Sunday, September 19, 2021

Joanne Shaw Taylor - The Blues Album

Another month, another album of covers by an established artist.
After the recent release of Bernie Marsden’s Kings I had a lively discussion with a reader about the value of outings such as these, and it’s certainly a discussion worth having.  How much intrinsic value is there in this kind of collection of modern takes on old songs?  Is The Blues Album possibly a gateway for some fans of Joanne Shaw Taylor to explore unfamiliar blues artists?
Joanne Shaw Taylor - happiness is a new album
Pic by Christie Goodwin
Whatever.  One thing to be said about The Blues Album is that it’s stylistically different from another Joe Bonamassa/Josh Smith-produced outing from earlier this year.  Joanna Connor’s 4801 South Indiana Avenue may also have leaned heavily on old tunes, but where it majored on
raunch, The Blues Album tends to head in a more subtle, more soulful direction.  And in that context, it has to be said that the JoJo production team have coaxed some convincingly soulful vocals out of Ms Taylor – which is a significant point, because while I’ve always liked the husky tone of her singing, I’ve sometimes found it wanting in other respects.
So among the highlights on the album are soul-blues ballads like ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’, ‘Let Me Down Easy’, and the absolute cream of the crop, ‘I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me)’.  Written by Don Covay and originally recorded by Little Richard in a far from wop-bop-a-loo-bop mode, it’s an old classic given an old classic treatment, and Taylor gives it her all with a soul-fuelled vocal, backed up by gospel-influenced guest Mike Farris in the supporting vocal role.  For me the gold medal winning rendition is still Ian Siegal’s on his album Swagger, but this isn’t far behind.
It’s not hard to guess that the horn-backed slowie ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’ was once recorded by Aretha Franklin, and though JST is no Aretha she still delivers an emotive vocal, and backs it up with a pinging guitar solo that edges into Gary Moore’s romantic blues terrain.  And she captures the emotional vibe on ‘Let Me Down Easy’ too, assisted by waves of organ from Reese Wynans, with horns flowing over the top and trills of piano in the margins, while the guitar stays in the background until a spiky solo scratches its way into earshot.
The frequent use of horns evokes a jazzy vibe here and there, so that ‘If That Ain’t A Reason’ manages to be both swinging and strident, Taylor’s rhythmic vocal delivery swollen by classy female backing vocals, the assertiveness underlined by the quivering but tough guitar tone on her solo.  She then gets sassy with her singing on ‘Keep On Lovin’ Me’, over some slinky bass from Steve Mackey, with sax punctuation from Mark Drouthit.  Taylor’s guitar then trills its way
Turbo-charged messing' round on stage
Pic by Christie Goodwin
into solo action, carrying a flavour of Sean Costello, ahead of some guitar/sax counterpunching to close.  There’s more horn and organ layering on ‘Can’t You See What You’re Doing Me’, but it’s the undulating bass line that really drives the groove, laying the foundations for some stinging, squealing guitar work, latterly turbo-charged by a key change.  Then there’s a rather weak fade-out – an option that has its place, but detracts from the power of a few tracks here.
There’s fun stuff too, with the opener ‘Stop Messin’ Round’, a 1968 Fleetwood Mac tune resuscitated by Gary Moore on Still Got The Blues and given a similar rambunctiously swingin’ treatment here, La Taylor having fun vocally and delivering some biting guitar breaks, while Wynans goes to town on a rocking piano solo.  The perky Memphis-style R’n’B of ‘Two Time My Lovin’ has a crisp backbeat counterpointed by lazily bobbing bass, and Taylor serves it well with a shimmering, sparkling and teasing solo.  And the album closes with the boogie of ‘Three Time Loser’, a strutting rhythm backing a chugging riff, while Wynans chucks in piano and organ licks from different angles before knocking out another barroom piano showcase.
Oddly, a couple of throwaway items sit in the middle of the album – the fun but slight ‘Don’t Go Away Mad’, on which for reasons passing understanding Bonamassa feels the need to saddle up for a duet, and the instrumental fragment ‘Scraps Vignette’.
Does The Blues Album add anything to the sum of blues knowledge?  Not really.  But with its top-flight cast list it’s still a satisfying production, full of strong arrangements – and it’s good to hear Joanne Shaw Taylor hit the mark with her vocal contribution as much as her guitar.

The Blues Album is released on 24 September by KTBA Records, and can be ordered here.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Tommy Castro Presents A Bluesman Came To Town - A Blues Odyssey

First of all, hats off to Tommy Castro for trying something a bit different.  “Concept album” isn’t a phrase one hears bandied about much in relation to roots music, but A Bluesman Came To Town fits the bill, with its tale of a young man from 'Somewhere' who gets hooked on the blues and hits the road with his guitar.
It’s a nice enough idea - an opening out of the Johnny B. Goode story, if you like, over 13 tracks.  I’ll let you discover the story for yourself, but for me, over the piece, the narrative feels a bit
prosaic as it relates the ups and downs of the anonymous hero’s life on his “blues odyssey”.  The melodies on a couple of songs feel somewhat predictable too.  These misgivings aside though, there’s still plenty to enjoy, not least because Castro makes use of a number of roots styles to good effect.
Tommy Castro crosses a black cat's path
Pic by Victoria Smith

Take the plenty satisfying brace of ‘You To Hold On To’ and ‘I Wanna Go Back Home’ for example.  The first is a slice of Springsteen-esque soul, Castro’s aching vocal depicting the kid’s reflections on the girl he’s leaving behind for the road, set to a slow and steady arrangement with some country-ish twang and a sweet guitar solo.  The latter is in a similar vein, with Castro making like Ben E. King over a Memphis soul sound of mellow organ and subtle rhythm guitar, enhanced by an emotive sax solo.  And reaching further back into the soul vibe, ‘Child Don’t Go’ is a gospel-driven duet by Castro and Terrie Odabi, offering parental advice about the big bad world over backing with pots of brio courtesy of Kevin McKendree’s boisterous honky tonk piano and Castro’s steely guitar solo.
Castro and co can rock too, whether it’s the upbeat rock’n’roll of ‘I Caught A Break’, with its  infectious chorus and overt musical and lyrical allusions to 'Johnny B. Goode', or the mid-paced post-Hendrixism of ‘Women, Drugs And Alcohol’, its sturdy riff punctuated by bright, offbeat chords and needle-sharp guitar licks as it gradually whips up energy.  The funky inflections of the latter get fuller expression too, on ‘Hustle’, which has a lot more to do with James Brown than Van McCoy, with jingling rhythm guitar and sassy horns, and Castro even indulging in a spot of rapping.  Well, kinda.
When it comes to slower stuff, the downbeat blues-rock of ‘Draw The Line’, with its shimmering keys, has more to offer than the slow-blues-by-numbers feel of ‘Blues Prisoner’, capturing the mood well as the lyric offers a response to the tribulations of ‘Women, Drugs And Alcohol’.  And still in straightforward blues territory, the insistent ‘I Got Burned’ has more personality than the rather pedestrian tune of ‘Bluesman Comes To Town’, even if both feature stinging guitar solos.  More ear-catching than either of those, though, is ‘Bring It One Back’ on which Castro’s buzzing slide guitar and Tommy MacDonald’s bass bring juddering urgency to the riff, played off against a tense drum rhythm from producer Tom Hambridge.
I like Tommy Castro.  As a songwriter he’s capable of evoking atmosphere and a sense of place, he has a convincing, soulful voice, and he wields his six string effectively in a number of styles.  It’s a shame that the over-arching story on the album isn’t more gripping, but at least Castro hasn’t overplayed his hand and tried to produce a “blues opera” of Wagnerian proportions.  Thanks to that self-discipline, A Bluesman Came To Town isn’t weighed down by filler, and Castro’s qualities are still able to come to the fore and shine.

Tommy Castro Presents A Bluesman Came To Call is released by Alligator Records on 17 September.
 

Friday, September 3, 2021

Samantha Fish - Faster

Here she comes again, dancin’ ‘neath the starry skies.  Yep, it’s the moving target that is Samantha Fish.
“You know, any time I feel like we’re closing to getting – um, figured out,” Ms Fish said to me when I interviewed her a couple of years ago, “when people think that this is exactly who you are, and this is what you’re gonna be, and it becomes an expectation - it makes me wanna change.”   And listening to Faster, you know she wasn’t kidding.
Let’s start with the album cover, with its vivid picture of Fish lasciviously running her tongue up
Samantha Fish, glossy sheen and all
Pic by Kevin King
the neck of an, er, upright guitar.  What’s that all about?  Well, it’s attention-grabbing for sure – anyone idly catching sight of it is going to do a double take.  But it’s also a world away from the vulnerable fairy tale heroine suggested on the cover of Wild Heart.  I’m thinking it’s a don't-give-a-shit visual statement, declaring that Samantha Fish will do whatever she goddamn pleases, thank you very much.  You know what else?  Intentionally or not, that picture references the artwork on the 1979 single ‘Picture This’ by Blondie, that bunch of New York punks who mutated into chartbusting power-poppers, turning their hands to disco and rap along the way.
Picture this indeed, in readiness for the aural rollercoaster ride of Faster, as Fish and her producer/collaborator Martin Kierszenbaum smash styles together like a rock’n’roll Hadron Collider.  Get ready, people, for crunching rock riffs, scrabbling post-punk guitar breaks, glistening keys, dance grooves, electro-pop bleeping – and more besides.
The title track kicks in with a buzzing, tough riff fit to rank with ‘Show Me’ from Wild Heart, but also introduces a thumping drum sound akin to the gated reverb variety that dominated the 80s.  There’s a tantalising frisson to the yada-yada-yada lyric of the chorus: “I wanna ooh-ooh-ooh, You’re gonna ooh-ooh-ooh, That’s how I’ll make your heart go faster.”  It's one of a number of songs about sexual attraction and - at the risk of sounding interleckshul - the power dynamics of relationships.  A screaming guitar break will hit the bullseye for long-standing Fish fans, but the sonic gloss and sheen is something different – and she’s just getting started.
‘All Ice, No Whiskey’ has plenty of sexy swagger, and buried within it a groove that’s on familiar terms with Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ gets its little socks rocked off.  Discordant keys sweep here and there, and the chorus is burnished by sleek, multi-tracked vocals, but what’s inescapable is a
Not Samantha Fish, not Faster
 dance floor rhythm track that’s enough to get even this old git practising his white man’s overbite (© Nora Ephron, Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal).  And if ‘Twisted Ambition’ has not one but two gritty guitar riffs getting sonically warped, they’re also jostling with throbbing, synthy bass lines, and bright pulsing keys that create tension before Fish lets loose on guitar.
By this time old school blues-rock fans may be feeling seasick as they lurch between loving some of the gutsy guitar, and dropping their jaws at some of the other sounds flying around.  And you ain’t heard anything yet.
‘Hypnotic’ slides seductively into earshot with a gasping vocal about “casting a spell that binds you”, over beeping like electronic raindrops.  It comes over like something from an 80s Brit synth-pop outfit - until Mademoiselle Fish lets rip with a grungy guitar interlude that would give electronica twiddlers heart failure.  On the other hand ‘Forever Together’ takes the “bomp-bomp-ba-bomp-bomp” vocal refrain of Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’ and bends it into the deformed riff for a punky pop song with the perkiest of catchy, where-have-I-heard-that-before choruses.
The opening verse of ‘Crowd Control’ reveals one of Fish’s few weaknesses, a tendency that’s cropped up in years gone by to waver a mite on notes at the bottom end of her register.  What follows is a slice of dreamy pop that at first blush seems serviceable rather than outstanding, but as she relaxes into the vocal and adds some neat guitar fills it begins to sound like Samantha on more familiar soulful ground.  ‘Imaginary War’ never really achieves escape velocity however, notwithstanding its fuzzy Morse Code backing and a typically spiky guitar solo.
But if that’s something of a lull in proceedings, ‘Loud’ gets things back on track.  A mellow verse with soulful crooning á la Kill Or Be Kind’s ‘Love Letters’ explodes into a chorus that’s all slamming chords, swelling organ and forceful vocals.  And then – steps back in amazement, supersonic Sam – a fella starts rapping!  Will this be a bridge too far for some guitar rock
"The future is this way!"
aficionados, or will they take the rapid-fire delivery of Tech N9ne in their stride?  Answers on a postcard, please.
And having dropped that stylistic bombshell, ‘Better Be Lonely’ switches tack with a repetitive, scratchy guitar line that’s taken up by Sam’s smoother vocal, over a cool, swinging bass groove and a thumping backbeat.  It’s a simple enough tune, but it’s also an insistent, infernal earworm, topped off with a trademark wiry guitar solo.  Then things get even wilder with the punk-pop guitar wig-out of ‘So-Called Lover’, which is more or less ‘Love Your Lies’ Mark II with a Blondie-esque stratospheric chorus and a buzzsaw guitar solo.
If you’re feeling breathless after all that, ‘Like A Classic’ cools things off, its wordless opening lines sliding into a swoonsome, coo-ing vocal, with a sweetly rising and falling chorus over squiggly background noises.  And then ‘All The Words’ is a classic Fish slowie, easing in with Beatle-ish softly softly guitar notes, then leaning on sparse electric piano below Samantha’s reflective, emotional vocal about how “the caged bird never flies”, ultimately bringing down the curtain with some sweetly soaring singing.
“That’s part of being an artist,” the lady said to me back in 2019.  “You’re going to do things that are either gonna incite happiness, or upset people.”  Some people may be upset by Faster.  Others may catch up with it.  Me?  I’m sold.  Faster isn’t perfect, but it’s radio-ready dynamite in a similar way to the Black Keys’ El Camino.  And Samantha Fish is a determined, ambitious young woman who’s carving out new possibilities for her music, and doing it with flair.
 
Faster is released by Rounder Records on 10 September, and is available for pre-order here.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Robert Jon & The Wreck - Shine A Light On Me Brother

Robert Jon & The Wreck are not entirely what they seem.  The easy peg to hang them on may be Southern rock, but there’s more to them than that rather lazy label suggests.  This was obvious from their previous album Last Light On The Highway, and there’s further evidence when they let loose here with ‘Shine A Light On Me Brother’, the title track that kicks off their new release.
Robert Jon & The Wreck - Otis Redding dance moves unlikely
Pic by Bryan Greenberg
Surging guitar chords, and some squealing slide courtesy of Henry James herald the entrance of Robert Jon Burrison’s strong, purposeful voice soaring over the top of the arrangement – as it does across the album’s ten tracks.  But then some rocking horns get cooking, and gospellated backing vocals enter the fray courtesy of Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins and Prinnie Stevens, and suddenly they’ve gone all Otis Redding, with barroom piano frills from Steve Maggiora.  This ain’t your common-or-garden Southern rock sound, not by any means, even if they don’t have the dance moves to go with the Memphis soul stew they whip up.
Thing is, Robert Jon & The Wreck aren’t really good ol’ boys from way down south, even if they may look like it, what with the hats and the beards.  They’re from California, albeit Orange County rather than some cool locale like Laurel Canyon, and listening to them you’ve gotta think the Eagles figure somewhere in their musical DNA, what with Robert Jon getting vocal harmony backing from all four of the other band members on a regular basis.
Whatever, what they really do best is nail you to the wall with stonking hooks.  Take ‘Ain’t No Young Love Song’, fr’instance.  It does have something of a Southern rock vibe, but delivered like an adrenaline rush, with drummer Andrew Espantman giving his kit a good spanking and more backing vox from the gals adding an extra whoosh, but all that energy is given focus by a killer chorus – a chorus so good they can bring it down for a breather and it loses nothing.
The harmony-drenched refrain on the following ‘Oh Chicago’ is irresistible too, with Burrison’s vocal well and truly airborne once again.  Okay, so the lyrics are maybe a bit trite, but I’ll forgive them that lapse towards Nashville-esque sentimentality when they add in some oomph from the horns and a tasty sax break from Jason Parfait.
They do melancholy well too, on the likes of ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Brother’.  The first is a tale of ill-
Robert Jon Burrison - achieving vocal lift-off
Pic by Maurice Moonen
starred fascination with a messed-up woman, all warm piano, waves of organ, acoustic strumming and keening slide guitar.  The second tackles the subject of mental illness with feeling, insisting on the importance of fraternal love to support a troubled mind, with James’ soaring guitar solo capturing the emotional essence of the song.  ‘Anna Maria’ has a countryish bent, but the bitter lyric spares it from the self-pitying tone that infects many a Southern rock ballad, and there’s no denying another top notch chorus and an impressive a cappella interlude.
Still, I like ‘em best in upbeat mode, as on ‘Everyday’, with its funky piano and shuffling drums to the fore, and squirrelling guitar breaks as it builds and builds, frenetic guitar competing with those female voices again, all the way to a clapping, cheering finale.  ‘Movin’’ is a chunkier vehicle, with a rumbling guitar intro reinforced by acoustic guitar and gutsy, dragging drums, with Maggiora’s piano sparkling in the margins.  It probes and prods its way forward, slowly gathering itself, then cools off into the bridge before coiling itself like a spring and then crashing back into motion.
Robert Jon & The Wreck are a quality outfit, too good to confine themselves to Southern rock stylings.  The songwriting and arrangements evident on Shine A Light On Me Brother may be their trump cards, but their all-round musicianship and Burrison’s voice aren’t far behind.  So forget the labels and give them a listen.

Shine A Light On Me Brother is released on 3 September, and can be pre-ordered here.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Quickies - Summer Singles from Sari Schorr, Dion, Elles Bailey and Davy Knowles

Sari Schorr – ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (In The Pines)’
 
It’s taken me a few weeks to get round to this one, for which the more fool me.
Although she normally follows a modern blues-rock road, Sari Schorr has some previous when it comes to raking through antique folk-blues tunes from the Lead Belly canon.  Witness her quaking, eyeballs-out take on ‘Black Betty’ on her most recent album Live In Europe.
This time around she’s chosen a different vibe, with the downbeat and mysterious ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’.  Lead Belly’s version was a stripped back affair involving just guitar and a simple vocal.  Schorr opts for a piano-led approach, drenched in reverb to accentuate the macabre atmosphere of the lyric, and with some haunted guitar colourings from Marc Copely and bass undertones from Livingston Brown to round out the sound.
In the end though, this is all about a bravura vocal performance from Schorr, restrained but at
Sari Schorr - not being macabre
Pic by Mat Robinson
the same time full of subtle variations.  Often the primary mode of her operatically-trained voice seems to be full force typhoon, but here Schorr demonstrates the variety and control she can bring to bear in a more understated setting.
 
 
Dion – ‘I Got To Get To You’
 
Something old, something new.  Which is to say that ‘I Got To Get To You’ may be Dion DiMucci’s new single, but it hasn’t just popped out of his head recently.  In fact he released it before back in 1989 – and a very 80s recording it was too, sounding like it was a contender for the soundtrack of Top Gun, or some such.
The 2021 version is different, and better – an altogether zippier reading that sounds like it’s just been laid down by Chuck Berry on a good day.  Boz Scaggs contributes some guest vocals – apparently a big deal for Dion even if I can only hear some sterling vocal support rather than anything transformative.
There are, however, some funky little rock’n’roll guitar breaks from the father-and-son guest pairing of Mike and Joe Menza to spice things up, including one particular yodel-like outing from dad Mike that ups the fun quotient – and Dion himself, still in fine vocal fettle, sounds like he’s having a good time.
It may not be knock-you-down original, but ‘I Got To Get To You’ still bodes well for the new Dion album coming later in the year.
 
 
Elles Bailey – Cheats & Liars
 
‘Cheats & Liars’ opens with a muscular rhythm as the foundation for its Americana sound, and for an acid lyric about political deceit.  As Bailey explains, “It's about the people in their ivory towers who told us arts don't really matter, and to go and retrain.
The song builds to a rousing chorus swollen by some immaculate vocal harmonies which I imagine are all Elles’ own work.  There’s some swooning slide guitar work too, which I guess is the work of her regular six-string sidekick Joe Wilkins, and which I’d have liked to hear a bit more of.
Gotta say though, as well-assembled as the song is, it seems to me that on the verses our Elles has been down a road kinda like this before, with a vibe that sounds familiar from earlier songs such as ‘Wild
Davy Knowles - rolling with it
Pic by Timothy Schmidt
Wild West’ and ‘Medicine Man’.  ‘Cheats & Liars’ is the first single from her third album, Shining In The Half Light, slated to come out next year, and I look forward to the album exploring some different angles.
 
 
Davy Knowles – ‘Roll Me’
 
This slow and soulful blues penned by producer Eric Corne has something of a Joe Cocker feel, though leaning on deeply twanging guitar and a sensitive vocal from Chicago-based Manxman Davy Knowles rather than Cocker’s gut-wrenching style.
‘Roll Me’ is a tasteful trailer for Knowles’ upcoming album What Happens Next.  There are, truth be told, one or two rather corny lyrical lapses – “sure as the church bells do chime”, anyone? – but there’s still plenty to like, as it’s embellished by some delicate organ playing from a party currently unidentified, in addition to Knowles’ on-point delivery.
 
What Happens Next
 is released by Provogue Records on 22 October, and can be pre-ordered here.
 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

No Stone Left Unturned - Revisiting the Stones' A Bigger Bang

In tribute to the late Charlie Watts, this piece written in 2010 is reproduced from a previous blog of mine.

In my last post I suggested that the debut album from Them Crooked Vultures was a bit inconsistent. But is this just the curse of the CD age - if indeed CDs and the concept of the album aren't dead anyway for a lot of listeners? When I were a lad your typical rock album lasted something like 35-40 minutes. In fact in an age when the equivalent of file sharing was taping a couple of albums for your mate on a C90 cassette, it was positively irritating for an album to run over the 45 minutes that could fit on one side of a tape!
Charlie Watts - making a bigger bang than most

Since the advent of the CD bands have the scope to put together anything up to about 80 minutes as a matter of course. But while that's technically feasible, it does raise another challenge - namely for a band to maintain a consistent level of quality when having to produce such a long set. Often enough they fail to meet that challenge. Once upon a time releasing, say, 70 minutes of music was a rarity that required a double LP - which of course broke down into four sides. But it's not just about quality control. Maintaining the listener's interest for over an hour requires some variety and sense of dynamics, and many bands seem incapable of that.  They repeat themselves, and leave in tracks which are no more than filler.
But the other day I renewed my acquaintance with what some might consider a surprising example of a band achieving just that, when I decided to give the Stones' most recent album a spin on my iPod. t Iook a punt on A Bigger Bang when it was released back in 2005, on the strength of a couple of reviews that more or less suggested it "wasn't that bad, actually, bearing in mind it's the Stones and let's face it we can't expect too much from them nowadays". Now, I'd call myself a Stones fan rather than a full-on fanatic, but listening to it the other day I have to say they sustained my interest a helluva lot better over 16 tracks than most bands manage nowadays.
Okay, so a lot of the time they're revisiting well worn turf, but you'd have to be a real curmudgeon to say that they don't do it well on this outing.  Let's face it, Jagger and Richards are top drawer songwriters, whether individually or together.  But A Bigger Bang also demonstrates their mastery of a wide range of musical styles, drawing on different strands of country, blues, and balls-out rock'n'roll just as it suits them.  And Jagger is probably so indifferent to criticism that he just says what he likes, whether it's unabashed cock-rock, plangent broken-hearted blues, or acerbic political observations such as 'Sweet Neocon'.
So what if the stuttering rhythm of something like 'Look What The Cat Dragged In' is basically a reprise of 'Under Cover', from 25 years previously? It's still better than a whole load of young supposed gunslingers might manage.  Hell, even the couple of tracks where Keef does a cracked vocal are good - in fact 'This Place Is Empty' is one of my favourite tracks on the album.
And through it all Charlie Watts lays down supple drum tracks suited to whatever style is in play.  In fact I'm inclined to think that Charlie's ability to flex effortlessly across different grooves is a key factor in how they manage to cover the bases so well.
So, old codgers who nowadays milk their live appearances for cash actually made a damn good album with only a scintilla of filler? Well, yeah, as it happens.

RIP Charlie Watts, 2 June 1941 - 24 August 2021.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Brian Setzer - Gotta Have The Rumble

“Can’t be humble, got to have the rumble,” goes the basso profundo tag line for Brian Setzer’s latest album, in opening track ‘Checkered Flag’.  The lyric is a hymn to his hot rod, and the need for it to stand out from the herd.  But just as relevant is the fact that Setzer is a guy with plenty to be humble about.
Never mind his past glories with the Stray Cats, Setzer is one of those “triple threat” geezers.  He can play rock’n’roll guitar to die for, he has a versatile, totally convincing voice, and when he
Brian Setzer - be-quiffed, be-leathered, be rockabilly
puts his mind to it he can – with a little help - write a damn good tune.  Also, he has a sense of humour.  All of these elements are evident on Gotta Have The Rumble.
I’d say there are five top tunes among the 11 on offer here.  Which is not to dismiss the rest, but just to give due credit to the real highlights.  The aforementioned ‘Checkered Flag’ sets a high bar, as rumbling bass notes combine with shivering guitar tones as Setzer rolls out a great riff, and later a great bridge.  And the following ‘Smash Up On Highway One’ is also right up there, with staccato chords set against rapido drum rolls, ahead of a cod-Arabic guitar line which forms the basis for a macabre tale of motor mortality.
‘The Wrong Side Of The Tracks’ is a cool slice of rock’n’roll embellished by some bijou bursts of strings, and swings fit to satisfy Thomas O’Malley – you know, the hip feline in The Aristocats.  (For any philistines questioning the relevance of that reference, I refer you to that other Stray Cat, Lee Rocker, who covered ‘Everybody Wants To Be A Cat’ on his recent album Gather Round.)  ‘The Cat With 9 Wives’, with its jungle drums intro, similarly swings like Tarzan on a creeper.  Okay, so the lyrics ain’t Shakespeare, but they’re still great fun, and the jazzy drumming from Victor Indrizzo and grooving bass from David Roe Rorick show a great feel for the material, just like that of Setzer himself.
‘Turn You On, Turn Me On’ is the other standout, a surging rock’n’roll rant over a Bo Diddley-ish rhythm, with a healthy quotient of wonky guitar notes and a “stick shift ready” inclination towards double-entendres.
Maybe I’m a bit mean excluding ‘Drip Drop’ from this hit list.  At first blush it sounds supremely silly, worthy of comparison with Bobby Darin’s ‘Splish Splash’ – but maybe sublimely tongue-in-cheek would be closer to the mark.  It takes a chord progression reminiscent of Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’, cranks it up to double time, and adds Latino percussion to create a vibe redolent of The Mavericks, while Setzer croons away merrily, aided and abetted by backing vocals from Julie Setzer and Jennifer Goforth.  Is it cheesy, or is it genius?  You choose.
Elsewhere there’s some pretty regulation rockabilly in the form of tracks like ‘Stack My Money’ and ‘One Bad Habit’, but even these are elevated by elements like the pizzazz-laden twanging guitar work on the former, and the combination of plonking bass, ringing chords and discordant guitar breaks on the latter.
The album closes with ‘Rockabilly Banjo’, a delightfully daft specimen weaving in banjo, fiddle, and the dreaded pedal steel guitar in a bluegrass-rockabilly mash-up that may – like ‘Drip Drop’ - stretch credibility, but also demonstrates Setzer’s devil-may-care attitude.
“The past is another country,” wrote L P Hartley, “they do things differently there.”  Gotta Have The Rumble, like most of Setzer’s oeuvre, is a journey to a lost, more innocent world.  It may not be genius, it may not be contemporary, but it’s still a blast.
 
Gotta Have The Rumble is released by Surfdog Records on 27 August, and can be ordered here.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

GA-20 - Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It . . . You Might Like It

Whooo-weee!  Itchy an’ scratchy!  Slippin’ an’ slidin’!  Buzzin’ with fuzz!  Movin’ an’ a-groovin’!
In a nutshell, my friends, that is GA-20’s Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It . . . You Might Like It!  Nuff said.
What?  You want freakin’ details?  Okay – listen up.
First the boring stuff.  GA-20 are a two guitars and drums combo who got together in Boston three years back.  Pat Faherty sings and plays a ton of slide guitar.  Matt Stubbs plays guitar too.  And Tim Carman just about holds them together on drums, in addition to wearing the odd cheesy sweater.  Oh yeah, and  they love old gear – guitars, amps, all that stuff.  On Try It You . . . Might Like It! they’ve bashed out ten tracks either written or once upon a time performed by
GA-20 - smile, dudes!
Sixties Chicago bluesman Hound Dog Taylor and his band the HouseRockers – also a two guitar and drums outfit.  You want some extra local colour?  Well, Hound Dog had six fingers on each hand, though the extras were just stubs, and one well-oiled night he cut one of them off with a razor.
All of which is great background, but you wanna know what this GA-20 crew sound like, right?
Picture the scene.  It’s the end of Pulp Fiction, Jules and Vincent are about to walk out of the diner in their t-shirts and shorts, and Tarantino has decided he doesn’t want that ‘Surf Rider’ shit for the soundtrack.  So what does he get instead?  ‘Phillips Goes Bananas’, that’s what – ‘Phillips’ being Brewer Phillips, Hound Dog’s sidekick guitarist.  It’s a cool as fuck, rattling little instrumental, all hip-shaking boogie based on clipping drums from Carman.
Or there’s ‘Give Me Back My Wig’.  Now, Hound Dog was a black dude of course, but let’s imagine The Beatles playing Hamburg’s Star Club in 1962.  It’s three in the morning, they’re off their heads on uppers, and they’re trying to make up Chuck Berry songs.  Macca’s broken too many strings on his bass, so he’s knocking out a revolving bass line on a spare guitar he found backstage.
Or get your shell-likes round ‘Let’s Get Funky’, which sounds like a bunch of drunken Morse Code operators having a bash at Thin Lizzy’s ‘Me And The Boys’, full of conversational guitar licks from Faherty.  Lyrics?  Forget it.  Faherty calls out a bunch of disjointed phrases, like “You
Hound Dog - having a real good time!
know what she told me?”  And what she told him, it seems, is “I don’t like it when you do it like that.  I want you to try it this way.  You might like it.”  Is it just me, or does that sound like it’s about sex?  It’s just me?  Okay.
Anyway, the opener ‘She’s Gone’ is a throbbing, buzzing thing that’s nine-tenths lockstep guitars knocking out an irresistible groove, with some incantatory lyrics and a sudden blast of a slide break for good measure.  ‘Sitting At Home Alone’ is a slower blues, with undulating rhythm guitar from Stubbs and Faherty playing scraping slide like he’s taking a cheese grater to his guitar.  And if I say that Faherty’s vocals, while fine, aren’t quite bad enough, I don’t mean bad as in good, I mean bad as in Hound Dog Taylor’s gleeful squawk.  (Alright, I’m being a bit unfair to ol’ Hound Dog, but give him a listen for yourself!) ‘Sadie’ is a slow-ish, swaying affair too with Stubbs bringing chiming, reverberating rhythm guitar to the table alongside some guitar-torturing slide from Faherty.  It feels like the dance floor of some sweaty joint several drinks too far into the night, shortly before the clientele peel off to, er, get funky.
Look, it’s not rocket science.  It’s not moral philosophy. Like Hound Dog himself said, "When I die they'll say, 'He couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good!'"   Listening to this, I had me, to quote The Faces, a real good time!  So you know, try it . . . yeah, you know the rest.  (And check out Hound Dog Taylor too!)

Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It . . . You Might Like It! is released on Colemine Records, in collaboration with Alligator Records, on 20 August.  Order the album here.