Thursday, September 13, 2018

Joe Bonamassa - Redemption

Bonamassa is back. Like he ever went away, right? And what he’s offering this time, after numerous other forms of “product”, is Redemption, his first studio album of all new material since 2016’s Blues Of Desperation.
Now, JB has his acolytes, who apparently regard him as the non-pareil of blues rock guitar.  And he has his knockers, who seem to regard him as a soul-less fake.  Me?  I think he’s released some pretty damn enjoyable solo albums.  Some have resonated with me less than others – Driving Towards The Daylight, for example - but maybe that’s because I didn’t give them sufficient attention at the time.  I reckoned Blues Of Desperation was a pretty handy outing though, so how does Redemption shape up as its successor?
Joe Bonamassa gets all sensitive and reflective
Pic by Marty Moffatt
Well, I’m not sure it has quite the freshness and depth of its predecessor, but it’s still a solidly entertaining affair.  Joe and chums certainly demonstrate a sense of humour as the album opens with Anton Fig crashing through an inconic Led Zep drum intro before plunging into a grungy chord as a springboard for the jabbing riff of ‘Evil Mama’.  Cheeky sod.  In turn that riff is subjected to call and response with horns, bass and whatever, before heading off into funky, horn-laden territory over rumbling bass from Michael Rhodes, and pounding drums.  I like it.
The fun stuff continues with the revved up, buzzing boogie of ‘King Bee Shakedown’.  With horns a-parpin’ again, a touch of rockabilly in the middle eight, and a Thorogoodly slide solo – if you get my drift – it’s a track that could easily inspire some hectic swing dancing.
‘Molly O’’ is the sort of song that Bonamassa has made a specialty over the years, with an epic aesthetic, a sweeping melody and an Arabesque riff, decorated by some slide guitar in the background.  Featuring a lyric based on a Titanic-style story, it’s a big and coherent moment in the album. To my mind it’s also better than the title track, another dynamic affair on which the various components may be interesting, but don’t seem to create an organic whole.  An acoustic opening is embellished by subtle keys from Reese Wynans, before shifting into a jagged, twisting riff.  It builds to a peak in a squall of guitar, which finds some direction just in time, leading to a downbeat, reflective segment.  The chorus also features swelling backing vocals, a common feature in JB’s recent recordings, but I question the value of them here.
And on a similar note, could a more stripped-down approach have been taken to the preceding ‘Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should’, without the use of horns?  It features a tough beat and strong guitar fills, plus an organ solo from Wynans, but feels overlong, with an overdone shredding segment. A tip should have been taken from the title, to my mind.
‘Deep In The Blues Again’ and the closing ‘Love Is A Gamble’ are mainstream stuff, the former with a prickly guitar motif akin to what Alex Lifeson delivered on Rush’s ‘The Weapon’, a stomping backbeat and a spiky solo, the latter straight up blues with fiery guitar licks, a wailing solo and woozy horns.
There’s more interesting fare elsewhere though.  ‘The Ghost Of Macon Jones’ is a country-
"Hell's bells - this guitar weighs a ton!"
Pic by Rick Gould
tinged duet with Nashville’s Jamey Johnson, with a hint of the Celtic over a skipping rhythm, and another interesting lyric with a Johnny Cash-like narrative.  More direclty enjoyable is ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, with its boozy, N’Awlins vibe.  Essentially it’s ersatz Tom Waits, with amusing, down-at-heel lyrics, spot on honky tonk piano and moaning sax.  ‘I’ve Got Some Mind Over What Matters’ is a lurching chunk of R&B fun, which when you get down to it is a second cousin twice removed to Ian Hunter’s ‘All-American Alien Boy’.  A witty catalogue of moral failure and domestic disharmony, it draws on barroom piano, discordant guitar chords, and some spectacular splashes of delayed reaction cymbal from Fig.
More solemnly ambitious perhaps is ‘Self-Inflicted Wounds’.  Slow and spacious, its solo closes with neat use of guitar harmonies, and there are more licks to embellish the closing chorus.  That though, is nothing compared to the daring displayed on the penultimate track, ‘Stronger Now In Broken Places’.  Startlingly subdued, with little more to the arrangement than gentle, sparse picking from Bonamassa and expertly sensitive keys, it mingles melancholy and resilience in dramatic, triumphant fashion.
As so often with Bonamassa, less would be more.  With twelve songs stretching to five minutes over the hour, Redemption would be a leaner, stronger album if a couple of the lesser tracks had been jettisoned.  All the same, it gets a resounding thumbs up for several slices of imaginative, entertaining quality.  Now go take a six month vacation will ya Joe, and give us all a breather?

Redemption is released by Provogue in Europe and J&R Adventures in North America on 21 September.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Man At The Back, Part 2 - Blues Enthused chats with King King drummer Wayne Proctor

In addition to being the 'Man At The Back’ with King King, Wayne Proctor is, of course, a highly regarded backroom boy, as a producer under his House Of Tone banner. His latest output on that front is Ben Poole’s forthcoming album Anytime You Need Me, which I reckon represents a big step forward for Poole in several respects – and features a great drum sound from Proctor into the bargain.  So how did he and Poole set about bringing the new album into being?
“Well, for his last album Time Has Come, Alan Robinson, King King and Ben’s manager, kind of picked the songs. I think he felt at the time that Ben - as much as he had a couple of
"You lookin' at me?"
Pic by Rob Blackham
real corkers of songs, like ‘The Time Might Never Come’, which is a stunning tune, and he had a couple of other little ideas - wasn’t yet in the place to write a whole record, with the kind of lyrical and melodic content needed to make a great record.”
As Proctor points out, this is hardly unheard of. Whether they’re newcomers or big stars, artists have long taken advantage of outside help to line up suitable material. Labels like Motown and Stax relied heavily on writing teams, Aerosmith made a mint out of stuff provided by Diane Warren when their own well was drying up, and Bonnie Raitt continues to pepper her albums with covers in addition to originals. So for Time Has Come, Proctor recalls, they selected material from a ‘long list’ of about 25 songs.
“And most of it was a singer-songwriter style in a bluesy manner,” he says. “So it ended up being quite light. Vocally Ben didn’t really have the grit then. But he was also singing other people’s songs, so him singing them a bit softer was kind of intentional to make it more emotional, in a kind of John Mayer way. So after that record, Ben and I chatted, and when Alan Nimmo had the little mishap with his voice last year I said to Ben, ‘Look, do you fancy us writing an album together? Writing a heavier album, writing songs that are written to your strengths, picking keys that suit you, writing with attitude, and trying to put something together that is more for you, that sounds like you on 100%?’  And Ben was absolutely up for it.
“So then Steve Wright [Proctor’s House Of Tone production compadre], Ben and I wrote ‘Take It No More’ and ‘Further On Down The Line’.  We did it over three days – we wrote the lyrics, melodies and arrangements. We had no idea what the chemistry would be.  We just knew we all got on.  But we came up with these two songs, and we were like, ‘These are really good – in fact they’re great.’  They were just demos – the drums were done out in Steve’s house, and it was all done quite quickly, but it had a vibe, it definitely had a vibe, and we were excited about them.  So we just carried on going.”
Between them they sifted whatever ideas were kicking around for things that caught the ear.
“And then we’d just work and work and work – a load of gestating the idea, and developing it, and ‘Let’s try it with this kind of feel, or this tempo, or this key’.  And then lyrically we all just sat down and said, what atmosphere did we think this song was about?  So something like ‘Take It No More’ had a lot of attitude in it, and we wanted it to be like where you’re pointing your finger at someone, having a go.  And ‘Anytime You Need Me’ should have this positive thing about it - I was going through something at the time, so I was like, ‘Can we do a song about this?  About always being there for someone, and not abandoning them.’”
As Ben Poole himself has observed, they spent six months writing and demoing material, off and on.
“And eventually we had a whole record,” says Proctor. “We did it without telling anybody we were doing it.  I literally just handed the album into Alan Robinson and said ‘Look, here you go. If you want to put it out on Manhaton Records, great, If not, I’ll shop it to somebody else.’  It was like, this is our album, we’ve done it on our terms. We’ve done it without any interference getting in the way of the creativity, without being told you’ve got to mix it this way, or you’ve got to use these musicians, or you can’t play the drums on it. I didn’t want to hear any of that. I just wanted to make the artist I was working with sound the best I could make him sound.  And if that meant us writing some songs together because we had a good chemistry, then perfect! Ben was more than happy to do that. At times the three of us were just sitting there with blank expressions on our faces, not knowing where to go, and then all of a sudden one of us would shout, ‘That’s it, I’ve got it. I’ve got the lyric, I’ve got the key to the gateway that lets us into the next line.’  And slowly but surely the song would present itself.”
Earlier in our conversation, Proctor had referred to King King’s albums emerging organically, as if from a lump of clay.  I recall the sculptor’s line about the big block of marble, that the statue is in there somewhere, it’s just a question of finding it.
“Exactly. You’ve just got to chip away at it and be really honest with yourself. Is it as good as you can make it?  Anyone I ever produce, I say to them, please just be honest with yourselves. If this is the best you can do, then fair enough. But I’m sure when you ask yourself, this is you on a six out of ten.  And pretty much everyone I’ve worked with then says, ‘Yeah, I can do better.’  ‘Well, why have you played this to me then?
“Although I don’t think I’ve ever actually said that, to be honest,” he laughs.  “You’re trying to light a fire up their ass, so that they go, ‘Yeah, yeah. I can do better.’  And nine times out of ten it works – and Ben absolutely rose to the challenge in every way shape and form for me on Anytime You Need Me.  I love it – I’m so proud of him and the album we’ve made.”
Part of the challenge is also about positioning things correctly though, I suggest.  Poole’s Live At The Royal Albert Hall album showed that he has a good voice – not especially bluesy, but soulful in his own way, with musicality.  But as Proctor noted, this didn’t really come over on Time Has Come.  It seems to me though, that some of the newer songs are in lower keys that enable him to come across more strongly.  Or is that just my imagination?
“No, that’s exactly right,” says Proctor. “All the songs were written with his voice in mind, in
Non-Diet Ben Poole gets potent
terms of where does it sound good?  Where do you sound the most meaningful?  Where can you get the grit into your voice?  But I know, even at the recording stage, we still dropped the keys of ‘Take It No More’, ‘Further On Down The Line’, and ‘Dirty Laundry’, because Ben couldn’t get to the high notes in a manner that we felt was ballsy and convincing.  And one thing that’s become apparent is that with ‘Dirty Laundry' in particular he just owned it, he just sang it great. I remember when he did those first few verses, he literally did two or three takes of each verse, and it was like, ‘Dude – do you wanna come and listen to how good your voice your sounds here?’
One aspect of Poole’s singing that I like, and which ‘Dirty Laundry’ shows off, is his diction, his ability to really pop consonants out very clearly, as in the line about the ‘bubble-headed bleach blonde’.
“Well, there are two elements to this thing with the diction. If you go back to the Albert Hall live CD, there’s a studio song on there called ‘Starting All Over Again’ that we worked on together. And one of the things that Alan Robinson had said to me was that we’ve got to work on his diction, ‘cause I can’t work out what he’s saying.  So it’s always been something that we’ve been very conscious of.  But also, writing melodies and picking lyrics that have a lot of syllables and a lot of percussive sounds in them. I remember Rob Temperton when he was writing for Michael Jackson, saying that he purposely wrote melodies, and words, that had a lot of percussive sounds, to allow Michael Jackson to really spit it out, and so it had a lot of rhythm to it, and a lot of attack.  So one of the things we did with the lyric writing on this album was to really try and find things that complemented Ben’s natural ability to spit a lyric out. So there are all those elements in there that are percussive and strong, and it not only makes his voice sound stronger, but it makes the lyrics sound clearer, and puts the lyric on the top of the music a lot easier.”
The difference is marked, in my book. Proctor may have produced Time Has Come, but I tell him that by the time I got to the end of the end of that album I was desperate for Poole to man up a bit, vocally.
“Well, on Time Has Come these were songs that weren’t written for him,” he repeats, “and they had a particular atmosphere, and they didn’t sound right being sung aggressively.  We did try it, but it just sounded weird, it didn’t sound like there was context.”
So defaulting to a style that fitted the songs didn’t really bring the best out of him.
“Exactly,” Proctor agrees. “So this time around I said, ‘Well man, we’re writing the songs ourselves, so let’s make every song work for you.’  And luckily it worked out great, and we had a load of fun doing it, and it was at the right time for me to be doing that as well. Me and Steve were already starting to write together, and I think we just knew what he wanted, we just knew that Ben needed to sound more convincing, to sound more aggressive. And I love the results. Honestly, I couldn’t say enough good things about the album, and the experience of making it. 
A blur of motion at the back with King King
“King King is Alan’s baby,” he goes on, “and I love and adore being in that band. But it’s Alan’s baby, and I don’t want to offer lyrics to him, I don’t want to offer chord structures to him and potentially water down our process. It’s not what he wants, he wants us to support him and facilitate the sound of the songs in his head - Alan always has a very strong vision for King King, which is great and definitely works. So, when this opportunity came up to co-write the lyrics, melodies and generally chord structures rather than just arrangements, I said ‘Great, let’s do it!’  It was just another asset to the House Of Tone arsenal of tools, another string to the bow and a lot of fun to do! Ben and I had a conversation the other day about the next album, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we know exactly where we want to go next time around!’
I make the observation that Don Henley’s recording of ‘Dirty Laundry’ featured Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro from Toto, so it gave Proctor the chance to emulate one of his inspirations, as he acknowledges. For me, it’s also symptomatic of Anytime You Need Me being something of a crossover album into AOR territory, in a good way, though tracks like ‘Don’t Cry For Me’ and ‘Found Out The Hard Way’ still give Poole room to breathe musically, and be expansive. Was that something Proctor had in mind?
“I just think that’s who he is, in all honesty,” he says. “He wants to be able to play the guitar, he wants to play cool, get-behind-it kind of riffs, so he can really make them mean something, and obviously he wants to solo as well. But it’s not about ironing all that stuff out, it’s about giving him a vehicle where he can be meaningful with what he’s playing, and one that you can transfer to a live setting.  And Ben likes mainstream music, you know?  That’s it, full stop.  So why shouldn’t that be incorporated into his style?  But he wants to do it in a non-emaciated way. You don’t want it to feel like it’s Diet Ben, because it’s a bit poppy, or it’s a bit mainstream in any way, it still needs to feel like it’s potent, and it’s got some attitude and meaning to it.”
At which point the self-confessed ‘studio rat’ has to get back to work knob-twiddling at Steve Wright’s Y Dream Studios on another project, this time for a forthcoming album tribute album to Willie Dixon by Ian Parker.
Drummers have a bit of a reputation – Moon the Loon, John Bonham the wild man, Phil Rudd and his recent, er, misadventures.  Hell, Howlin’ Wolf’s drummer Sam Lay even managed to shoot one of his knackers off due to carrying a loaded gun in his trouser pocket while playing. Wayne Proctor doesn’t fit the stereotype. Instead he’s a guy who’s passionate about the creative process, and evidently a detail freak with very high quality standards. But hey, he got through our discussion of the production process without sharing his extensive knowledge of microphones, for which I’m truly grateful!

You can find Part 1 of the Wayne Proctor interview here.
Ben Poole's new album Anytime You Need Me is released by Manhaton Records on 14 September.
Ben Poole's European and UK tour dates can be found here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Man At The Back, Part 1 - Blues Enthused chats with King King drummer Wayne Proctor

Stevie Nimmo once posted on Facebook to say that King King drummer Wayne Proctor is a lovely bloke, but you should never, ever discuss drums or microphones with him.  So when the opportunity arose to have a chat with the said Mr Proctor, what might be safe topics of conversation?
Well, the KK boys forthcoming tour supporting Europe seems like a reasonable bet.  Suggesting that Europe might draw an audience of more casual rock fans, I ask if Proctor thinks it might given King King a profile with audiences they haven’t encountered on previous support slots.
“It’s funny,” he reflects, “everyone has a take on this.  I think all of us in the band have had
Wayne Proctor feels the groove from his drum stool (see below)
varying views on how good a fit this is. You know, ‘This might work, this might not work.’  But then I know Alan just recently watched a DVD of their last tour from a couple of years ago, and he came back with a beaming face, going ‘It’s gonna be fine. It’s all gonna be good.’  So I think it’s more of a fit recently, it’s just people get a bit stuck in a place and time when it comes to Europe, where all they can think of is the big hair and the spandex.  Obviously we don’t do that – as good as Alan would look in spandex, I’m sure!"  Cue laughter at both ends of the phone line.  Anyone for tartan spandex?
"I was talking to Europe’s manager Adam Parsons the other night, and he said the same thing. He said they get stuck in a certain place, although pretty much everything they’ve done since then has not been that thing. And from what Adam was telling me, Joey Tempest absolutely loves us.  So I don’t think we would be on it if they didn’t think it was going to be a good fit, and a good package.”
And of course King King, with a fanbase originating in blues and blues rock, might bring a different audience for Europe’s benefit.
“Yeah, exactly.  So I think it’s going to be cool.  Obviously any time you’re playing to more people than you would at your own shows, you're going to win a percentage over.  We were just very lucky with supporting Thunder and John Mayall, that we took pretty much everyone with us, so if we can do that again then that would be amazing.”
The support slot extends to European dates as well, including Italy and Spain.  Was that an extra bonus factor from this tour?
“Yeah, I think so,” he agrees.  “I think Italy and Spain are newer territories.  We do quite well
in Germany, Switzerland and Holland and that. But any time you’re playing to those kind of numbers an opportunity like that’s great.  Because when you do these support tours you always get the English leg, you know, and you never get the European leg.” 
Things have moved on a bit since King King opened for Thunder though, I observe.  They’ve got another studio album under their belt, as well as a highly acclaimed live album that featured extended versions of some favourite tracks.  So is it a challenge to come up with a shorter set again?
"Well it’s funny, I’ve just had a text message from the boss today,” he says, referring to main man Alan Nimmo, “saying ‘Learn this one, learn this one, and learn this one’, all from Exile & Grace.  Because we haven’t played as many of those songs, because we had such a great set together, it was such a strong show, that you don’t want to interrupt it – though obviously we have peppered the set with two or three of the new ones. But I think we are going to be seeing a few more things from Exile & Grace on this tour – judging by the text message anyway!  And I think we’ve got 50 minutes, so we’ve got a pretty good slot to put over what
Auditioning for a catalogue modelling gig
Pic by Rob Blackham
we do – with Thunder I think we only had 35 minutes. That 15 minutes makes a big difference for us, it allows us to do maybe a few more of our drawn out, epic numbers.
And it will also mean that they don’t have to dilute some of the big climactic moments that come up on songs like ‘You’ll Stop The Rain’, hopefully.
“Absolutely, and it’s got the singalong bit now at the front end,” says Proctor.  “And obviously ‘Rush Hour’ is a big one.  So I think our big songs will be there.  When you write an album, like we did with Reaching For The Light, you don’t know that that’s what’s going to happen to those songs.  It just happens to be a collection of songs that we did, you know?  Although I remember when we did ‘Rush Hour’, we rehearsed it at a place in Germany, and I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, it’s alright’.  I never thought it was going to turn into what it’s turned into, like our signature tune.”
Now, I may not be prepared to get all nerdy and get into a conversation about drumming gear. Frankly I wouldn’t know where to start. But some chat about drummers and drumming seems reasonable, I reckon.  So I refer to the fact that Proctor is pretty much on record as having been inspired by Phil Collins and Jeff Porcaro, of Toto fame and innumerable sessions.  So what was it about their drumming that particularly grabbed his attention?  He takes his time answering.
“I think it’s so . . . direct.”  He pauses before going on.  “I was a guitarist before I was a drummer, and I always wanted a drummer that just kept it together, and kept it solid.  And I think when I became a drummer I gravitated towards the guys that had really great time, you know time-keeping, and really great sound.  The sound was always so important to me.  I remember buying this one record that had Jeff Porcaro on, and a guy called Mike Baird that used to be in Journey – and John Robinson who did Off The Wall for Michael Jackson.  But their sound wasn’t like Jeff’s.  There were these four tracks, and I remember not even knowing who was on it, and who played on what, and thinking, ‘Those four songs are just ridiculous – who is it? Oh, Jeff Porcaro.’  Then you look somewhere else at another album, and the best sounding song is with him on.
“And then I think certainly with Phil Collins, I first saw him playing on the Eric Clapton & Friends thing from ‘86, where there’s him, Eric Clapton, Greg Phillinganes and Nathan East, and once again it was just so strong, with so much intent – like there was no question what the guy was going to play. And every fill made sense, and every hit had value – there was nothing superfluous.  There was nothing in there that was unnecessary, but it wasn’t like it was boring, or weak.
“It’s the same with Steve Jordan who plays with Clapton,” he goes on.  “All these guys had this directness, but this great, great feel. It wasn’t like it was clinical, but it always had this big, meaningful thing.  Even Bonham – Bonham was a massive part of growing up as well.  But I never found him busy, I just always found him groovy, and all the fills and stuff just added to the song.  He never took away from the song.
The late lamented Jeff Porcaro
“I liked the directness, and the discipline, that you’re not over-playing.  Yeah be powerful, but not to the point where it just sounds lairy. I want it to be powerful, and it’s got to be emotional, and it’s got to be energetic when it needs to be energetic – it’s not about just playing simple.  But it’s about playing pure, and full of intent, and those guys – for me they’re the best in the world at it.  I can think of so many songs where I just love the touch, and the sound, and it’s just a massive loss that Jeff died when he did in ’92.”
I may know diddly squat about drumming, but I share a story from Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, where he talks about Max Weinberg’s son Jay depping for the Mighty Max on drums in the E Street Band.  Bruce says Jay’s technique was fine, but to begin with he was playing “on top” of the band, riding the surface of the arrangements.  So he had to take him aside and explain that “the drums are the soul engine, buried down and breathing inside the band.  You play not on top but immersed in the band.  You power everything from within.”  Is that something Proctor can identify with, I ask?
“Absolutely, yeah!” he enthuses.  “That’s the thing that drew me to the guys we’ve just talked about.  If you can immerse yourself in the song it makes everything better - when it feels right, when it feels really good, your body’s moving, you’re more open to the intent of a melody, the intent of a lyric, the intent of an arrangement.”
Even down a phone line, Proctor conveys the sheer physicality of the experience.  “You get the drums right and the whole thing works better.  Sometime that takes a while to figure out, to figure where things are going to sit, and how far you want to push, or sit back.  But when you get it right and the whole band’s in that place, it’s just awesome, it’s just amazing.”
Now to my ears, and I’ve commented on this before, Proctor’s drumming style is quite distinctive – more substance than flash.  So how would he describe it?
“You know what, I think it splits people’s opinion.  I think some people don’t notice it, and I think some people really, really dig it. Like anything it could polarise people I guess.  I like to think I just play what the song needs.  I always try to find things that are idiosyncratic to the song we’re playing, so you don’t hear the same vocabulary repeated across loads of different songs. When I was younger I misunderstood playing for the song to mean purely playing simply, and it took me working with a couple of producers to kick me up the ass a little bit, to make me realise that it’s great you can do that, but you need to create energy at times.  It’s not down to the rest of the band to create this, you’ve got to move it sometimes.  And I guess as I got older I understood that more, and having become a producer and worked with a lot of artists now, I get it now.
“I’ve obviously got something, but I couldn’t honestly tell you what that is.  I just know I like it strong, I like it defined. I always visualise the Classic Albums series, you know where they break down an album, and they bring the drums up, and you go, ‘Man, those drums just sound great,’ and they bring in the guitars, and it’s like ‘Aaah!’  You can just hear the track sounding amazing.  And when I’m doing drums I always think I want it to sound like that.  If anything I ever played on was lucky enough to be dissected like that and they brought my
drums up, you just want ‘em to go, ‘These are great drums.  They sound great, they feel great.  You know, listen to the choice of fills, and listen to those ghost notes that are going on.’  You want the detail to be recognised.  So I just try to play with that intent, whatever that requires me to be, whether it’s super busy, or really straight.
And all of that, I suggest, is about reflecting the identity of the song.
Backing up the boss
“Yeah, and you can hear the song in the drums. You’re just trying to support it all the time, and emphasise it, and hopefully bring the emotion out.  And I’d like to think that’s one of the reasons why King King does well.  I like to think I understand what Alan wants, and what the band needs - and hopefully I can emphasise his solos, you know, like the ‘You Stopped The Rain’ one, or ‘Stranger To Love’.
“If you don’t create an emotional response, in a positive manner, then it’s game over for me really,” he says.  “I turn off. I’m not really fussed about super-cerebral, clever lyrics.  I like things that are accessible.  I like making things accessible for people, so that they can get an emotional sensation out of the music. I want to get goosebumps. So I try to create that sensation when I’m making music, when I’m drumming, when I’m producing, when I’m mixing.  It all becomes how you feel.  So I’m that kind of musician, long story short!  I’m a feel kind of musician, with hopefully enough technique and flash to do some extra stuff if people need me to.  But at the core of it all I just want to create an emotional response, where people go, ‘Oh man, I really get that, it really communicates.’”
Getting away from all this touchy-feely emotional aspect to drumming, there is one bit of techno-geekery that intrigues me.  Wayne Proctor’s drumstool is literally, to quote Cliff Richard, wired for sound.  So how does that work, for those that don’t know?
Well, inside my bass drum is a thing called a ‘Kelly Shu’,” he explains, “which is just a horseshoe, that’s on some rubber spider webs, and it’s got a microphone clip on it.  On that is a microphone.  That gets plugged into a head unit, from this company called Porter & Davis.  On that is a dial, and on the back of that it goes to my stool, and it’s a tactile monitoring system.  The thing in the bass drum is just to minimise low-end rumble, so I just get the feel of the bass drum, and it goes to my stool, and inside is a transducer.  It’s only on very gentle, it’s not like spleen-rupturing vibrations.”
It sounds to me like in the midst of all the spider webs and transducers, the purpose is once again to help Proctor feel what he’s playing.
Yeah, essentially.  And even though I said it’s only connected to the bass drum, you still get the sensation of the toms, and the snare drum, and you even feel the stage a little.  The whole kit feels more alive, a little bit more reactive.  You can place the notes a little bit more accurately.  And I’m on in-ear monitors as well, so between the two systems it really makes a bit of difference.”
Hearing Proctor describe this immersive experience, I mention that the observation I would make of watchinghim, live, is that he seems to be in his own little world a lot of the time.  Obviously you must be taking everything in, but you seem to be on another plane some of the time.  He laughs.
“Most of the time I’m just listening,” he says, “but I haven’t quite perfected the skill of keeping my eyes open and listening!  And smiling, and doing all the things that showbiz requires of you.  I’m still working on that!  I’m just trying to make it feel good for the band, and that really is the point of it.  But I really do suck on stage in terms of, ‘he looks like he’s unhappy!’  Alan’s brilliant at it, but ultimately I’m a studio rat really.  I love being in the studio, I love being creative.  And I think sometimes I forget that when I go on stage I’ve got perform as well, you know?  I’d like to think people still think I perform, but I get wrapped up in just trying to give it the best I can, from a feel point of view.
Drumming health and safety issues with sharp microphone stands
So are there any King King tracks that he’s particularly proud of, in terms of the drumming? There’s a pause.
“Ooh, that’s hard,” he says. “You know what, I’m not going to say the studio versions.  ‘Stranger To Love’ live – I just adore playing that, I absolutely love it, and I think just because the song developed and grew live, where it turned into this big beast, and it just kicked off a bit more, and it had all those new sections, and it was so organic the way it all came about.  Playing that song is just incredible.  And I’d probably pick something really obscure, like ‘Lay With Me’? It’s a different feel.  Playing a half-time shuffle like that is really hard, to get the feel of it right, and get the right fills, and get the right energy, and I really like the emotion of that one.  And actually ‘I Don’t Wanna Lie’, off Exile.  That song and ‘Lay With Me’, they’re two Jeff Porcaro grooves that are super-difficult to play, in terms of getting the feel right.
“It wasn’t that it was techie,’" he goes on, “it’s just it’s a really difficult thing to get to feel right. You could write it down, and it wouldn’t be that complicated, but there’s a little melody that goes on, on the bell of the ride cymbal, and a ghost note pattern that’s kinda going on, and getting those backbeats to sit in the same place – the bass drum and snare drum pretty much land at the same time throughout the song, so you’ve got to play it really tight, you’ve got to get a great consistent sound.  And it was a hard track to play, but I’m actually really proud of that one.”
So there we have a conversation with Wayne Proctor about drumming, which turned out to be more about the elusive feel than about drums.  Coming soon is Part 2, in which I’ll try to get through a conversation about production – specifically Wayne’s helming of Ben Poole’s new album Anytime You Need Me – without discussing microphones!

Details of King King's dates in Britain and Europe, supporting Europe, can be found here.
Click here for Part 2 of the Wayne Proctor interview, talking about the production of the new album from Ben Poole.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Listened to lately - Mike Zito, Bernard Allison and Vanja Sky

Caravans – don’t you just hate ‘em?  Bloody pain to overtake when you’re on a long journey.  But then there’s the Ruf Records Blues Caravan, on which three Ruf artists tour together, which is a rather more positive proposition.  And since I’m due to catch the 2018 edition in a few weeks, featuring Mike Zito, Bernard Allison and Vanja Sky, I reckoned it was time I boned up on their latest material.

Mike Zito has been a go-to artist for me ever since I cottoned to his albums Gone To Texas and Pearl River, and my favourite album of 2015 was his Keep Coming Back, a rock’n’rollin’ affair chock full of great songs.  This year saw him release First Class Life, and while it’s not iKeep Coming Back it still has some great moments, not least on the guitar front, where Zito is on terrific form right from the gritty, slithering slide attack of opener ‘Mississippi Nights’.
Mike Zito gives himself back problems 
The centrepiece of the album is ‘Old Black Graveyard’, a moody, spooky number that’s the most intense offering here, built on a repetitive, undulating motif and long, haunting slide notes that eventually build into a squealing danse macabre of a solo.
Other treats include the laid back ‘I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treat)’, on which Zito shows off his relaxed way with something reflective, the swinging blues of ‘Dying Day’, with its strutting bass line from Terry Dry, and the witty ‘Back Problems’, a funky affair of the kind he’s shown a talent for before with the likes of ‘Break A Leg’.
From a musical perspective ‘The World We Live In’ is a delightful slow blues, though lyrically its passive outlook on life’s travails, and referencing of the afterlife as a comfort, don’t do it for me.  ‘Mama Don’t Like No Wah-Wah’, a co-write with guest guitarist Bernard Allison about the latter’s experience playing with Big Mama Thornton, is a bit of innocent fun – riddled with wah-wah, of course – even though it verges on the corny.  No such qualms about the closing ‘Trying To Make A Living’ though, on which Zito dons his blues suede shoes to knock out some sparkling rock’n’roll.
First Class Life didn’t grab me in the same way as Keep Coming Back, but it’s a grower – and I’m looking forward to seeing Mike Zito and his infectious grin onstage again.

Have to admit I’ve never actually listened to Bernard Allison before collaring his latest album Let It Go, though I’ve been aware of him, and of the fact that he’s the son of Luther Allison – two of whose songs, ‘You’re Gonna Need Me’ and ‘Castle’, close out the album.
The immediate impression on the opening ‘Cruisin For A Bluesin’ is of a Howlin’ Wolf-ish riff mashed up with a Robert Cray vocal.  Allison’s rich, buttery voice has a few more rough edges than Smooth Bob though, which is fine by me, with additional character in the form of
Bernard Allison gets spiritual
an intermittent lisp.  The following ‘Same Old Feeling’, with its descending guitar and bass figure, gravitates even further towards laid-back, grooving Cray territory.
Elsewhere there’s a large dollop of funk in the Allison cookbook, from the loose-limbed bump’n’grind of ‘Backdoor Man’, with occasional injections of groaning voicebox by the sound of it, to the oh-so AWB-like ‘Night Train’ with its ticking rhythm guitar, neck-snapping riff, tripping drums from Mario Dawson, and piercing guitar breaks.
The rendition of Brooks Benton’s ‘Kiddeo’ is finger-snappingly cool and immaculately phrased, with brittle-toned jazzy guitar, and completely blows away Mike Vernon’s recent version.  There’s a crunching quality to the riff on ‘Leave Your Ego’, a mid-tempo co-write with fellow Chicagoan soul-blues brother Ronnie Baker Brooks, underscored by a howling solo.
‘Blues Party’ is a straightforward chug-along based on the rather cheesy premise of all the deceased blues greats jamming in Club Heaven, but goofy fun for all that.  Much more interesting is the reading of Luther Allison’s ‘You’re Gonna Need Me’, which evokes BB King in both the resonant quality of the vocal and the restrained, pinpoint guitar playing, and would have made a stronger closing track than the rather middle-of-the-road acoustic fare of ‘Castle’.  Let It Go could be more consistent, but overall it's an impressive affair, with a sound as good as you might expect from top-flight producer Jim Gaines.

Young Croation guitarist and singer Vanja Sky is very much the junior partner in this company, but she gives a good account of herself on her debut album Bad Penny – boldly opening the proceedings by borrowing the title track from Rory Gallagher.  And while you’d have to be a bloody genius to stand comparison with Rory, it has to be said that she gives it a good shot.
As a vocalist Sky isn’t in the Sam Fish league, but her voice does have a throaty appeal, and her delivery has personality, whether on the likeable if clichéd straight up boogie of
Vanja Sky gets her guitar in a twist
‘Hard Working Woman’, or the mellow and lovelorn ‘Inside Pain’ with its tastefully note-bending guitar work.  She does waver a bit on ‘Hit Me With The Blues’ though, one of several songs where, once she’s found a hook, producer Mike Zito (yes, him again) allows her to hang on to it like it’s a comfort blanket.
Bernard Allison’s ‘Low Down And Dirty’ is a high-energy good-time blues romp though, with both Zito and Allison (uncredited) contributing on vocals.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Zito is also at least partly responsible for the bonanza of slide playing on the track, but if it’s all down to Ms Sky then full marks for that.  I certainly expect that it’s a popular party piece when the three of them play together live on Blues Caravan duty.
‘Give Me Back My Soul’ may not be very imaginative, but it’s still a well-delivered slice of strutting ‘I know it’s only rock’n’roll but I like it’ stuff.  ‘Do You Wanna’ essays a promising bit of offbeat funkiness, and confirms that Sky knows more than one way around the fretboard. Lyrically it might be primary school stuff but hey, I’ll cut her some slack this time around.
The quality control department should really have kicked the likes of the Girlschool-ish ‘Don’t Forget To Rock N Roll’ and the plodding ‘Crossroads Of Life’ into touch.  Still and all, with quality backing from the likes of Terry Dry and Dave Smith on bass, Matthew Johnson and Yonrico Scott on drums, and Lewis Stephens on keys, there are enough positives in Bad Penny to suggest that Vanja Sky has the potential to develop further.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Labour Of Love - Blues Enthused speaks to Chris Bevington about his dream blues project

That line “If you build it they will come,” from the movie Field Of Dreams, may not quite hit the mark, but it’ll do.
Seven years ago, at the age of 50, semi-professional bassist Chris Bevington had an idea, and now he’s on the phone to tell me the story.  After years of gigging with blues bands across the north-west of England, there was a bundle of favourite blues songs he’d love to record with a big band, just for his own pleasure.  But, as he puts it, “I knew that the bands I was in at the time, or I’d been in, probably wouldn’t get it.”
The Chris Bevington Organisation - this ain't no power trio
Pics courtesy of Netty G
There were some other musicians he knew though, or at least knew of, who would at least understand the idea. People like Jim Kirkpatrick from the band FM, and producer and multi-instrumentalist Scott Ralph, among others.  Would they maybe agree to contribute?  No harm in asking, he thought.
“But to be honest,” he laughs, “I was expecting people to say, ‘Nah, I’m alright thanks!’  Nicely, you know.  Or, ‘I’m a but busy, but if you get stuck . . . .’  But they didn’t – it was bizarre.  All these people said,  ‘Yeah I’ll come and do it with you.  Tell me when you want me, and send me the tracks.’  So I booked us in to do three songs in a local studio, with the idea that it would either work or it wouldn’t, and even if it worked people might not stay with it after, and then after a few months those three songs became eleven!”
At this stage the recordings were still just intended to be for the ears of Bevington and his pals. But then someone persuaded him that the end product was good enough for public consumption.
“So I packaged it up and that was the first album.  Then it went out and I was reallynervous,” he recalls.  And lo and behold, the self-titled Chris Bevington & Friends was well received. “Which was really good - I was really taken aback by all the lovely comments.  Then we started gigging, and it went from there, playing different venues and festivals.  It’s been really quite incredible.  And the band has stuck pretty much together, all the major players.”
A second album from Chris Bevington & Friends followed, and then – from the re-christened Chris Bevington Organisation – one of the most enjoyable blues albums of this year, in the form of Cut And Run.
“The third album is obviously all our own stuff,” says Bevington, “which I was delighted about. The first album was pretty much covers of blues tracks, but the third album’s our own, which is a different game, and I’ve really enjoyed that, we all have.”
As they should, because Cut And Run is a fresh and vibrant slab of rocking blues, delivered by a nine-piece band, that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Chris Bevington may have his name on the tin, but he’s open about the fact that Scott Ralph and Jim Kirkpatrick have been increasingly at the helm.  All 12 songs on Cut And Run were written by the pair, and Ralph produced it with some additional input from Kirkpatrick.  So
how did they get going down that road, I ask.
“Well to begin with,” he says, “they only knew of one another.  But it was only when we did the first album, and then the second album, that they hit it off.  They never met one another when they did the first album, because they went in the studio at different times.  Then when they did actually meet they got on like a house on fire – and not only did they do the project we’ve got, but they’re helping one another with other projects.  Scott does FM recording, and all manner of stuff, and they became good friends.  And that’s really cemented it, because then they became a driving force for the third album.
Jim Kirkpatrick and Scott Ralph give it some welly
“Both of them came to me,” he goes on, “and they said let’s go for it.  ‘We’ll get to Christmas,’ – this was Christmas 2016 – ‘and then we’ll start writing.’  And then they went in the studio for three months I think, wrote the twelve tracks, and then brought us all in, and said ‘What do you think?’ and What can we do with this?’ and changed things around.  But they basically are a real powerhouse together – they’re good friends, very professional, they work well together because of the styles of the singing, and the guitar playing.  Having them at the helm has been brilliant.”
But even if Ralph and Kirkpatrick are in the pilots’ seats, the Chris Bevington Organisation is still very much an ensemble affair, as the man himself makes clear when I ask him how he’d describe their sound.
“I think we dip into the different styles of blues, but the emphasis is really on the big sound, to bring in all the brass and all the vocals.  So it’s got that big band sound, but what we try to do is keep an element of that raw slide guitar, so some numbers are more raw.  But in saying that we try to put some technique in there with the shuffles or the drum solos.
“So it does flick across the different styles, but the emphasis was really the big sound, and giving every musician the chance to shine – it’s the first album that every musician got the chance to really playon, if you know what I mean, wrote their own parts and all that, whether it was the horns or the backing vocals.  So everybody was given their space, and then Scott would be there to give advice.  But it was real teamwork, proper teamwork, nobody really demanding anything.  So I think that’s why I was pleased with the album, because I think every member of the band picks it up and thinks, ‘I really contributed to that.’”
I ask if it’s been particularly interesting for Bevington to see this whole process up close, and how Ralph and Kirkpatrick have pulled it all together.  I’m guessing that until he started this project, he’d never really had an insight into how real pros would do it.
“You know, that’s such a good question,” he reflects.  “Because it’s dead true.  When I started the project, I had no experience at all in the studio to speak of, apart from putting bass guitar down on a few recordings with other people. And it’s been a real eye opener, and I’ve really enjoyed watching the process – all kinds of things.  A fascinating thing for me is layering the tracks – which come in first, how to bring in the sounds – and where they bring in a lot of percussion to build up the vibe, and all these different types of instruments.  And they work so well together – because sometimes, honestly, I was probably a little bit lost, I was out of my depth listening to what they were talking about. But you could tell they were that in tune with one another, and Jim’s got such an ear for it as well.  But yeah, we spent many hours, I did, just sat there listening and trying to learn a bit.  And you could see the technique - and you know, they’re clever people. Scott’s clever with all the technology as well.”
Beyond all the technique though, Scott Ralph evidently had a creative vision.
“Scott said one of his objectives for the album was that he wanted to get a very live, 70s sound. And he was on a bit of a mission, to get the drum sound he got, and he did all kinds of things with my bass sound – it was through a valve rig and we did all kinds of things – but he had a vision in his mind of what he wanted it to sound like.  And he’d explained it to me the Christmas before, and he stuck by it all the way through.  Him and Jim had this view, that it’d got to be a little bit of a Seventies sound, with the big drum feel and all that sort of stuff.  And that’s a producer really, isn’t it?  He knew what he was aiming for, and all the way through the album he was making sure it was what he wanted.”
And credit where it’s due, Ralph has created a sound that unifies the whole album.  As I observe to Chris, it’s got an old-fashioned, bluesy, earthy feeling, but manages to be bright at the same time.  Skinsman Neil McCallum must be delighted with the thumping drum sound, the horns from Mike Yorke and Adrian Gibson are given plenty of room to shine, and the backing vocals by Sarah Miller and Kate Robertson slot in perfectly to add another dimension to several songs.  If you’re looking for a comparison, something like Paice Ashton Lord’s track ‘Dance With Me Baby’ springs to mind – which also happened to feature Jim Kirkpatrick’s chum Bernie Marsden.
Not your average 'geezer with a guitar' album cover
On a different creative note, Cut And Run also has an attractive and distinctive album cover.  Unlike your typical blues cover photo of a bloke posing with a guitar, it features a photograph of an old building, just as its two Chris Bevington & Friends predecessors did.  So how did that come about?  Bevington laughs.
“Well, on the first album, I went for a bit of a decrepit building look – it was in New York, and a photographer in New York, and I bought the photos off him.  One was a very derelict building.  And that came about from me with no real plan in mind. Number two was when Scott Ralph was producing, with Jim, some guy in Neary, in Ireland, and the second album cover was actually a picture of a house there.  It looked so authentic, and we got a bit of a feel for it, so I said yeah that’s fine, we’ll go for that.  And then for this latest one, Scott’s got a property in Portugal which he’s doing up, and he just so happened to walk past the house that’s on the cover.  And I gave it to a graphic designer, Michelle Lyons, who was super, and I said, ‘What would you do with that?’  And that’s the design she came back with.”
The new album also involved a rebranding of the band as the Chris Bevington Organisation.  So what brought that about, I wonder? Turns out it was Jim Kirkpatrick’s idea.
“Because Jim’s got quite a few contacts in the business,” Bevington explains, “people had said to him, ‘Don’t mind the name, but the “and Friends” sounds like a get together of musicians who are not necessarily a band,’ you know?  So Jim came along and said, why don’t we change the name and make it sound a bit more business-like?  And to be honest, I was saying to them, I felt they were the musicians, so did they want to keep the name the same, or come up with a band name? Because I’m not precious about it in any way.  But they wouldn’t change the name, with me in it.”
Which is a real compliment, I suggest.
“I know.  But I felt a bit awkward at the start, because I didn’t want it to seem like I was the
Chris Bevington - plenty to smile about
Pic courtesy of Netty G
big name, when there’s Jim and Scott and the rest of them.  But they said no, so we changed it to the Organisation, and changed the website and all that, and they just thought it would sound a bit more like we were a band, and not some jazz collaboration.”
The strong impression I have from speaking with Chris Bevington is of a very humble guy when it comes to his musical contribution.  But he does admit that in other respects it’s been a labour of love on his part.
“Over the time, I suppose I’ve put a lot of my heart and soul into it,” he says, “and money as well, and I’ve always tried to make it as good as I could, in a nice way.  So when we’ve gone in the studio, we’ve spent the right amount of time.  We haven’t skimped it.  And everybody’s been like that.  So we’re all out to do the very best we can do.  Scott’s recorded it and produced it with Jim, and everybody’s got involved, but I was desperately trying to make it something that we would be proud of.”
He may not be the front man of the Chris Bevington Organisation in a traditional sense, but in my book Bevington has every reason to be proud of bring into existence the band that bears his monicker.  He built it, they came, and the results are mightily impressive.  I’m counting the days till I see them live.

You can find an interview with Scott Ralph by a fellow blogger here.

The Chris Bevington Organisation are appearing at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival on Friday 28 September.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Ben Poole - Anytime You Need Me

Well, I’m impressed.
Reviewing Ben Poole’s previous album Time Has Come back in 2016 for The Blues Magazine, I suggested that while it had strong points, some of the songs were slight, the boyishness of his voice could become wearing, and the time had come for him to find more of his dark side.  So it’s encouraging to find that on Anytime You Need Me he’s taken a big step towards addressing those issues.

Ben Poole - the boy done good
A tough, choppy guitar riff sets the tone on the opening title track, and as the song progresses Poole’s voice leaves behind his more winsome tendencies and gets into grittier territory, which he underlines with a couple of satisfying guitar solos, the first brief but edgy, and the second squealing.  And already, it has to be noted, the sound delivered by producer Wayne Proctor and his House Of Tone buddies is excellent, especially in relation to Proctor’s drums.
Poole uses fuzzed up guitar tones to good effect on several tracks, kicking off with the interesting riff on ‘Take It No More’.  It’s followed up mid-album by ‘Further On Down The Line’, on which squelchy guitar riffery crunches along over a twitching rhythm and a deep bass groove from Beau Barnard. And then on ‘Let Me Be’, the fuzzy guitar gradually pulls Barnard’s resonant bass foundation to the fore, and along with a few filigrees in the arrangement enlivens what might otherwise be a somewhat tame song.
At the centre of the album all concerned do a sterling job on a cover of Don Henley’s ‘Dirty Laundry’. Poole is again in a key that allows him to produce a bit more dig vocally, and he adds a suitably dirty guitar sound on his solo.  It’s a song with plenty of punch all round, and which could point the way for Poole in the future, with a caustic lyric that goes beyond the personal and engages with the wider world.  They follow that up nicely with Jude Cole’s 80s hit ‘Start The Car’, getting funky with throbbing bass, organ fills from Ross Stanley, guitar licks flickering between the lines of the second verse to add variety, and ultimately a stinging, wah-wah-fied solo from Poole.
‘You Could Say’ is a confection with a lot going for it, in the form of a sweetly jangling riff that recalls Stevie Nimmo’s ‘Lovin’ Might Do Us Good’, some cleverly shuffling rhythms from Proctor, and a catchy pop melody.  But it does find Poole back reverting to lightweight vocal mode, and it’s as well that he thickens it by adding his own harmonies.
He comes up trumps with a couple of ballads though, with ‘Found Out The Hard Way’ and ‘Don’t Cry For Me’ representing twin highlights.  The former is patient and expansive, with a pleasing melody and subtle guitar work. In fact it’s subtle all round, in a very Aynsley Lister-ish way, and Poole serves up a rousing solo on the outro. The latter, penned by Proctor’s compadre Steve Wright, is a soulful slowie of beguiling simplicity, and becomes a platform for Poole to confirm the kind of guitar playing promise that he showed on his Live At The Albert Hall live album.  Giving Poole the room to breathe on these tracks proves well worth it.
The album closes with ‘Holding On’, which with its rumbling, ominous intro aspires to something more epic. It would benefit from Poole offering a stronger, more emphatic vocal, but it does go through the gears a bit halfway through, and develops an impressive head of steam as a finale.
Ben Poole may not have struck gold with Anytime You Need Me, but it is a big stride forward from him, in terms of songwriting, vocals, and all round performance.  It speaks of lots of hard work with his co-writers Wayne Proctor and Steve Wright, and shows that he does have the capability to fulfil the potential shown on his live album.  The boy done manned up a bit, and it suits him.

Anytime You Need Me is released on Manhaton Records on 14 September.
King King drummer Wayne Proctor talks about producing Anytime You Need Me here.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Little Boys Blue with Kid Memphis - Hard Blue Space

For an R’n’B band led by a harp player, Little Boys Blue have a remarkably mellow sound – don’t expect to hear JD Taylor start blowing up a typhoon anywhere on this album.  From Jackson, Tennessee, they have a soulful, understated style, at times lightly funky in the manner of Albert King’s ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’, and on early listens I wondered if they would ever find top gear.  But with repeated spins I began to appreciate that there’s some subtlety at work here.
These ten tracks, all originals, begin to resonate for their unhurried musicality, for Taylor’s
I know that bar - Little Boys Blue groovin' in Beale St
rich voice and phrasing, and especially for the guitar playing on display throughout.  Sometimes playful, sometimes Peter-Green-fluid, I’m guessing the fretwork is largely the work of special guest John Holiday, aka Kid Memphis, though there are also guitar credits for Alex Taylor and Andrew White.
Right from the start, on ‘Six Foot Down’, the control is evident in the steady back beat, Taylor’s soulful singing, and the way they slowly build a mounting pressure.  There’s a hint of ‘Green Onions’ in the B3 of Dave Thomas on ‘Loving Kind’, and they show the ability to deliver something slower and more contemplative on ‘Blues Bug’, then a cool, measured strut on the edgier title track, with its neat, rolling guitar riff and warm piano.
They get more uptempo on ‘Morning Train’, with its subliminal air of ‘It’s Your Voodoo Working’, before toughening up on ‘Cold Inside’, with Dave Mallard’s swinging bass bumping along to good effect.  ‘Might As Well’ serves up a jump blues vibe – and I do like a bit of decent jump blues - with barrelhouse piano from Thomas and a call and response chorus from Taylor and the band, while ‘Got A Mind Of Your Own’ dials up the funk.  ‘If The Blues Start Calling’ is a slow shuffling groove, with gritty harp from Taylor and some tasty slide into the bargain, and the closing ‘Going Back To Memphis’ is a more rootsy, chugging affair.
Hard Blue Space may not give you an adrenaline rush, but if you fancy the idea of an R’n’B band laying back and leaving each other lots of space to participate in bluesy musical conversation, then Little Boys Blue may be your bag.  Personally I’d like a pint of Mississippi moonshine added to the mix, mind you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Too Slim And The Taildraggers - High Desert Heat

Too Slim And The Taildraggers may be based in Nashville, but they sure as hell don’t sound like no country music.  High Desert Heat is gritty blues rock with an occasional southern twist - no frills stuff that deserves to be played loud while cruising along in a pick up truck, down an arrow-straight highway that’s shimmering in the high noon sun.
Tim 'Too Slim' Langford - psychedelic, maan!
Opening track 'Time Has Come Today' sets out their stall with a meaty riff and jangly turnaround from Tim ‘Too Slim’ Langford, to go with his gravelly vocal.  Here and there the vibe drifts towards Texas, as on ‘One Step At A Time’ and ‘Run Away’, with their ZZ Top-like riffs and Langford’s voice channelling Billy Gibbons.  The former has a moody, downbeat opening, though it would benefit from more drive, while the latter builds some satisfying tension between the guitar and Jeff ‘Shakey’ Fowlkes’ drums, ahead of a heavyweight crescendo in the middle and a closing wah-wah solo from Langford.  Both songs feel overlong, but not as a result of indulgent noodling, so the lack of pruning is forgivable.
Elsewhere the material ranges from traditional R’n’B on the loping ‘Trouble’, with its rock steady rhythm and chugging harp from guest Sheldon Ziro, to the more modern ‘Lay Down The Gun’, where the melody tugs at the rhythm and the semi-rapped vocal recalls the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Sonically they’re in the sweet spot throughout, typified by the chunky rhythm guitar sound on the beefy ‘Broken White Line’.  ‘A Little More Time’ has Skynyrd-ish undertones, and the closing title track is an atmospheric instrumental with twanging guitar spaced out over rattlesnake-shaking percussion.
But they’re probably at their best on songs like the straight-up ‘What You Said’.  Locked into a crisp, pounding beat, it would surely have Angus Young at least nodding his head to the simple, ringing riff as Langford bounces licks off it.  High Desert Heat is the thirteenth studio album from Too Slim and the Taildraggers, would you believe, and the experience shows in a well-honed, blue-collar sound worthy of a roadhouse jukebox.