Sunday, May 26, 2024

Quickies - Gun, and FM

You could call this a Rock of Ages reunion of Quickies reviews, since both Gun and FM go back more than a few years, to my hard rock following twenties.  Yet here they are again, many moons later, both serving up new albums for consideration.
 
Gun – Hombres
 
When Gun burst onto the scene in 1989 with their debut album Taking On The World, then followed up with Gallus, they sounded fresh and convincing, and had a clear identity of their own. Success didn’t last back then of course, but they’ve been back for a while now, and with Hombres they show that they’re still capable of sounding fresh.
Opening track ‘All Fired Up’ is typical hard charging Gun riffing, with thumping drums from Paul McManus and some twirling guitar garnish on the side. It may not be wildly original, but it’s
Gun - All fired up and stuck in a lift
delivered with conviction, and sonically has a modern sheen to it. And that’s pretty much the template for what follows.
‘Boys Don’t Cry’ may have a grinding rhythm and jagged riff, but those elements are complemented by a melodic chorus with a pleasing hook, and some airy harmonies.  Then ‘Take Me Back Home’ leaps into headbanging hard rock territory, but adds a coat of gloss and a Lizzy-like guitar interlude – plus a weird effect that sounds like the roar of a velociraptor.
So it continues with the mid-paced stomp of ‘Fake Life’, spritzed up with a bucket of melodic rock leanings.  ‘You Are What I Need’ brings and air of romance, with its swaying backing and higher-pitched vocal from Dante Gizzi, leading to a singalong chorus.  And ‘Never Enough’ may have a stuttering riff and rasping vocal, but again the end result is gleaming and catchy rather than roughcast, with a screaming guitar solo downshifting into a melodic bridge.
There’s also a sense on the closing pair of tracks, ‘Lucky Guy’ and ‘Shift In Time’, that the Gunners are allowing some space for broader influences to get in the game.  ‘Lucky Guy’ throbs into life with guttural bass from Andy Carr and a simple kick drum beat, blended with a drawling vocal and shimmering backing vocals, then it explodes into life and jabs away like a boxer as it reaches for a chorus reminiscent of Bryan Ferry’s take on ‘The Price Of Love’, topped off with a siren-like guitar solo. Then ‘Shift In Time’ deploys acoustic guitar to back a melody with a Fab Four ‘A Day In The Life’ vibe. It expands into anthemic mode, spiced up with what some synth-like twiddling, on the way to a swaying, singalong chorus enhanced by soaring female backing vocals, and a piercing guitar solo of a Brian May tonal quality.
Gun are just as direct as in their original incarnation, but seem to have developed an extra layer of subtlety, finding a few extra ingredients in the back of the cupboard to liven things up. It’s good to have them back, and in fine fettle.
 
Hombres is out now on Cooking Vinyl.
 
 
FM – Old Habits Die Hard
 
Weirdly, I have no recollection of FM’s early days, even though their launch in 1984 was right in the middle of my Sounds-reading, hard-rock-listening early twenties. None. I have no explanation for this.
Listening to tracks such as ‘Don’t Need Another Heartache’ this seems like a shame. Pitched somewhere between Foreigner and Bad Company, it comes with bubbling keys, gutsy chords,
FM - Steve Overland fails to read 'shades' memo
Pic by Paul Stuart Hollingsworth
guitar harmonies, and a general air of blues rock grit. ‘No Easy Way Out’ also impresses, with more echoes of Foreigner in the intro, a good hook and soaring harmonies.
The quasi-epic ‘Black Water’ adds some drama to the mix, a slowish tune with an atmospheric undercurrent of dappled keys from Jem Davis, melodic bass and shimmering guitar, leading to a chorus with a bit of punch, and a squealing guitar solo from the hands of Jim Kirkpatrick. And later on ‘Leap Of Faith’ has satisfying heft in the form of its somersaulting, tumbling riff, making it rock as well as roll.
Then again, opening track ‘Out Of The Blues’ is a song where the whole is, for my tastes, a bit less than the sum of its parts. Sure, there’s an interesting African-type rhythm thing going on over the steady beat, Merv Goldsworthy’s bass rumbles away pleasingly, and there are some neat, tasteful guitar licks and soloing. Too neat really – the overall result is very AOR, á la Toto, or late period Doobie Brothers, and that’s too smooth for me. ‘Whatever It Takes’ is similarly a bit too slick and shiny.  Meanwhile ‘Cut Me Loose’ may sound like it’s been cut from Mike & The Mechanics cloth, but curiously enough it works rather better.
‘California’ is bright and engaging, as sunny and driving-with-the-top-down as its title suggests, and with a couple of zinging guitar solos to boot.  ‘Another Day In My World’ is edgier, and with its rhythmic quirks and driving guitar, plus Davis’ squirreling keys, it too hits the target.  Then to close there’s ‘Blue Sky Mind’, on which a strong melody is given the right kind of glossy but propulsive treatment, the guitar work elegantly ear-catching.
FM have obviously got the musical and songwriting chops. To really be my cup of char though, they could do with a bit more spit and a bit less polish.
 
Old Habits Die Hard is out now on Frontiers Records, and can be ordered here.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

His Lordship - Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh, 17 May 2024

I’ll make this quick, just like this breakneck one hour set delivered – that’s “delivered” like a hail of bullets – by His Lordship.
What these guys assault you with is a tornado of punk-ish rock’n’roll, right the way from the machine gun rat-a-tat of opener ‘I Live In The City’ to the suitably scorching encore ‘Red Hot’, a turbo-charged cover from 1955 that its originator Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson would surely struggle to
James Walbourne - pinball wizard
Pic by Stuart Stott
 recognise as it whizzes by in blur.
Sure, they dial it down a tad here and there.  ‘The Way I Walk’ is a lurching grind, on which James Walbourne delivers a lip-curling Elvis-like vocal and a dentist drill guitar solo.  And ‘The Repenter’ is like a warped, creepy 60s rock’n’roll ballad, replete with swooping backing vocals from drummer Kristoffer Sonne and touring bassist Dave Page.  But for the most part they go for your throat in full throttle mode.
‘All Cranked Up’ may give a cursory nod to the Stranglers’ ‘Go Buddy Go’, but only as it pays demented homage to Chuck Berry, without whom Buddy would’ve been going precisely nowhere.  ‘Jackie Works For The NHS’ is a crunking garage rock “fuck you to the Tories”, as Walbourne puts it, with reverb-laden vocals, a screeching guitar line, and a Clash-like bass line from Page.  Meanwhile ‘Buzzkill’ sounds like it’s mashing up M’s one hit wonder ‘Pop Muzik’ with the squeaking guitar riff from The Vapors’ ‘Turning Japanese’.
Walbourne and Sonne clearly know their rock'n'roll history, and echoes like these put me in mind of lines from the glorious self-titled glam’n’garage rock
Kristoffer Sonne whips it good
Pic by Stuart Stott
homage by Boston's The Peppermint Kicks  – “I write the songs that try to please you / Something stolen, something borrowed”.
These guys know that showmanship doesn’t require pyrotechnics, not least when Sonne steps out from behind the drums (Page deputising) to take the lead vocal on ‘My Brother Is An Only Child’ in send-for-a-straitjacket fashion, climbing on the bass drum, whirling the mic like a helicopter blade, and generally coming over like a certifiable character from the League of Gentlemen.  And Walbourne is a whirling, pinballing presence throughout, his stylish coiffeur soon becoming matted with sweat.
They do a couple of new tunes.  The slowish instrumental ‘Farewell Paddy’ is a tribute to Shane MacGowan, full of lyrical, bendy guitar.  The following ‘Be A Winner’ is more typical fare, jerky and spiky and propelled by a weightily fuzzy bass line from Page.
The hurtling, irresistible ‘Joy Boy’ is another highlight, with its quirky falsetto chorus and a howling, teeth-gritted solo from Walbourne.  But if that seems hectic, it has serious  competition from the galloping instrumental ‘Cat Call’, a slice of manic guitar frenzy into which Walbourne slips a snatch of Edwyn Collins’ ‘A Girl Like You’ just for extra fun.
As a celebration of rowdy, intense, off the handle wreck’n’roll, an hour in the company of His Lordship is a red hot proposition.  Don’t miss ‘em.
 
His Lordship are on tour until 30 May, details here.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse - Hot Nostalgia Radio

Me and Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse have been like ships that pass in the night over the years.  I’ve clocked their name, and heard a few things from time to time, but I’ve never really sat down and got properly acquainted with them. Well that’s all over now, baby blue.
Lately I’ve been getting into raucous garage rock kinda stuff, and when the Beaux Gris Gris combo whack into opening track ‘Oh Yeah!’ they hit the goddamn motherlode.  Robin Davey’s guitar riff is a pile driver, Greta Valenti squawks her tongue-twisting vocal like a maniac, Sam Robertson’s pulverises his piano, and the bass’n’drums of Stephen Mildwater and Tom Rasulo are well and truly turbo-charged. With 
Robin Davey and Greta Valenti contemplate rock'n'roll apocalypse
Pic by Kaelin Davis
Davey cranking out a sparks-flying solo as the cherry on top, it’s like ‘Devil Gate Drive’ gone nutzo.  It’s trashy, technicolour, and abso-fucking-lutely terrific.
A few songs later they strike another seam of R’n’B-infused garage rock gold, with the run of ‘Told My Baby’, ‘Middle Of The Night’, ‘Sad When I’m Dancing’, and ‘All I Could Do Was Cry’.  With ringing guitar, swirling Wurlitzer, and Valenti’s gasping, pouting vocals, I can visualise Stockard Channing’s Rizzo from Grease slouching around the dance floor to these tracks, all the while chewing gum and being snarky to all and sundry passing by – and god love her for it.  Across these four tracks the tempo gradually slows from the Diddley-esque stomp of ‘Told My Baby’, through the steaminess and honking horns of ‘Middle Of The Night’ and the mirrorball-dappled soul of ‘Sad When I’m Dancing’ until reaching full-on torch song mode with the teen heartbreak of ‘All I Could Do Was Cry’.
Along the way there are a coupla more generic blues-rock outings with ‘Wild Woman’ and ‘Satisfy Your Queen’, though the latter has a bit more quirky personality, and Davey comes up trumps with some scrabbling, screeching guitar work.  But in the second half of this 14-song collection they cast off the garage rock stylings and throw some different shapes to show their range.
If ‘All I Could Do Was Cry’ is something of a tongue-in-cheek rock’n’roll ballad, ‘The Runaway’ is a more mature, straight-up retro-soul slowie, Valenti’s vocal now grown-up and sweetly regretful.  ‘Harder To Breathe’ follows that by leaning into something of an Americana-soul vibe, with what sounds like lap steel guitar twanging gently in the background.
‘Don’t Let Go’ is straight-faced Sixties pop with throbbing guitar, bubbling Fender Rhodes piano and fairground Wurlitzer organ, and another melancholic vocal from Valenti.  ‘Penny Paid Rockstar’ is similarly mournful, with a tune that recalls Springsteen’s ‘Factory’ (they've covered his 'I'm On Fire' in the past) but inclining towards a country-ish vibe, with more of that weeping lap steel commentary from Davey.  ‘Marie’ is a cleverly constructed tune, with overlapping vocal parts creating something different.  Then with ‘Let’s Ride’ they turn their musical compass towards New Orleans – Valenti was raised in Louisiana – with Robertson strapping on an accordion to hint at zydeco over Rasulo’s skipping beat, while Davey gets into very low-twanging territory on guitar.  The closing ‘Mama Cray’ ups the cajun ante, foregrounding the accordion and the syncopated drums.
Really, you get two albums for the price of one with Hot Nostalgia Radio, with the rock’n’rollin’ freshness of the first half, and the roots music maturity of the second.  Pay your money and take your pick, you’ll be satisfied either way, because it’s clear the Beaux Gris Gris crew have the musical savvy and chops to deliver the goods.
But I’ll hang my hat on that “Side 1” stuff.  The nights are getting warmer, and it won’t be long till the summer comes, and you’re cruising down to Dino’s bar’n’grill with the windows wound down, and the rock’n’rollin’ sounds of yesteryear coming over the airwaves courtesy of Hot Nostalgia Radio.  Oh yeah!
 
Hot Nostalgia Radio is released by Grow Vision Music on 3 May, and can be ordered here.
 

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Quickies - Albert Cummings, Gary Cain, and The Paddy Boy Zimmerman Band

Rolling up some albums from various quarters today, with a couple that have already escaped into the wild, and one that’s coming very shortly.
 
Albert Cummings – Strong
 
Albert Cummings is an exponent of straight up and down electric blues, and a good one at that.  He’s got a rich and resonant voice, and enough classic blues guitar chops to start an academy.  Here he’s put those components together in fine fashion, with a string of satisfying songs on his recently released album Strong.
Albert Cummings enjoys some noises off
The opener ‘Emmylou’ gets the ball rolling in winning style.  The tale of a nudging, winking, heartbreaker of a diner waitress, it kicks off with crunching chords, then rattles along merrily in a similar vein to John Hiatt’s ‘Tennessee Plates’.  But it also folds in a cunning key change to bring an extra dimension to the first of Cummings’ many sharp solos.
There’s more fun to be had on ‘Fallen For You’, which underlines the fact that the sound on Strong is great, packed with oomph right down to Cummings’ fuzzy guitar tone. It’s got a good-time, upbeat vibe, with solid, pumping bass and chiming piano filling in around the edges, and if Cummings’ solo isn’t something of sparkling originality it’s still totally convincing, with plenty of vim.
‘Bad Reputation’ carries heft too, but with some dynamic tension.  A taut bump’n’grind, it comes with sock it to ‘em, cymbal splattered guitar chords and sideswipes of organ, to which Cummings adds a hollering vocal and a stinging, jabbing, scrabbling solo. It is, without  doubt, good stuff.
The good stuff extends in different directions too.  There’s the rolling, atmospheric acoustic guitar picking and strumming of ‘Just About Enough’, which brings to mind Whitesnake’s ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry No More’ and swells post-chorus, with piercing guitar highlighting the sentiment of teeth-gritted resilience.  There is, too, the toe-tapping, swinging, “Gonna get what I want” shuffle of ‘Get Busy’, to which Cummings brings sharp guitar lick interjections before cutting loose on a closing solo.
The “please write my mama, tell her the shape I’m in” slow blues ‘Goin’ Down Slow’ is classy stuff, Cummings’ soulful vocal displaying good feel, with cool bluesy piano underlinging the mood.  Maybe Cummings’ guitar solo is a little overwrought – maybe.  But for my money it stills feels like a stronger outing than the more modern, sultry slowie ‘Let It Burn’.
There are other good moments too, including the entertaining, lick-strewn shuffle of ‘Lookin’ Up’,
Gary Cain is puzzled by some noises off
Pic by Candice Cain
the Bad Company-like moodiness of ‘Lately’, and the guitar-grinding, stomping cover of the Beatles’ ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’.
All in all, in fact, Strong has enough consistency and originality to live up to its title.
 
 
Gary Cain – Outside The Lines
 
Ironically, It’s clear from ‘Ain’t Got The Blues’, the opening salvo on this album by Canadian-born, Austin-based guitarist and singer Gary Cain, that the guy has plenty blues sensibility.  Doubly ironic really, since the lyric is about Cain’s perception of frowning rigidity on the part of some gatekeepers of the blues world.  All the same, the tune is bluesy-funky, with a tripping, skipping rhythm and a stuttering riff to go with its decent hook. Cain’s trilling solo slows then speeds up, and then he doubles down on a fiery outro for good measure.
In case you didn’t get the message, on the later ‘Blues Enough For You’ he reiterates his resistance to the “blues police” and their strictures, all while he lays down a wodge of bubbling funkiness that develops into a scurrying solo that’s certainly impressive, if a bit jazzy for my taste in places.
Cain is right to insist that he’s not defined by his blues roots though.  ‘Attitude’ is a chunk of grooving melodic rock, all chunky, bristling, stop-start riffing over a driving rhythm and bustling bass.  Cain’s voice isn’t a standout, but it’s got enough punch and musicality to hit the target, and his sizzling solo here shows that he’s in a higher league on the guitar front. In fact if hummingbird-quick picking is what floats your boat, then Gary Cain should definitely be on your radar, though for me he sometimes – sometimes, mind you – demonstrates skill more than heart.  All the same, when he sings that “You don’t like my attitude,” my instinctive response is “But I do Gary, I do.”
That’s a view confirmed by the shimmering, scintillating instrumental ‘Far From Home’, with its semi-psychedelic passages, light and shade, and melodic/anthemic segment, while the drum’n’bass components do an impressive rhythmic turn too. In this context it’s worth noting that Cain is responsible for all of the instruments in evidence here, plus MIDI programming – and whether the drums and bass are analogue or digital in nature, he’s done a pretty snazzy job with them across the piece.
There’s a Hendrix-via-Philip Sayce vibe to the charging riff on ‘Lie To Me’, with gutsy stop-time chords over rumbling drums, demonstrating that Cain can lay on the power, and then back it up with a fizzing solo.  But the closing ‘Keep On Walking’ is even more impressive, with big chords laden with bruising bass, and a reverb-heavy vocal.  Ripped out shards and squalls of guitar set
up a mind-bending epic vibe, and though that subsides as Cain defaults to a bit of speed-freakery he gets back in the gripping, atmospheric groove soon enough to close the deal.
Gary Cain was a new name to me, but on the strength of Outside The Lines he's certainly a name to watch.
 
Outside The Lines
 is released on 3 May.
 
 
The Paddy Boy Zimmerman Band – The Paddy Boy Zimmermann Band

In case the name has you wondering about his origins, let’s make it clear that singer and guitarist Paddy Boy Zimmermann hails from Germany rather than Ireland, as do his bass and drums pals Rupi Schwarzburger and Jan Wienstroer.
The Paddy Boy Zimmermann Band go for the ZZ Top look
Pic by Markus Herzfeld
There are some interesting things going on across the nine tracks on offer here. But at the same time I gotta say that Zimmermann’s vocals are something of an acquired taste. His singing voice, in fact, is not that tuneful. Now, as I’ve observed before, that isn’t the end of the world if you know what you’re about and can invest your performance with some personality. In that sense Zimmermann sometimes just about gets away with it. But we’ll get back to that.
After the underwhelming opener ‘From Your Blood’, ‘Brick Wall Boogie’ is a bit of low slung rockin’ à la Magic Sam, maybe, with flickering licks in the margins and a surging guitar solo, appealing enough to stir the senses.  The following ‘Spaghetti In The Night’ is more intriguing, a slow ‘un that mashes up a slow burning blues groove with some Hendrix-infused twang’n’trill, while Zimmermann essays a semi-spoken vocal. It’s quite well done, but as with several tracks here, it outstays its welcome a bit.
‘Alive Shuffle’ serves up some down-on-the-porch acoustic musings, one of a few tracks that show Zimmermann can handle an acoustic guitar, his slide guitar break bending and warping nicely.  Meanwhile his vocal may drone, but it still has a certain appeal in a way that suggests he’s paid attention to how Dylan has groaned and creaked his way through life. So it’s no surprise when the acoustic, quasi-talking blues ‘Streets’ also comes with a Dylan-esque nasal drawl.  Whether the Lou Reed-like sprechgesang of the sparse ballad ‘Way Too Soon’ works any better is an open question.
That flat Dylan twang also shows up on ‘Platform Two’, but with some positive distraction in the form of SRV-like blocky riffing and a spiralling turnaround, while Schwarzburger pitches in with some busy bass to push things along.
‘Green Boots’ shows some spark to close proceedings though, starting off mellow then turning Jimi-like with a tightly wound ascending riff, and a fluttering solo that feels like it comes from a less blues-based source, while Zimmermann’s conversational phrasing gives his vocal some character. It is, I reckon, the best thing here.
Like I said, this debut album has its moments. But it would be better if there were more of them, and in particular if there was some stronger songwriting that enabled Zimmermann to give his voice a more expressive turn.
 
The Paddy Boy Zimmerman Band
 was released on 22 March.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Ian Hunter - Defiance Part 2: Fiction

There’s a promotional chat by Ian Hunter for Defiance Part 2: Fiction on YouTube, during which he says “I tell you what, I know something. They’re all going to go, it’s not as good as the last one. ‘Cause they’ve only heard this one five minutes, and they’ve heard the last one for a year.”
I’ll tell you what – he’s right. But then Defiance Part 1 set the bar incredibly high.  It was a late career slam dunk of an album for anyone who loves proper rock’n’roll.  And if . . . Fiction doesn’t hit the same heights from start to finish, it still has more than a few peaks.
One of those peaks is the opener ‘People’, which grabs the attention with a “na-na-na” singalong and doesn’t let go.  It bounces along on a pounding beat and churning rhythm guitar as the basis
Ian Hunter - still dishing out hope and anger
for some typically acid Hunter lyrics about the influence of modern marketing, amid crashing cymbal punctuation:  “’We know what people want.’ No you don’t – you make me wanna throw up,” he protests.  The backing features Cheap Trick stalwarts Robin Zander, Tom Peterson and Rick Neilson, and the latter provides the icing on the cake with a splintery solo.
At the other end of the album, penultimate track ‘Everybody’s Crazy But Me’ also does the rocking business, Hunter teasing with an opening call of “’Ello, ‘ello, ello” as Taylor Hawkins kicks off a clever, shuffling rhythm and Waddy Wachtel adds a grinding, irresistible guitar riff.  It’s tense and pushy, and after a minute and a half leaps to another level, a deeply Ronson-like guitar line prefacing the chorus, which eventually amasses shoutalong proportions.
But there are reflective songs too, ranging from ‘The 3rd Rail’, a sad tale of subway tragedy with musical echoes of ‘Sons And Lovers’ from way back, to which Jeff Beck adds subtle curlicues and flourishes.  ‘What Would I Do Without You’ is a simple, direct love song with a vaguely Celtic air to its swaying melody, with Lucinda Williams’ worn voice providing a suitable counterpoint to Hunter himself.  The closing ‘Hope’, meanwhile, is a gentle dream of being able to welcome a new dawn after recent years' turmoil, with rippling piano from Benmont Tench, while Lucinda Williams and Billy Bob Thornton add soothing harmonies.
‘Fiction’ itself rides a rolling piano groove,  to which Hunter adds a considered vocal, creating a hypnotic vibe which is gradually augmented by strings, at first just throbbing along but gradually becoming more elaborate and serpentine in the arrangement by Dylan sidekick David Mansfield.
‘This Ain’t Rock’N’Roll’ is a more uptempo, sprightly affair, on which Hunter pays tribute to the rockers of days gone by, and perceives a lack of fresh personalities and sounds of the same calibre.  It is, of course, a splurge of old-fashioned rock’n’roll itself.  ‘Precious’ is a jaunty, happy-go-lucky expression of affection, perhaps a bit less substantial but still with an infernally catchy chorus, while Brian May eventually weighs in with some characteristic, squelchy guitar licks en route to a slowing, fairground hall of mirrors outro.
Contrastingly, ‘Weed’ may open with sweet, Beck-like slide guitar from Stone Temple Pilots’ Deon Deleo, but it’s actually a caustic portrayal of the pernicious influence of today’s ‘Masters Of The Universe’, who can holler “Let ‘em, let ‘em, let ‘em smoke weed” in an ironically anthemic chorus, offering opium to the masses while growing their power.  ‘Kettle Of Fish’ is darker still, a brooding beast that foregrounds rumbling bass from Tom Peterson over Taylor Hawkins’ lurking, behind the beat drums, while Hunter curls his lip at “these troubled times,” observing that “This is a fine kettle of fish, I can’t drink the water.”
I tell you what - listening to it again as I write, Defiance Part 2 doesn’t fall that far short of its predecessor at all.  Recently I said that on their latest album I reckoned The Black Keys displayed a loss of edge.  Well that ain’t true of Ian Hunter.  Not likely.  He may not be one of the young dudes any more, but he’s still got rock’n’roll fire in his belly.
 
Defiance Part 2: Fiction
 is out now on Sun Records.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Milk Men - Holy Cow!

“Three minute hero, I wanna be - a three minute hero.”  So sang The Selector many moons ago. The Milk Men may well agree with that sentiment.  Most of the ten tracks on Holy Cow! are of the short’n’sweet variety, making for a brisk canter of an album.  The mood of the songs on offer here tends to suit that approach too.
The opening ‘One Man Band’ is set in motion by a spinning, twirling riff over a steady beat, laying down the boogie before Jamie Smy weighs in with a rasping vocal laying out the modus vivendi of an independent geezer (rather than a musician without bandmates, that is).  The sound feels a bit tidy, but the simple chorus is punctuated by some dentist drill guitar from Adam Norsworthy, who also knocks out a wiry solo. The following ‘Hungover’ is similarly slight
The Milk Men - sharper than a sharp thing
Pic by Rob Blackham
but catchy – truth be told, a few of the melodies across the album are less than stellar. A catalogue of attempts at sobriety being derailed by other parties, it’s bright and breezy with a bit of quiet/loud dynamics thrown into the bridge.
The Milk Men tend to describe themselves as blues-rock, but that cap doesn’t fit particularly well when you listen to snappy songs like ‘Wild Girls’ and ‘Easy Touch’, which are among the most appealing fare here.  With its simple, staccato riff, snappy drums and occasional handclaps, the former could be inspired by 70s glam rock, or by post-punk power pop.  Its sound is rounded out a skein of acoustic guitar running through it, as well as fluid bass from Lloyd Green, while Norsworthy tops it off with a classy little guitar break. The chorus has a decent hook about it too, though if "wild girls carry guns and knives" round their way then I think I'll steer clear, thanks.  ‘Easy Touch’ has a similar vibe, with a Slade-like ringing guitar sound over shuffling, Stonesy drums from Mike Roberts.  Meanwhile Smy does a good job pitching his vocal a tad higher than usual as they take a decent hook and hammer it home.
‘Bad News Blues’ is a solid chunk of high-revving boogie, given extra impetus by the ducking and weaving of Green’s bass, while the chorus is another simple but catchy affair.  And if the tune’s nothing special, Norsworthy’s rock’n’rolling guitar in the second half gives the thing another gear.  By the same token ‘Fill Her Shoes’ has an engagingly bouncing groove, the result of well assembled backing including an interesting guitar part and driving drums, plus a guitar solo which darts this way and that to good effect.
They add some fresh ingredients on other tracks though.  They have a stab at getting funky on ‘Give A Little Love’, with its wah-wah guitar line and stop-start chords.  Smy’s voice is well suited to this line, and there’s a crisp guitar break and some twirl-and-twiddle guitar towards the end to round things off.  Even better though is the dreamy slower song ‘Fool For Loving You’, which has a convincingly romantic melody and a swoonsome chorus, Smy crooning away nicely. The ticking and twinkling guitar, melodic bass, and hints of organ all add up to more than the sum of their parts, and Norsworthy adds a lovely guitar solo.  The closing ‘Don’t Trust My Life’ is similarly effective, a Beatle-ish ballad with trippy, bendy guitar, clever drums from Roberts and ruminative bass to go with one of the best melodies on display. It’s intriguing, and draws you in, with a solo of some originality from Norsworthy backed up by Hammond organ from the guesting Bennett Holland.
In spite of its occasional weakness on the melody front, Holy Cow! is a well put together piece of work.  The musicianship is always impressive, and there are always little highlights that grab the attention.  It may not be “Holy cow, Batman!” mind-blowing, but it’s always entertaining.
 
Holy Cow! is released on 3 May.  I can be ordered on vinyl and CD here, and from Apple Music here.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Big Wolf Band - Rebel's Journey

Do you like a good riff?  I like a good riff.  And the good news is that there’s a little corker on ‘Empire And A Prayer’, the opening track on Rebel’s Journey.  It’s bright and breezy and enhanced by piano, the bedrock of a cracking tune that also features nice bass playing through the verses by Mick Jeynes, a neat tumbling turnaround at the end of the chorus, and a well-suited, sharp and tidy guitar solo from main man Jonathan Earp.  Verily, it’s a tune that obeys the law that you should hit the ground running – though it doesn’t half come to a sudden stop.
Some other strong tracks later in the album suggest that Earp and pals have spent a fair bit of time listening to Joe Bonamassa, and have learned a lot about his style of bluesy epic.  ‘Black
Big Bad Wolf Jonathan Earp leads the pack
Dog Blues’ is the first example, a sturdy mid-paced blues with crunching chords and a twiddly riff – to use a technical expression.  Earp’s adds some razor-like lead guitar filigrees, and it’s his solo that signals the epic turn, along with some flurries of organ from Robin Fox, who then joins with Earp in a guitar/organ call and response passage that recalls the guitar and vocal ping pong of Blackmore and Gillan – clichéd perhaps, but I like it all the same. Oh yeah, and it’s one of numerous examples of excellent backing vocals from Zoe Green.
If anything ‘Standing In The Rain’ is even better, Earp’s piercing guitar intro setting the tone, backed up by delicate piano, and a good melody that Earp puts over well. The song features subtle dynamics, and a tasteful first solo of rising tension from Earp, while his second, biting effort ramps things up with some scurrying runs all the way to the rather unconvincing rumble of thunder that brings it to a close. And in case you didn’t get the message, they travel a similar dramatic road later on, with ‘Darker Side Of You’, a satisfying blues ballad with elegiac guitar and chocolate box piano.
There are some differently styled good things elsewhere among the thirteen tracks too, though I could live without the cowboy blues of ‘Valley Of The Kings’, even if the revolving riff is something of an earworm. ‘Six Strings Loaded’ is a rather better stab at something in this particular blues-rock vein, strewn with sharp guitar licks and with Tim Jones’ simple drumming carrying a punch.
‘Crazy Love’ is a bright little rocker full of fluttering organ and guitar, into which they chuck some dollops of funk, while Earp raps out the vocal with conviction, well backed up again by Zoe Green.  And to underline their funk credentials, ‘Just A Little Bit’ is a looser affair, mid-paced and with a good tune and feel, and Green including some sassy “Little bit, little bit of you yeah” lines to another excellent contribution.  Fox is on board with a tasty organ solo too,  Jeynes’ bass bubbles along nicely, and Earp kicks in with a spot-on guitar solo.
I feel like the mix could give more prominence to the rhythm section, including Justin Johnson's rhythm guitar at times, but it’s not a critical issue. And if some songs are a bit more lightweight they’re all still well delivered, whether it’s the upbeat and positive ‘Rise Together’, or the taut and uptempo blues-rocker ‘Living On Borrowed Time', with its squealing guitar and surges of organ backing.
They close with a melodic rock plea for peace in ‘Too Many Times’, a groan of despair about the human cost of war that sports elegantly tinkling piano, swirling organ fills, and excellent guitar tone from Earp on his lead playing.  It kind of fizzles out though, slightly in want of a fresh idea to finish it off.
Rebel’s Journey is an enjoyable album, though I do wish some fat had been trimmed from those 13 tracks to give it a tighter focus.  But hey, that riff on ‘Empire And A Prayer’ will get you to stick around and make your own mind up.
 
Rebel’s Journey is released on 19 April, and can be ordered here.

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Black Keys - Ohio Players

Well, this is nice.
The trouble is, I expect more from The Black Keys than just “nice”, as my recent Ten Top Tracks survey of their career should make clear. Sure, the form that “more” might take will depend on where they’re at right now - I’m not demanding they go over old ground.  But I do want them to make me sit up and pay attention somehow. Unfortunately, Ohio Players doesn’t do that often enough.
This isn’t to say that there’s nothing interesting going on.  On the opener ‘This Is Nowhere’, for example, there’s a booming, sonorous bass line that stands out amid the swirling keys, high-pitched vocals and harmonies - and the sweetly floating but not very resonant chorus.
Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach digest the Blues Enthused view of their new album

There’s are some Northern Soul leanings that have a modicum of appeal, on the likes of ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ and ‘Only Love Matters’.  The four-on-the-floor drums are there on the former, along with horns and strings, plinking keys, and a soulful, falsetto chorus backed up by harmonies.  But it seems weird to me that this two-and-a-half minute excursion required no less than seven writing credits.  ‘Only Love Matters’ is better, perhaps, with a twitchy bass line to go with another straight up back beat, while the “woo-ooh-hoo” vocal interjections give a lift to the already decent chorus, and a hazy, shimmering guitar part catches the ear a bit.
Underlining the soul credentials, there’s a cover of ‘I Forgot To Be Your Lover’ by William Bell and Booker T Jones, with Dan Auerbach delivering a plaintive soul vocal – sans falsetto this time – over a grooving little bass line and some string commentary.  But it fizzles out before the two and half minute mark, like there was an outro they never got round to.
More on point is ‘Please Me (Till I’m Satisfied)’, which opens with some ‘Dance With The Devil’-style drums from Pat Carney, and satisfyingly fuzzy guitar – though the latter fades from prominence before long.  Still, halfway through the album, there’s finally some guts and urgency on display here.  And a few songs later ‘Live Till I Die’ serves up a crunchy riff with an intriguing, Eastern-sounding guitar line on the side, coming over like late Sixties psychedelic pop, with its reverb-heavy vocals.  It feels like there’s more content in its two minutes and 24 seconds than on half the songs here.
‘Read Em And Weep’ has a whiff of the Stray Cats in its low-slung guitar twangery and occasionally offbeat rhythm, and would be quite good if there was a bit more fire about it.  But once again Auerbach defaults to a high-pitched vocal, at least until the chorus kicks in and he drops into a moodier tone.  There’s a bit of attack in ‘Fever Tree’, which features a few slippery, slick guitar licks and a singalong “na na na” segment, acquiring a mildly trippy vibe like, er, ‘Pictures Of Matchstick Men’.  But as it dials down to acoustic guitar and voice it promises more than it delivers.
The closing ‘Every Time You Leave’ has its moments, adding a bit more muscle than elsewhere, and with a neat guitar line punctuated by an unusual “Ssahh!” sound, but it lacks a decent hook.  As such it’s the opposite of the first single, ‘Beautiful People (Stay High)’, which relies on a hooky chorus and not much else.  It’s noticeable, in fact, that there isn’t much in the way of guitar breaks or diverting bridges to enliven a lot of these songs - layered, textured instrumentation seems to be the order of the day.
There are a plethora of co-writers abroad on Ohio Players, including Beck popping up on half a dozen tracks, and Noel Gallagher of all people on three, but I struggle to accept that all fourteen of these tracks should have made the cut.. It also seems like anyone who was around the studio on a given day could be given a turn at doing something or other, be it whacking a cowbell or singing backing vocals. As to what co-producer Dan The Automator brought to proceedings – beats me folks, beyond some not exactly prominent samples on ‘Beautiful People’.
It pains me to say it, but on Ohio Players The Black Keys seem to be lacking focus, lacking edge.  I hope they find their mojo again before their next outing.
 
Ohio Players
 is out now on Easy Eye Sound and Nonesuch Records.