Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Wille And The Bandits, Rainbreakers - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 21 March 2019

Wille And The Bandits are a chameleon-like bunch.  They can shift musical colours to take on different guises, but ultimately they’re still themselves.  What am I on about, you’re asking?  Let me explain.
WATB open and close the night with a couple of songs that are pretty much straight out of the classic rock mould.  Opener ‘Victim Of The Night’ is a snappy, melodic affair, given a distinctive twist by Wille Edwards’ picked guitar solo.  At the other end of the show, encore ‘1970’ is a big, bright tribute to the music of those heady days, with a stomping riff and a jubilant singalong.
In between though, the Bandits mix it up a fair bit, and to good effect.  For example, there’s a lot of miles between Cornwall and South Africa, but like Dan Patlansky they have a handy way with a twitching groove - as on ‘Make Love’, which Matt Brooks throws himself into with abandon on his 6-string bass, and also on the twisted funk of the excellent ‘Keep It On The Downlow’, both from latest album Paths.
Wille And The Bandits - Three's Company
But they can also get post-grunge anthemic, firstly on ‘Find My Way’, which motors along on a wave of guttural slide from Edwards, and later on the similar-but-better ’One Way’, on which Edwards’ slide hurtles along, and the audience are easily roped into the shoutalong chorus.  There’s also a well done guitar/bass duel between Edwards and Brooks, comically introduced in a demonic voice by drummer Andrew Naumann – which is great fun in itself, though for me it kinda interrupted the momentum of one of their most immediate songs.
But if all that sounds just like different variations of rocktastic, Wille and the gang have the imagination to range across broader pastures.  On ‘Watch You Grow’ Arabic-styled lap steel conjures up a reflective mood, to which Naumann adds a further twist with African percussion using a Tongue drum, while Brooks contributes washes of pedal keyboards. The overall effect is sensitive, and indeed lovely.  Meanwhile a cover of ‘Black Magic Woman’ weighs in with lap steel and some more interesting percussion to create a very different sounding intro, before they settle into a cantering rhythm, with dazzling bass from Brooks that has Edwards dancing happily on the other side of the stage.
Then on ‘Mammon’ they combine electric double bass, djembe drumming, and classical-sounding acoustic guitar to shift from a gentle intro to a relaxed, jazzy, European sound, with the addition of vocal harmonies.  Then Brooks sticks with the double bass, this time with a bow in hand, to deliver an eerie, filmic solo that sounds like something from the netherworld, as a preamble to ‘Four Million Days’.
Got to admit, ‘Virgin Eyes’ seems like a bit of an untidy affair compared to the above offerings, but it does build to a scorching instrumental section, with Edwards letting rip on lap steel.  But they punch their way home by getting very heavy on ‘Jack The Lad’ and ‘Bad News’ to close their main set, with some slithering Delta slide en route – just one way Edwards finds to contribute properly satisfying guitar work, to go with the lightness of touch in his fuzzy plucking on ‘Judgement Day’, and the way his acoustic playing serves the song on the likes of ‘Keep Your Head Up’.
Wille And The Bandits have been at this game for a while.  They aren’t a bunch of young
guns naively playing at being a rock band.  There’s no posturing, just affable engagement with the audience.  They’re grown-ups, producing material that reflects their spirit of adventure, and some cracking musicianship to boot.  Should they be commanding bigger audiences?  I think the time may have come.
Rainbreakers get soulful and summery
Tour support Rainbreakers may be a less innovative outfit, but they still combine some interesting elements in a well-defined sound.  Somehow I never did quite get round to reviewing their debut album after grabbing a copy following their set at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival, but this was another encouraging performance that appreciative applause from the audience.
Opener ‘Heavy Soul’ grabs the attention with a pummelling riff, while ‘Lay It On Me’ features funky bass and rhythm guitar, and pleasing interplay between the two guitars.  ‘Lost With You’ is a chilled love song, with a summery solo from Sam Edwards and a typically soulful vocal from Ben Edwards, while ‘Waiting On You’ shows a different kind of subtlety with the ‘Rain Song’ style strummings of its intro.  There’s another crunching riff on closer ‘When My Train’, which may not be anything wildly original but is still well executed, with Sam Edwards going to town on lead guitar during a rousing crescendo.  There are acts of a similar ilk out there with bigger reputations.  I reckon Rainbreakers only need a bit more experience and live craft to give them a run for their money.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Sugaray Rayford - Somebody Save Me

Ontage, Sugaray Rayford puts on a bonkers live show, befitting his status as a Blues Award nominee for BB King Entertainer of the Year.  His latest album Somebody Save Me though, is a different proposition.  It’s entertaining, sure, but in a different way. This is an album that takes classic blues and soul stylings, and shapes them into something teasingly modern.  In short, Somebody Save Me is cool.
If Sugaray Rayford’s vocal talents are the substantial hook on which the album is hung, much of the credit must also go to Eric Corne, who not only produced it, but also wrote all the material.  On the writing front, Corne taps into the roots, but with the arrangements and the sound he conjures up an adventurous undercurrent, akin to the modern vibe that fellow
Sugaray Rayford - Big man, big voice, big personality
Pic by Eric Sassaman
knob-twiddler Dangermouse brought to The Black Keys.
It’s there on opening track ‘The Revelator’, a hefty chunk of blues-soul with a hint of hip-hop around the margins.  There’s a rolling, low-end riff, and splashes of keyboards from Sasha Smith, over a nagging, restrained beat, while Sugaray gets down to business with a tough vocal, proclaiming that “I’m a freak of nature, I ain’t no honey bee-ah!”  And it’s all topped off with horns – which feature on 7 out of 10 tracks – and some choral backing vocals.
The edginess is there too on the likes of ‘Angels And Devils’ and the closing ‘Dark Night Of The Soul’.  On the former there’s eerily discordant Hammond organ creating atmosphere, with more classic guitar promptings from Rob Holmstrom, who deploys some extra twang to add to the ambience.  On the latter, Rayford sings it straight to a classic soul-blues sound that’s twisted a moody fraction out of shape by a blend of deep bass and sax, plinking piano, scratchy guitar fills from Eamon Ryland, and flashes of harp from Corne.
‘I’d Kill For You, Honey’ also has that vague sense of something lurking in the shadows, courtesy of a rumbling riff from Ryland’s slide guitar, Corne’s injections of harp, and Wurly piano from Smith.  And if Rayford is singing a classic tale of a man driven to distraction by his woman, and the melody also has echoes of songs gone by, he’s Wolfishly urgent in his delivery of lyrics that don’t rely on well-worn clichés.
But let’s not get carried away by all this critic-pleasing modernity, eh?  ‘Time To Get Movin’’ is a simple but hugely effective traditional R’n’B outing, with a classic blues guitar riff from Holmstrom over a shuffling rhythm, while the sonorous, BB King quality of Rayford’s voice is underlined as he gets stuck into take-no-prisoners lyrics demanding to “Call things by their name – racism, bigotry”.  The following ‘You And I’ is a big, fat slice of horn-laden Stax soul, with a nice weeping guitar tone from Holmstrom, and smart, sharp lyrics.  If I say there’s no more to be said about it, that’s a compliment.
‘Sometimes You Get The Bear (And Sometimes The Bear Gets You)’ is another bright affair, with straight-up guitar work including a relaxed solo, and little fills here and there, juxtaposed with the horns and organ.  And ‘Is It Just Me’ could be a Smokey Robinson Motown offering, complete with “Shal-la-la-la” female backing vocals, except Rayford makes Robinson’s singing sound like a little girl on a tale of a woman capable of working miracles.
There are a couple of slower efforts too, in the soul ballad ‘My Cards Are On The Table’ and the title track, which features violins and cello, and spare sprinklings of guitar. It’s traditional but imaginative, with Rayford delivering an emotional but restrained vocal – think Ben E. King, maybe.
Somebody Save Me may not be a stone cold classic, but it’s still a no filler, all killer winner.  It’ll be getting plenty of airplay in this household, and it should do in yours too.  Time to get movin’, and tune into the Revelator!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Kris Barras Band - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 15 March 2019

For a guy who gets a lot of support from the blues community, Kris Barras isn’t really the bluesiest of rockers – he’d probably tell you that himself.  But he does have a tinge of southern rock to his style, with a fondness for a bit of slide playing, which naturally appeals to a lot of blues rock fans.  And bluesy or not, this show at the Edinburgh Blues Club is a sell-out, indicative of the fan base Barras is developing.
Kris Barras hails Mary
Sure enough, the opener of his band’s set, ‘Rock’n’Roll Runnin’ Thru My Veins’, starts with a Skynyrd-like feel, and Barras essays a vocal that seems to come from somewhere down in
Dixie, rather than his native Torquay.  A slowed down slide segment leads into his solo – and then, interestingly, by the time the song is done I’m thinking they sound rather more like Bon Jovi.
This, in fact, is pretty much the signature sound of the Kris Barras Band – a blend of southern rock and 80s AOR.  They deliver it with conviction – and volume - and the overall effect is invigorating. ‘Kick Me Down’ is in a slower, moody mode, with a strong melody, and confirms the strength of Barras’s vocals. It then segues into the boogie of ‘Stitch Me Up’, which features a gutsy riff and a stinging solo, and is decorated by some rollicking bar-room piano from Josiah J. Manning.
I reckon Manning’s keyboards, and in particular his piano playing, are actually Barras’s secret weapon. Which is not to put down Barras or his rhythm section at all, but as committed fans bounce along to ‘Lucky 13’ Manning's rock’n’roll piano brings a fresh ingredient to their sound, ultimately leading to a winning guitar/piano face-off.  And later, on ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’, he injects a witty, jazzy piano solo as a prelude to an exchange of guitar and organ with Barras.  And he provides good vocal harmonies to dovetail with Barras into the bargain.
Bassist Elliott Blackler generally contents himself with being a steady Eddie, aside from a brief bass solo on ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’, but drummer Will Beavis brings the swing,
Down down, deeper and down
watchfully knitting things together whether on ‘Lucky 13’ or the earlier offbeat stomp of ‘I Don’t Owe Nobody Nothin’’, with its anthemic chorus (and, like a couple of other songs, an all too sudden ending).
They drop their fun cover of Zep’s ‘Rock’n’Roll’ into the middle of the set, which duly cranks up the audience’s energy level, with Barras putting his stamp on it with bursts of slide and a squealing solo.  Sometimes, mind you, the blues fan in me wonders about the emotional content of his playing.  On the cursory new song ‘What You Get’, which again has southern flavourings, his guitar work is fizzing but a bit short on feeling.  And on set closer ‘Hail Mary’ with more good slide playing and an appealing AOR melody, I enjoy his soloing up to the point where it all goes a bit Usain Bolt for my tastes.
Which is a shame, because he’s not incapable of investing his playing with soul.  ‘Watching Over Me’ is dedicated to his late Dad, who taught him guitar and played bass for him for years, and it’s a well-executed rock ballad on which Barras’s solo wears his heart on his fretboard.
Kris Barras is a man on the up.  His material is fresh, his band is sharp, and he has a relaxed way with him.  I don’t think I’m risking my money by betting he’ll have a lot more fans by the end of the year.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Kyla Brox - Pain & Glory

Well, wow.  Before you even get to the music, Pain & Glory makes an impression courtesy of the artwork by Daren Newman and the glossy packaging.  On the front cover drawings of Kyla Brox are embellished with stylish calligraphy that forms the locks of her hair out of song titles, while her name and the album title are in embossed lettering.
So does the music live up to the expectations created by the cover?  Broadly speaking, yes it does.  With 16 songs lasting just over an hour there’s plenty to get your teeth into, mostly leaning in a soul-funk direction but with some welcome variations along the way.
It’s an impressive team affair from her regular band and the additional musicians, including the excellent Haggis Horns.  But of course it’s Kyla Brox whose name is on the cover, and the quality of her vocals certainly justifies the billing.  Her voice is versatile enough to bring different flavours to her preferred bluesy, soulful domain.  On the likes of ‘Sensitive Soul’ she
Sensitive soul Kyla Brox
can take on a modern soul guise, ála Lisa Stansfield perhaps, adding shots of falsetto to its steady beat and slight but still appealing chorus.  In a similar vein are the slight ‘Manchester Milan’ and the stronger ‘Don’t Let Me Fall’, a good un’ that develops from a subdued opening into a strong melody, with extra bonus points for a precision-tooled guitar solo from Paul Farr.  But in a gutsy middle eight she veers towards Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings territory, which really hits the spot.  And indeed on the earlier ‘Bloodshot Sky’ Brox really channels Sharon’s, on a slice of forceful funky soul with a push-and-pull riff and tasteful undercurrents of harp from Clive Mellor.  The opening ‘For The Many’ is also in the tough funk zone, a clarion call to “Believe the youth, they know the truth” with some Stevie Wonder-style clavinet from John Ellis, that nails Brox’s colours firmly to the mast.  ‘Let You Go’ is also a strutting affair, with a bit of urgency and Brox in a lower register, nicely done but ultimately less significant.
Kyla and the gang can also reach for a slinkier feel though.  Tracks like ‘Compromise’ and ‘Lovers Lake’ would fit neatly into Ana Popovic’s latest album Like It On Top.  The former recounts the challenges of motherhood, while the latter is a particularly tasty number, relaxed and breezy with a convincingly smooch vocal.
But there’s also room for the infectious, horn-parping jump blues of ‘Bluesman’s Child’.  With a catchy arrangement that recalls ‘Good Rockin’ At Midnight’, Brox sounds like she’s having fun as she relays her experience of growing up with the dad of the title.
The title track fashions a soul ballad from a simple, satisfying melody.  But better still are the likes of  ‘Choose Life’ and ‘Away From Yesterday’, both of which are sweetly reflective in tone.  ‘Choose Life’ hints at the closing cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, with fittingly tasteful piano from Ellis and spot on vocals once again from Brox, some big open notes perfectly selected.
The album feels padded out by a few songs.  Somebody should have been ready to wield a scalpel, and strip out the less weighty numbers in the service of more focus and sharpness.  But even with that reservation, Pain & Glory is a more convincing body of work than its predecessor, Throw Away Your Blues, producer Sam Brox deserving credit for a big, rich sound.  Kyla forms a convincing songwriting team with guitarist Farr and bassist husband Danny Blomeley, and together with drummer Mark Warburton and their other collaborators they clearly know their green onions when it comes to putting the songs across.  If funky soul is your kinda thing, then go get this brand new bag of it. 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Wily Bo Walker & E D Brayshaw - The Roads We Ride

The Roads We Rideis a curious affair, in a way.  It’s a repackaging as a double-cd set of two albums previously released individually –Stone Cold Beautiful and Running Wild– which together form the intertwined narrative of three characters trying to make their way in the expanse of America.  On one level I ask myself why the double album is necessary, but hey – it’s a beautifully packaged affair, so let’s just go with the flow eh?
Billed as a film noir script, a concept album, a dime-store novel, this collaboration between Wily Bo Walker and E D Brayshaw tells the story of a femme fatale called Louise; Harry, the dirt farmer she runs out on; and Johnny, the ageing small-time singer she falls in with.  Think of a mash-up between some Dust Bowl flick, Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, and Bonnie And Clyde, and you’ll get the idea.  Maybe the storyline is a bit thin, but we’ll let that pass – never mind the rock opera, listen to the music.
Wily Bo Walker, with the elusive E D Brayshaw nowhere to be seen
Pic by Sally Newhouse
What you get are thirteen tracks, weaving covers of Loudon Wainwright III’s ‘Motel Blues’ and Fenton Robinson’s ‘Loan Me A Dime’ in amongst originals variously from the pens of Walker and/or Brayshaw.  Walker is responsible for the lead vocals, with his gravelly bass voice, and along with assorted ladies also provides backing vox.  The enigmatic Brayshaw, meanwhile, provides “Guitars, Instrumentation & Backing Vocals”.  Why enigmatic?  Well, you try finding anything out about him, other than that he’s a compadre of Wily Bo. Go on, Google him.  I tell you what you’ll discover – nada, niente, nowt. But I can tell you one thing – whoever he is, the guy is a real serious guitar picker.
He sets the tone right from the intro to the opening ‘Storm Warning’, with characteristic stiletto sharp notes stabbing out the suitably stormy theme that will recur throughout the song, before Walker rumbles his way into the apocalyptic lyrics, leading up to a strong chorus underpinned by female backing vocals.  It’s typical of a mood reminiscent of Dire Straits in epic, ‘Telegraph Road’ mode – except more fevered.
They cool things off effectively after that, with the faintly Latin, rumba-like swing of ‘I Want To Know’, and the well evoked seediness of ‘Motel Blues’, bringing to mind the down-at-heel road existence of Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake, somehow seducing Maggie Gyllenhall in Crazy Heart.  Then after a decent reading of ‘Loan Me A Dime’, with Walker groaning away bluesily in very Tom Waits fashion, they get down to serious business with ‘September Red’.
Here, people, is an object lesson in how much you can get out of one good hook and an imaginative guitarist. The verse is pleasant enough, but what it mostly does is set up the captivating melody of the chorus, rounded out deliciously by swelling, almost choral female voices.  After a couple of patient turns around that, Brayshaw then sets off on an extended
exploration of the melody, deconstructing it and reassembling it over bendy bass playing, and adding chorus effects to a repeated motif.  It’s seven and a half minutes worth of widescreen quality.
Technicolor visuals for a cinematic soundtrack concept
This though, is just a warm-up for the even larger canvas of ‘Killers On The Run’, a more intense affair that builds to the tag line “Stone cold beautiful” halfway through, before clearing the way for Brayshaw to set off on a searing, sweeping solo reminiscent of what Buck Dharma has often delivered for Blue Oyster Cult – and then downshifting into a ‘Samba Pati’ like closing segment.  Epic is what Walker and Brayshaw often aim for, and epic it certainly is.
Highlights of the second CD include the Doors-like ‘Night Of The Hunter’, peppered with turbulent guitar, which gives way to the more laid back ‘Tennessee Blues’.  Here a sweet, Knopfler-ish guitar riff is given added country twang by a pedal steel, creating an airy mood as a soundtrack for Harry’s reflections as he rides a train north.  A Celtic-sounding riff is then the mainstay of ‘After The Storm’, helping to conjure up New York City.
If ‘The Ballad Of Johnny & Louise’ and ‘The Roads We Ride’ are both attempts at something summative, the latter is probably the more successful, its acoustic guitar underpinnings creating more sense of variety than the former, which is essentially more of epic same, though both feature typically imaginative lyrics from Walker.
The Roads We Ride is an ambitious affair, and Walker and Brayshaw should be applauded for it.  Maybe they bite off a bit more than they can chew, but it’s an album buzzing with ideas, and it achieves the cinematic sweep to which they evidently aspired.  Walker is a characterful singer, with a strong vision, while Brayshaw – whoever he is – delivers some excellent arrangements, topped off with fiery guitar. Two guys on a musical journey together – they make quite a combo.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

John Mayall - Nobody Told Me

For a bloke in his mid-eighties, John Mayall’s voice is very much in fine fettle.  We’re not talking about skyscraping singing of course, but for singing Chicago-type R’n’B, in the vein of Muddy, Wolf and B.B. King, he’s doing darned well.  Not in their league, to be fair, but still able to hit all the right notes, and deliver them with character.
Of course Nobody Told Me is being sold partly on the basis of the impressive parade of guest guitarists that Mayall has assembled, and we’ll get to them in due course.  But focusing on the guitar solos alone would short-change this collection, because it has some
other stuff going for it.  For one thing, although the aforementioned R’n’B can be a pretty restrictive form, Mayall has managed to come up with enough subtle variations across ten tracks to keep the listener interested.  For another, his own harp and keyboard playing deserve attention. And it’s all well-captured by producer Eric Corne, well known as Walter Trout’s producer of choice.
There's a harmonica in there somewhere, John!
The seven covers, of varying vintages, range from Magic Sam’s warm and relaxed ‘What Have I Done Wrong’ and Little Milton’s swinging ‘That’s What Love Will Make You Do’, both punctuated by horns, to the more deliberate ‘Evil Here To Stay’ and reflective ‘The Hurt Inside’.  Meanwhile the three Mayall originals close out the album, including the jump blues-like ‘Like It Like You Do’ and the concluding slowie ‘Nobody Told Me’, the former a wry and sparky tribute to the archetypal woman of a bluesman’s dreams, the latter its world-weary and resigned my-baby-done-left-me counterpoint.
These two closing tracks are impressively decorated by the guitar work of Carolyn Wonderland, who I must confess is a new name to me.  But she makes an even more distinctive contribution to the cover of Joe Bonamassa’s ‘Distant Lonesome Train’, adding slithering, slicing slide guitar to its tugging, slow train rhythm, ahead of a ringing ending.  The result is a track that decisively shakes up the middle of the album.
Bonamassa himself features twice.  First there’s the opener ‘What Have I Done Wrong’, with a strolling guitar lick over bubbling bass from Greg Rzab, and a restrained solo adding to subdued organ. Then later he adds a stinging, well-constructed solo to the jaunty ‘Delta Hurricane’, penned by the Uptown Horns and once recorded by Larry McCray, with a probing bass line and organ solo from Mayall.
McCray, in turn, also gets a couple of outings.  ‘The Moon Is Full’, written by modern day artist Gwendolyn Collins, has a bright sound and a tumbling bass riff in the background.  McCray litters it with tasty fills, and on his second, closing solo goes into high-speed mode – though I’d question whether it adds much to the equation as Mayall’s lush organ solo.  And the same is true of Gary Moore’s ‘The Hurt Inside’, on which there’s a more-ish ascending lick at the heart of his first solo and pleasing bursts of conversational playing, but then a closing wah-wah solo that ultimately feels overcooked.
The other three guest appearances come courtesy of Alex Lifeson, Todd Rundgren, and Steve Van Zandt – none of them what you might regard as the usual suspects.
Lifeson, a veteran of 40 years in Rush, the master practitioners of proggy hard rock, seems like the least likely candidate.  But he does have a bit of form, bearing in mind their Feedback EP of covers, including ‘Crossroads’.  And here he adds a suitably spiky, lower register solo to the brooding ‘Evil Here To Stay’, twinned with a moody piano solo from Mayall – who also adds sporadic bursts of harp – over deep, fuzzy guitar chords. Might an Alex Lifeson Blues Band make for an intriguing post-Rush project?
On the easy-going ‘That’s What Love Will Make You Do’ a jangling, jagged guitar riff is juxtaposed with mellow organ from Mayall, supplemented by vibrant horns and a funky rhythm section courtesy of Rzab’s bass and Jay Davenport’s drums. And in the midst of it all Todd Rundgren’s solo transitions naturally from the riff to a variation on the melody and back again.
Van Zandt features on the first of the Mayall originals, ‘It’s So Tough’, a song that I’d guess he’d identify with lyrically.  Observing that we live in a time when “a crazy guy’s in charge,” Mayall uses a gently appealing melody to urge the listener to “Think more about your neighbour, ‘Cause now it’s up to you and me”, while Little Steven adds patient, shivering guitar to electric piano colouring.
Nobody Told Me is a grower of an album, coaxing you in bit by bit, and revealing more of itself on repeated listens.  It may not be wall to wall genius, but it still carries the torch with style.  Never mind all the guest stars, just lay back and enjoy the ride.

John Mayall is touring Europe in March and April 2019 - details here.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Blue Öyster Cult and The Temperance Movement - O2 Academy, Glasgow, 24 February 2019

“ON YOUR FEET, OR ON YOUR KNEEEEEES!  HERE THEY ARE, THE AMAZING BLUE – ÖYSTER – CULT!”
Ah, days of my youth. It’s over 40 years since I first saw Blue Öyster Cult, at the old Odeon Cinema in Edinburgh. There’s no Patti Smith howling the introduction tonight, like she did on their first live album.  There’s no laser extravaganza either.  But I tell you what, BÖC still put on a damn good live show.
These days this is less a matter of spectacle, and more because of the awesome repertoire they’re able to draw on.  And that repertoire is delightfully schizoid, ranging from stuff that’s constructed on lead-heavy, bone-crunching riffs, through elements of blues boogie, to songs that grab you with vocal harmonies and sublime, surprisingly pop-rock hooks. And the fact that they walk onstage to the theme from Game Of Thrones is emblematic of lyrics that can be cryptic, gothic, cinematic, and often downright funny.
Glasgow O2 Academy goes up in flames with rock'n'roll 
The twin founding members Eric Bloom and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser are still the spearhead of the operation – as Buck says, they’ve been compadres for 50 years now, and there are some signs of the ageing process.  Bloom’s gruff voice strains for some of the notes nowadays, on ‘Unknown Tongue’ for example, and he doesn’t so much prowl the stage as potter around it. But he can still rock shades and a leather jacket the same as in days of old.  Roeser is a little greyer, a little portlier maybe, but it has to be said his lighter, airier singing voice sounds just the same as ever.  And he continues to be one helluva guitarist.
So it is that on something like ‘The Golden Age Of Leather’ you get an a capella intro, then three guitars grinding away – Bloom’s, Buck’s and that of new sideman Richie Castellano – plus four part harmonies, and typically intricate little licks being scattered around by Dharma.  And I wouldn’t even classify this as one of the highlights.
‘Burning For You’ however, is a classic of their melodic side, with a truly great hook that has plenty punters near me happily singing the chorus to themselves, and wonderfully fluid guitar from buck.  On the other hand ‘Harvester Of Eyes’ is a trademark heavy affair, with a seismic rumble of a riff, and Roeser and Castellano getting together on guitar harmonies.
‘Shooting Shark’ isn’t really from my preferred vintage, but they still manage to elevate it from catchy-but-a-bit-wet status to something gripping – Buck decorates the intro with a stunning throwaway solo, Castellano gets his own chance to shine, and then Dharma comes to the fore again with a display of dazzling playing, full of inventiveness and musicality, delivered from his trademark pose, slightly crouched and with one foot forward on an effects pedal.
‘E.T.I.’ gets a big, deserved cheer, with a ringing riff duet revving up its latter segment while current drummer Jules Radino flays his kit big time.  Then it’s time for ‘Buck’s Boogie’, on which Dharma demonstrates that aimless noodling is not his thing.  From a guitar and keys (also Castellano) call and response section if progresses like a miniature suite of signature guitar motifs, and into a spell of harmonic exchanges with bassist Danny Miranda.  By which time they’ve made an hour simply fly past.
‘Last Days Of May’ lets Richie Castellano off the leash again, for an impressively twiddly, echoed solo.  He’s a good fit, and in many another band he’d be the full-on axe hero.  But in this outfit he can only be junior to the dapper little gent at centre stage, as Buck illustrates with a fierce solo.
They head for the home stretch with the supermonster riff of the epic ‘Godzilla’, before closing the set proper by unfurling ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’, on which Bloom mischievously mimes a bit of cowbell playing, and by the time they’ve finished the guitar wig-out ending I’m thinking ‘Hotel California’ is a bit tame by comparison.
‘Dancing In The Ruins’ seems like a strangely poppy choice for the first encore, though it evidently makes some folk happy.  More to my liking is ‘Hot Rails To Hell’, on which Castellano gets to run wild in addition to taking the lead vocal.  It’s poundingly anthemic – but not half as much as the concluding ‘Cities On Flame With Rock’n’Roll’, on which there’s a pregnant pause while Buck grins and cracks his knuckles in readiness for the explosive ending, on which the three guitars and bass line up at the front of the stage in time honoured fashion.
There’s no guitar-clashing ‘Born To Be Wild’ finale, and no room for ‘The Marshall Plan’, or ‘Joan Crawford’ or ‘Astronymy’ . . . or . . . I could go on.  Which is a shame, but as someone once said, you can’t always get what you want.  But even without all of those classics, Blue Öyster Cult can still produce two hours worth of what you need.
And as an added bonus, they have The Temperance Movement opening for them, which
Lights, cameras, and Phil Campbell action
makes this a dynamite two-for-one offering.  TTM stroll onstage to the strains of ‘The Stripper’, which may not be entirely original, but still fits the sense of fun that comes courtesy of singer Phil Campbell.
And they’re off, with a stomping bass drum triggering ‘Only Friend’.  By the time they’re done with ‘Caught In The Middle’ with its chopping riff, Campbell is taking his shoes off, and as they get wired into ‘The Way It Was And The Way It Is Now’ he’s in full flight – a kinetic, madcap, Iggy-spindly, apparently double-jointed presence.
Campbell may be the focal point, but he’s the focal point of a forceful rock’n’roll band. ‘Ain’t No Telling’ features interleaved licks from guitarists Paul Sayer and Matt White, over groove drumming from Simon Lea, ahead of wailing solos from both guitarists.
And so they go on, piling on the winners.  There’s a rock’n’rolling intro to ‘Take It Back’, with its “Woah-oh-oh-oh” pub singalong, southern rock guitar strains on the intro to ‘Another Spiral’, and a strung out blend of guitars on ‘A Deeper Cut’, with Lea hunched over, deep in the pocket, and Paul Sayer adding a chiming solo.
The Temperance Movement are one of Britain’s best contemporary rock bands.  Phil Campbell is absolutely one of British rock’s most captivating front men.  They take some old-style rock’n’roll vibes and yank them into the 21stCentury. They’re the business, and hopefully this support slot has recruited another battalion to their fan base.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Kyla Brox - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 22 February 2019

The lady can sing, no two ways about it.  We often talk about vocals being powerful, but what Kyla Brox has, it seems to me is vocal strength– range, control and richness all coming together with soulfulness and clarity.  She’s got a box of tricks at her disposal too, in the form of songbird falsetto and a capacity for swooping, somersaulting vocal twists and turns, though she’s sensibly measured in their use.  She’s also got a warm and winning personality, and is evidently very comfortable as a performer – maybe too comfortable at times, but we’ll get to that later.
Kyla Brox - lady sings the blues
Her skills are evident in bluesy fashion on ‘Change Your Mind’, on which she also contributes some flute playing – and it’s a big grown up flute, by the by, with a warm sound that contrasts with the piercing, roaming guitar solo from Paul Farr that follows, as a precursor to a huge vocal finish.
The heart of their sound is soul-funk, ranging across the Latin feel of the brief ‘Devil’s Bridge’, the funky ‘Little Of Your Love’, on which hubby Danny Blomeley contributes a well bendy bass solo, and new single ‘Don’t Let Me Fall’, which opens in minimalist, ballad-like fashion before picking up into sweet soul.  ‘Choose Me’ adds a further variation with an Atlantic soul feel driven by a snapping backbeat from Mark Warburton, while Farr adds a fizzing, rock’n’rolling solo.
Now this kind of stuff, while very good in its own terms, doesn’t necessarily stretch Brox, while now and then Farr treads a mite too close to slick jazziness for my palate. In other words it can all get a bit comfy.  But there’s a welcome shift of gears after the interval, in the form of ‘If You See Him’. Starting off as stripped back blues, with Brox getting into a real old-fashioned Delta mood, it takes off into a gutsy, walloping instrumental section, with coruscating wah-wah guitar from Farr, before Brox gives it large to close the song out.
Their second set ranges from the rollicking, near jump blues of ‘Bluesman’s Child’, on which Kyla tells us what it was like to grow up with bluesman Victor Brox as her dad, to the slowie ‘Honestly Blues’, on which she delivers bursts of falsetto while Farr offers a varied, emotionally charged solo.  Meanwhile ‘For The Many’, which has a political dimension to its lyrics, is strident funk with lots of stonking bass work from Blomeley, and ‘Pain & Glory’, the title track from the forthcoming new album, is a soul ballad on which Brox demonstrates outstanding vocal control, peaking in another jetstream of a sustained note.
At the end of the night the only covers in their set offer twin treats.  Firstly there’s the set closer ‘Wang Dang Doodle’, on which they make it clear that they know their way around raunchy R’n’B and then some.  Farr gives it a grinding, flashing bluesy solo and Blomeley adds a bass wigout, while Brox herself makes Koko Taylor seem one-dimensional and extemporises merrily over a singalong for good measure – stylistically it’s a great fit for her.  Then for an encore they choose an entirely different path with Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ – it’s a daring, dramatic choice, kicking off with just guitar and vocals, and they do it spellbinding justice, conjuring a rapt silence from the audience as they bring it to a close.
Blue Milk - rough as an entertaining badger's bahookey
Rapt silence is not the modus operandi of support band Blue Milk.  The Glasgow-based four-piece are down and dirty purveyors of raw electrified blues.  They may give Junior Kimbrough’s ‘All Night Long’ a sombre opening, but soon they crash headlong into it, and if drummer Taylor Whyte doesn’t emulate the style of a Cedric Burnside he still builds up an impressive head of steam, dovetailing with a strong bass groove from Ike Malinki.
They brew up a bluesy storm on a convincing reading of ‘In My Time Of Dying’, which singer and guitarist Jonny Mac attributes to Dylan, though he was almost as much a Johnny-come-lately to the song as Zeppelin.  Whatever, they know what they’re about, as their own ‘Take Me There’ confirms.  With an intricate little riff, lung-busting harp from Luo Glaister, and a convincingly picked slide solo from Mac, it’s rough as a badger’s bahookey – in a good way.
They’ve got a couple of other authentic originals in their locker too.  ‘Lord Knows I’m Trying’ has a scratchy vibe and generates impressive intensity towards its close, while ‘Moonshine’ is all rumble, wail and spikiness. The crowd are well up for a swinging blast through Elmore James’ ‘Dust My Broom’, with jangling, crunching slide from Mac, and they bring the right kind of edginess to the Black Keys’ ‘Couldn’t Tie Me Down’.
I know bugger all about Blue Milk, but they have an air of scratched vinyl, annoying the neighbours with loud music at two in the morning, and a determination to do something different. I liked ‘em.