Friday, July 3, 2020

Joe Louis Walker - Blues Comin' On

All the rage these days aren’t they, these guest artist album collaborations?  Sometimes I wonder whether there’s much purpose to them, or much clarity of direction.  But it has to be said that recent examples from Mike Zito – in tribute to Chuck Berry – and Dion have certainly cut the mustard.  And now this outing from Joe Louis Walker can be added to that list.

To my mind, Walker is one of the leading bluesmen of our times, an inventive guitarist and songwriter, and with a distinctive, engaging vocal style.  With Blues Comin' On he also demonstrates that he’s an excellent ringmaster, making a satisfyingly coherent album out of a range of different guests and songs from a variety of writers.

Joe Louis Walker - sho' got the blues!
Pic by Arnie Goodman
The title track is a good example of the blend of cool and muscle that’s on offer.  A first verse that combines steely acoustic guitar strumming with a top drawer drawling vocal from Dion – who co-wrote the tune with Mike Acqualina – lulls you into a false sense of security, before electric guitar, piano, drums and guttural bass kick in to generate a big fat groove.  And then further down the line Eric Gales weighs in with a razor-wire solo, while JLW gets down to some whoopin’ an’ hollerin’.  By the time they’re done, after nearly six minutes, it’s a pummelling world away from its beguiling beginning.

Soulful sounds also play a big part in the album though.  Carla Cooke, daughter of Sam, guests on two tracks to marvellous effect.  ‘Someday, Someway’ is a sweet soul duet, on which Cooke makes like Minnie Riperton with some beautiful, pure falsetto singing, echoed by some lovely harp playing from Lee Oskar (once upon a time of War, in cahoots with Eric Burdon).  ‘Awake Me, Shake Me’ is a different kind of soulful, with a sparkling piano intro before La Cooke dips in, this time in a lower, cooler pitch.  Walker shows off his way with a soulful vocal, and the pair turn out some excellent harmonising, while Walker evokes the Commodores with some jazzy guitar. The song drifts from an idyllic, dream-like awakening into some intense guitar and moaning vocals that suggest a couple having woken up and, er, shaken’n’stirred each other.  And just to show that Walker doesn’t need Cooke in order to do soulful, Mitch Ryder turns up on ‘Come Back Home’, which bears little resemblance to the bar-room rock’n’roll of ‘Devil With The Blue Dress’, and a whole lot more like a slice of Southern soul-blues that breezed out Memphis in the mid-Sixties.

But there’s funkiness abroad too, most energetically on ‘The Thang’, a self-penned dance track that promotes “wiggling where you stand”, and is as good an invitation to shake yer booty as I’ve heard in a while.  More than that though, it side-slips into Hendrix-land, with some wacko guitar duelling between Walker and Jesse Johnson of The Time, before giving a deep bow in the direction of ‘Still Raining Still Dreaming’.  And Bobby Rush’s ‘Bowlegged Woman’ is given a loosely funky blues treatment, as Walker asserts that “We go hand in hand, like a bowlegged woman and a knock-kneed man”, while piercing guitar work comes courtesy of Waddy Wachtel – a denizen of the West Coast who's played with everyone under the sun, co-writing ‘Werewolves Of London’ along the way.

And there’s still room for plenty more. There’s the opener ‘Feed The Poor’ for a start, a co-write with Mick Jagger’s son Gabriel that’s soulful but gritty, with a fuzzy riff that gets more assertive as the song progresses.  There’s the semi-acoustic bar-room blues of ‘Old Time Used To Be’, a dance tune for warm summer nights with your baby, with plenty of tootling harp from John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful and stinging slide guitar from the ubiquitous Keb’ Mo’.  There’s the simple gospel fun of ‘Lonely Weekends’, and the catchy pop of ‘Seven More Years’, which evokes The Pretenders in their heyday, and features delightful, shimmering lead guitar from Albert Lee, as well as great drumming from Byron Cage.

Walker even gets into garage rock mode with the closing cover of Love’s ‘7 & 7 Is’, all urgency over scattergun drum rhythms, with surf guitar-like injections from Arlen Roth, before downshifting sharply into a blast of harmonica from Charlie Harper of the UK Subs (of all people), and a crunching mid-paced guitar solo.

With 12 tracks that all do more than stand up to scrutiny, Blues Comin' On is sure as hell good value for money.  More than that, it reinforces my view that while there may be bigger blues names out there, Joe Louis Walker is one of the very best around.  And if you aren’t familiar with him, you need to put that right - now.


Blues Comin' On was released on Cleopatra Blues on 26 June.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Bad Touch - Kiss The Sky

Better guys.  Much, much better.
See, I’m on record as having found the last couple of albums from Bad Touch decidedly uneven.  So when I tell you that Kiss The Sky represents a marked improvement, I ain’t kidding.
Bad Touch are a party band at heart.  When you see them live, you know that they pour themselves into everyone having a good time.  I’m pleased to be able to say that this time around the Norfolk rockers have managed to channel that energy into a much more consistent collection of songs.  And hey, you can’t really dislike a band who throw
Bad Touch - Do they share the same wardrobe?
Pic by Will Ireland
themselves into a cover of Kiki Dee’s ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me’ with rock'n'roll abandon, can you?  Five tracks in, it’s a belter of a track, a happy go lucky affair delivered with a big, full sound – hats off to co-producer Nick Brine – and buffed up with the female backing vocals that add some extra gloss to several songs here.
There’s plenty of raucous rifferama of course, kicking off with the opener ‘Come A Little Closer’, which is propelled along by pumping bass from Michael Bailey and big drums from George Drewry, while huge, gritty guitar chords crash around like falling masonry, with a catchy chorus and a scudding slide solo to boot.  And there’s lots more where that came from, not least on the meaty, beaty, big and bouncy title track, where between them the guitars of Rob Glendinning and Daniel Seekings crank out rock solid chords studded with a rolling lead refrain, and the guitar solo is a howling beast built on an ascending theme. Or on ‘Before I Die’, which opens with a nagging, spiky guitar riff over a thudding bass drum, and displays some rapid-fire lyrical delivery by Stevie Westwood, as well as a sharp, stinging solo that fits the bill nicely.  Or there’s ‘Too Much Of A Good Thing’, which belies its title by being brief and to the point, with more slide guitar skating over the top of a smart, twiddly guitar riff, while its appealing hook is again given an extra sheen by well-arranged female backing vocals.
But they also show a good grasp of dynamics on the likes of ‘Strut’, where their Black Crowes influences also show through.  It may originate in a fuzzy, staccato riff like a bumble bee repeatedly banging its head off a window, but the pre-chorus slows things down nicely, while some competing vocal lines add another level of interest, and a brief but tasty guitar solo looks out at wider horizons.  ‘See You Again’ shows even more maturity on the writing front, eases in with mellow acoustic guitar and dappled by piano, to embark on a sensitive elegy to a lost friend.  It’s a good tune all round, elevated by an excellent bridge that even makes good use of string sounds, ahead of a tasteful, fitting guitar solo.  ‘Can You Save Me’ also conjures up light and shade in a manner that hints at Bad Company, with rippling guitar lines, some waves of organ in the background methinks, and a middle eight and guitar solo that introduce some subtle, clever shifts in direction.
Best of all perhaps, is the way they close out with ‘Something About Your Kiss’, which nods deeply in the direction of Fleetwood Mac a la ‘The Chain’, with spangly guitar floating around while Westwood uncoils an attractive melody, before they change gear into a big epic finish with lead guitar work weaving around the vocal to good effect.
This is the album that finds Bad Touch starting to fulfil their potential.  Their Southern rockisms may not yet show the originality of The Temperance Movement, but then that’s setting the bar pretty high.  And I could wish that Stevie Westwood were allowed the room to breathe a little more, rather than having to force his vocals up to 11 so often.  But hey, on Kiss The Sky they still get it on from start to finish, baby.  As the Faces put it, I had me a real good time.

Kiss The Sky is released by Marshall Records on 19 June, and can be ordered from www.badtouchkissthesky.com

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Milk Men - Deliverance

Riffs!  Lots of ‘em!  That’s one of the key attractions that emerges from Deliverance, the third album from The Milk Men.  Guitarist Adam Norsworthy seems to have a knack for coming up with interesting riffs that create an immediate point of interest in many of the songs here.  And I’m not really talking about big beefy slabs of powerchord here.  There are some meaty instances of rhythm guitar to be sure, but often what Norsworthy conjures up are byzantine affairs that certainly pique my interest.
The riffs aren’t the long and the short of Deliverance though. The brisk opener may feature a winding staircase of a guitar line, but it also introduces us to the husky voice of singer Jamie Smy, which has a hint of Family’s Roger Chapman but without the Larry the Lamb vibrato.  Then there’s the snapping snare drum of Mike Roberts, whose drum sound is excellent throughout and a bass solo delivered by Lloyd Green.  Yep, you read that right, a bass solo – and marvel of marvels, it’s good too!
The Milk Men - "So you reckon you parked the float along here?"
They’ve got some good hooks too, on the following ‘When The Blues Come Callin’’ and especially ‘Little Miss Attention’, which is really just a piece of rock’n’roll but is still just dandy, ta very much.  Kicking off with kicking drums and thrumming bass, it’s got another zig-zagging guitar line, a twangeroonie solo, and an “ooh la la la” chorus redolent of Cockney Rebel’s ‘Make Me Smile’.
In fact one of the defining characteristics of the album is just how many ideas The Milk Men manage to pack into a three and a half minute song, without overloading it.  ‘Make You A Liar’ combines a spooky, bendy guitar line with a Psycho Killer-ish bass line to create a moody tone, but later on bright chords lend variation, along with a shift in Smy’s vocal, and an anthemic, doubled up guitar solo.  ‘Sail Away’ blends another twister of a riff with elastic band bass, some Beatle-ish harmonies, and then crunching chords and thumping drums, before getting all epic with a sharp guitar solo over a Zep-like descending theme and hushed vocal ooh-ing.
‘Taking Her Time’ is takes a tense, taut riff that’s got a glimmer of the Stones about it.  (You see what I did there?  Glimmer, Stones – no?).  It also has the humour to add a dollop of cowbell to its mix of equal parts gritty soulfulness and melodic rock.  ‘Why Can’t You Stay’, meanwhile, has a gentle and dreamy vibe, with another touch of the Fab Four about it, and shows off Smy’s ability to bring a different style to the mic, as well as a sun-dappled, Clapton-toned guitar solo from Norsworthy.  And they even nudge into Blondie-style New York new wave territory with the punk-ish riff on the brief ‘Bad Girl’.
They get a bit bluesier on the closing brace of tracks, ‘Alive’ and ‘One More Day’, on both of which Gareth Huggett guests on harmonica.  The former comes with a funky, twirling riff, a fun bass part and a dentist drill guitar solo, while the latter is slower, more old-fashioned R’n’B with slide guitar interjections – though they still give it a bit of a modern polish.  Funnily enough, I found these closing tracks a tad less interesting – but only a tad.  On the whole though, gotta say the material kept me pretty well entertained and intrigued throughout.
The sound is crisp and clear throughout, with space for everyone to shine – which is credit to the ubiquitous Wayne Proctor, who took care of the mixing, and as previously indicated has done a damn good job of projecting Mike Roberts’ snapping drums.  Mind you, here and there I might have liked things dirtied up a touch more, a bit more full-fat than semi-skimmed if you like.  (I hope you appreciate the effort that’s going into this, by the way.)  But really that’s just a quibble.
Deliverance is the work of professionals – well put together songs, well arranged, well played, and well produced by Adam Norsworthy.  I enjoyed it.  If you’ve a hankering for British blues-rock that leans towards the melodic end of the spectrum, then get yourself a delivery from The Milk Men.

Deliverance was released on 29 May 2020, and you can get it here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Birdmens - Lockdown Loaded

Lockdown Loaded is an album for these strange times.  Here are eleven tracks, conceived and executed by eight musos in isolation from each other, in less than two months, from bang to bullets.  It’s often a raw, edgy, affair, lacking finesse here and feeling under-developed there – but it will grab you by the short and curlies so that your hearts and minds follow.  In other words, it works and then some.  
Ian Siegal - groanin'n'growlin'
Birdmens set out their stall with the opener ‘Cat Drugged Up’, where an acoustic riff gets booted in the butt by a thudding beat which one can only assume is the work of Dave Doherty, as he – a guitarist by trade - is the only person pleading guilty to percussion misdemeanours in this crew.  Howls of harp arrive courtesy of Giles King, and they’re off on a primitive Delta Blues stomp with Ian Siegal serving up a vocal about how “the situation’s all fucked up” in his best blues groan, while they layer on the instrumentation to create a suitably cacophonous racket.  It’s the real deal.
The following ‘Hipbone’ is in a similar vein, with Jon Amor on lead vocal duties and harmonising from Siegal, over simple, booming drums amidst more wailing harp, and squealing guitar and tinkling piano in the background.  But it also edges towards the funkier terrain where they lay their hats on several tracks.  ‘It’s Inconvenient’ has a nimble, twitching vibe, driven by a rolling wave of organ from Bob Fridzema, with injections of wah-wah as Amor recounts a tale of everything going to shit in a manner which renders the title an understatement.  The real monster funk groove though, is reserved for ‘Diggin’ That Rut’, with its nagging rhythm and booming bass from Rob Barry, while Siegal goes full-on James Brown growl, replete with his trademark rasping squeals, and one of the several available guitar slingers cranks out squalling guitar breaks.
They’re prepared to shake things up though, as evidenced by the late Sixties vibe of ‘Sheriff’
Jon Amor - Here's lookin' at you, kid
Pic by Dan Watkiss
and the phantasmagorical gospel-funk of ‘Heal Thyself’.  The former, from the pens and pencils of Amor, Doherty, and Lavendore Rogue guitarist Joel Fisk, takes a Stonesy piano riff and blends it with acoustic guitar, harmonised vocals and a swirling organ break in edgy, psychedelic-leaning mode.  Meanwhile the latter makes like Fantastic Negrito on a Transatlantic crossing, combining tripping drums, swirling organ, funky clavinet and spiky guitar, while Siegal essays a Prince-like falsetto about how “We ain’t doin’ this for our health, Heal the nation and heal thyself”.  Self-serving politicians in the cross-hairs there, methinks.
‘What’s The Name’ is a bluesier funk workout though, with a busy bass line from Barry driving things along over scuttling drums, while squawks of harp complete with rolling, jangling guitar and a slithering guitar solo.  But ‘Holler’ is straight ahead blues fare, with a wonderfully lazy, ambling-in-the-midday-sun groove, over which Siegal delivers more falsetto to accompaniment that includes moaning harp from King and some rinky-dink piano from either Fridzema or fellow ivory-tinkler Jonny Henderson.
The album closes with the eponymous ‘Birdmens’, a quintessentially Siegal slice of Americana co-written with Amor, all steely acoustic guitar and subtle gospel organ, with lap steel shadings.  “This ain’t Alcatraz baby,” he sings, “We’re the last of the last Birdmen.”  It’s a suitably elegiac tone, and image of confinement, for the situation that gave rise to this project.
To pinch a phrase from Neil Young, Lockdown Loaded is ragged glory.  It’s a ballsy, unrefined “fuck you” to circumstance.  It sure ain’t perfect - hell, even their name feels like a typo that escaped from a drunken Zoom conference.  But hey, it’s rock’n’roll baby!

Birdmens are: Jon Amor, Rob Barry, Dave Doherty, Joel Fisk, Bob Fridzema, Jonny Henderson, Giles King, Ian Siegal.

Lockdown Loaded is available from www.birdmens.com, on download now, on CD from 1 June, and on vinyl from 31 July.  (If you order a CD or vinyl, you’ll get a free download now.)

Friday, May 22, 2020

Dion - Blues With Friends

Dion Dimucci is 80.  Let me say that again.  Dion, of ‘The Wanderer’ fame, is 80 years old.  But you wouldn’t know it, listening to Blues With Friends.  He is never betrayed by the quavering pipes of an old codger, but instead owns the songs with the delivery and phrasing of a guy who has kept his primary instrument in full working order.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this album.  But like Topsy, Blues With Friends has growed and growed on me, and I suspect I’ll be returning to its charms on a regular basis.  The tone is set well by the opening ‘Blues Comin’ On’, which shuffles along in easy-going fashion with Dion communicating the vibe perfectly.  Meanwhile Joe Bonamassa does a sterling job as the first guest start turn, adding subtle moanin’ an’ groanin’ slide guitar that fits the character of the song.  Then the following ‘Kickin’ Child’ is a bright but laid back affair that rolls along effortlessly like something from JJ Cale, with twinkling guitar embroidery from Joe Menza.
Dion Dimucci - the smile that comes with a job well done
Pic by David Godlis
These tracks set the tone for the guest guitar contributions that follow on the bluesy tracks that form the spine of the album.  These range from the restrained but effective sparkle-and-twang Brian Setzer adds to the skipping ‘Uptown Number 7’, to the clear-toned Joe Louis Walker breaks that flit around the tune on the Van Morrison duet ‘I Got Nothin’’, the biting and gnawing Sonny Landreth slide on the swaggering ‘I Got The Cure’, and the hand-in-glove conversation between Dion and Samantha Fish’s wiry, expressive playing on ‘What If I Told You’.  This last, in particular, is a blues tune that offers more than your common-or-garden melody, enhanced by Dimucci’s excellent phrasing.
But the departures from the soulful blues core hit the mark too.  ‘Can’t Start Over Again’ may be adorned with some exquisite guitar filigrees from Jeff Beck, but it’s the song that really catches the ear, a simple slice of Americana that Dion interprets beautifully.  ‘Stumbling Blues’, regardless of its title and reliance on a blues progression, sounds like Great American Songbook fare, as Dion croons his way through the lilting, woozy closing time vibe to the hazy accompaniment of Jerry Vivino’s sax.  ‘Song For Sam Cooke (Here In America)’ is an acoustic-led singer-songwriter style duet with Paul Simon on which their voices combine delightfully, complemented by graceful violin breaks from a party I’m not able to credit right now.  And ‘Told You Once In August’ is an absorbing, stripped down folk blues on which John Hammond and Rory Block interweave chiming and moaning acoustic slide over a simple beat, and Block adds some minimalist but spot-on backing vocals.
Not everything is perfect.  ‘Bam Bang Boom’, on which Billy Gibbons guests, feels like it needs a kick in the ass in order to get going, though the groove does generate some toe-tapping in the end.  And the Christian folk leanings of ‘Hymn To Him’ leave me cold, regardless of its pretty tune and the involvement of Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen.
But hey, the strike rate of the material on Blues With Friends is mightily impressive.  Producer Wayne Hood deserves credit too, for the simple, uncluttered sound of the album, and for drawing all those guest contributions into a coherent whole.  The end result is the kind of relaxed but polished affair that’s perfect for kicking back with a beer and chilling out.
I think Bob Dylan puts it best though.  He doesn’t appear on the album, but he does contribute to the liner notes.  "Dion knows how to sing, and he knows just the right way to craft these songs,” says Bob.  “He’s got some friends here to help him out, some true luminaries. But in the end, it’s Dion by himself alone, and that masterful voice of his that will keep you returning to share these Blues songs with him."  Yeah, what he said.

Blues With Friends is released by KTBA Records on 5 June, and is available for pre-order at KTBArecords.com.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Listened to lately - Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band, Mike Skill, and Jed Potts

Get ready for a real pick'n'mix with this selection of two EPs and a single, folks!

Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band – Mama’s Codeine

It’s a bold PR person that sends me an EP of banjo-led stuff with hints of gypsy jazz, I can tell you.  But there are some redeeming factors at play with Dana Immanuel and her all-woman band.  For one thing, the cover reeks of Southern Gothic stylings in a way that hints at less than saccharine contents.  For another, the gypsy violin contributed by Basia Bartz is more Gogol Bordello than Stephane bleedin’ Grappelli.  And most importantly perhaps, at least there are no feckin’ ukuleles.

More to the point, Dana and chums actually conjure up some decent tunes on this five track offering.  'Mama's Codeine' the track is as much old-fashioned urban blues (ie the stuff that migrated north in the Twenties, way before Muddy Waters’ country blues) as it is bluegrass. It kicks off with stuttering double bass from Karen Grymm Regester under scurrying banjo from Immanuel, and towards the end they downshift into more languidly angsty terrain.
The following ‘Turn Up The Lights’ also proffers a poppy melody amidst the plinking banjo, and the scraping violin and guitar that provide useful colour to go with the good use of dynamics to convey darker moments.  Meanwhile the wonderfully titled ‘WD40 & Duct Tape’ is a still more brooding affair.  After a throbbing double bass intro it dials down the banjo, leaving room for subtly squealing guitar from Feadora Morris alongside Bartz’s violin, as well as good harmonies and interweaving backing vocals, over tapping cajòn from Hjordis Moon Badford.
‘Shady Grove’, by comparison, is a hurtling traditional hoedown vaguely redolent of Charile Daniels’ ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’, on which all and sundry put their foot down, giving vent to some sizzling fiddle and guitar.  Which is all pretty straightforward to the closing ‘Codeine Reprise’, which is a mere scrap of a thing despite the deranged quality of the squawking vocals.
For all that their names sound like they must have crossed paths in some cosmopolitan Greenwich Village dive, Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band are actually based in England.  And fair play to them for avoiding the kind of tweeness I’ve encountered some English ensembles perpetrating with music in these styles.  And thank god there’s no ukuleles.

Mama’s Codeine was released on 31 January 2020.


Mike Skill – Not My Business

Changing genre entirely, once or twice upon a time Mike Skill was variously lead guitarist and bassist with Detroit band The Romantics, a bunch of power pop New Wavers with a DNA similar to the likes of Blondie and The Cars.  They even had a couple of monster hit singles way back when – but not in Britain, which accounts for the fact that Skill’s name is a new one on me.
Any road, ‘Not My Business’ is his new solo single, and it’s not half bad.  Booming drums shuffle forth as the basis for ringing guitars to churn against each other in engagingly rocking fashion.  The sound is dense in a way that nods towards The Hold Steady, but less in yer face, and there’s a hint of a curled lip in the vocals that falls somewhere between Craig Finn and Jagger.  There’s a decent guitar solo that gets into some different territory, and spiky guitar breaks abounding below the vocals as it whacks you over the head with the hook for a while at the end.  It’s overlong by a good minute, but ‘Not My Business’ is quite enjoyable fare.


Jed Potts – Prospector

Now being honest, this six track EP from Edinburgh’s Jed Potts dates back to 2014.  But I only grabbed a download of it recently, so I have in fact been listening to it lately for the first time.  And besides, this is my blog, so I’ll tell you about it if I like.
Prospector is another curve ball of an offering in today’s miscellany.  Three tracks are what one might call guitar meditations.  On the opening ‘Carthage’ Potts’ steely acoustic picking rolls along hypnotically over sparse, sonorous bass notes.  A couple of tracks later ‘Trail
Riders’ occupies a similarly ambient space, with refrains of rippling guitar notes that shift back and forth between different themes over a low drone in the background.  At times it reminded me a bit of Steve Howe, but then again, not much.  Penultimate track ‘Shapesmith’ – a fitting title, I’d say – is again all undulating, twinkling and mesmeric guitar, counterpointed by occasional spooky bass notes.  When Mike Oldfield was sketching out Tubular Bells on an acoustic guitar, it might or might not have sounded something like this.  Probably not – but you get my drift, yeah?
In between these explorations, the title track ‘Prospector’ finds Potts setting down his guitar in favour of banjo – yes, more banjo folks, but in a different style.  It’s in a more percussively rhythmic vein as a result, but still in a drifting, cinematic kind of mode that goes with the Rocky Mountain-like vista of the cover pic.
‘Stephen & Margie’s’, by contrast, is a patient and halting bluesy rag, amusing if a bit lightweight.  And on the final track ‘I Am The Curse’ Potts delivers his only vocal on the EP, again accompanied by banjo on a brooding tune that’s like an old wagon rumbling along a rocky trail, suitable to accompany some early scenes in There Will Be Blood.
Prospector was an unusual outing for Potts, who is more usually to be found plying his trade in an electric blues setting.  But it’s interesting all the same – a palate cleanser if you like, when you’re in need of a musical change.

Prospector is available from Jed Potts’ Bandcamp page, here.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The James Oliver Band - TWANG!

Well, this is fun!  It may not be a whole lot more than that, but who ever said that rock’n’roll needed to be high art?
And rock’n’roll is very much what we have here on the debut album from the James Oliver Band, delivered with buckets of enthusiasm, brio, humour – all that stuff.  Oh yeah, and it’s well-titled, ‘cause Oliver also scatters a shedload of guitar twang around, like confetti at a wedding. 
‘American Cars’ comes hurtling down the highway in rockabilly chuggaboogie guise, with a
James Oliver does some yakkety-yak
reverb-heavy guitar sound that recalls Brian Setzer.  But it’s not, as you might imagine, a paean to black Cadillacs or any of the vintage gas guzzlers of rock’n’roll lore.  Instead it’s about the more modest kinds of automobile to be spied in Oliver’s native South Wales.  But the sound isn’t nearly so prosaic, with Oliver cranking out a wild solo over the stomping beat.
It’s the first in a string of winners that continues with ‘She Was The One’, a slice of neo-Feelgoodism à la ‘Roxette’, on which Billy Lee Williams adds some toots of harp as a complement to Oliver’s scudding guitar solo.  The bridge feels a misplaced, but I’ll let ‘em off.  Then there a couple of Big Joe Turner tracks, ‘TV Mama’ and ‘Honey Hush’.  The former features ringing slide guitar and a shiverin’ an’ shakin’ solo from Oliver, though it would be better if the guitar didn’t overwhelm Williams’ piano so much in the mix.  No complaints about ‘Honey Hush’ though – it may not quite have the heft of The Pirates’ version, but it’s satisfyingly muscular, and here as elsewhere Oliver rattles out the vocals with confidence.
‘The Missing Link’ is a surfin’ instrumental with loads of scratchy twangery over a locomotive-like rhythm, that accelerates into a hurtling passage reminiscent of Love Sculpture’s take on ‘Sabre Dance’, before downshifting into a mellower section for variety.  Then ‘Mean Little Mamma’ – not to be confused with the similarly-titled Roy Orbison song – returns to effervescent and witty territory, scampering along with its “mamma mamma mamma” backing vocals, in two minutes’ worth of old-fashioned fun.
In truth the back end of the album tails off a little, but ‘Stay Outta Trouble’ is given some zydeco freshness by accordion from Williams to supplement a slithering slide solo from Oliver, and ‘Clean House’ is also pleasingly different with its changes in tempo around a grinding, lurching chorus, a helter skelter slide riff, and a novel drum and bass break courtesy of Shane Dixon and Darren Beale respectively.  And though I’m not sure the world needs another recording of ‘Misirlou’, Dick Dale’s surf guitar twangeroonie instrumental latterly made famous on Pulp Fiction, it’s still well executed, and is doubtless a hit in a live setting.
James Oliver clearly knows his stuff when it comes to this genre, and goes at it with a will, no doubt benefitting from the input of producer Paul Riley, a man whose CV includes work with old-fashioned rockers like Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe.  Cranking out three-minute nuggets of rock’n’roll escapism to a consistent standard is a notoriously tricky business, but for the most part TWANG! holds its end up pretty well.  And like I said - it’s fun!

TWANG! is released on 22 May by The Last Music Company.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

E D Brayshaw - Fire Without Water

My past encounters with E D Brayshaw have been in his guise as guitar-slinging collaborator with Wily Bo Walker, on albums such as The Roads We Ride, typically contributing searing, stiletto-toned solos adding to the epic, cinemascope vision.  But with his debut solo album Fire Without Water, Brayshaw takes the chance to explore some different musical angles.
Opening track ‘Hadn’t Found You’ lives up to expectations, combining guitar tones of Santana-esque purity with salsa-like percussion and prominent, trampolining bass, to create an infectious groove.  Add in his low, groaning vocal and it carries echoes of John Lee
E D Brayshaw - sepia-toned guitar wrangling
Hooker’s ‘The Healer’ – well, if Hooker came from Croydon, say.  (I don’t know exactly where the E D fella hails from, but it sure as hell ain’t Louisiana.)
More surprising though, is that he pitches in with several tracks of a rough and tumble pub rock R’n’B hue.  On ‘Say What You Will’ the bass playing – also courtesy of Brayshaw – adds depth to his jangling rhythm guitar, while his solo is brisk and biting.  And if his voice is less well suited to this kind of attack, he more or less gets away with it by virtue of his commitment.  The later ‘I Hear The Rain’ is in a similar vein, with his growling vocal rather more convincing, like a bass Joe Strummer, and it’s easy to be swept along by his squealing, wailing guitar solo.
These two tracks bracket the more moody, mid-paced ‘When The Walls Come Down’.  Gritty guitar chords open up proceedings, before laying back and letting that elastic bass take the strain to good effect.  There’s a neat call-and-response style chorus, and some good dynamics as the intensity drops for a later verse, and Brayshaw’s soloing serves the song well, right through to a blistering second foray that really brings the walls down.  It’s a well-put together offering, sustaining itself for over six minutes.
‘Said And Done’ takes a different tack, with a vaguely Skynyrd feel, laid back and fluid, with Brayshaw’s guitar striking a sweeter note and mandolin tickling away in the background.  He bolsters his vocals by doubling up on them here and there as he opines that “When all is said and done, more is said than done” – though there’s still the odd wonky moment.
The closing two tracks head in polar opposite directions.  On ‘Reckless’ Brayshaw goes for broke, with brisk snapping drums, bubbling bass and funkily flittering rhythm guitar the foundation for some ringing, slashing guitar chords over the top and a lyric that declares “My daddy called me reckless, said I’d have to learn to lose”.  But ultimately it’s a platform for Brayshaw to go guitar surfing with some aliens, as it were, and he really digs in with some sizzling stuff.  To paraphrase Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, “That’s a pretty fucking good guitar workout.  I don’t know if it’s worth eight minutes, but it’s pretty fucking good.”  Which just leaves the gentle, lyrical ‘Twilight’, an instrumental tone poem, a crepuscular exploration over twanging bass, rolling piano notes like ripples on the shore, and restrained acoustic picking.
In case you haven’t worked it out, Brayshaw plays virtually everything on this album, assisted only by drums from Lee Feltham on a couple of tracks.  And by everything I mean guitars, bass, drums, Dobro, lap steel, mandolin and keys.  He acquits himself damn well in all departments too – especially his classy bass playing – while the songwriting explores different angles with some savvy.  Fire Without Water may not be flawless, but it’s about as solo as an album gets, and damned enjoyable to boot.

Fire Without Water is available on Mescal Canyon Records now, and from Bandcamp here.