quarters of the set list without any drop in entertainment value.  Okay, they may not be, and may never have been, all that profound.  But the Stones are indeed, and will always be, a rock’n’roll band of the very first order.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Kat Riggins - Progeny

The late, great Irish comedian Dave Allen always used to finish his TV shows by saying, “Good night, thank you, and may your god go with you”.  It was a subtle salutation, indicating tolerance of others’ beliefs while making it clear he trod his own path - generally after spending a good part of his act knocking the stuffing out of the rituals and hypocrisy of religion.  NB – religion, rather than faith.
I mention this because on her latest album Progeny, Kat Riggins offers up several songs rooted very clearly in her faith.  Being an atheist myself, I lean towards the Dave Allen perspective – I'm happy for your god to go with you, but please don’t expect me to go too.  So my response to some of these songs is mixed.
Kat Riggins - true to herself in technicolour
Pic by Dennica Pearl Worrell
On the downside, ‘Got To Be God’ and ‘Warriors’ come over as pretty glib.  The former is laid back soul with a decent tune and arrangement, and some steely, evocative guitar from co-producer Mike Zito.  But I don’t buy lines like “There ain’t no love except holy love” and “It’s got to be god”.  And on ‘Warriors’ the stabbing riff and more zinging guitar from Zito are both far more interesting than stuff about “The devil knows I ain’t in this thing alone,” or "With legions of sinners behind me".
But this isn’t to say that none of her faith-charged material works.  Riggins sounds totally convincing on the a cappella gospel vignette of ‘Walk With Me Lord’ – a reminder that faith and its attendant music, as vehicles for both hope and despair, were major components of the black American experience in the darkest of times.  And the closing ’40 25:40’ is a reference to the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in the Gospel of St Matthew, and specifically a verse in which Christ observes that “What you do to the least of men, that you do to me” – a powerful sentiment even when couched in a Biblical context of Judgement Day that does nothing for me, and which is given a satisfyingly tough and gritty funk setting.
Away from Riggins’ evangelical bent, the opener ‘Walk On’ is all big tense chords, sustaining a strutting declaration of assertiveness, with a squealing cacophony of guitar from Zito underneath the coda.  In fact Zito selects a particular, edgy guitar sound that provides connective tissue sustaining much of the album.  On the funky and insistent ‘Espresso’, for example, his scything wah-wah cranks up the energy to match Riggins’ arresting line that “She’s got eyes like espresso and I’m feeling the buzz”.
Other highlights include the swinging blues of ‘In My Blood’, with shuffling drums from Matt Johnson and piano boogie from Lewis Stephens, and the funky party tune ‘My City’ paying tribute to Riggins’ home town of Miami, with a triple whammy of stinging guitar from the guesting Albert Castiglia, rubber band bass from Doug Byrkit, and a rattlingly rhythmic rap break from Busta Free.
The tentpole track though, is ‘Promised Land’.  It’s an angry, defiant song fit for these days when it has to be stated that black lives matter, protesting that “I still got shackles on my feet”.  Grinding guitars and sonorous drums and bass combine to create the dark mood, with quaking guitar effects and howling soloing from Zito, and Riggins quoting lines from ‘Voodoo Chile’ to underline the strident sentiments.
Unfortunately, a couple of overlong, so-so tunes, with rather predictable lyrical themes, detract from the impact of the best stuff.  But regardless of the quality of the material, or its lyrical intent, Riggins delivers it with commitment and a strong, gutsy voice.  This is a talented, forceful vocalist in the mould of Shemekia Copeland, as Progeny often demonstrates.  If she can improve the strike-rate of her songwriting, making it more universal while remaining true to herself, then Kat Riggins may really start to fulfil her potential.
 is released by Gulf Coast Records on 24 June.
Read the review of Kat Riggins' previous album Cry Out here.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

The Black Keys - Dropout Boogie

So here’s a couple of questions.  How did a couple of geeks from Akron, Ohio manage to get this big?  And are they still clearing the bar with Dropout Boogie, their eleventh studio album?
The answer to the second question is yes, though maybe not at the personal best height they achieved with some previous outings.  And the various elements on display here do a pretty good job of explaining the success that The Black Keys have generated along the way, in spite of their outsider origins.
Black Keys Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney in celebratory mode
Pic by Alysse Gafkjen

What Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney do, basically, is mash-up stomping, electrified primitive blues with a Sixties soul sensibility that suits Auerbach’s sweet and airy voice, and a liking for Beatle-ish melodies and psychedelic pop that shapes ear-catching tunes.  But while those ingredients are all pretty retro, stirred together the result is something fresh and distinctively Black Keysian.  Oh yeah, and while you can make comparisons with Jack White, for me there’s a mischievous playfulness about the Keys, both musically and lyrically, that’s more inviting than White’s sometimes confrontational aesthetic.
They can pack a hell of a lot into three minutes, as the opening track ‘Wild Child’ demonstrates. A funky riff gets kicked into a heavier gear by pummelling drums, and Auerbach’s lightly soulful singing on the verses gets beefed up on the chorus by singalong-encouraging backing vocals from Andy Gabbard.  There’s a neat bridge, and a brief stinging guitar solo – and also some twiddling guitar noises in the background.
That twiddliness is a signature component.  There’s an undercurrent of synth-like guitar squiggling on ‘It Ain’t Over’ too, giving a modern twist to the Sixties soul feel of its funky rhythm and ascending, elasticated bass line.  And there’s Sputnik-like bleeping on ‘For The Love Of Money’ too, embellishing a down-home blues groove and slide guitar, as the backdrop to a Beatles-like tune with biting lyrics that insist greed ain’t good.
The Beatles influence is pretty stark on ‘Burn The Damn Thing Down’, whose melody owes more than a few bucks to ‘The Ballad Of John And Yoko’, set to a dirtied up rolling guitar riff that’s also pretty retro.  But if some of this sounds a bit arch and post-modern, their ear for a killer hook is most clearly illustrated by ‘Your Team Is Looking Good’.  It’s simple to the point of being simplistic, with a chunky, fuzzy riff over a glam-rock whomp of a rhythm from Carney, a repetitive lyric, and a guitar break that does little more than replicate the melody.  But the end result is catchy as all hell.  It’s easy to imagine this hook becoming a favourite of those brass bands at college football stadiums up and down America.
Their dreamier side, à la 2014’s Turn Blue perhaps, comes with ‘How Long’, and its spacey washes of Hammond organ, harpsichord and piano courtesy of Ray Jacildo to go with a swirling Auerbach guitar solo and whooshing sound effects.  And there’s a psychedelic pop bent to ‘Baby I’m Coming Home’ too, albeit pumped up by a gritty riff that welds the chorus together, plus an ear-catching bass line.  It revs up into a wiry guitar solo, before crash landing back into the riff, and some more scudding lead guitar.
Some tracks are less interesting though.  Billy Gibbons pops up with a co-write and some characteristically patient, hypnotic guitar on ‘Good Love’, but it’s basically a reworking of the groove from ZZ Top’s ‘TV Dinners’, notwithstanding a spiky second solo before it fizzles out.  The slow-ish, shuffling ‘Happiness’ never really takes off.  And the closing ‘Didn’t I Love You’ fades out rather inconclusively, although up to that point it reached back to the North Mississippi Hill Country blues vibe of their earlier albums, but with added depth from some rumbling bass, and a grinding, needling guitar solo.
All in all then, Dropout Boogie scores high for seven or eight of its ten tracks, though only two or three are the kinds of haymaker hit they’re capable of at their best.  But that’s still a high enough strike rate to say that The Black Keys team are once again sounding good.
Dropout Boogie
 is out now on Nonesuch Records.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Bad Day - The Bad Day

Yikes – a concept album!
Fear not though, rock’n’roll fans.  The Bad Day is on no account a mystical Tales Of Topographic Oceans epic.  No, this second album from the guys who used to dub themselves The Bad Day Blues Band is instead a half-hour serving of a peppery, spicy stew of Sixties British R’n’B, blues-rock, and punkish energy.  And the tale it tells a couple of star-crossed lovers, struggling over the course of one day with the chains of their past and the Jungleland of the city.  (The story is set, somewhat to my surprise, in New York.) 
The Wild Bunch get ready to ride

The official track listing is just ‘Part 1’ and ‘Part 2’, but after tireless investigation your intrepid reporter has winkled out the working titles of the underlying tracks in order to guide you more easily through these mean streets.  (Alright, I asked the band for more details, and they helpfully coughed ‘em up.)
The opening segment, ‘Wake Up Carolina’, eases in with the ticking of an alarm clock and a Stonesy, country-leaning riff before blasting into flight.  It pretty much sums up what this lot have to offer, with a grabber of a hook on the chorus, vibrato-laden vocals from Adam Rigg, a trilling solo á la ‘American Woman’, and Sam Spranger’s blazing harp doubling the melody and filling in around it, over the well-sturdy rhythm section of Rigg on bass and Andrea Tremolada on drums.
‘Queen Of The Dirty Minds’ wades in with a ringing, ‘Blockbuster’-like riff, and with Tremolada’s thudding beat could be a glam-rock stomp but has a rootsier, wilder vibe courtesy of Spranger’s blasts of harmonica, before they dial it down by segueing into ‘The Bad Day’ with sparkles of Spanish guitar and a reflective first verse.  Then they let loose with a raging chorus of crashing drums, throbbing bass and lead-heavy chords. But there’s also tension in the guitar riff that underpins Spranger’s harp break.
‘Devil’s Lullaby’ is a slice of snarling power pop, coming over like Springsteen’s ‘No Surrender’ being whacked out by The Clash, with spiky chords and thumping drums to the fore on an old-fashioned 60s rock’n’roll bridge.   It’s breathless stuff, and the pace doesn’t falter on ‘Get Out’, which has a tumbling hard rock riff to go with an urgent, confrontational lyric and vocal, and another wiry Peck solo, while Spranger’s harp worries away, contributing to the typically feverish vibe.
‘When The Cage Comes Down’ rides in on another twiddling, undulating rock riff, and switches tracks into a fierce guitar solo with fiery harp reinforcement.  But ‘Half Now Half Later’ shows they can mix light and shade, starting off as dreamy reverie as our hero recalls better times, before erupting into some Townshend-like crashing chords and a vaguely Celtic, tara-diddling guitar solo.
‘Yeh Boi’ is another tense affair, all chopping, surging guitar and rhythm section, overlaid with harp harmonising as it conveys the restless pacing of the heroine in the city streets, then strips down to sparse chords and kick drum before dropping into the rather different ‘New York’.  Here Peck’s funky rhythm guitar is straight outta ‘Soul Man’ – these musical magpies also raided the Sam & Dave library for ‘Hold On, I’m Coming’ on their previous album Table By The Wall – while Spranger delivers a counterpointing, wailing harp riff and a skating, slaloming solo.
‘Son Of A Bitch’ is a high octane rocker, roaring towards the tale’s climax like an F1 car, then braking furiously into a corner before the agitated, protesting, declamatory chorus, and accelerating into the moment of truth, and the elegiac contemplation of a final separation that is ‘Broken Hands’, with its controlled, sweetly sad solo from Peck.
The Bad Day have succeeded in carving out a sound of their own from familiar rock’n’roll elements, and good on ‘em for that.  They may not sound much like the ‘Oo, but there’s a similar attitude going on here as they explore alienation in a manner akin to Quadrophenia, but at a tangent – and more succinctly.  The Bad Day is a lean, turbo-charged consignment of modern rock’n’roll made out of familiar ingredients.  If I wanted, I could find fault with it, but stuff that.  Listen, and get yer ya-yas out – whatever that means.
The Bad Day is released on 3 June, and can be ordered here.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Charlie Musselwhite - Mississippi Son

Charlie Musselwhite may have grown up in Memphis, and spent much of his adult life in Chicago and San Francisco, but he was born in Mississippi, and now lives there in Clarksdale, of “Crossroads” fame.  And Mississippi Son is an expression of his lifelong affinity with the acoustic country blues that emerged from Mississippi and throughout the South.
Musselwhite may be best known as a harp player, but he’s also played the guitar since his teens, and his guitar, voice and harmonica form the bedrock of this album, with occasional help from rhythm buddies Ricky ‘Quicksand’ Martin on drums and Barry Bays on stand-up bass.  The
Charlie Musselwhite - have harp, will travel
Pic by Rory Doyle
result is a down-home, stripped back affair, and though the 14 songs are split between originals and covers, one can scarcely hear the join.
For example, there’s a Tony Joe White groove to both the original ‘Blues Up The River’ and the take on John Lee Hooker’s ‘Crawling King Snake’, but in different flavours.  There’s a peachy swing to the former, with tumbling guitar notes and bright harp over loping bass and tapping drums to accompany Musselwhite’s groaning vocal.  But the latter has more of a dark chocolate taste, brooding and with bouts of wordless, moaned vocal.
Meanwhile Musselwhite’s own ‘In Your Darkest Hour’ feels like a descendant of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s ‘You Gotta Move’, and if its twinkling guitar feels like its treading a familiar blues path, augmented by mournful harp, the real point is that Musselwhite nails the vibe.  The same is true of ‘When The Frisco Left The Shed’, which may share some DNA with ‘Key To The Highway’, but interleaves Musselwhite’s guitar and voice beautifully, and adds a mellifluous harp break over the gently clacking rhythm.  Charley Patton’s ‘Pea Vine Blues’ is another train song, but a snappier one, with a skipping, rattling rhythm from Martin on drums and some chirpily bird-like harmonica.
The melody of spring-in-the-step ‘Blues Gave Me A Ride’ carries undertones of ‘Stagger Lee’, given a lift by intertwining of pinging guitar and cheerful harp, while the slower ‘Drifting From Town To Town’ is ‘Red Rooster’-tinged, with an appealing, undulating bridge.
In a different vein, ‘The Dark’ is a folkie Guy Clark tune turned into a not-quite-talking-blues, not particular rhythmic and with Musselwhite’s incidental guitar accompaniment leaning towards a lower pitch.  And ‘Rank Strangers’ is similarly semi-spoken, a murky reflection on alienation with hints of Americana as the tune takes some novel turns.
Some tracks don’t add much to the equation though.  A brief whirl through John Lee’s ‘Hobo Blues’ has some tension in its nagging, repetitive melody, but that’s about it.  ‘Stingaree’ is a fairly inconsequential jaunt through some familiar blues tropes, albeit with a neat stop-time acoustic guitar segment.  And the instrumental ‘Remembering Big Joe’ may feature some nifty picking and thumb-strumming bass from Musselwhite, but it still feels like something of a limbering up exercise, and with some moments of strings squeaking gratingly on frets.
For my money trimming the album by, say, four tracks would have said “never mind the width, feel the quality”.  But still, throughout Mississippi Son Musselwhite’s the simple virtues of Musselwhite’s subtle vocals, rippling acoustic guitar and understated harp capture the spirit of country blues, underlining and celebrating his connection to his musical roots.
Mississippi Son
 is released by Alligator Records on 3 June. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

Sass Jordan - Bitches Blues

Well, Groovesville Arizona.  Or Quebec, to be more precise, since that’s where Sass Jordan abides.
There’s nothing very clever about Bitches Blues, nothing very much at all.  But sitting in the sunshine listening to it with a beer in hand, I can tell you, is one of life’s simple pleasures.  What we have here is 28 minutes of infectiously confident rootsy blues, spread over three originals and five covers.
An ice-cream swirl of organ provides a fanfare, and then guitar weighs in and they set off on a
Sass Jordan makes like Tina Turner - kinda.
Pic by Michiel Dreidijk
brisk, crunching take on ‘Still Alive And Well’, the Rick Derringer rocker recently included on Edgar Winter’s Brother Johnny tribute album.  Jordan snaps out the lyrics in a rasping voice, like Tina Turner revisiting Nutbush, augmented by duelling guitars and funky bass en route to a revved-up, gospellated final flourish.
But if that suggests a penchant for Johnny Winter-esque rockn'rollin' blues, the rest of the album is subtler, rootsier fare.  ‘Chevrolet’ is an old-style blues courtesy of Taj Mahal, with subtle percussion from Cass Pereira and steely Dobro from Chris Caddell accompanying Jordan’s calm vocal, before the arrangement expands to include a harmonica break.  And ‘Even’ is a new toon that suggests a couple of bar staff winding down at the piano in the aftermath of Stagger Lee shooting Billy Lyons, Jordan singing slow and sassy while Jesse O’Brien gets rinky-dink on the ivories, all rolling left hand and trilling, chiming, chirruping right.  It’s a down-home delight, and little wonder that Jordan lets out a cackling “Yee-how!” at its conclusion.
The barroom vibe is there on ‘Still The World Goes Round’ too, an original that swings around a snapping beat with zippy slide fretwork to the fore, a country-ish pre-chorus and everyone mucking vocally on the refrain.  And Cadell unwraps a slithering, squeaking slide solo as the icing on the cake.
The classic ‘You Gotta Move’ is downbeat blues with a plaintive, church-style vocal from Jordan buttressed by simple harmonies, over acoustic chords and spangly Dobro, propelled by sparse bashes of kick drum and tambourine.  Lowell George’s ‘Sailin’ Shoes’ then delivers another highlight, setting sail to a background of more juke joint chatter and sparkling, swooning slide, then growing into a loping Southern funkiness accentuated by Jimmy Reid’s rhythm guitar.  There’s a singalong chorus, and a jangling piano break from O-Brien, and a slowed down outro to add an extra twist.  And there’s a lurching groove too to Freddie King’s ‘Ain’t No Big Deal On You’, with a funky riff and stuttering bass from Scott Marriner over a lazy beat, while Jordan’s gets down with a hoarsely rasped vocal, with a guitar solo of lemon-squeezed sharpness providing extra bite.
They close with another quality original, ‘Change Is Coming’, a sitar intro from Reid setting a reflective tone before it hits a firmer stride with grinding guitar, and squawks of harp from Marriner, over shuffling, offbeat drums.  There’s more mournful slide guitar work from Cadell, while Jordan sings, more positively, that “It’s gonna be all or nothing, just believe till you see” – an assertion of hope for hard times.
Bitches Blues aims for a down-to-earth, honest-to-goodness blues vibe.  Making that work demands an affinity for the material and the skills to bring it to life.  Sass Jordan and her compadres tick both those boxes.  Now go get a beer, pull up a chair, and enjoy.
Bitches Blues is released by Stony Plain Records on 3 June.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Xander and the Peace Pirates - Order Out Of Chaos

“Go on then – surprise me!”  Really, this should be the music blogger’s motto.  See, an awful lot of “pretty good” albums cross my path.  But it takes more than that to really grab my attention, and keep it.  Xander and the Peace Pirates, though, have managed it with their second album Order Out Of Chaos.  Well, mostly.
What Xander and co have going for them is a sound that’s all their own.  Oh, a few vague comparisons are there to be made, and I’ll make ‘em, don’t you worry.  But when the opening track ‘We Cry’ kicks things off, what I’m hearing is something decidedly different.  Careful intertwining of acoustic and electric guitar lines paves the way for Keith Xander’s light, soulful, aching voice.  There are blissed out chords like a mirage in the desert - but, y’know, in sound.  
The deeply moody and sensitive Xander and the Peace Pirates

It’s an imaginative, trippy setting for a plaintive (and timely) lyric about the horror of warfare.  There’s also a lightly funky segueway into a two-guitar conversation, and an urgent outro replete with spoken word snippets in the background.  Is there a whisper of Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’ fluttering around some of the chords?  Maybe - and that would be apposite for the lyrical vibe.  But the melding of Keith Xander and Mike Gay’s electric guitars with Stu Xander’s acoustic is their own creation.
A similarly reflective quality pervades ‘Leave The Light On’, with prickly guitar lines surfing Adam Goldberg’s rolling drums and thrumming bass from Joel Goldberg.  There’s a smidgen of Hall & Oates in the soulful delivery of some imaginative contemplation about homelessness, and a splintering guitar solo that shows you don’t need to go at warp speed to make your mark.  The opening verse of ‘Soul Sailing’ dials things down even further with a combination of just acoustic guitar and mournful slide, before they kick into a hooky chorus reinforced by good harmonies, and there’s another incisive, biting, effects-enhanced solo to round it off.
They spread themselves a bit on both ‘I’m No Good At Being Bad’ and ‘Order Out Of Chaos’, but in different directions.  The former moves from twinkling guitar to a gutturally-pitched riff, and hints at Foreigner in earnest mode.  Keith Xander offers up some effective dabs of falsetto, and there’s some tasty, spaced-out slide guitar á la Dave Gilmour before they rev up for the bridge.  Then the title track pulls out more of those shimmering guitar chords over a steady beat as the backdrop to another round of thoughtful social commentary, like a smoother and more ethereal Wille & The Bandits.  Keith Xander scores with another soulful vocal, and there’s a pinballing guitar solo for good measure
The wistful ‘Into The Water’ continues to be convincing in this vein, with its perfectly judged, elegiac mood, and they take the swaying ‘Kiss The Rain’ at a bit more of a clip, adding in some out-of-the-ordinary, wind chime-like guitar sounds.  But by the time we get to the more-of-the-similar ‘Breathless’ my attention is sagging a bit, and the brief ‘Fog’ doesn’t offer much of a gear change.
But with the closing ‘Heart Stop’ they do knock out a sturdier riff, and inject it with more swing, as if they were belatedly aware a palate cleanser was required.  It also comes with a lyric featuring some lines that would make David Coverdale blush – well, maybe – and though there’s a bit more rock’n’roll to the guitar solo the song jolts to a halt after two-and-a-half minutes, as if they’d run out of ideas.
So yeah, Xander and the Peace Pirates caught my attention good and proper with their distinctively British soulful rock stylings (in spite of the transatlantic references made above) and thoughtful lyrics.  And for most of the album they kept me hooked with a bunch of strong songs, impressively delivered.  If they’d just managed to stir a bit more range and dynamics into that recipe then Order Out Of Chaos would be a potently satisfying brew.  As it is, it’s still a welcome surprise.
Order Out Of Chaos is out now, and can be ordered here.