Sunday, January 21, 2018

Joe Louis Walker - 100 Club, London, 16 January 2018

Seeing Joe Louis Walker play live means having a good time.  Simple as that.  Hotshot blues rock guitarists abound, but few of them bring the sense of playfulness to electric blues that Walker displays.  Schooled in church music, he still includes a big chunk of gospel in his live set, and makes it such a pleasure that I could almost be persuaded to get religion myself.  Almost.
And so it is from the off at this busy 100 Club gig as part of London Blues Week.  Opening with ‘I’m Not Messin’ Around’, he and his band lock into a big groove, founded on vibrant drumming from Byron Cage, that slams the FUN into funky.
Joe Louis Walker - ain't messin' around
A slow blues instrumental follows, but one imbued with mischief, as Walker sets out teasing with controlled feedback that eventually melts into pizzicato picking before heading back the other way, while guest ivories man Stevie Watts gets to launch the first of several big organ solos.
‘Don’t Let Go’ is the first of the gospel outings, featuring vocal harmonies that he reveals were originally delivered by the Jordanaires when he recorded it on Hornet’s Nest.  But ‘Wade In The Water’ swings on another level entirely.  Lenny Bradford – a man of a thousand facial expressions, most of them variations on a big grin – contributes nimbly subterranean bass runs as he, Walker and Cage gear up for some blindingly funky interplay underneath another Watts solo.  The way they chop up the rhythm and turn it inside out, in total synch, is something to behold.
‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, recorded for the 2002 Beatles tribute The Blues White Album, is delivered with absolute conviction, before ‘In The Morning’ transports gospel into the realms of sunrise soul.  Conjuring up a season of warmth and mellow fruitfulness, it shifts with ease into a hi tempo ending.
After some squealing slide on ‘Soldier For Jesus’ the delicate opening of ‘Black And Blue’ ushers in quiet little flurries of notes from Walker, building towards a big finish.  Giles Robson pops up to guest on harp and lend extra wailing to the chugging boogie of ‘Young Girl Blues’, and then it’s time for the riotous set closer that is ‘Too Drunk To Drive Drunk’.  Chuck Berry-like in feel to the point that at one point Bradford sets off on a duck walk, and with Stevie Watts giving it some rock’n’roll piano into the bargain, it features an interlude that breezily flings in riffs from ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ and ‘Daytripper’, and probably more besides, to bring the house down.
With the crowd baying for an encore as the band mosey offstage, Walker stays put and
Lenny Bradford - "Whaddya mean, man of a thousand faces?"
straps his mother-of-pearl decorated guitar back on to deliver ‘Where Jesus Leads Me I Will Follow’ on his own, before welcoming his compadres back for a final outing.  Introduced with a funny story about working with Peter Green, it’s Mac’s ‘One Sunny Day’, covered on latest album Everybody Wants A Piece.  With Bradford giving it large on the song’s big bass figure, Walker wrenches plenty of torque from the descending guitar riff, and delivers a jaw-dropping solo for good measure.
Joe Louis Walker is an electric blues delight, and here’s hoping he gets back to these shores soon.  When he does, get your ass along to see him, and have yourself a damn good time.
The cheerfully unassuming King Size Slim is deserving of a mention for his solo support slot, consisting entirely of unamplified tri-cone resonator guitar and vocals – and some thunderous foot stomping when required.  With a frequent twinkle in his eye he manages to weave some Sarf coast rapping into acoustic Delta blues, and engages the audience to assist him in re-tuning his guitar through “the collective consciousness of thought” – the best line I’ve heard on the subject since Jimbo Mathus declared “Fuck it – tuning is a decadent Western concept anyway”.

But amid the laughs Slim also produces stirring guitar and nice dynamics on the catch ‘Love Divine’, and constructs a tuneful singalong on ‘May We Find A Way Out Of The Storm’.  He may not actually be King Size, but Slim still manages to make an entertaining mark.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Dan Patlansky - Perfection Kills

“Whuh!” grunts Dan Patlansky at the start of ‘Too Far Gone’.  It’s like a statement of intent for one of his trademarks – when Dan Patlansky decides to get gritty on Perfection Kills, he gets real gritty.
For me Patlansky’s last album Introvertigo never really found the weight of punch that was evident on its predecessor Dear Silence Thieves.  But this time around ‘Too Far Gone’ is just one example of him getting back to his edgy best, its big descending riff trading off against some squeaky funkiness before he slots in a strong solo that also incorporates some stylish dynamics.
Hit' em high, hit 'em low, hit 'em hard!
Pic by Laurence Harvey
The album opens and closes with similarly convincing combinations.  ‘Johnny’ has an attack that lives up to its chorus of “Hit ‘em high, hit ‘em low, hit ‘em hard”.  It’s a tale of the impact of growing up in a difficult environment, but Patlansky still manages to add light to the shade with some twinkling guitar and smooth vocal “oohs” in contrast to the rasp of his vocal elsewhere.  At the other end of the set comes ‘Dog Day’, which ponders whether our hard day’s night is as bad as the plight of others, to the accompaniment of a neck-snapping chorus, and sand-blasted guitar underscored by organ oomph, before Patlansky rounds it out with a brief, squalling rollercoaster of a solo.
In between those two bookends the aforementioned ‘Too Far Gone’ bolsters the middle of the album, along with the offbeat funky undercurrent of ‘Junket Man’ and the staccato edginess of ‘iEyes’.  The former contrasts relaxed verses with a tense chorus, while Patlansky dashes off a – technical term coming up – widdly guitar solo with ease.  The latter casts a withering eye on the phenomenon of people taking in the world through their phone screens, the distorted vocals suggesting the unnatural filter they’re surrendering to.
But Patlansky is just as good when taking a breather from the hard-hitting approach of these tracks.  ‘Mayday’ is slower, more mellow, with keys contributions that add delicacy.  Patlansky’s guitar sparkles, and the verses have a dreamy quality that call to mind his Floyd influences.  Maybe it could be leavened with a middle eight of some kind, but it’s indicative of the different shots he could have in his locker.
If ‘Mayday’ has a hint of prog about it, ‘Judge A Man’ gets back to basics, with a patient slow blues on which Patlansky goes all Albert King on an excellent extended solo.  Better still though is ‘My Dear Boy’, on which he contemplates his young son’s future in a manner that’s both reflective and positive, carrying an openness to possibility.  It’s a simple and lovely tune, propelled by some breezy strumming of an effortlessly Hendrixy variety.
The scary thing is that I reckon Patlansky still has untapped potential.  I find myself pondering where he could take the proggier influences he’s described in interview.  If he had someone like Steven Wilson in the producer’s chair, what far horizons could he explore with a couple of tricky time signatures and a sinuous rhythm section?
But never mind my leaps of whimsy.  Perfection Kills confirms that Dan Patlansky is a big hitter.  He can deliver big riffs with a modern twist to them.  He’s as expressive a lead player as you could find, when he puts his mind to it.  And while a couple of tracks here may lag behind the rest, more and more he shows capability as an imaginative songwriter, whether with the challenging social commentary of ‘Too Far Gone’ or the delicacy of songs like ‘Mayday’ and ‘My Dear Boy’.  If there’s a New Wave of Classic Rock rolling in, then Dan Patlansky is surfing it.

Read the exclusive interview with Dan Patlansky here.
Perfection Kills is released on 2 February.

Dan Patlansky tours the UK in March, supported by Mollie Marriott.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa

I had high hopes for this album, I really did.  The notion that Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa were reprising a collection of “soul gems” sounded promising – a chance for Bonamassa to lay back and swing a bit after the Sturm und Drang of the latest Black Country Communion affair, allied to the light touch and reined in vibrato Hart showed on her last album Fire On The Floor.
Unfortunately Black Coffee doesn’t deliver on those expectations.  Or perhaps I should say it doesn’t match my conception of what they were intending.  Not that it’s a bad album, though it’s not a great one either.  But it draws on a wider range of styles than soul – sometimes to good effect, sometimes less so.
The highlights actually lie in jazz-inflected songs like ‘Lullabye Of The Leaves’ and ‘Why Don’t You Do It Right’.  The latter is a smoky ballad, originally recorded by Ella Fitzgerald,
He's behind you, Beth!
and Hart does a good job of evoking that mood, aided by some rippling piano from the inevitable Reese Wynans and a subtle solo from Bonamassa.  The latter, a Kansas Joe McCoy song tackled by Peggy Lee back in the Forties, is finger-snapping jazz, with slinky, swinging horns and rinky-dink piano from Wynans, with both Hart and Bonamassa catching the easy-going mood.
The closing couple of tracks may be less in jazz mode, but carry a similarly coherent vibe.  ‘Soul On Fire’ is a bit of a torch song, with Hart keeping her vibrato on a leash and JoBo exercising similar restraint, although he can’t resist firing off a few clusters of unnecessary notes.  The same is true of his brief but steely solo on ‘Addicted’, a laid back, almost reggae like shuffle on which Hart essays a suitably dreamy vocal.
None of the above are raves, but at least they develop a coherent mood.  Etta James’ ‘Damn Your Eyes’ has a different, tense feel to it, with Hart getting soulful to the strains of a strong riff, backed up by piano chords and organ swells from Wynans, stabs of horn punctuation, and an effective, urgent solo from Bonamassa.
Those are the highlights though, other songs hanging off them in an unfocussed fashion.  The opener, Edwin Starr’s ‘Give It Everything You Got’ has soul food ingredients in the form of the horns, backing vox, and handclaps, and the guitar interplay with (I think) Michael Rhodes’ bass is playing.  But JB’s warped wah-wah intro and even heavier solo just sound incongruous.  Meanwhile the title track, from the Ike and Tina Turner catalogue, is essentially a low key arrangement over which Hart gets her wail on – and this is purely a matter of personal preference, but that quavering vibrato she is wont to adopt does precisely zip for me.
‘Saved’ is high tempo, honking pseudo-gospel that isn’t as funny as it thinks, though Anton Fig’s train-track drum pattern is appealing.  And ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ is simply redundant – give me Howlin’ Wolf any time, or even Frank Frost and Sam Carr.

Some pleasing moments then, and the musicianship is of course top notch, but ultimately the whole is less than the some of its parts.  All things considered, Black Coffee isn’t so much a rich, dark soulful brew as a half-and-half.

Black Coffee is released by Provogue Records on 26 January.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Man On Fire - Dan Patlansky talks to Blues Enthused

For a guy whose songs sometimes encompass stiletto-like social commentary, and who has just endured a roadwork-prolonged journey from Glasgow to Bristol when we catch up with each other on the phone, Dan Patlansky is sounding remarkably chipper.
Just as well it’s a night off in the course of his autumn UK tour supporting Joanne Shaw Taylor though.  Welcome to Britain, the land of the traffic cone, I observe.
“It was a wee bit of a drive,” the South African blues rocker chuckles.  “But we got here in one piece, and that’s all that counts.”
The purpose of this call isn’t to have a very British conversation about road works and traffic though, but to look ahead. On February 2 Patlansky releases his latest album, Perfection Kills, to be followed by a 6 date headlining tour of the UK in March.

Dan Patlansky - he likes that Strat you know!
Pic by Allan Jones
Patlansky has a habit of coming with intriguing album titles – Dear Silence Thieves, Introvertigo, and now Perfection Kills.  So where did the latest one come from?
“Well you know, I’ve done quite a few albums, and sometimes I find that pursuit of perfection in the studio, in the recording, sometimes you engineer the magic out of it,” he says, “because you polish the magic out a little bit too much. So I’ve always kind of tried to stay away from that, and keep that live spark and energy that always exists in the live performance, and try and capture that on the album.  And you know sometimes, leaving mistakes on the record, and glitches, that’s often sometimes where the magic is – there’s something special about that.”
After the Wish You Were Here-like burning man on the cover of Introvertigo, the cover of Perfection Kills is similarly thought-provoking, featuring a family sitting in a dowdy sitting room – but dad is an old-fashioned pipe smoker, mum is a bald mannekin, and the young girl is wearing a gas mask.  What was the thinking with that, I ask. 
“Well I think that’s a different take on ‘perfection kills’,” Dan responds.  “It’s almost like a family where the mother’s like, too perfect, and strives for perfection, and the little girl can’t breathe, that’s why she’s got the gas mask on.  And you know, the old man is just bleak as hell!” he says with a laugh.  “He’s kind of lost the will to live a little bit.”
As I noted at the start of this piece, lyrically Patlansky sometimes tackles quite hard-hitting subjects, as with ‘Sonova Faith’ and ‘Western Decay’ on Introvertigo.  On this album ‘Johnny’ talks about the impact of a difficult childhood on the grown man, and ‘Too Far Gone’ is a rather dystopian state-of-the-world piece.  So does Patlansky deliberately like to
Perfection Kills - it's never like this in the sofa ads

bring some edge to what he writes, or is it just what bubbles to the surface?
“Yeah, I mean it’s kinda like social commentary, or things I’ve seen.  Often what I write about is the stuff that, like, just annoys me at that moment, I suppose!” he laughs.  “And what better platform to moan than a song?  But yeah, I used to write lyrics that were far more, I suppose, clichéd blues type of things, and I always thought that was a bit disingenuous because, you know, I don’t work in a cotton field like those old guys used to.  That was their life.  So I thought I had to write stuff that was more relevant to my life, and social commentary’s one of my favourite things to write about – about stuff that annoys me!”
Another example is the song ‘iEyes’, which talks about people living their lives through screens nowadays.  I ask him if he’s aware of that at gigs – of people filming the band on their phones for minutes on end rather than watching them live, as it were?
“Yeah,” he confirms.  “Actually the first thing that came to mind when I wrote that song was, we went to play at a venue in London, and it was a sold out venue, and I actually looked up at one point in the middle of a song, and it was like 200 cell phones in the air.  And I thought to myself, you know, the definition is way better with your eyes than with your cell phone!  It was a very, very strange thing to see.”
Even stranger in a way to an old codger like me, as it’s a completely about turn from when I was young and going to gigs, and you weren’t allowed cameras into the venue.
Patlansky is something of an oddity on the British and European scene, with his South African background.  But maybe that helps him to offer something distinctive.
Does being based in South Africa give him a perspective that helps him to find a fresh take on things, I wonder?  I imagine even in terms of metaphors and slang there might be a different vocabulary for him to tap into.
“It definitely does,” he says.  “South Africa is quite westernised these days, and also at one point was a British colony.  So there are a lot of similarities between South Africa and the UK, in certain aspects.  But obviously it’s a very different world now, and a very different place to live, with different problems and a different lifestyle.  So I definitely think it lends itself to a unique kind of songwriting if you’re basing your songs off stuff from back there.”
Patlansky has spoken about trying to make this album sound more akin to how the songs will come across live, and it sounds to me that’s he’s brought more of an edge to his vocals on some tracks, like ‘Dog Day’ and ‘Too Far Gone’.   Was that something he was conscious of?
“I don’t know if it was necessarily conscious, I think it was more like the song suggested a certain thing, and you kind of automatically or naturally go in that direction.  So I must say, it wasn’t a conscious thing, but it kind of definitely ended up that way.”
Patlansky goes for the Rage Against The Machine vibe
Pic by Anthony May
Patlansky doesn’t strike me as being your typical, mainstream blues rock guy, I suggest, so I’m intrigued to hear who really influenced your musical direction.
“I mean obviously a big portion of those guys are the blues rock guys,” he says, starting off with the more obvious names.  “Like Hendrix was a big influence, Stevie Ray Vaughan was a big influence.  But you know, all the old blues guys like BB King and Albert King and all those guys.”  Then he starts to get into different territory.  “But also, on the other hand, one of my biggest influences is David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, and Pink Floyd in general has been a massive influence and still probably remains one of my favourite bands.”  And never mind the guitar work, it occurs to me later, but maybe the Floyd’s penchant for angsty social commentary seeped into his consciousness.
“But you know,” he continues, “I’m influenced also by guys like Steven Wilson, who’s a modern kinda prog guy I’m a big fan of.  Even guys like Beck, who are completely outside the blues genre, but I think he’s a fantastic songwriter more than anything.  Then there’s all sorts of soul guys, like Ray Charles, and jazz guys like Jaco Pastorius, and Charlie Parker, and Oscar Peterson.  So I think it’s quite a wide range of influences, that I always try and kind of mix together to try and get something slightly more unique in the world of blues rock, song wise that is.”
That doesn’t strike me as the whole caboodle though.  I note that when he starts to get heavy, as on ‘Backbite’ from Dear Silence Thieves, or ‘Dog Day’ from the new album, there’s a seriously hard-edged funk undertow to things.
“Yeah, that’s like, I’m a big Audioslave fan, and a Rage Against The Machine fan, and I just thought they were fantastic riff writers.”  He ponders for a second.  “And also, you know, Zeppelin – I know that’s nowhere near as heavy as those bands, but Zeppelin were the original rock’n’roll riff writer guys for me, and that was a massive influence too.  So maybe a bit of that kind of influence came through on those slightly harder songs.”
Patlansky first made a serious impact in Britain and Europe with the release of Dear Silence Thieves in 2015.  But he’d released six albums before that, going back to 1999.  How was he developing during that period?
“Well I started out as a very traditional blues artist, like doing straight down the line blues, 12 bar blues type of stuff, which I still love listening to and still love playing on occasion.  And you know over the years I kind of really wanted to get into the songwriting side of things, and try to not just express through guitar playing and singing, but also writing music and trying to express through the song itself.  So the focus shifted far more to the songs, and try to get the song right first and then worry about the playing and the performance of it.  So I think that’s been the biggest shift and change.”
We have a bit of a laugh as I observe that his website, and some of his PR material, give the erroneous impression that these earlier albums were largely acoustic in style, even though the cover pictures generally feature him wielding an electric guitar.  Speaking of which, the guitar he’s always pictured with is a pretty beat-up looking Strat – it’s almost worthy of Rory Gallagher.
“Yeah, I’ve had that guitar since the year 2000.  The guitar is a 1962 Strat, so pretty much the same year as Rory’s – I think Rory’s guitar was a ’61.  And yeah, I’ve played that guitar almost exclusively for the last 17 years, and it’s really taken a beating on the road.  And it’s been everywhere with me, it’s virtually done every live show I’ve ever played.  It’s been to every country I’ve ever been to, it’s been thrown around in airports, and on the stage, and dropped - it really has taken a beating.  But it’s a Strat, and fortunately they’re quite strong.”
Dan Patlansky gets ready to cast a spell
Even so, I’m thinking, I’ve seen numerous stories of guitarists retrieving their instruments after flights and finding them damaged.  Does he worry about baggage handlers getting their mitts on it?
Very worried.  I’ve actually got a super strength flight case for it, and even with that I still kind of have heart attacks every time I arrive on the other side, hoping that my guitar is going to come out in one piece.”
No Bonamassa-like guitar nerd, the Stratocaster is Patlansky’s essential weapon of choice.
“Yes, definitely,” he agrees.  “I use that in the studio, I use that live.  I’m the type of person that’ll really relax with one guitar, and really know the guitar, know the way it sounds, know the way it plays, and it really feels kind of second nature.  So that’s really why I love the ‘one guitar’ kind of thing.”
Now this is interesting, I think, because Patlansky has gained a reputation as a bit of a guitar sorcerer.  Does that mean he has to use effects to stretch himself and bring variety to his sound?  He demurs a bit, saying that he’s actually got a fairly small effects board.
“But for me,” he explains, “if you know a guitar well enough, there’s ways of getting different textures and tones out of a guitar without using effects pedals – more like the way you play the guitar, the techniques you use on the guitar that I’m trying to work on.  So that’s pretty much the way that I try to keep things interesting, tone-wise and texture-wise.  It’s just try and experiment with the guitar, and play it differently, and set it a little bit differently, and then see what happens.  And it’s crazy how some unique stuff can come through."
From previous comments he’s made, and even the notion of Introvertigo, Patlansky has given the impression that he’s something of a reflective guy, happy in his own company.
Definitely, at heart I think I’m an introvert,” he agrees, before anticipating the next question.  “In a way I know it seems like a silly career choice being a musician if you don’t like crowds of people, but I think performing on stage and being in a shopping mall is a very different thing!”  Or as he puts it later, “Having to make conversations about the weather with strange
"Don't talk to me about the weather!"
family members, or something like that – that really kind of kills me.  I tend to recharge when I’m on my own, and there’s a little bit of peace and quiet.  So I guess I do really shy away from, like, chaos.”
Nowadays though, artists like Patlansky are very much expected to be accessible to their audience offstage.  I recall seeing him supporting King King in Glasgow back in 2016, and talking to a long queue of people after his set.  It must be demanding, coming off stage and having to do all that chat, I imagine.
“It is in a way,” he admits.  “But at the same time it’s – if I feel like I’ve had a difficult show, or a bad show, then it’s like a lot of hard work.  But if you’ve had an alright show I actually find it alright, because it’s not for too long, it’s half an hour or 40 minutes, and you get generally honest feedback on what people thought of the show, and that’s always good to hear and take to heart.”
Well, I suggest, if they’re bothering to speak to you it’s probably because they’ve liked you.  And Dan Patlansky laughs, as he often does.
For all that he likes to write edgy songs, and is also capable of striking awe into axe worshippers, Patlansky comes across as a rather self-deprecating guy.  That picture on the cover of Introvertigo, of a burning man sticking his head in the ground, may just be an exotic way laughing at himself banging his head against the wall on occasions.
There’s a Facebook group out there nowadays dedicated to the ‘New Wave Of Classic Rock’.  With his innovative guitar playing, punchy and distinctive sound, and intelligent lyrics, Dan Patlansky has got all the tools to surf that wave.  Perfection may kill, but class will tell.

Read the Blues Enthused review of Perfection Kills here.