Friday, January 18, 2019

Sugaray Rayford - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 15 January 2019

So here’s a question for you folks.  When was the last time you heard a singer announce, before a note has been played, that “We’re gonna get butt naked about 10 songs in”?  Not an everyday occurrence is it?  But what this gig demonstrates is that Sugaray Rayford is not your everyday live performer.  Oh no. He’s a colossus.
When he’s finished warming up the packed crowd with a getting-to-know-you preamble, and his band get down to business, it’s with crunking funk guitar from Alastair Greene, a gut-thumping backbeat from drummer Lavell Jones, honking horns and whatever else they can
Sugaray checks if Edinburgh is on the soul train
chuck in as a platform for Sugaray to get to hollering – and boy does he holler, like a soul locomotive. Not only that, but when Greene rips into a screaming solo, and Drake Shining takes over with rattling piano, the Sugar fella likes to get his groove on.  We are talking about a seriously big black dude – and he will not object to that description – who likes to get on down, and wants the audience to get down with him.  As he says, this is not a concert, this is party time.
If you want a blow by blow, track by track account, then go find another reviewer.  But there’s strong evidence for Sugaray’s assertion that he has a band who can play anything he wants at the drop of a hat.  One minute they’re playing something as mainstream as ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’, but with a whacking horn sound, and throbbing keyboard runs from Shining ahead of a freshly-laid-this-morning organ solo.  The next, just to make a point it seems, they deliver a slab of floor-shaking reggae.  And then, for no apparent reason other than that the big man fancies it, they launch into ‘Comfortably Numb’, with Shining delivering most of the vocals, and Greene going for broke on an eardrum melting solo.
For the most part though, it’s a feast of funk, soul and blues – I was going to say a diet, but that’s not a word that fits in the same sentence as Sugaray Rayford.  I reviewed his stylish album Southside a few years back, but didn’t foresee the degree of energy that he musters on stage from listening to that recording.  The reason, I think, is that digital ones and zeroes, or flimsy magnetic tape, simply do not have the capacity to capture such a huge personality.  Whether it’s the big fat soul groove of ‘Blind Alley’ (at which point I notice a woman in a parka and big scarf, dancing but somehow not melting), a rollicking ‘Beans And Cornbread’ with walking bass from Alan Markel, or an explosive version of ‘Grits Ain’t Groceries’ (“Ready for something soft?” he asks beforehand), they’re all driven along with the force of an avalanche, with Rayford’s rich, mountainous, soulful voice to the fore.
On a slow blues he resumes after an instrumental solo without the aid of a mic, and goes walkabout in the audience, out the door and into the front bar, singing all the way out and back.  But then it’s back to top gear with Al Kooper’s ‘Nuthin’ I Wouldn’t Do (For A Woman Like You)’, with a great horn riff and a cracking little solo from Alastair Greene, before they close out with ‘Cold Sweat’, the chemistry between the band as they funk it up to a drum-thrashing finale – and still leave room for a mellow interlude, and a sax showcase from Aaron Liddard when he too ventures offstage to cook up a call and response passage with the crowd.
As Steve Van Zandt would put it, “Gabeesh?”  You get the picture?  Sugaray Rayford is a Blues Award nominee for BB King Entertainer of the Year, and no wonder. Frankly I think they should just hand it over now.
Earlier that same evening, I arrived in time to stand at the doorway of the already jammed
Bourbon Street 5 set light to 'Matchbox Blues'
ballroom, and catch another outfit in the middle of a damn fine reading of ‘As The Years Go Passing By’, with a rather cooler and younger black dude catching the mood nicely on vocals.  This was support band Bourbon Street 5, and the singer was Emmanuel James Mathias.
Their delivery of the Fenton Robinson classic is in keeping with a set of old-fashioned electric blues revolving around the likes of Bobby Bland’s ‘I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog The Way You Treated Me’, a trio of Albert King tunes including a strong version of ‘Matchbox Blues’, and their own, well-penned ‘Heart Mending Blues’.  They combine in a satisfyingly tight-but-loose sound, underpinned by the supple rhythm section of Rod Kennard on bass and Stuart Spence on drums.  Guitarist Louis Crosland is an effective foil for Mathias’ spot on phrasing and interpretation, extending himself with some well-judged soloing without ever becoming aimless, while Guilhelm Forey on keys proved adept at switching from jazzy little piano soloing to soulful swells of organ on ‘Matchbox Blues’.  It’s all good stuff, and the rousing reception they got was well deserved. Their contribution to the night could be easily forgotten in the wake of the Sugaray experience, but I look forward to seeing more of them.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

JP Soars - Southbound I-95

Well, this is fun.  Florida-based JP Soars has received a 2019 Blues Award nomination for Blues Rock Artist, which seems like an odd category choice to me, but Southbound I-95 is certainly an entertaining album that deserves attention.
Not that you’d guess this from the opening track ‘Ain’t No Dania Beach’, I suspect.  A rather corny paean to the said seafront, Soars’ vocals sound like he’s maybe been overdoing some of the ‘erb mentioned in the lyric.
On the following ‘Sure As Hell Ain’t Foolin’ Me’ though, Soars’ vocals find a gravelly, characterful sweet spot, that had me scratching my head for who I was reminded of.  After a bit of pondering, I concluded it was Matt Isbell, of Memphis’s Ghost Town Blues Band, and in fact the GTBB sound is a good reference point for much of Southside I-95 – which is a good recommendation for starters in my book. And ‘Sure Ain’t Foolin’ Me’ is a good example of the grooving funk-blues Soars can deliver, with sharp lyrics, horn punctuation and subtle organ from Travis Colby adding richness to the mix.
JP Soars chooses a big yellow one from his guitar locker
The title track though, is indicative of how Soars can vary the menu.  It’s a road song, and a Dick Dale surf guitar extravaganza, full of ringing chords and whammy bar action, laid out over an offbeat rhythm.  At the other end of the other album there’s another blast from the past with ‘Go With The Flow’, an instrumental that reaches back to Cab Calloway era stuff, with jungle drums whacked out on floor toms – a bit inconsequential in the end, but amusing enough.  But with Soars toting all sorts of guitars in the course of the album, the variety on offer reflects the breadth of his musical interests.
More mainstream are ‘Shining Through The Dark’ and ‘Satisfy My Soul’, the former conjuring up a warm, relaxed and optimistic vibe, with a soulful sax intro and perfectly judged guitar tones, and the latter a Stax soul belter, simple and straightforward over a snapping beat, with a jangling riff and squealing sax solo from Sax Gordon. And both tracks also feature spot on backing vocals from Teresa James into the bargain.
In between, ‘The Grass Ain’t Always Greener’ is a snappy bit of rock’n’roll, with bar-room piano from Colby, a stop-time riff, and honking sax, while ‘Arkansas Porch Party’ provides a breather in the form of a lightweight, acoustic instrumental of a country-ish blues hue.
If it’s yer actual blues you’re after, ‘Born In California’ is a more stripped back affair, with rasping slide guitar and vocals as gritty as the childhood hard times described in the tale of being raised in Arkansas, where the singer had “no money, but I sure had a lot of love”.  And if that smacks of Mike Zito on a good day, ‘When You Walk Out That Door’ is a slow blues straight out of the BB King playbook, with a bitter lyric and exquisite guitar work, peaking in an expansive solo that’s well worth the time devoted to it.
After that, Soars elects to take another musical detour, with three songs of varying degrees of Latin ingredients.  ‘Deep Down In Florida’ swings in a Mexican-sounding fashion, aided by woozy horns, while ‘Across The Desert’ is a melancholy instrumental that does goes exactly where it says on the tin, with laid back twanginess, and harp accompaniment from Lee Oskar, set to a Latino rhythm.  And ‘Dog Catcher’ rounds off the triptych with something best described as salsa-blues, in a jaunty and lyrically wacky affair that smacks of the Mavericks here and the Allmans there.
The slower ‘Troubled Waters’ has Beatle-ish air to it, and along with ‘Dania Beach’ could maybe have been trimmed to bring more focus to an album that has plenty enough variety across the other material.  But hey, that’s just my take on it.  I strongly recommend you take a trip down Southside I-95, and find out for yourself what it has to offer.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Listened to lately - Eric McFadden, Mike Sponza, and the Allman Goldflies Band

Eric McFadden – Pain By Numbers

I’m liking this.  With his scratchy voice, and often equally scratchy, squalling guitar, Eric McFadden’s primary setting is rugged post-British Invasion American rock.  But there’s more to the San Franciscan than that.  I’m smelling the late Sixties.  I’m smelling Creedence, peace and love, and jam bands.  Or maybe I'm on completely the wrong scent!
If ‘While You Were Gone’ is a bluesy stomp, with a squealing guitar solo, then ‘Love Come
Eric McFadden doesn't it do it by the numbers
Rescue Me’ is an uplifting, post-Beatles response to the oddity and despair of some biblical episodes, with surging, gospel-like organ from producer Tab Benoit (whose presence is itself an encouraging sign) and scurrying bass from Doug Wimbish.  ‘The Girl Has Changed’, meanwhile, is pumped up, champing at the bit R’n’B.
‘Fool Your Heart’ starts out as a cool rumble before morphing into a catchy AOR affair with a raw, Keef-like solo, while ‘The Jesus Gonna See You Naked’ is a gritty slice of bump’n’grind that could have gospel, Prince and Zeppelin in its genes.
Then by way of variation, at one end of the spectrum you get the simple and effective acoustic blues ‘Never Listened Too Good’, with its tasteful solo and hint of the sax line from Springsteen’s ‘Spirits In The Night’, and the virtuoso Spanish guitar vibe of the closing ‘Cactus Juice’.  At the other end there’s the heavy, doomy ‘Skeleton Key’, and the supercharged Delta boogie of ‘If I Die Today’, with the rhythm section of Wimbish and drummer Terrence Higgins clattering along in helter skelter fashion.
McFadden and co may show a tendency to go for a stomping beat once or twice too often.  But leaving that quibble to one side, Pain By Numbers ain’t painful at all – it’s a pleasant surprise.

Pain By Numbers is released by Whiskey Bayou Records.


Mike Sponza – Made In The Sixties

Italian guitarist and producer Mike Sponza has a long list of credits to his name, and the fact that this collaboration with one-time Cream lyricist Pete Brown was recorded at Abbey Road Studios suggests that they mean business.  Made In The Sixties is an interesting concept, devoting a song to each year of the decade, and it’s packaged in some imaginative artwork by Romeo Toffanetti.  But it’s also flawed in several respects.
The musicianship on display is good, and the arrangements are satisfying, starting with the loping soul-funk of ‘1960 – Made In The Sixties’, and continuing with the likes of the Latino vibe on the clunkily titled ‘1962 – A Young Londoner’s Point Of View On Cuban Crisis’, which features a nice trumpet solo from Chris Storr and effective percussion from Mauricio Ravalico, and on to the surging riff and waves of organ on ‘1967 – Good Lovin’’, to which Michele Bonivento adds a satisfyingly soulful organ solo.
But too often the melodies are samey, and if I’ve rarely been impressed by Pete Brown’s lyrics in the past, he’s done nothing to change my mind here.  They’re schoolboy-ish fare, especially when evoking the Cold War on ‘1961 – Cold, Cold, Cold’ and the aforementioned 1962 outing, and there are strained rhymes scattered throughout.
What’s more, Sponza may be a decent guitarist – he delivers some stinging licks and a tidy wah-wah solo on the closing ‘1969 – Blues For The Sixties’ – but he ain’t no singer. Regular readers will know that dull vocals don’t cut it here at Blues Enthused.  You can have an average voice and still be convincing if you invest it with personality, but Sponza barely rises above the mediocre on his four outings – though even he does better than Brown, who is inexplicably let loose on the 1962 offering.
Things improve greatly when Nathan James brings genuine feel, range and soul to ‘1963 – Day Of The Assassin’, and when Dana Gillespie gets to grips with ‘Good Lovin’’, but even Eddi Reader can’t do much to enliven the sluggish ‘1965 – Even Dylan Was Turning Electric’.  Rob Cass has a decent stab at ‘1968 – Just The Beginning’ though, using a megaphone effect to suggest the street demonstrations of the time.  But it’s a pretty anodyne slice of soul for the subject matter, and though Bonivento’s use of a celesta adds a
Gary Allman and AGB chums
warm vibraphone-type sound, it’s scarcely evocative of the subject.
Made In The Sixties is a good idea, but less than effectively realised.  The musicians do their best, but they’re fighting an uphill battle in light of the vocals and the limitations of the material.


Allman Goldflies Band – Second Chance

Yep, there’s another member of the Allman clan doing their thang now folks.  In this instance it’s Gary Allman, cousin to Greg and Duane, who has hooked up with former Allman Brothers Band bassist Dave Goldflies to form the Allman Goldflies Band.
Goldflies is apparently something of a bass icon, and even takes a solo on the opening ‘Ever Been So Lonely Baby’.  And to be fair, his six-string bass playing is stylish throughout – which is just as well, because it’s pushed well forward in the mix.
Allman, meanwhile, contributes keyboards and groaning vocals, as well as some tasteful, patient slide guitar on the otherwise mundane “missing my baby while I’m on the road” fare of ‘Pretty Green Eyes’.
There are good things on Second Chance, most notably the guitar work of Joe Weiss and Matt Siegal, which is frequently subtle and understated, but all the more effective for it, with some jazziness here and there that I take to be the work of Chicagoan Weiss, who apparently has a jazz background. Together they contribute some nicely double-tracked lines, and some interesting moaning, string-like effects, to ‘Standing In The Georgia Rain’, as well as some satisfyingly ‘Jessica’ like licks on ‘Southern’s All I Ever Want To Be’, to make up for some clichéd lyrics.
There’s also a decent guitar contribution from Luthor Wamble, on ‘You Gave Me Love’, a pleasant enough but derivative ballad undermined by some all too lazy words.
Elsewhere there’s the country-leaning ballad ‘Yesterday’s Blues’, with more good guitar work and a ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’-style organ motif in the background.  ‘Can’t Turn Back Now’ is a funky affair, riding along on tip-tapping cowbell and a bumping bass line from Goldflies.  And incognruously, Goldflies also contributes ‘Fadiddle’, an instrumental that begins with a sombre, mournful intro from acoustic guitar and Goldflies’ fiddle, before coming over all Gogol Bordello, en route to a showdown with the Devil in Georgia by the sound of it.
If you’re a sucker for Southern rock then by all means give Second Chance a spin, and see what you reckon.  But for me it’s lacking the depth to make a real impact.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Wille & The Bandits - Paths

Wille & The Bandits have been knocking around for a few years now, working hard, ploughing their own furrow.  But you know what?  I reckon that with Paths, despite its anodyne title, they’re about to propel themselves a couple more rungs up the ladder.  They’re beardy and they’re bluesy, and they’re delivering roots rock for now, folks.
Opening track ‘One Way’ blasts along on a buzzsaw slide guitar riff from Wille Edwards, allied to a hard-rocking, shoutalong chorus and a slithering slide solo.  If you’re looking for some head-shaking, neck-snapping rock’n’roll, then this fits the bill.  It also features the kind of hippy-ish social commentary that’s their stock in trade, conveyed with conviction and some pleasingly original wordsmithing.  The same ethos is evident on the following ‘Make
Love’, this time set to funk blues with a stuttering rhythm from Andy Neumann’s drums and fuzzy guitar from Edwards, tied together by throbbing bass from Matt Brooks (who elsewhere contributes cello when the vibe demands it).
Wille & The Bandits celebrate a big thumbs up from Blues Enthused
There’s often an edginess redolent of Dan Patlansky, without the same level of Hendrixian guitar fireworks, but on ‘Victim Of The Night’ they also demonstrate an ability to write something with an air of hooky Eighties AOR, aided by some swooping backing vocals and washes of organ, while Brooks’ bass bobs about over a simpler drum groove from Neumann.
It’s in the middle of the album that they really dare to be different though.  ‘Chakra’ features Morse Code-like, African-sounding percussion to complement an offbeat rhythm from Neumann, underneath sweeps of electric Weissenborn lap steel from Edwards.  The following ‘Keep It On The Down-low’ is built on hip-hop funkiness and semi-rapped vocals from Edwards on the verses.  And both songs, it should be noted, have well catchy choruses.
‘Judgement Day’ is apparently inspired by the classic TV series The Wire, and certainly carries echoes of Tom Waits’ ‘Down In The Hole’ which was the show’s theme tune – simple drums and a spiky little guitar line from Edwards leave plenty room for Brooks' bubbling, rumbling bass to shine.  And then they veer away into entirely different territory with ‘How Long’, a plangent, widescreen affair that to these ears has a much more British feel – the sort of thing that post-Britpoppers Doves delivered to good effect a few years back.
‘Watch You Grow’ has an eerie opening that almost begs for Robert Plant to put in a sudden appearance to croon “In the eeeevening”, before it settles into a relaxed and mellow groove involving more World Music percussion from Neumann, and muted, sensitive Weissenborn licks from Edwards, on which the song surfs liltingly to a close.
Closing track ‘Retribution’ has a retro, classic rock vibe that seems to delve back into the Seventies, taking its time then revving up with a soaring slide solo, before turning off the heat with a neat, brief acoustic coda.  But, like the earlier ‘Find My Way’, it’s perhaps an example of where they could have pushed themselves harder to find that little something extra.  Or maybe I’m just being picky.
All told though, Paths is an adventurous album from a trio who have something distinctive to say, both musically and lyrically, and have said it in accomplished fashion.  Good songs, good hooks, good musicianship.  Well played, gentlemen.

Paths is released on 1 February by Fat Toad Records.
Wille & The Bandits are touring Britain in March.  Tickets available from their website here.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking 2018 - Part 2

So was Santa good to you all then?  Finished all the turkey and ready for a bit more reflection on 2018 with Blues Enthused?
One of the highlights of the second half of the year was a first visit to the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival back in September, for two out of its three days.   A brilliantly organised affair, it was blessed with a cracking bill, the Saturday night topped off by a set from Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado that was a hit from the minute their guitars starting cranking out the riff to ‘If You Wanna Leave’.
Thorbjorn Risager rocks the flat cap look
Carlisle also offered a first chance for me to see the Chris Bevington Organisation, who offered up one of the most straight ahead, good-time albums of the year, with the rocked up blues outing Cut And Run.  A 9-piece outfit featuring horns, keys, backing singers, and the kitchen sink, they pulled together great songs, quality musicianship and a great sound, in an album that crackled with enthusiasm from start to finish on tracks like 'It Ain't Easy'
Worth noting for their willingness to do something a bit different in the album stakes were Big Boy Bloater, with Pills, and Jawbone, with their self-titled debut album.  The Bloat fella’s album may not be solid gold – there are a couple of misfires, for my money – but with his rough-edged rock’n’roll, rougher-edged voice, funny lyrics and penchant for B-Movie tales, as well a neat line in Nick Lowe-ish country fare, he’s still a breath of fresh air - see what you make of 'Friday Night's Alright For Drinking'.  And Jawbone are similarly refreshing, as they take a late Sixties Big Pink vibe and transplant it to 21stCentury Britain, with a heap of strong songs, contrasting lead vocals from Marcus Bonfanti and Paddy Milner, and a readiness to let Milner’s piano set the tone as much as Bonfanti’s guitar.  They also have a nice way with a lyric, as '2 Billion Heartbeats' demonstrates.
Right now there are a host of great female roots music artists out there in both Britain and America, and one of the standout albums of the year came at the hands of one of them – Kansas City’s Danielle Nicole, who released her second solo album Cry No More back in March - and picked up a Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the tail end of the year.  No sign of her coming to Europe for live dates in the near future though – unlike Shemekia Copeland, Ana Popovic and Samantha Fish, who are all going to be within hailing distance for me in the same week in May!  Never mind, here's Ms Nicole casting a 'Hot Spell'.
A new find for me on the female singer front this year was Tierinii Jackson, of Memphis-Southern Avenue, who delivered a crackling performance at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival in the summer.  If Vintage Trouble are your kind of band, then you may well enjoy Southern Avenue, although they also stir a spoonful of gospel into the mix.  Here they are getting funky on ‘Rock Steady’, with Tierinii Jackson in typical Little Miss Dynamite form.
Danielle Nicole has a quiet evening in
based soul-blues outfit
On the book front, this year I’ve been working my way through Stuart Cosgrove’s ‘Soul Trilogy’, comprising Detroit 67Memphis 68, and Harlem 69.  The books cover a lot of ground, such as the development of Motown and Stax, and key events in black culture like the Detroit riots, the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the emergence of the Black Panthers.  But much of the pleasure is to be found in the characters Cosgrove turns up, many of whom are unfamiliar.
In the latest book it’s interesting to come across someone like Betty Mabry, who was married to Miles Davis for a term, a friend of Jimi Hendrix, and by the sound of it an all-round cross-cultural phenomenon.  A catwalk model, club owner, songwriter and singer, Cosgrove paints her as a forceful, networking catalyst in the emergence of jazz-rock and fusion.
Or there’s King Curtis, a workaholic sax player, band leader, arranger, musical director and talent scout, who I must confess I’d never heard of before, but whose mid-Sixties band The Kingpins at one time or another included famed drummer Bernard Purdie, and the still developing Hendrix.  Here they are cooking up a 'Memphis Soul Stew'.  It says something about Curtis’s status that for a while the Kingpins were apparently Aretha Franklin’s preferred backing band.
And with the death of Aretha earlier this year, that seems like a good point at which to close the lid on 2018.  So here is the Queen of Soul, doubtless an inspiration for some of those singers listed above, showing how it’s done on ‘I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You’.

You can find Part 1 of the Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking here.


Monday, December 24, 2018

The Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking 2018 - Part 1

“When I was 56 . . . it was a very good year,” Frank Sinatra didn’t sing.  All the same,  I reckon 2018 has been a damn good year for music.  
Blues Enthused doesn’t really go in for baubles and charts, rankings and ratings.  Some albums will resonate with you forever, some gigs will blow your mind.  But other musical moments give you just the pleasure you’re looking for on a particular day, in a particular place.  Like a butterfly, they may not last, but they’re still thesound that captures your attention, right there and then. How do you put a number on that?
Still and all, it’s nice to reflect on a few things that stand out, as we approach the end of the
year. So here are a few highlights of mine – what were yours?
Ian Siegal in everyday lounge wear
The most singular blues roots album of the year, to my mind, came from that incorrigibly engaging curmudgeon Ian Siegal, with All The Rage.  As stiletto-sharp lyrically as ever, he skewered the Trumpian zeitgeist in a number of songs, including opening track ‘Eagle-Vulture’.  But the album also had songs of a warmer, less edgy nature, like the funky ‘Sailor Town’, with its curious yet uplifting refrain, “Everybody skate backwards”.   And if that wasn’t enough, on his Spring tour promoting the album I caught him delivering a barnstorming performance in Edinburgh.
All the same, that wasn’t the most soul-shaking live show of my year.  That honour goes to Little Steven and The Disciples Of Soul in Whitley Bay back in July.  You can see good gigs by bands you love, but now and then there are nights when they hit the ball out of the park, and this was one of them.  As I said at the time, if you didn’t come out of this gig punch drunk from smiling, what do you want from life?  Steve and the gang have Blue-Ray product from the Soulfire tour coming out in the New Year, but in the meantime here they are doing ‘Bitter Fruit’ in Liverpool.
An honourable mention in the live stakes goes to King King, also in Whitley Bay back in May.  But in all honesty Alan Nimmo’s crew were transcended this year by the unexpected autumn revival of the Nimmo Brothers with – well, with his brother Stevie.  On home turf in Glasgow, they could have played the Take That songbook and gone down a storm.  Well, maybe not, but in any event they didn’t take any chances and delivered a stonking set of twin guitar blues-rock.  Here they are showing their more sensitive side though, with 'Waiting For My Heart To Fall'.
The Nimmo Brothers - "Hey Stevie! Did we leave the oven on?"
Also on the podium in both the album and live show stakes are The Temperance Movement.  An idiosyncratic bunch, they can conjure up The Faces and The Black Crowes, but most of all they’re themselves.  And their uniqueness is captured most of all in the madcap form of front man Phil Campbell, a jumping jack of a live performer who combines the energy of Jagger with the rasping rock’n’soul vocal chords of Rod Stewart.  And that mixture of the original and the familiar extends to their 2018 album A Deeper Cut, which is right up there with the best of the year in my book.  They conquered the bizarre snowstorms of March as well, with a belter of a show at the Barrowlands in Glasgow.  I’ll be catching them again in February, supporting the mighty Blue Oyster Cult, who I haven’t seen since the Seventies.  Can’t wait!  Meantime, here they are doing 'Built-In Forgetter' in the relatively tame environment of a TV studio.
Now, Ian Siegal may be inclined to compliment his audience on having good taste rather than settling for “shoddy rock music”, as he did in Edinburgh.  But I grew up listening to straight up hard rock, and I’m still partial to someone who can rock a power chord.  Which brings me to Wayward Sons, who sure as hell rock, but aren’t at all shoddy.  The creation of one time Little Angels main man Toby Jepson, their show in a small but packed club in Edinburgh back in April was electrifying.  They could be the road not taken by Def Leppard after their second album High’n’Dry - an adventure in high voltage melodic rock with the feel of an uncut diamond.  Check out this wacky video of 'Until The End', and you'll see that they're also tremendous fun. More to come from them in 2019, I'm thinking.
So there’s a few things for you to chew on after your turkey.  Better than watching the Queen's Speech, I reckon.  There’ll be more from Blues Enthused before the New Year, but in the meantime, Merry Christmas one and all!

You can find Part 2 of the Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking here.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Starlite Campbell Band - Bannermans, Edinburgh, 19 December 2018

My other half didn’t make it to this gig.  She’d gone out for lunch with a pal, and come down with a dose of vino excessivus. Which was a pity, because her absence depleted the audience for the Starlite Campbell Band by about 5%.  But you know what?  The small audience didn’t matter.  Not one bit.
Why is this?  It’s because the Starlite Campbell Band go the whole nine yards, that’s why.  They deliver good songs with great musicianship.  And they put on a show, regardless of the paltry audience.  Clad all in black, guitarist Simon Campbell has a penchant for a bit of Ian
Simon Campbell - "It's Edinburgh in December, it's night,
and I'm in a cellar. And I'm wearing shades.  Let's rock!"
Anderson style arm waving while he’s singing, for one thing.  And he and his bassist missus Suzy Starlite bop around the stage like a couple of unselfconscious, if not entirely sprightly, 20-year old rockers.
The set is drawn largely from their 2017 album Blueberry Pie and Simon Campbell’s solo stuff, in particular his 2011 solo debut ThirtySix.  It’s Sixties-style British blues fit for the 21stcentury, with sharp lyrics, and it’s great fun right from the rocking opener ‘Brother’, with sizzling guitar from Campbell over bubbling bass from Starlite and punchy drums from Steve Gibson, all the way through to the end of a near two hour performance.
Along with newly-flown-in-from-Spain keys man Gabriele Del Vecchio, they conjure up twitchy funk on the well-constructed ‘Preacher Of Love’, with its ‘Heartbreaker’-style riff. Campbell isn’t frightened to go for it, ripping out chords over a subterranean rumble of bass and whacking floor toms on ‘I Like It Like That’, before embarking on an adventurous guitar wig-out.  And then he goes and delivers an intro to the slow blues of ‘Cry Over You’ that is pure Gary Moore at his most restrained.  It’s a typically clever arrangement, to which Campbell adds a devastating solo, full of light and shade.
And so it goes on, through song after song.  Starlite is a damn fine, supple and grooving bassist, who legend has it only picked the damn instrument up four years ago.  Witty lyrics are scattered around liberally, and Campbell weaves guitar sorcery hither and yon to which Gibson adds sharp percussion accents.  And Del Vecchio, god bless him, without the benefit
of any meaning rehearsal, gets drawn into an entertaining bout of extemporised guitar/organ interplay on the smoky Sixties style blues of ‘Misgivings’. They even manage to get all spangly Beatle-ish on the brand new song ‘Take Time To Grow Old’.
Campbell and Starlite - mad for it
Down the stretch there’s old-fashioned boogie with picked guitar on ‘Hot As Hell’, a cover of Free’s ‘Mr Big’ on which Starlite gets a featured spot on which she does justice to Andy Fraser on a twangy bass feature.  There’s their latest digital single ‘Heart Of Stone’, which has a grinding ‘Green Onions’ groove laced with stinging injections from Campbell.
And then – and then, folks – they close out with ‘Walkin’ Out The Door’, the opening track from Blueberry Pie.  And this slice of mid-Sixties style soulful blues, with some wah-wah atmospherics, gradually morphs into Led Feckin’ Zeppelin, the riff tipping the hat to the likes of ‘How Many More Times’ while Starlite channels John Paul Jones with an increasingly mountainous bass line.  And Campbell goes into mad axeman mode, conjuring up a howling guitar interlude with the aid of an old-fashioned echoplex box of tricks – real analogue tape, boys and girls – ahead of an echo-laden solo.  Greta Van Fleet eat your juvenile hearts out.
You probably think I’m making this up, that I had a few too many Christmas sherbets and lost touch with reality.  But I’m not and I didn’t.  This was the real deal, scintillating stuff, delivered to 20 odd people. Simon Campbell and Suzy Starlite are mad for the music, and mad for each other – and their enthusiasm is infectious.  This tour’s just about done, but if you find them coming your way in the future - go see ‘em.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Listened to lately - Ana Popovic, Amanda Fish, Broken Windows and Suzie Vinnick

Ana Popovic – Like It On Top

Outstanding.  If what you’re after is power chords and shredding, then move along, nothing to see here, ‘cause there ain’t none of that on this album from Ana Popovic, largely co-written with, and produced by, Keb' Mo'. More fool you though, because this is, like I said, outstanding.
What we have here is a collection of slinky funk that melds the Pointer Sisters’ ‘Slowhand’
Ana Popovic - Look, no hands!
with Macy Gray’s debut album, but delivered by a gang of blues maestros.  And lyrically, whereas Macy Gray was all edgy, manic sexuality, Popovic is confident, knowing womanhood.
The title track features Robben Ford, who I guess is responsible for the top quality lead guitar, and probably contributes to a jazzy, “everything falls apart” moment. The funkiness is ramped up on the likes of ‘Sexy Tonight’, a Kenny Wayne Shepherd composition on which he contributes both guitar and vocals on an excellent bout of punch-packing bump’n’grind. And ‘Funkin’ Attitude’ has the sassiness you might expect from the title, with squealing guitar, out of the ordinary backing vocals, and some Stevie Wonder-ish keyboards in the margins.
This is nothing though, compared to ‘Slow Dance’.  Here we have a delicious turn around the floor, and an interior monologue in which the female voice explains that her dance partner, the poor schmuck, should absolutely not regard her as a sure thing.  It’s a dreamy affair, with a breathy vocal and almost whispered guitar, set to a lilting tempo.  Perfection.
That may be the peak moment, but other highlights include ‘Virtual Ground’, a less-is-more exercise with supple drums, a Steely Dan sheen, and sprinkles of guitar fairydust from Popovic, and the laid back, bluesier ‘Brand New Man’, with a sizzling guitar solo that’s made to sound effortless.  And just for a bit of variety there’s ‘Matter Of Time’, a stripped down blues with minimalist guitar that folds some slide into the mix, and nothing else but voice and tapped percussion.
There’s more besides, but if you’ve listened to that lot the message should be clear – it’s the songs, stupid!  And if I’d collared this when it was released in September I’d have drooled over it at greater length.  Like It On Top is, frankly, one of the best albums of a very good year.

Go to Ana Popovic's website for details of tour dates in Britain and Europe in 2019.


Amanda Fish – Free

In case you didn’t know, Amanda Fish is the big sis of Samantha Fish.  But if you’re expecting them to sound like two peas in a pod then think again.  Sure, there are a few blues rock songs here that could easily have fitted into Sam’s early albums.  ‘Not Again’ for example, with its ominous, throbbing riff; the intense, heavy and gritty ‘Going Down’ – nothing to do with Freddie King, folks; and the moody, back-to-basics ‘Bullet’, But vocally Amanda has much more in common with fellow Kansas City soul-blues singer Danielle Nicole – and Danielle Nicole at full throttle at that.
And indeed there are a couple of Nicole-like outings of muscular, funky soul early on.  But the second half of the album underlines Fish’s lung power even further.  ‘You Could Be’ starts off slow and steady, with just piano and voice, before taking off into power ballad territory.  ‘Here We Are’ ratchets that up further, slow and tense to begin with, but with good use of dynamics and peppered with slide guitar en route to a big crescendo.  But this all just warming up for ‘Don’t Mean A Thing’, a song of agonised relationship betrayal that features some truly gut-wrenching vocals, leading up to a Holy Moly moment in which Fish’s singing takes on full force gale proportions.
She isn’t a one trick pony though, and the best thing here is in a different vein.  ‘The Ballad Of Lonesome Cowboy Bill’ is the kind of blues-country crossover Shemekia Copeland does so well, a well-crafted tribute to the disappearing wild characters of late night American radio, founded on acoustic strumming but with excellent slide colouring that may well be down to Bob Margolin, who guests on the track.
Contrastingly, ‘The Bored And Lonely’ is an edgy affair that draws a line back through grunge to Noo Yoik New Wave aesthetics.  And then to close Fish flips from that to a soulful piano and vocal intro on the title track, and then as Chris Hazelton’s organ swings into earshot it explodes into a full-tilt gospel workout.
Free is probably a bit overlong, and could do with a couple of its twelve tracks being trimmed to give it more focus.  But with all the material penned by Fish, who also plays bass throughout as well as contributing various guitar, piano and mandolin parts, this second album from her suggests there could be a lot more to come from her.

Broken Windows – Songs By Liz Jones

Having scribbled a few words recently about a support slot performance by Broken Windows, and referenced their contribution to the Jock’s Juke Joint Vol.4 compilation, I thought I’d take the opportunity to say a bit more about their album, released earlier this year.
Broken Windows aren’t a blues band, though they’ll play a blues now and then.  What they are is something fresh and singular, revolving around the songs and voice of Liz Jones.  If you want a comparison, then KT Tunstall might be a reasonable touchstone at times, or Nerina Pallot perhaps.  Or maybe neither - you choose.
Broken Windows - not a blues band, just a shade of blue
Songs like the eponymous ‘Broken Windows’, with its subtle, smoky opening, and ‘Dangerous Game’, incorporate elements of jazziness, not least in the sometimes ultra-bendy bass of Rod Kennard, and the swing of Suzy Cargill’s percussion which, augmenting Marc Marnie’s drumming, often gives a Latin feel to proceedings.  In turn that gives licence to guitarist John Bruce to explore some Santana-esque sounds, as on the ‘Sambi Pati’-like guitar figure of ‘Make My Night’, over some sweet acoustic strumming and smoochy singing from Jones.  He brings some similarly clear-toned soloing to ‘No Gold’, a showcase for the subtle phrasing and variety in Jones’s singing, as she draws out the sensitivity of the song.
Jones has a way with an intriguing, intimate lyric, as on ‘Wild’, which plays off acoustic jangling against Cargill’s rhythms, until the rhythm section sidles into play in readiness for a jazzy fiddle break from Andrew Hennessey. ‘Stay’, with its line about "When I wake I see your naked shoulder", is a sunny and energetic affair, and reminds me of the softer side of the Faces, of all people, while ‘Roll Me In’ starts in restrained, dream-like fashion, with moody keyboards from Ali Petrie, before changing gear into an up-tempo middle section featuring bursts of scrabbly guitar licks from Bruce.  Must confess I haven’t entirely unpicked those lyrics yet, but I’m working on it.
Fittingly though, the final word goes to Jones, with the delicate intertwining of voice and sparse acoustic guitar on the brief and contemplative ‘Wise’.  As the originator of this album she deserves a round of applause for coming up with such an interesting batch of songs, inspiring the rest of her Broken Windows gang to do them justice.

Songs By Liz Jones is available on digital download from Bandcamp, via www.lizjonessings.co.uk.

Suzie Vinnick – Shake The Love Around

I’m indebted to fellow blogger Rocking Magpie for putting me onto this album by Canada’s Suzie Vinnick, released earlier in the year.  If you like the way Bonnie Raitt ranges across blues and country-ish roots music, then you may well like this.
Vinnick has a characterful voice, that carries the day nicely on the opening track ‘Happy As Hell’, in conjunction with a shuffling intro and twiddly blues riff, before bass and vocal harmonies are gradually added to the mix.  The other side of her Americana style is on
show in the following ‘The Golden Rule’, a folky affair that brings to mind Joni Mitchell, with a catchy melody, some sweet falsetto phrases from Vinnick, and a lyric reflecting on social justice – or the lack of it.
The best song here though, is ‘A Hundred And Ten In The Shade’, which is set in the cotton fields and manages to convey the sense of sweltering heat with its lazy tempo and cicada-mimicking percussion – and again a perfectly pitched vocal from Vinnick.
It’s indicative of Vinnick’s range that she can bracket that with ‘Watch Me’, all guttural guitar riff and real bluesy feel, and ‘Crying A River For You’, a spare and convincing love-and-regret song delivered over pattering drums.  And she’s more adventurous still on ‘The Danger Zone’, a downbeat blues about a “world in uproar”, cleverly arranged for just voice and bass.
Things maybe get a bit samey as the album progresses, though a touch of accordion brings some variety to ‘Beautiful Little Fool’, along with a sparkling guitar solo.  The good stuff outweighs those reservations though, and Shake The Love Around is yet another in this year’s growing pile of keepers.