Thursday, November 15, 2018

Main Street Blues - The Blues Blues

It’s taken a while for me to get round to it, but on the strength of The Bluest Blues, this summer's release from Main Street Blues, their moniker is a good pointer to the style of this  Scottish blues band. Their sound, to these ears at least, descends in a pretty straight line from the Three Kings, through the British blues boomers influenced by them, and on to later exponents of sophisticated electric blues.
The ten-track collection mingles three originals from guitarist and singer Derek Smith, a few familiar covers, and some less common or garden finds from other artists, and it has to be said that Smith’s homegrown material stands up to the competition.
The first of these, the mid-paced ‘Dusty Road’ opens proceedings with gutsy chords and washes of organ to underpin Smith’s vocals, which are mellow and tuneful in a Clapton/Cray vein – it comes as no surprise that they’ve covered Eric’n’Bob’s ‘Old Love’ on a previous album.  Smith’s guitar tone is one of his strengths, here and throughout, while John Hay’s five-string bass bubbles away contentedly and Iain Hanna’s keys solo fits in nicely. It all boils down to a pretty good marker for what’s to follow.
With ten songs lasting over an hour, you’ll appreciate that Main Street Blues like to lay back and spread out a bit, but they still succeed in making the time pass by without any dull longeurs.  There are a couple of seriously extended workouts in there, with over nine minutes’ worth of Smith’s own composition ‘Move On’, and title track Alvin Lee’s ‘The Bluest Blues’ coming up on the rails.  Smith’s tone on the former is excellent, contributing to the mood as he demonstrates good variation in pace on an extended solo, while Hanna contributes meditative organ and, by the sound of it, some subtle synth for additional textures. On the latter Hanna’s keys are also well to the fore, with delicate piano contributing to an imaginative, widescreen arrangement, while Smith’s vocals combine good phrasing and expressiveness.  His guitar could be higher in the mix though, and one of my reservations is that sonically they would sometimes benefit from more – to use a technical term – wallop.
A good example would be their reading of Coco Montoya’s ‘Last Dirty Deal’, which features a stinging riff with a very Sixties feel, and tasteful bass from Hay, but could do with more grit vocally, and with the guitar being a bit more in yer face to capture the bitterness of the lyric.  But on the other hand Smith’s ‘Cold Cold Bed’ effectively combines gritty guitar chords and surges of organ with a touch of funk and a bit more vocal edge from Smith.
The two familiar friends in the track list are ‘Good Day For The Blues’, which has a tripping rhythm and sunny air to match its winning melody, and an uplifting keys solo from Hanna that melts into Smith’s guitar, and the covered-by-everybody ‘Breaking Up Someone’s Home’, which comes with a fresh, Clapton-ish arrangement that’s all stuttering riff, shuffling rhythm and spangly guitar.
It’s worth noting that due to a bit of a Spinal Tap-style exploding drummer syndrome, MSB were without a sticksman during the recording of the album, and so opted for drum programming by Smith to fill the void.  And generally he does an impressive job of it, though on the aforementioned ‘Cold Cold Bed’ the groove gets a tad predictable, and on the ‘Breaking Up Someone’s Home’ the drum sound could be a bit thicker.
Between them Smith and Hanna provide enjoyable bursts of soloing throughout, the latter demonstrating a fondness for Jon Lord-meets-Booker-T organ playing on the likes of ‘Write If You Find Love’, while on Willie Dixon’s ‘The Same Thing’ Smith conjures up a sparkling solo that moves through some revved up chords into a piercing second section and then a lyrical segment dovetailed with the keys – and with good vocal phrasing to boot.
The Bluest Blues is a well satisfying take on modern electric blues with a classic British bent.  It won’t take you on a journey to the centre of the universe, but it will keep the home fires burning.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Grainne Duffy - Stramash, Edinburgh, 8 November 2018

Grainne Duffy is a songbird. That’s not the be all and end all of what she has to offer – we’ll get to the rest in a minute.  But as a vocalist the girl from Co Monaghan in Northern Ireland demonstrates tremendous range and control, with enough power to fill the room too.  She really should be mentioned in the same breath as some bigger names in the female singer bracket as a matter of course.
Grainne Duffy gets laid back, sorta
Pic courtesy of Stuart Stott
That appeal is evident right from the opening track of this show, ‘My Love’, taken from her Where I Belong.  With its whooping chorus, interwoven guitars between Duffy and the slide playing of husband Paul Sherry, and some skelping drums from Darren Beckett, it makes for a dynamic start.
Duffy then delves back into her first album for the relaxed groove of ‘Each And Every Time’, the country rock audience participation of ‘Driving Me Crazy’, over strutting bass from Phil Donnelly, and the ballad ‘I Don’t Know Why’, on which she delivers soulful singing and also an emotional solo on her Les Paul Gold Top.
She picks an imaginative cover in the funky form of Koko Taylor’s ‘Voodoo Woman’.  Anyone less like a voodoo woman than the charmingly girl-next-door Duffy would be hard to imagine, but it’s still great fun as she shows her ability as a genial front woman, dancing cheerfully and contributing a wah-wah solo as a precursor to a bass showcase from Donnelly and a wailing outro from Sherry.
There’s a bit of a lull in the set before a classic gritty blues riff heralds Bonnie Raitt’s ‘Love Me Like A Man’.  Vocally this is right in Duffy’s wheelhouse, and collectively they do it justice as the whole band turn it up a notch or two.  In fact it seems to me that for the latter part of the show they benefit from the sound being cranked up generally, giving extra bounce to the reggae rhythm of ‘Sweet Sweet Baby’, with its fun, scrabbling solo from Sherry, and plenty of oomph to the crunching riff of ‘Bad To Worse’, with its bump’n’grind second half and “Whoah-oh-oh” singalong.
Then, would you believe it, just as they kick off Duffy’s trademark reading of Etta James’ ‘I Would Rather Go Blind’, a bunch of extra-curricular punters take up residence in the balcony area and obliviously start a loud conversation.  Credit to Grainne Duffy, she doesn’t it allow it to phase her, and overpowers their prattle with a spine-tingling crescendo.
There’s just time for the rousing title track of her second album Test Of Time, including a nod to the Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’, and a final encore of ‘The Shape I’m In’, all ringing chords and harmonies, and with a curiously banjo-like solo from Sherry – how’d he do that?.
Personally I’d have liked to hear more of the upbeat material from Test Of Time, which is well suited to her – and Sherry’s – capabilities in a Bonnie Raitt/Tedeschi Trucks oeuvre.  But in a venue that can all too easily suck the energy out of a performance Grainne Duffy and co still deliver a warm and entertaining set to dispel the chills of an autumn night.
Liz Jones dares to be different
Pic courtesy of Stuart Stott
Edinburgh’s Broken Windows offer a refreshing change from the usual blues support band
fare.  Led by singer and songwriter Liz Jones, with her husky vocals, their opener ‘Strum’ incorporates a Latin groove courtesy of percussionist Suzy Cargill, and with the addition of breezy guitar from John Bruce takes on an air of Laurel Canyon-ish West Coast rock.  ‘Dangerous Game’, meanwhile, is a low cut and slinky slowie featuring Parisian-sounding organ chords from Andy Barbour.  There are different dynamics elsewhere, on something I took to be called ‘Well Being’, on which a slow tempo charges into an uptempo phase with Latin-sounding guitar from Bruce accompanied by ample hair tossing from Jones and a rasping vocal.
The Stones’ ‘Play With Fire’ is a good benchmark for their sound too – swinging, chugging boogie, slightly held in check, and coloured by rippling piano from Barbour. ‘Broken Windows’ itself has subtle guitar shadings, a big middle eight, and a tasteful solo from Bruce, while new song ‘Angel’ is ringing, happy-go-lucky, and an out and out winner.  Combining fresh songsmithery from Jones with musicianship from stalwart Edinburgh musos like Bruce, bassist Rod Kennard and drummer Gary Davidson, in addition to Cargill and Barbour, Broken Windows dare to be a bit different, and do a good job of it to boot.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Nimmo Brothers - Oran Mor, Glasgow, 2 November 2018

No prizes for guessing what music accompanies the Nimmo Brothers as they take the stage.   And they’re not just back in town, they’re in their hometown, in front of a packed sell-out crowd that is ready for a good time. Which the brothers duly supply.
They light the blue touch paper with hard-hitting twin-guitar riffing on ‘Bad Luck’, and follow it up with the ZZ Top-like boogie of ‘The Shape I’m In’, including the first singalong of the night, of which Alan Nimmo comments “That’s fucking garbage”, before demanding an improved effort.  It’s indicative of an atmosphere where there’s already smiles all round, and big fun going down onstage.
The Chuckle Brothers
But the Nimmo boys can deliver emotionally charged material as well as rockers, as with the ‘Long Way From Everything’, which starts off sensitively before Stevie delivers a searing solo - knackered arm and all - over the solid rhythm foundations provided by Craig Bacon’s drums and Mat Beable’s bass.  Alan then chips in with his trademark pin-drop solo to total hush, ahead of a howling conclusion.  Similarly 'If I Could See Through Your Eyes' is a lovely ballad that clearly comes from the heart, matched by Peter Green-like subtlety on his guitar solo.  ‘Waiting For My Heart To Fall’ meanwhile, is heralded by spangly guitar work, and peaks with four successive, impassioned solos, two from each brother.  It’s an epic, barnstorming affair, that suggests these guys were born to be here, doing this, right now.  And on material like this the fact that they are both excellent, soulful vocalists also shines through.
They can funk it up too of course, on the likes of the breezy ‘Gotta Slow Down’, with meaty chords in the middle eight, and a lengthy party time solo that makes laughter and dancing unavoidable, while ‘Still Here Strumming’ is a tougher brand of street funk.
They go all the way back to their Backwater Blues Band days for a song that’s new to me, featuring a sledgehammer riff and Stevie on slide, as well as a guitar face-off that displays well nigh telepathic understanding.
A funky bass intro from Mat Beable announces the arrival of set closer ‘Black Cat Bone’, a ten minute affair full of lick trading and of course their octopus-like “I’ll play your guitar, you play mine” signature moment, to top off an irresistible show.
Just how irresistible is demonstrated by the scorching encore of ‘Ain’t No Love (In The Heart Of The City)’, on which the crowd bawl out the singalong section in a manner that defies Alan Nimmo to repeat his earlier banter.  And as it ends Craig Bacon immediately cracks out a brisk tempo to ignite their spanking reading of the Allman Brothers’ ‘One Way Out’.
It’s not quite Guy Fawkes Night, but the Nimmo Brothers delivered bucket loads of fireworks with this performance.  It was a show brimming with simple enthusiasm, that gave the punters exactly the reunion celebration they wanted.  And it does make you sigh over the fact that they didn’t achieve more success back in the day, because in all seriousness they produce a twin guitar blues rock experience to rival just about anyone.  Both Stevie and Alan Nimmo have other fish to fry of course, but let’s hope the Nimmo Brothers project resurfaces again in due course.  Altogether now, we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when . . . .

Monday, October 29, 2018

Lightning Willie and the Poorboys

Good ol’ fashioned rock’n’rollin’ countrification.  Or maybe shakin’, rattlin’ rockabilly.  Or country-style Texas blues boogie.  Whatever label you want to stick on the music of Lightning Willie and the Poorboys, it’s damn fine stuff.
They’ve come all the way from LA for a run of Scottish dates that’s even taken in Orkney, but in no time at all make me feel like I’ve been transported to Robert’s Western Warehouse in Nashville.  Sporting a look that recalls Sam Elliott playing the cowboy in The Big Lebowski, and toting one helluva Gibson ES-5N geetar, Willie leads a band who make playing rock’n’roll look easy as pie.
Lightning Willie - not any old hat, not any old guitar
Kicking off with a rollicking instrumental, they draw heavily on latest album No Black No White Just Blues, getting their mojo working with material like the swinging ‘Can’t Get That Stuff’, which sounds like it could have been recorded in Sun Studios with a young Sam Phillips at the controls, and the simple, strutting ‘Eyes In The Back Of My Head’.   Then they cool things off with the smoky ‘Locked In A Prison’, Willie all soulful vocals while his fellow guitarist Pete Anderson contributes halting, teasing guitar licks, before Willie himself goes on to show that the spaces between the notes can be as telling as the notes themselves.
They cover the bases from something that's essentially a re-tooling of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Who’s Been Talking’, on which Anderson contributes slide guitar, to something with what Willie rightly calls “a butt-shaking rumba feel”, and on to the rueful tale of young love ‘Phone Stopped Ringing’, which is twang central from both Willie and Pete, over brooding drums from the baby of the band, Jeff Sorenson.  Then they close out their first set by really revving it up on ‘Lookin’ Out My Window’, with the two guitars picking away fit to bust over an uptempo shuffle, and Anderson weighing in with a high-speed, countrified solo.
They fire up their second set with ‘Couldn’t Do Nothin’’, which is equal parts Chuck Berry rock’n’roll and Texas blues – Lightning Willie originally hailing from Texas, after all – and follow up with more boogie in the form of ‘Tears Tears Tears’, with a suitably rattling piano solo from Michael Murphy, who’s also responsible for providing the bass work with his left hand on Korg synth.
Pete Anderson - guitarist and Harvey Keitel lookalike
But they also lay back with the loping, droll ‘Crazy’, and the slow blues of ‘I’m So Worried’,
on which Anderson delivers a slide solo that’s both pinging and woozy, while Willie acts out the lyrics persuasively as he delivers them in a voice that brings to mind Louis Armstrong.  In between, they share funny stories about freezing their asses off in Orkney and getting lost in Stirling in the course of the previous few days.
Down the stretch there are more Wolf undertones to the slinky ‘Fuss And Fight’, and a Mexican influence on ‘Tears Falling Down, with accordion-style keys from Murphy, and some sweet, sad guitar from Willie.
They wig out on Elvis’s ‘Little Sister’, which was also a hit for Dwight Yoakam with input from Anderson, who duly runs riot with the twangin’.  And to close they head back down Texas way for the distinctly ZZ Top-flavoured boogie of ‘Shake My Snake’, with rollercoaster slide from Anderson.
What Lightning Willie delivers may seem like simple stuff, but simple ain’t so easy to create, or deliver, with character and panache.  Willie does it though, ably assisted by Pete Anderson, laying on a show that’s full of wit, warmth, and musicianship.  If he’s playing near you then get your dancing shoes on!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Listened to Lately - albums by Tomislav Goluban featuring Toni Staresinic; and Crudelia

Some strange shit comes your way in this line, I can tell you.  Not necessarily bad shit, I should stress.  Shit, like beauty, is very much in the eye of the beholder.  What's he on about now, you ask?  Well let's find out, with a couple of albums from the leftest of left fields.

The relationship between Velvet Space Love and the blues is, shall we say, rather tangential.  On this collection of 12 instrumentals from the hands of Tomislav Goluban featuring Toni Staresinic – eight originals, plus remixes of three of them, and a cover of an Ennio Morricone piece - the blues element is represented primarily by the harp playing of Croatian Tomislav Goluban.  Meanwhile his countryman Toni Staresinic adds layers of ambient music on piano, synthesizer and other keyboards, and an assortment of guest performers add analogue instrumentation to the mix.
Tomislav and Toni - Sonny and Cher they're not
And if none of that sounds very much like the blues, it has to be said that here and there it still works quite well in its own terms, corny titles and all.  ‘Zero Gravity’ kicks things off in suitably weightless fashion, with Goluban’s mournful harmonica played out over slow pulses of rhythm and washes of synth, while ‘Space Drive’ is more upbeat, with minimalist harp interjections over Motorik tick-tock-bleeping.
Among the highlights though, are ‘My Jupiter Mistress’ and ‘Hypersleep Dream’.  The former lays down a clanking rhythm foundation over which Staresinic plays a lovely piano motif that shifts and drifts delicately.  The latter is even better, Goluban’s elegiac harp refrain conjuring up a soundtrack from a John Wayne western as the sun sets over the prairie, enhanced by angelic backing “vocalization” from soprano Josipa Loncar.
‘Till The End Of Space And Time’ dials up the Kraftwerkian electronic rhythms again, this time underpinning some jauntier Zydeco-style harp from Goluban.  Two of the three remixes are tedious fare, overlong and over-reliant on repetitive drum programming, but ‘TSMK Remix’ gives the rather thin original a lift with the aid of dub beats and more focus on the mouth iron.  The Morricone tribute ‘Man With A Harmonica’ is a suitably atmospheric closer though, Goluban’s plangent harp suggesting nothing so much as the theme from The Singing Detective, mashed up with sweeps and bleeps of synth that could come from Twin Peaks.
It ain’t rock’n’roll, not by a long chalk, but if you have a secret fondness for Vangelis then knock yourself out.

And so to Threshold Volume 2, the debut album – and don’t ask me about Volume 1- from Italian-based Crudelia.  Brace yourselves people, because about thirty seconds in you’re going to encounter the singular vocals of Smokin’ Tiglio.  Sounding like a cross between a croaking Leonard Cohen and an escapee from a Mittel-European death metal band, it will inevitably get your attention.  I dunno what he’s going on about across most of this album, and since by all accounts he doesn’t speak English he probably doesn’t either - but he delivers it authoritatively.
Tiglio’s voice isn’t the be all and end all of this multi-national outfit though, and while they may style themselves as “funk-punk-blues” they tend to alternate in-your-face energy with more reflective material – Exhibit A being opening track ‘Sin Of Innocence’, which is a largely subdued affair, featuring both shimmering guitar strumming and vocal harmonies
Crudelia - yer average laid back experimental weirdos
from Eugenio Suvarov to counterpoint Tiglio’s groaning, all played out over a sparse rhythm section.
It’s a subtle recipe they explore further with the likes of ‘Downtown Mumbai’ and ‘I Pay For It’.  The former is downbeat, but this time in loping fashion, with sweet guitar work from Suvarov, making use of some jangling chords, while the latter is all mellow bluesiness, with measured bass and drums from Vincent Modenesi and Frank Funk ahead of a spiky Suvarov solo.
They do rev it up on other tracks though, like the energetic ‘The Blues’, with its scrabbly guitar over pounding drums, while ‘Gold Tonight’ is pretty much straight-ahead punk, with some quirky “a-ha-ha-ing” vocals thrown into the sort-of-chorus.  The title track has a driving riff over a full-on rhythm section, and some twiddly guitar fills as a prelude to a brief, scratchy solo, and ‘Muddy Waters’ is a jagged slice of twitching funkiness – and a bit repetitive until its stuttering outro.  But the closing track ‘Miriam’ epitomises their low-key side, with a spartan opening that leans heavily on flickering guitar notes and Tiglio’s voice, underpinned by some warped synth sounds courtesy of Modenesi, building towards a discordant, measured guitar solo.
I’ve heard worse albums than Threshold.  I’ve also heard stuff that has more musicality – but is far less interesting. At least Crudelia’s sound has personality.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Jawbone - Jawbone

Good tunes, good tunes. Good words too, for that matter.
If you’re thinking that Jawbone sounds like the monicker of some thrash metal band, you can dispense with that notion pronto.  This four-piece featuring Paddy Milner on keys and vocals, Marcus Bonfanti on guitar and vocals, and Rex Horan and Evan Jenkins on bass and drums respectively, is actually named after a song on the eponymous 1969 album by The Band.  Which makes absolute sense when you listen to the stew of rootsy, bluesy, Sixties rock they’ve cooked up on this debut album.
But there’s a very British sensibility at work here too, so that whatever their influences their sound evokes the likes of Van the Man without the spiritual intensity, Gerry Rafferty without the dense production, and Jackie Leven without the eccentricity.
Jawbone get down and get with it, sitting round the table
Pic by Rob Blackham
And in fact the peak point of the album lies in two songs just after halfway, in ‘Rolling On The Underground’ and ‘Big Old Smoke’, each of which in its own way is a paean to the foursome’s home base of London.  The first has a Kinks-meets-Beatles feel, with stabbing guitar chords over rattling drums on the intro, Milner and Bonfanti sharing the vocals, and the kind of catchy melody that you’ll soon realise is a trademark, especially with it’s descending “Down, down, down, down” chorus.  The second is a rousing, brisk affair, on which Bonfanti does the singing in a typically gruff fashion.  The most booty-shaking grabber on the record, with a slide guitar riff, honky tonk piano and stinging Bonfanti solo, it’s simple but classic rock’n’roll.
Not that these are isolated winners, because there’s plenty of quality and enjoyment to be found either side of them. With Bonfanti and Milner sharing the lead vocal duties, sometimes duetting, and with Horan weighing in on occasional three-part harmonies, there’s variety to the delivery of the melodies, Milner’s sweeter voice contrasting with Bonfanti’s semi-hoarse rasp. They alternate on the opening ‘Leave No Traces’, a piano-led, swinging and spacious arrangement that’s typical of the feel they bring to the material.  There’s a great hook wrapped around the chorus, with the lines “Heaven doesn’t want me, And the Devil doesn’t know who I am” encapsulating lyrical theme.  With a relaxed guitar solo and a clever, round-like vocal bridge – hands up who remembers “rounds” from music in school? – over shuffling drums fromJenkins, it epitomises their ability in constructing a song.
At the other end of the album, ‘The Years Used To Mean So Much’ is probably the most Band-like tune on the album.  With halting piano, sweeps of organ, and the beautiful harmonies on the chorus, it’s a song of nostalgic reflection bathed in a warm glow.  Similar musical and emotional qualities echo through the earlier ‘Sit Round The Table’.
Clever lyrics abound, whether in the sharpness of the gleefully bitter ‘Get What You Deserve’, or the reflective but hopeful ‘Two Billion Heartbeats’, with its notion that each of us arrives with a quota of heartbeats to use wisely, and “Two hundred have gone just singing this song”, to which they add a tasteful piano line, novel percussion twists, and some sparkling guitar on the outro.
I could go on, but I’ll let you discover the delights of the rest of this album yourself.  Ten tracks, forty-five minutes – this is the way records used to be, and it’s an elegant sufficiency.  If what you’re after is a load of crash-bang-wallop – “shoddy rock music”, as Ian Siegal called it during a gig this year – then this isn’t for you.  But if you're the kind of listener for whom it’s all about the songs, then Jawbone is just the job.

Jawbone is released on 9 November.
Jawbone are touring the Czech Republic and Spain during October and November.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Jupiter Blues - The Jupiter Blues EP

Around and around and around we go, as Chuck Berry said and numerous others repeated.  It’s a line that comes to mind listening this debut EP by The Jupiter Blues, a neat and energetic four song outing that’s pretty straightforward in its own terms.  But it still prompts me to reflect a bit on how twists on the blues can overlap, loop around and intermingle.  But we’ll get to that later.
Opening track ‘Stinging’ kicks off with a very Keef-like choppy riff.  Augmented by some bar room piano, and twangy licks from guitarist Chris Mitchell, while singer Dale Orenda weighs in with a decent melody, it conjures up some good ol’ boy Southern rock’n’roll.  Well, a bit, given that this four-piece hail from the North-West of England.  In any event it makes for an enjoyable enough first acquaintance, with an appealing coda that mixes in some vocal
The Jupiter Blues take "Get down!" literally
harmonies and muted handclaps.
They enter the fray from a slightly different angle on ‘Six Foot Bulldog’, with a twiddly, Celtic-sounding riff that brings to mind Rory Gallagher.  Ross Brown’s drum sound could be stronger, but he still makes a busy contribution to an interesting arrangement, while his rhythm section partner Rick Davies (also responsible for the keys) comes to the fore with a gripping set of bass line variations.  Mitchell adds a fiery solo that fits the mood, while Orenda’s vocals take on a raw and rocking tone.  All in all, the bulldog has a big bark.
The pick of this four track bunch though, is ‘While The Sun’.  Opening with another Rory-esque urgent riff anchored by another bout of excellent bass from Davies, it mixes up slow and fast sections to good effect, dropping into a dreamy chorus and a bridge with acoustic strumming rounding out the sound.  I could swear I hear a bow being drawn over a fiddle here and there as well, but as there’s nothing of the kind credited I guess it’s a clever use of either keys or guitar.  With Orenda hollering away to good effect, a rippling, Southern-style solo, and multiple layers of sound beefing up the outro, it’s a well-structured effort that lives up to its ambition.  A bit ragged around the edges maybe, but still impressive.
Closing track ‘Little Moon’ is a bit of acoustic Stonesiness that comes as something of a calm after the storm.  Orenda doesn’t try to ham it up with Jagger’s affected country twang, but he doesn’t quite find his own voice either for this slight but sensitive song.  It still works, but there’s room for improvement.
So what was all that about the twists and turns of blues evolution?  Well, there’s a Black Crowes-ish Southern rock slant to The Jupiter Blues, and it seems to me that Southern rock evolved not just out of Delta blues and R’n’B, but out of the country sounds of the South.  Country music, in turn, originated in large measure from Scotland and Ireland – and bizarrely, melded it with a black instrument, the banjo.  And while for all I know The Jupiter Blues have no interest in Rory Gallagher, Rory inserted Celtic sounds into blues rock – from the source, not second or third hand. And if Southern rock bands copped an earful of the rocked up version of R’n’B created by the Stones, as time went by the Stones also twanged their way into country territory.
And so on, and so on, around and around.  The blues, in its pure form, may be a fairly constrained form.  But it evolves, it mutates, it survives.  None of which, I imagine, occurred to The Jupiter Blues when they recorded this EP.  But they’ve still captured the spirit pretty well.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saturday Night at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival, 29 September 2018

Saturday night at the Crown & Mitre Hotel, and it’s time for action again at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival.
John Bowie and Phil Saunders return to get the ball rolling with a more electrified set than in the afternoon, with a half-hour segue-way of rolling, pulsing blues including ‘Just In Time’ and ‘Roadhouse Blues’.  Bowie is on electric guitar this time, serving up some delicious warm tones, while Saunders lays down a percussive groove, weaves in more guitar, and injects occasional harp to boot.  Then they pick up the pace towards the end, revving
Northsyde - plenty to smile about
everyone up for the rest of the evening.
Northsyde follow, fronted by husband and wife duo Jules and Lorna Fothergill on guitar and vocals and respectively.  It’s the first time I’ve come across them, and the immediate impression generated by Lorna Fothergill’s singing is, basically, holy cow!  The woman has a resonant, rhythmic voice with buckets of oomph to spare.  “Tina Turner”, it says in my notes – which is bizarre, given that we’re talking about a woman whose look is tall, blonde, sinuous and slinky.  Whatever, she puts it out there with style and conviction, while the rest of the band cook up a funky groove, and husband Jules weighs in with a spot-on solo.
They follow that up with ‘Who’s Been Talking?’, on which Fothergill’s vocal gets fathoms-deep – though it soon becomes clear that she can go both low and high with equal facility. The arc of their reading goes from a quiet opening, through some jazzy and smoky moments, towards a well honed dying ending.
They get funky again on ‘Cherry Picking’, lock tight, punctuating the arrangement stylishly, and playing with smiles on their faces – Lorna, is visibly intoit, while Jules watches her moves with a grin on his face and a glint in his eye.  ‘Tuesday’s Flowers’ is a new song with a deeply Stevie Wonder-like bass line, and a solo from Jules that recalls Steely Dan.
Lorna Fothergill - yoga, d'you reckon?
Apparently Northsyde have a penchant for bending and twisting covers, and tonight’s selection is ‘In The Air Tonight’ – yep, the Phil Collins song.  They take it a bit more uptempo, with a ton of reverb on the vocal.  It’s less tense/intense than the original, but still cleverly done, and La Fothergill carries it off in the mode of an old-fashioned rock chick in a smart black dress.  This is nothing though, compared to the following ‘Travelling Shoes’, which starts with a spartan beat over which Fothergill delivers a bravura, gospel-style vocal – growling, soaring, with skilful melisma, the woman is stupendous. Not to be outdone, Jules produces a great solo, buzzing, halting, diving and dashing, as a prelude to another beautifully controlled quiet ending.  
That’s the highlight of a set that then shifts through a version of ‘Today I Sing The Blues’ that could be a bit more down to earth, with a less jazzy guitar solo, to the Allman Brothers’ ‘Whipping Post’ on which they deliver an all out instrumental section, and finally a mash-up of ‘Smokestack Lightning’ and ‘Spoonful’ on which they give it large.  Northsyde may not quite have a stand-out, signature sound of their own, but they’re not run of the mill either, and in Lorna Fothergill they sure have a knock-your-socks-off singer.
Thorbjørn Risager - suited and bunneted
Having seen Mike Vernon and the Mighty Combo at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, we decide to retire to the bar for a while, because in my book they ain’t really that mighty.  Which gives us the chance to regroup in readiness for the night’s headliners, Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado.
And their headline status is justified, because Denmark's finest are a very good band. I mean, really good.  From the first bars of ‘If You Wanna Leave’, with its crunking, Quo-like, two-guitar riff, the space between the stage and the front row of seats is immediately filled with dancing punters, and by the time Hans Nybo rips out a wild sax solo the blue touch paper is well and truly lit.  They follow that up with the stomping, Stonesy groove of ‘Maybe It’s Alright’, with its big soulful melody, swirling keys, and sizzling solo from Peter Skjerning.
You know what?  A few years ago I was in a pub when a covers band started knocking out hits by the Stones, the Who, Bad Company et al, and the clientele, of a similar vintage to me, couldn’t help but get up and dance.  Thorbjørn and chums have exactly that effect – and with fresh, original material that absolutely stands comparison with those classics.
As they go on to prove by knocking out the funkier ‘Paradise’, before cooling things off with ‘I Used To Love You’, a beautifully constructed song that’s restrained but has all the right parts in place, and features a lovely solo from Risager as the icing on the cake. And these songs slot into their
Maybe It's Alright?  Hell yeah.
set alongside cyclonic (geddit?) reworkings of blues standards like ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ and ‘Let The Good Times Roll’.
An injection of piano boogie from Emil Balsgaard gradually leads into the rock’n’roll of ‘The Straight And Narrow Line’, with more honking sax from Nybo, before they find room for a new song in the form of ‘Over The Hill’, which does absolutely nothing to diminish the appetite for dancing down the front, and has room for a singalong that succeeds at the first time of hearing.
They slow things down again with the cinematic ‘China Gate’ – well, it does come from an old film, after all – which again underlines their ability to deliver something different.  But from there on its pretty much party time, with the likes of the aforesaid covers, ‘Train’ with its imaginative percussion from Martin Seidelin, the growling ‘All I Want’ with Risager’s gravelly voice to the fore and its teasing false ending, and the suitably titled ‘Rock’n’Roll Ride’.
You think I was taking copious notes amidst all these fun and games?  To hell with that.  I was up dancing with my other half, having a ball like the rest of the Carlisle audience.  Which sums up the irresistible charms of Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado.  When this lot are onstage the good times do indeed roll.

You can find a review of the Friday night session here.
The Saturday afternoon session is reviewed here.