Thursday, July 19, 2018

Chris Bevington Organisation - Cut And Run

Feeling a bit blue, chum?  In need of a pick-me-up?  Never fear, Dr Cameron has just the tonic.  Get your ears around Cut And Run, the latest outing by the Chris Bevington Organisation – positively one of the most upbeat, good time albums so far this year.
Bassist Chris Bevington may have his name on the tin, but in terms of musical direction he’s got some top quality accomplices in the shape of multi-instrumentalist, producer and hit songwriter Scott Ralph, working in tandem with FM honcho Jim Kirkpatrick.  Between them this pair have not only turned out twelve indecently enjoyable original songs, they’ve also collaborated on production and mixing to give them a vibrant, knock your socks off sound.
"Look lively, there's a snapper!"
Regardless of the Ralph/Kirkpatrick axis though, this is an ensemble affair in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  You want reference points?  Now and then the sound puts me in mind of a YouTube clip I saw of Clapton doing Freddie King’s ‘Tore Down’ with a big band.  Other times – bearing in mind that Jim Kirkpatrick is a frequent collaborator with Bernie Marsden – it suggests nothing so much as early Whitesnake blues-rock with horns.
The Clapton reference is relevant right from the off, as ‘It’s My Life’, with its rattling rhythm and harmonised guitar riffing, recalls one of my favourite Clapton recordings, ‘Motherless Children’.  And there are several more tracks to make you shake yer booty thereafter, starting with ‘Got To Know’, a tale of a “one time woman with a one track mind” on which Adrian Gibson’s trumpet and Mike Yorke’s sax really take flight take flight for the first time. Later, ‘Rollin’’ features a grabbing, spiky riff and a knuckle-dusting guitar solo.  Best of all in the party mode though, is ‘Coming Down With The Blues’, a rollicking effort with a squawking trumpet solo from Gibson, injections of sax, and sassy backing vocals from Sarah Miller and Kate Robertson – the ladies’ contribution being as polished as you might expect from alumni of the Steely Dan tribute outfit Nearly Dan.
The Chris Bevington Organisation have more strings to their bow though, evidenced by the ballad ‘Won’t Daydream No More’, with its exquisite melody initially underpinned by sensitive backing vocals and Dave Edwards’ organ. And there’s more variety in the likes of ‘Sing Myself To Sleep’, which swings as woozily as the title suggests, and also the title track, which opens somewhere down the Mississippi with a megaphone-style vocal before rousing itself into something more raunchy, with some nifty slide playing from Kirkpatrick.  Meanwhile the engine room of Bevington on bass and Neil McCallum are especially to the fore with the lurching, offbeat rhythm of ‘Had Enough’, and the tub-thumping ‘Ain’t Got Nobody To Love’ with its urgent, stabbing horns.
Cut And Runis an album packed with good tunes, all delivered with energy, brio, and what you will, courtesy of some great playing and singing from all concerned.  It has variety, but it’s still tied together beautifully, courtesy of the arrangements and production.  I’m even impressed by the different-from-the-rest cover art – , no geezers with guitars pics, but a continuation of the sequence of run-down building photos from the earlier albums.
If you want to listen to some ground-breaking piece of innovative music-making then forget it.  But if what you’re after is something to loosen your limbs at the end of the daily grind, then get in line – this is what fun sounds like, folks!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Southern Avenue - Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, 15 July 2018

Southern Avenue’s self-titled debut album from 2017 may be a good introduction to their bluesy, gospel-tinged soul oeuvre, but this performance demonstrates that onstage they spring to life in vivid Technicolor.
Signed to the modern version of Stax Records, Southern Avenue have the goods to refresh the Sixties soul aesthetic in a similar fashion to Vintage Trouble.  Ori Naftaly’s guitar often adds a new slant to the basic soul template, drummer Tikyra Jackson and touring bassist Gage Markey inject bouts of serious syncopation, and Jeremy Powell throws an adrenaline rush of organ into the mix.
Tierinii Jackson - tiny but towering
And then there’s Tierinii Jackson.  Right from their opening number, the uptempo R’n’B of ’80 Miles From Memphis’, Southern Avenue’s lead singer is an elphin bundle of positive energy and charisma who shows the potential to propel the band to another level.  She’s got vocal power to burn - goodness where it comes from, as she’s tiny. She also hints at some jazzy capabilities now and then, but more to the point she has the kind of church background that enables her to do justice to the gospel inflections of their sound with ease, and also the sensitivity to do justice to the dreamy soul of ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright’ – with added harmonies from sister Tikyra.  Add to that a winning smile, and a readiness to dance like the music demands it, and you have one helluva magnetic performer.
From the debut album, ‘What Did I Do’ is built on a guitar lick that strongly recalls Corner Shop’s ‘Brimful Of Asha’, of all things, and Naftaly serves up some serious twang. ‘Peace Will Come’ is a slice of gospel for the 21stCentury, sounding like a mash-up between ‘Wade In The Water’ and Tommy Castro’s ‘Common Ground’.  They demonstrate good dynamics, starting off slow and steady before funking it up with chunky guitar and keys riffs, while Naftaly shows off his penchant for rockabilly-tinged guitar soloing – not for the first or last time. Ann Peebles’ ‘Slipped, Tripped, Fell In Love’ meanwhile, the only cover on the album, is simply a spot-on blast.
They rouse the audience with a few other nifty cover versions too, like Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’, slowed and sultry in a Stax-like stew, a suitably strutting stab at ‘Come
Southern Avenue strut their soulful stuff
Together’, and a relaxed, loose reading of Etta James’ ‘Blues Is My Business’.
They close the set proper with the anthemic gospel soul of ‘Don’t Give Up’, on which the audience are recruited into a call and response routine for the duration of the song, while Powell gets stuck into an organ wig-out, and Jackson goes into towering mode with her vocals.  Then they put an unexpected cherry on top with a whirl through ‘Superstition’, with Laftaly conjuring up some interesting wah-wah – except, y’know, who cares about details like guitar tones by that stage, with the crowd getting to their feet to dish out a warm ovation?
Southern Avenue still have some growing to do, to be sure.  I had the impression they slotted in some new songs along the way tonight, without identifying any titles, and if so they were all well up to the mark. But they could still do with a few more to help them cut down on the number of covers.  And now and then it felt like they needed to find another gear, to give it all a bit more dig.  These things will come, but in the meantime they won a bundle more fans with this show.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Little Steven and The Disciples Of Soul - Whitley Bay Playhouse, 2 July 2018

The curtain parts, a rumble of drums and burst of chords heralds the appearance of the Disciples Of Soul, and before Steve Van Zandt can even shuffle his way to the front of stage, the audience are on their feet.  The Whitley Bay Playhouse may be a compact but bijou venue, but as Little Steven kicks off with Arthur Conley’s ‘Sweet Soul Music’ the night is made for dancing.
What follows is a two and a half hour show that’s equal parts Stax Soul Revue,  grand tour of rock’n’roll history, and – as the main man himself puts it – spiritual nourishment through live music.
Steve Van Zandt preaches spiritual nourishment
And that’s not a grand claim.  Just a few songs in they serve up Etta James’ ‘Blues Is My Business’, which not only features a 100% grabber of a hook, but is a platform for no less than six – count ‘em, six – different instrumental breaks kicking off with Andy Burton’s organ, and taking in guitars, piano, sax, and all action trombone from Clark Gayne. But here’s the thing, every one of these solos serves the song, and they’re all fun rather than exhibitions of self-indulgence.  After a sublime key change they could almost pack in right there and it would still be worth the ticket.
Except of course they don’t stop there.  It’s all so intense at one stage the backing singers JaQuita May, Sara Devine and Tania Jones take advantage of a solo to cool themselves off in front of fans next to the keyboards.  The ladies are dancing queens of a wholly different stripe from the usual repetitive groovers, though they’ve evidently been developing more co-ordinated moves since last autumn.  Not sure I approve of that mind you – I like ‘em best at their most non-conformist. Still, they add bucketfuls of snap, crackle and pop to the show, and Ms May is still “hotter’n a fox in a forest fire”, as another musical Van Zandt might have put it.
Hotter'n a fox in a forest fire in Whitley Bay
‘Until The Good Is Gone’ is a tribute to the great radio days of Van Zandt’s youth, featuring wonderfully gospellated call and response vocals between him and the girls.  ‘Under The Gun’ takes a very different road, with an Arabic intro worthy of Robert Plant leading into a pounding affair in which Steve and his guitar buddy Marc Ribler exchange ringing guitar chords a la Lizzy’s version of ‘Rosalie’, before a wild ending in which drummer Rich Mercurio goes certifiably nuts.
In between there’s ‘Angel Eyes’, which like the later ‘I Saw The Light’ seems almost like a throwaway at first, before turning into something immense.  Moments like these almost sum up the paradox of great pop music, that it can seem ephemeral on the one hand and timeless on the other.
Along the way there are so many different ingredients added to spice up the menu, from the sublime Motown-esque melody on ‘Some Things Just Don’t Change’ to the signature terrific horn riff on ‘St Valentine’s Day’ (on which Mercurio again shows that a drummer doesn’t need a solo to take the biscuit), from Morricone-style trumpet and guitar duet on ‘Standing In The Line Of Fire’ to the spot-on doo-wop arrangement of ‘The City Weeps Tonight’, and even the hard rocking of ‘Salvation’, on which the girls go wild.
There’s a slight dip in intensity with James Brown’s funk film theme ‘Down And Out In New York City’, as all five of the horn players take solo turns – all of which are fine in themselves, but which detract from the tension the song generates.  That done, they take a breather for the subdued mandolin-and-accordion of ‘Princess Of Little Italy’.
Disciples Of Soul - born to be wild
From there on though, it’s like a bobsleigh ride of thrills and spills, starting with the great hook of the floor-shaking ‘Ride The Night Away’, and continuing with the Latino vibe of ‘Bitter Fruit’, on which Van Zandt cries “Mambo!” to usher in a percussion showcase from Anthony Almonte as a song of defiance turns into a celebration. ‘Forever’ ends the set proper, but although they take a bow they go straight into the encores, and then they bring the house down when they “try something” with a stab of stop-time R’n’B which some of the Geordie locals go nuts immediately recognise as a hit by local Sixties heroes The Animals.
‘I Don’t Wanna Go Home’ triggers a forest of hands in the air to greet the aspirational lines “I know we have to try, to reach up and touch the sky”.  Most bands would struggle to top that, but Van Zandt still has ‘Out Of The Darkness’ up his sleeve.  It’s an air-punching anthem for our times, and sums up perfectly Van Zandt’s philosophy of musical and social togetherness.
I love live music, but there are some shows that reach up to another level altogether, and this was one of them.  If you were at this gig, and didn’t come out punch-drunk with enjoyment, and your face tired from smiling, then what the hell do you want from life?

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Waterboys - Playhouse, Edinburgh, 29 June 2018

Long, long time ago, I can still remember – playing The Waterboys’ ‘Big Music’ as my rallying call before going out to do my final university exams.  They weren’t a band I particularly followed at the time – I was primarily a hard rock kid back then – and my acquaintance with Mike Scott’s oeuvre has been haphazard since.  I loved Fisherman’s Blues, and there was then a long hiatus until somehow I picked up on the blindingly good Modern Blues a couple of years back.
So now here we are again at the Edinburgh Playhouse, scene of many a great gig in days of yore, but now largely given over to musicals.  Which probably explains the numerous signs insisting that the place is a seated venue, and “would patrons please co-operate in ensuring everyone can see”.  In other words, sit yer ass doon!
The Waterboys - first class jiggery-pokery
Which is a pity, because there’s plenty of danceable stuff in the Waterboys’ set, and it’s clear that some of the audience are itching to shake their booty on some of the jiggery-pokery stuff like ‘When Ye Go Away’ and the spankingly rumbustious ‘The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy’.
Fortunately Mike Scott has a trick up his sleeve to allow us at least a vicarious dance sensation, in the form of hip chick backing swingers Zeenie Summers and Jess Kav, who get on down in exuberant, loosely co-ordinated fashion throughout.  They also provide spot on vocals, with Kav especially impressive and versatile, ranging from soulful to scat-singing to well-nigh classic soprano at times.
By contrast Steve Wickham, looking like your favourite absent-minded professor with his waistcoat and stuck-up hair, often looks rather bemused by proceedings, when not actually playing, swaying gently while holding his fiddle in both hands.  But then he chucks in his trademark pirouette as they roll back the years with ‘A Girl Called Johnny’, and when he rips into that scudding riff on ‘We Will Not Be Lovers’ you know exactly what he brings to the party.
There are a few tunes from the latest album Out Of All This Blue.  It may have been a bit of an erratic outing, but Scott still pulls out some strong songs with the likes of ‘If The Answer Is Yeah’ and the country-style tribute to keyboard player Brother Paul Brown, ‘Nashville, Tennessee’.  Personally I reckon the tag-line of the latter would be better reversed to “My ass may be in Nashville, but my heart is in Memphis, Tennessee”, but that might have required a whole different lyric.  I’d also have preferred to hear something upbeat like ‘The Connemara Fox’ or ‘The Hammerhead Bar’, rather than the more mellow ‘Man, What A Woman’, but hey, I’ll give Mike Scott a pass on that.
In any event there’s enough from Modern Blues to keep me happy. In addition to being a sublime lyricist, Scott is an excellent raconteur, and cleverly uses a bit of guitar tuning as a catalyst for a story that neatly lines up the muscular ‘Still A Freak’.  Then after the interval he neatly bends the premise of ‘Nearest Thing To Hip’ to turn it into a nostalgia trip for lost Edinburgh record shops from the heyday of vinyl.  There’s no need for storytelling with the rattling set-closer ‘Long Strange Golden Road’ though.  ‘Anthemic’ is a word that could have been invented for Mike Scott’s songwriting, and this is a beat poet visionary call to (peaceful) arms.  It’s also one of several songs on which Brother Paul goes to town on his Hammond organ, apparently wrenching soul from the very guts of it.  His addition to the Waterboys ranks a few years ago was a signal moment.
They encore with ‘The Whole Of The Moon’, and inevitably the audience rise en masse to acclaim the archetypal example of Scott’s “Big Music”, singing along merrily as they’re conducted by Summers and Kav.  They stay on their feet for ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, the first blast of Scott’s delving into folk traditions, on which Scott and the girls join in with Wickham to twirl through the classic fiddle riff, summing up the collective spirit of the evening.
Mike Scott is blessed with the ability to create a multi-faceted repertoire.  As The Waterboys’ Facebook page puts it, “The Waterboys belong to no movement, genre, school or fashion. We play Waterboys music.  We follow the twists and trails of the music wherever it leads, wherever the adventure unfolds. Come with us.”  Yeah, it may sound a bit corny.  But Mike Scott is still a freak, and a bloody good one at that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Jed Potts and the Hillman Hunters - Jed Potts and the Hillman Hinters

Must admit I’m feeling a bit guilty about having taken so long to get round to reviewing this first album by Jed Potts and the Hillman Hunters, since they released it a couple of months back.  But hey, it took Jed Potts ages to get the damn thing out, so I’ll cut myself a little slack.
Potts is a prominent fixture on the Edinburgh blues/funk/jazz music scene, showing off his guitar skills in a variety of different bands.  His own trio, as this debut recording featuring ten covers and three originals demonstrates, focuses on good time rock’n’rollin’ blues.  I’d have liked to hear another of his originals, the entertaining ‘Ain’t It Rough (When Your Baby’s In The Huff)’, but sadly that will have to wait for another day.
Jed Potts - Is this man a gangster of love?
Two of the three Kings are to the fore, kicking off with BB King’s ‘Days Of Old’, which sets the tone with lots of energy and sparkling guitar from Potts, notes bending and snapping hither and yon.  His voice is on the light side, without the depth or rasp of yer real deal blues singer, but he compensates for that with good phrasing, injecting songs with the necessary personality.  The sound is also a bit on the thin side, lacking a bit of bottom to properly bring out Jonny Christie’s kick drum and Charlie Wild’s bass, which is a pity because they’re a swinging rhythm section, but after cranking the volume up a bit I gradually got used to it.
And speaking of swinging, Freddie King’s ‘Sen-Sa-Shun’ is the first of a few instrumentals on which Potts throws off sparks with his guitar as he skates around in numerous directions – and even if the drum sound is a bit tinny, Christie’s contribution still gives the tune the requisite fizz.  The self-penned instrumental ‘Puttin’ It Aboot’, meanwhile, is even more rapid-fire, with racing bass and drums and Potts’ fingers well and truly nimble over the top of a jazzy beat that hints at Sean Costello – an influence that’s even more apparent on the later ‘Draughts’, with its lazy sense of swing, and casual strumming of bright chords interspersed with licks fired in from unexpected angles.
There’s a sense of fun abroad throughout, whether in the simplicity of an old-fashioned rock’n’roll such as Elvis’s ‘Tryin’ To Get To You’, on which they capture the vibe perfectly, or BB King’s ‘Fishin’ After Me’ – ‘Catfish Blues’ by any other name – with its skipping rhythm and Potts combining rhythm and lead playing to great effect.  Meanwhile Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s ‘Gangster Of Love’, with its stop-time riff a la Muddy, is delivered with the wit it deserves.
Taking things down a notch the original ‘Four Leaf Clover’ is a major key but sounding-kinda-minor slow blues that’s mellow, with a well-honed arrangement, subtle dynamics, and plenty of variation in style, and while ‘Down In The Alley’, by the rather obscure Nappy Brown, doesn’t manage the level of angstiness someone like Sean Costello might bring to it, Potts still coaxes surprising accents of a non-pedal variety from his guitar.
Either side of the latter, Rudy Greene’s uptempo ‘Juicy Fruit’ is all buzzing, rattling guitar, and Freddie King’s ‘Sidetracked’ brings the curtain down in suitably effervescent and relaxed fashion.
Jed Potts ain’t no shredding blues rock guitar slinger.  He’s an old school electric blues player, and an inventive one at that. His brand of music is really a live thing, for people to shake their collective booty.  But meantime, anyone fancy a party?  Okay then - let’s grab a few beers and it’s all back to Jed’s!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Rob Tognoni - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 22 June 2018

I’m just getting myself a beer in the bar when Rob Tognoni comes onstage, but still manage to latch onto his modus operandi pretty damn quickly, as he and his trio crash into a spiky riff, soon accompanied by a catalogue of sparky guitar licks, leading up to a high-powered wah wah solo.  Oh yeah, there are some vocals in there too, delivered in a kinda tuneful, enthusiastic bark, and the overall package is enough to get the crowd on side from the git go.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that I know Rob Tognoni’s canon backwards.  The Australian has been on the go for a long time, and has a catalogue of albums stretching back to the mid-90s, but I only came across him for the first time last year.  So I vaguely recognise ‘Birra For Lira’, the title track from his 2015 album, which features another squawking solo, but for much of the set all bets are off.
Rob Tognoni and Gaz Rackham - lean on me
Never mind, by the time he gets stuck into another stomper from his 1995 album Headstrong, it’s clear that with his impish grin that this is a guy who enjoys his work.  Given his Australian provenance it’s easy to say that there’s an air of old-fashioned hard rock a la AC/DC to his sound, but ‘Bad Girl’ does fit that bill, with its sledgehammer riff and drummer Mike Hellier doing his best impression of Phil Rudd on-the-money timekeeping.  And while Tognoni – aka the Tasmanian Devil – doesn’t don fancy dress, he’s still a showman, of the arm-flourishing, lip-pursing, hip-wiggling (yes, hip-wiggling), machine gun soloing variety.
Bassist Gaz Rackham – who could be cast as the cousin of Eric Stoltz in Pulp Fiction – seems permanently amused by his gaffer’s antics, whether of the shape-throwing or the plank-spanking variety.  But with his 5 string bass he and Hellier make up a rock solid but supple boiler room on the likes of ‘Drink Jack Boogie’, a Johnny Winter-ish affair that’s one of the highlights of the night, with a decidedly bluesy intro from Tognoni, and the more subtle title track from his Tognoni’s latest album Brave, with its offbeat rhythm.
They close the first of two sets with a jam on ‘Dark Angel’, building from a slow bass’n’drums intro to feature crunching riffs and fluid licks, and some impressive pickless soloing from the Tog, even if his nod to ‘Toccata and Fugue’ is a bit naff.
The second half kicks in interesting fashion, as some slow funky blues develops into something that may or may not be called ‘One More Hit’, and which feels like the Stones taking a walk on the wild side with Lou Reed, semi-spoken vocal and all, but with Tognoni then getting excited enough to be play with his teeth, get down on his knees, and embark on some windmill armed, toreador-like guitar heroism.
It’s all a bit endearingly daft, but he does demonstrating good taste by then covering Rory Gallagher’s ‘Shadow Play’.  It’s a great tune of course, and though RT isn’t Rory he doesn’t let the side down. In fact by now I’m forcibly reminded of Larry Miller, another meat-and-potatoes hard blues-rockin’ geezer and Rory fan who is great fun.
The R’n’B groove of ‘Mr John Lee’ (as in Hooker), is swingingly good to the point that plenty of asses are being shook in the audience, and a reading of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ is like a Tour de France descent in top gear, with suitably brisk drum and bass solos and ‘Let There Be Rock’ style dynamics.
Andrew Robert Eustace - rollin' down down the Delta
They close with ‘Hey Joe’, which features some unsatisfyingly noodling guitar to these ears, though the Togster does conjure up some decent low volume weeping guitar effects, followed by more energetic guitar wrangling, and a sturdy rocker of an encore sends the crowd away happy.
In the support slot Glasgow’s Andrew Robert Eustace and his band deliver an entertaining set of Delta orientated electric blues.  Eustace is a tall and genial sorta guy, effectively gruff line on the vocal front and satisfyingly useful in the guitar department.  ‘Can’t Wait To See That’ is a decent Mississippi stomp, with two guitars rollin’ an’ tumblin’ around the riff and a scrabbling solo.  But the following ‘Broke Down And Beat’ is a highlight, a chunky shuffle with an appealing groove topped off with a good hook in the chorus.  ‘Bad Weather Blues’ is a strutting, upbeat 12 bar, with a fiery solo from Eustace as the band stoke the engines for a crescendo that should really develop into something bigger.
Things get a bit samey as the set progresses, even though they relax a bit as the songs go by, and the lyrics of ‘Running Man’, confessing to killing a man, feel a bit inauthentic.  ‘Crooked Old Dog’ rattles along nicely though, with its semi-Celtic guitar riff and a hint of stop-time rhythm, and ‘Had Enough’ slithers down the Delta nicely on a jittery riff.  They could do with developing a bit more rhythmic variety – a Bo Diddley beat might be a useful avenue to explore – but Eustace and chums seem to have a clear sense of the sound they’re after, and the man himself injects some personality both vocally and on guitar. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Paul Rodgers - Free Spirit: Celebrating The Music Of Free

I was too young to ever see Free play live in their heyday.  So my eyes lit up at the announcement of Paul Rodgers’ Free Spirit tour last year – but sadly I couldn’t make it to any of the shows.  Judging by this 16 song recording of the Royal Albert Hall gig, I missed out big time.
Apart from anything else, this set has been impeccably recorded.  Whether the acoustics of the Albert Hall contribute to that at all I don’t know, but right from the bright opening number ‘Little Bit Of Love’ the drum sound is crisp, and the guitar and piano are mingled effectively.  Paul Rodgers’ voice is also clear as a bell, and by the following ‘Ride A Pony’ it’s evident –
Paul Rodgers - the spirit is willing, and the flesh is able
as if there were any doubt – that his pipes are still in excellent condition.  Where some of his vocal contemporaries are struggling in their later years, Rodgers is still a powerhouse whose reach is undiminished.  What’s more, as they get down to business on the gritty ‘Woman’ it’s apparent that he’s still the master of melisma, stretching syllables over several notes, and of wordless, “whoa-oh” articulation of soul.  In fact in this mode the influence of soul giants like Otis Redding is so obvious that the labelling of Free as a blues rock outfit seems a bit lazy - soul rock would be more accurate.
Rodgers is backed here by Deborah Bonham’s band, and if living up to the reputations of Paul Kossoff, Simon Kirke and Andy Fraser is a big challenge they seem to relish it. Guitarist Pete Bullick delivers a piercing solo on ‘Be My Friend’ that captures the depth of feeling well – and evidently pleases the crowd – and as the song progresses Gerard ‘G’ Louis’s piano backing emerges nicely.
They ease off with ‘My Brother Jake’, although revving it up a bit towards the end as Bullick’s guitar fizzes and sparks, and continue in a lighter vein with the roomy simplicity of ‘Love You So’, with Rodgers colouring in the margins around the melody. ‘Travellin’ In Style’ is a sunny affair, with the audience warming up their tonsils for subsequent exertions, before ‘Magic Ship’ marks a shift in terrain with its mystical feel, the piano intro carrying some Celtic undertones before the rhythm section kicks in.
Thereafter they get into the more muscular kind of groove that really does suggest blues rock.  ‘Mr Big’ has a tense play-off between the guitar and Rich Newman’s drums, before Ian Rowley is showcased on bass, evoking Andy Fraser’s rubber band sound.  ‘The Stealer’ has a mean strut, and another good solo from Bullick, while ‘Fire And Water’ has a soulful, rock steady straightforwardness. ‘The Hunter’ is brisk, and down and dirty, and then it’s party time on ‘Alright Now’, where Newman appears to dial up the beats per minute a fraction, giving it a fresh, zippier feel as the crowd sing themselves hoars.
Then they crunch into ‘Wishing Well’ and that classic descending riff, again powered along nicely by Newman’s drumming towards those wonderful lines, “Put up a fight you believe to be right / And someday the sun will shine through”.  The audience can still be heard singing along in the background, and I suspect there were smiles galore as they bathed in the warm glow of a trip down memory lane.
For me the album peaks there, with the following ‘Walk In My Shadow’ and ‘Catch A Train’ exhalations to end the night, even though both are tough enough, the former with its big riff and some squealing feedback, while Bullick essays some very Koss-like guitar on the latter – a song never actually played live by Free.
The album is titled Free Spirit: Celebrating The Music Of Free, and there’s certainly an air of celebration about it – even of a nostalgic love-in.  And why not?  It’s a strong body of work to celebrate, to say the least, and with Paul Rodgers’ voice well to the fore the spirit is alive and well.

Free Spirit is released by Quarto Valley Records on 22 June 2018, in various formats including 2 disc CD/DVD including tour booklet.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Big Boy Bloater & The LiMiTs - Pills

If you’re in the market for a blast of aggressive but witty R’n’B, then look no further.  As English as cod and chips, Big Boy Bloater majors on the kind of collision between Chicago R’n’B and Chuck Berry rock’n’roll evident in both early Stones and the Feelgoods.  His 2016 outing Luxury Hobo showed him throwing his own twists into that mix, and Pills repeats the trick.
The title track, with its ascending guitar figure, rocking bass from Steven Oates, and Bloater’s typical gargled-with-broken-glass-this-morning vocals, kicks off a hat-trick of tracks in this vein.  ‘Friday Night’s Alright For Drinking’ may be a bit vin ordinaire in places, but the chorus has plenty of fizz, and in addition to Big Boy’s pinging slide licks it benefits from
Big Boy Bloater - naturally charming
some classy female harmonies that provide extra oomph.  ‘The Saturday Night Desperation Shuffle’ is the real winner though.  A ‘Ballroom Blitz’-like drum rhythm from Matt Cowley sets the tempo, matched by fast-striding bass from Oates, over which the Bloat lays an urgent guitar riff, and a spiky solo.  And while he may not carry the air of menace that Lee’n’Wilko conjured up, he does offer a wry line in observational lyrics.
Pub rock, we’re often reminded by those who were there, wasn’t a sound or a scene, it was just rock music being played in a bunch of London pubs by a variety of different bands. It’s striking though, that when Bloater departs from the forceful R’n’B template, he’s liable to come up with the bobbing Anglo-Country that is ‘Stop Stringing Me Along’, a tale of relationship failure with acoustic strumming and ooh-oohing female backing vocals, that recalls another pub rocker, Nick Lowe.
‘Oops Sorry’ is a bit of lightweight rock’n’roll that’s also in Lowe territory, both musically and lyrically.  A whimsical tale of heartbreak that extols the merits of Gaffa tape and super glue, it features chiming piano and a Latino guitar solo.  And just to round out the pub rock comparisons, ‘Slacker’s Paradise’ is a skipping effort initially redolent of Graham Parker, and a witty vision of consummate idleness with perfectly matched laid back accompaniment.
The back end of the album may contain some efforts that don’t quite hit the bullseye, like the ultimately inconsequential ‘Mouse Organ’, with its inflections of European jazziness, or the closing ‘A Life Full Of Debt’, a melancholy tale of consumerism based on ukulele strumming.  And while ‘The Digital Number Of The Beast’ is a humorous take on “the rise of the machines”, pinging out some musical binary code, it lacks the focus on display elsewhere.
But hey, there’s still room for the quintessentially Bloaterist ‘Unnaturally Charming’, a spooky B-Movie yarn about a young man whose easy charm masks a dangerous misfit, with swirls of fairground organ in the background, jagged guitar counterpointed by more female backing vox, and closing out with a repeated, Dan Auerbach-like guitar lick.
Big Boy Bloater ain’t no teenage guitar hero.  He’s not trying to make some clever crossover into another market.  His act is founded on down to earth elements of rock’n’rollin’ directness, delivered with wit and imagination.  He takes some basic R’n’B virtues, and turns them into something as fresh as a mug of whelks.  Go get a fork and dig in.

Pills is released by Mascot Label Group on 15 June.
Big Boy Bloater tours Britain in September and October - details here.