Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Milk Men - Holy Cow!

“Three minute hero, I wanna be - a three minute hero.”  So sang The Selector many moons ago. The Milk Men may well agree with that sentiment.  Most of the ten tracks on Holy Cow! are of the short’n’sweet variety, making for a brisk canter of an album.  The mood of the songs on offer here tends to suit that approach too.
The opening ‘One Man Band’ is set in motion by a spinning, twirling riff over a steady beat, laying down the boogie before Jamie Smy weighs in with a rasping vocal laying out the modus vivendi of an independent geezer (rather than a musician without bandmates, that is).  The sounds feels a bit tidy, but the simple chorus is punctuated by some dentist drill guitar from Adam Norsworthy, who also knocks out a wiry solo. The following ‘Hungover’ is similarly slight
The Milk Men - sharper than a sharp thing
Pic by Rob Blackham
but catchy – truth be told, a few of the melodies across the album are less than stellar. A catalogue of attempts at sobriety being derailed by other parties, it’s bright and breezy with a bit of quiet/loud dynamics thrown into the bridge.
The Milk Men tend to describe themselves as blues-rock, but that cap doesn’t fit particularly well when you listen to snappy songs like ‘Wild Girls’ and ‘Easy Touch’, which are among the most appealing fare here.  With its simple, staccato riff, snappy drums and occasional handclaps, the former could be inspired by 70s glam rock, or by post-punk power pop.  Its sound is rounded out a skein of acoustic guitar running through it, as well as fluid bass from Lloyd Green, while Norsworthy tops it off with a classy little guitar break.  ‘Easy Touch’ has a similar vibe, with a Slade-like ringing guitar sound over shuffling, Stonesy drums from Mike Roberts.  Meanwhile Smy does a good job pitching his vocal a tad higher than usual as they take a decent hook and hammer it home.
‘Bad News Blues’ is a solid chunk of high-revving boogie, given extra impetus by the ducking and weaving of Green’s bass, while the chorus is another simple but catchy affair.  And if the tune’s nothing special, Norsworthy’s rock’n’rolling guitar in the second half gives the thing another gear.  By the same token ‘Fill Her Shoes’ has an engagingly bouncing groove, the result of well assembled backing including an interesting guitar part and driving drums, plus a guitar solo which darts this way and that to good effect.
They add some fresh ingredients on other tracks though.  They have a stab at getting funky on ‘Give A Little Love’, with its wah-wah guitar line and stop-start chords.  Smy’s voice is well suited to this line, and there’s a crisp guitar break and some twirl-and-twiddle guitar towards the end to round things off.  Even better though is the dreamy slower song ‘Fool For Loving You’, which has a convincingly romantic melody and a swoonsome chorus, Smy crooning away nicely. The ticking and twinkling guitar, melodic bass, and hints of organ all add up to more than the sum of their parts, and Norsworthy adds a lovely guitar solo.  The closing ‘Don’t Trust My Life’ is similarly effective, a Beatle-ish ballad with trippy, bendy guitar, clever drums from Roberts and ruminative bass to go with one of the best melodies on display. It’s intriguing, and draws you in, with a solo of some originality from Norsworthy backed up by Hammond organ from the guesting Bennett Holland.
In spite of its occasional weakness on the melody front, Holy Cow! is a well put together piece of work.  The musicianship is always impressive, and there are always little highlights that grab the attention.  It may not be “Holy cow, Batman!” mind-blowing, but it’s always entertaining.
Holy Cow! is released on 3 May.  I can be ordered on vinyl and CD here, and from Apple Music here.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Big Wolf Band - Rebel's Journey

Do you like a good riff?  I like a good riff.  And the good news is that there’s a little corker on ‘Empire And A Prayer’, the opening track on Rebel’s Journey.  It’s bright and breezy and enhanced by piano, the bedrock of a cracking tune that also features nice bass playing through the verses by Mick Jeynes, a neat tumbling turnaround at the end of the chorus, and a well-suited, sharp and tidy guitar solo from main man Jonathan Earp.  Verily, it’s a tune that obeys the law that you should hit the ground running – though it doesn’t half come to a sudden stop.
Some other strong tracks later in the album suggest that Earp and pals have spent a fair bit of time listening to Joe Bonamassa, and have learned a lot about his style of bluesy epic.  ‘Black
Big Bad Wolf Jonathan Earp leads the pack
Dog Blues’ is the first example, a sturdy mid-paced blues with crunching chords and a twiddly riff – to use a technical expression.  Earp’s adds some razor-like lead guitar filigrees, and it’s his solo that signals the epic turn, along with some flurries of organ from Robin Fox, who then joins with Earp in a guitar/organ call and response passage that recalls the guitar and vocal ping pong of Blackmore and Gillan – clichéd perhaps, but I like it all the same. Oh yeah, and it’s one of numerous examples of excellent backing vocals from Zoe Green.
If anything ‘Standing In The Rain’ is even better, Earp’s piercing guitar intro setting the tone, backed up by delicate piano, and a good melody that Earp puts over well. The song features subtle dynamics, and a tasteful first solo of rising tension from Earp, while his second, biting effort ramps things up with some scurrying runs all the way to the rather unconvincing rumble of thunder that brings it to a close. And in case you didn’t get the message, they travel a similar dramatic road later on, with ‘Darker Side Of You’, a satisfying blues ballad with elegiac guitar and chocolate box piano.
There are some differently styled good things elsewhere among the thirteen tracks too, though I could live without the cowboy blues of ‘Valley Of The Kings’, even if the revolving riff is something of an earworm. ‘Six Strings Loaded’ is a rather better stab at something in this particular blues-rock vein, strewn with sharp guitar licks and with Tim Jones’ simple drumming carrying a punch.
‘Crazy Love’ is a bright little rocker full of fluttering organ and guitar, into which they chuck some dollops of funk, while Earp raps out the vocal with conviction, well backed up again by Zoe Green.  And to underline their funk credentials, ‘Just A Little Bit’ is a looser affair, mid-paced and with a good tune and feel, and Green including some sassy “Little bit, little bit of you yeah” lines to another excellent contribution.  Fox is on board with a tasty organ solo too,  Jeynes’ bass bubbles along nicely, and Earp kicks in with a spot-on guitar solo.
I feel like the mix could give more prominence to the rhythm section, including Justin Johnson's rhythm guitar at times, but it’s not a critical issue. And if some songs are a bit more lightweight they’re all still well delivered, whether it’s the upbeat and positive ‘Rise Together’, or the taut and uptempo blues-rocker ‘Living On Borrowed Time', with its squealing guitar and surges of organ backing.
They close with a melodic rock plea for peace in ‘Too Many Times’, a groan of despair about the human cost of war that sports elegantly tinkling piano, swirling organ fills, and excellent guitar tone from Earp on his lead playing.  It kind of fizzles out though, slightly in want of a fresh idea to finish it off.
Rebel’s Journey is an enjoyable album, though I do wish some fat had been trimmed from those 13 tracks to give it a tighter focus.  But hey, that riff on ‘Empire And A Prayer’ will get you to stick around and make your own mind up.
Rebel’s Journey is released on 19 April, and can be ordered here.

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Black Keys - Ohio Players

Well, this is nice.
The trouble is, I expect more from The Black Keys than just “nice”, as my recent Ten Top Tracks survey of their career should make clear. Sure, the form that “more” might take will depend on where they’re at right now - I’m not demanding they go over old ground.  But I do want them to make me sit up and pay attention somehow. Unfortunately, Ohio Players doesn’t do that often enough.
This isn’t to say that there’s nothing interesting going on.  On the opener ‘This Is Nowhere’, for example, there’s a booming, sonorous bass line that stands out amid the swirling keys, high-pitched vocals and harmonies - and the sweetly floating but not very resonant chorus.
Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach digest the Blues Enthused view of their new album

There’s are some Northern Soul leanings that have a modicum of appeal, on the likes of ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ and ‘Only Love Matters’.  The four-on-the-floor drums are there on the former, along with horns and strings, plinking keys, and a soulful, falsetto chorus backed up by harmonies.  But it seems weird to me that this two-and-a-half minute excursion required no less than seven writing credits.  ‘Only Love Matters’ is better, perhaps, with a twitchy bass line to go with another straight up back beat, while the “woo-ooh-hoo” vocal interjections give a lift to the already decent chorus, and a hazy, shimmering guitar part catches the ear a bit.
Underlining the soul credentials, there’s a cover of ‘I Forgot To Be Your Lover’ by William Bell and Booker T Jones, with Dan Auerbach delivering a plaintive soul vocal – sans falsetto this time – over a grooving little bass line and some string commentary.  But it fizzles out before the two and half minute mark, like there was an outro they never got round to.
More on point is ‘Please Me (Till I’m Satisfied)’, which opens with some ‘Dance With The Devil’-style drums from Pat Carney, and satisfyingly fuzzy guitar – though the latter fades from prominence before long.  Still, halfway through the album, there’s finally some guts and urgency on display here.  And a few songs later ‘Live Till I Die’ serves up a crunchy riff with an intriguing, Eastern-sounding guitar line on the side, coming over like late Sixties psychedelic pop, with its reverb-heavy vocals.  It feels like there’s more content in its two minutes and 24 seconds than half the songs here.
‘Read Em And Weep’ has a whiff of the Stray Cats in its low-slung guitar twangery and occasionally offbeat rhythm, and would be quite good if there was a bit more fire about it.  But once again Auerbach defaults to a high-pitched vocal, at least until the chorus kicks in and he drops into a moodier tone.  There’s a bit of attack in ‘Fever Tree’, which features a few slippery, slick guitar licks and a singalong “na na na” segment, acquiring a mildly trippy vibe like, say, ‘Pictures Of Matchstick Men’.  But as it dials down to acoustic guitar and voice it promises more than it delivers.
The closing ‘Every Time You Leave’ has its moments, adding a bit more muscle than elsewhere, and with a neat guitar line punctuated by an unusual “Ssahh!” sound, but it lacks a decent hook.  As such it’s the opposite of the first single, ‘Beautiful People (Stay High)’, which relies on a hooky chorus and not much else.  It’s noticeable, in fact, that there isn’t much in the way of guitar breaks or diverting bridges to enliven a lot of these songs - layered, textured instrumentation seems to be the order of the day.
There are a plethora of co-writers abroad on Ohio Players, including Beck popping up on half a dozen tracks, and Noel Gallagher of all people on three, but I struggle to accept that all fourteen of these tracks should have made the cut.. It also seems like anyone who was around the studio on a given day could be given a turn at doing something or other, be it whacking a cowbell or singing backing vocals. As to what co-producer Dan The Automator brought to proceedings – beats me folks, beyond some not exactly prominent samples on ‘Beautiful People’.
It pains me to say it, but on Ohio Players The Black Keys seem to be lacking focus, lacking edge.  I hope they find their mojo again before their next outing.
Ohio Players
 is out now on Easy Eye Sound and Nonesuch Records.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Susan Santos - Sonora

“Do what I want, when I want,” sings Susan Santos on track six of Sonora, which is titled, er, ‘What I Want’.  And it’s a suitably assertive chunk of bluesy rock’n’roll to convey that sentiment, with a throbbing riff, a decent hook, and a slippery guitar solo into which Santos bungs some dollops of grit as well as adding some satisfying overdubs on the way to a gutsy finish.  That lyric is an appropriate statement of intent too, because across the eight tracks here she doesn’t allow herself to get stuck in a rut.
A couple of the best tracks here steer away from blues-rock altogether.  ‘So Long’ comes over like classy, rootsy guitar-jangling pop à la early Pretenders, with a catchy chorus that hints at Kim Carnes 'Bette Davis Eyes'. Meanwhile Santos’s vocal may not be Chrissie Hynde cool but it’s still plenty
Desert rose Susan Santos
stylish, as are the backing vocals she adds towards the end.  Later, ‘Call Me Tonight’ works toe-tappingly well in a similar vein, with hints of the Boss’s ‘Fire’ in the melody, a spiky, stumbling guitar figure, and some fun Santos soloing to boot.
Apparently the desert was an inspiration for much of Sonora (the Sonoran desert crosses the US-Mexican border, by the by), but ‘Snakebite’ sounds less like some Wild West tale of tragic love than a Kinks tune given a woozy European feel – which is both different, and just fine by me.  Maybe it’s a bit overlong, but the interesting percussion sounds and swoops of slide do enough to hold the attention.
There’s definitely more of an American vibe to ‘Voodoo Wheels’ though, which comes over like Texas blues as it rattles along on skipping, shuffling drums, while Santos adds buckets of low-slung baritone guitar twang, and adds a skimming, scratching, bendy solo too.  It puts me in mind of Ian Siegal’s ‘I Am The Train’, with his guitar amigo Dusty Cigaar in the lead guitar seat – and that’s a positive comparison, believe me.
‘Have Mercy’ on the other hand, is a quirky slice of laid back honky tonk tootling that blends bluesiness with country and even hints of jazz in a smile-raising, slightly boozy fashion. It’s got an interesting melody with occasionally surprising twists, and a pleasing, spangly guitar break too, giving it an extra lift.
This multi-faceted selection actually comes as a pleasant surprise after the opening ‘Hot Rod Lady’, a clichéd bit of chugga-boogie  which suffers from less than scintillating lyrics and a pretty predictable chorus. Still, the rhythm section of David Salvador on bass and Juli El Lento on drums rumble along in intriguing fashion, and Santos adds a half-decent two-part guitar solo to perk things up.
I'm pleased to say she makes a better fist of the closing ‘Let It Ride’ though, to exit on a positive note.  A game of two halves, it kicks off in an energetic funky blues rock groove with SRV-like choppy rhythm guitar, with a straightforward chorus and a skating, warped guitar solo.  Then it segues into a slowed-down, grinding second phase dominated by slowly bent out of shape guitar groaning and squealing, before closing with some squeaking’n’bleeping atmospheric interference.
Apparently Sonora is the sixth album by Madrid-based Santos, which is news to me. It makes for an appealing letter of introduction though. I look forward to hearing more of her diverse, do-what-I-want stylings in the future.
Sonora is released on 5 April, and is available on vinyl and CD here, and digitally here.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Ten Top Tracks from . . . King King

Welcome back my friends, for the third instalment of Ten Top Tracks, surveying the repertoire of an artist favoured by Blues Enthused, but without any of that ranking nonsense - and bearing in mind that tomorrow I might choose several different tunes!
This time around I’m featuring British blues-rock stalwarts King King, and once again following a roughly chronological path.  Keep your eyes peeled for the links to the tracks on YouTube (or follow the link to a playlist of all ten tracks at the bottom), and when you’re sitting comfortably we’ll begin – not at the beginning, but with something from the band’s second album, Standing In The Shadows.
King King react to being told it's their round
Pic by Graham Milne

The first time I ever heard anything by King King was on a covermount CD that came with the (now defunct) Blues Magazine, offering a selection of the ‘Best or 2013’. I may already have encountered them via an advert in said magazine, featuring a picture of a burly guy giving a guitar some wallop while apparently spraying sweat in umpteen directions – and wearing a kilt. Being a Scot, I was intrigued, even though it’s scarcely our everyday attire.
Actually hearing King King for the first time though, playing ‘A Long History Of Love’, was something else. Up above I tagged them as blues-rock, but this was more blues-soul.  It’s patient and subdued, with gentle strokes of organ and subtle guitar chords, and reflective, emotional lyrics that main man Alan Nimmo delivers like a man who’s spent a whole lot of time listening to Paul Rodgers.  They rouse themselves a bit, then take a breather before Nimmo sets out on a lengthy, spell-binding guitar solo that spins new ideas and directions out of the melody, perfectly weighted and with exquisite use of sustain.  It was a real “Holy Shit!” moment.
When I then got a hold of the album Standing In The Shadows, I discovered that maybe six of the album's ten tracks were in this slow-to-mid tempo soulful vein - a bold thing to do, it seemed to me.  But it worked like a charm, so to underline the impact it had on these ears, here's another of those tracks, 'Taken What's Mine', which rolls along on a hypnotically steady beat, with long restrained organ chords and a subdued guitar figure as the backing for Alan Nimmo's sensitive vocal, plus another guitar solo that's full of feeling, perfectly fitted to the song.
Turning back to the band's debut album Take My Hand then, many long-time fans might expect me to pick the Eric Clapton/Robert Cray cover ‘Old Love’, another soulful epic that was a cornerstone of the King King live show for years.  But no, I’m going for something that justifies the “rock” aspect of
Alan Nimmo - an introspective kind of chap
Pic by Adrian Hextall
the blues-rock label, with ‘Broken Heal’.  Bennett Holland may bring some swing with injections of organ, but it’s the gritty riff and big tense guitar chords that set the real tone, while Alan Nimmo barks out an urgent vocal about a young woman’s street-walking, drug-dependent existence. Oh yeah, and he digs out not one but two scything wah-wah solos, a bit reminiscent of Lizzy’s Brian Robertson, to reinforce the mood.
Both of the above facets of King King continue to be evident on third album Reaching For The Light, with soulfulness on the likes of ‘Lay With Me’, and hard rocking on opening track ‘Hurricane’.  But they also explore a different kind of epic mode on ‘Rush Hour’.  It opens with twinkling guitar and a contemplative vocal from Nimmo in which an introspective sense of being swamped by the busy-ness of everyday life is more arresting than the “You believe in me” emotional rescue provided by a partner.  But it’s also gripping because of the dynamics, as it’s punctuated by pounding drums, surging organ from new boy Bob Fridzema, and charged-up guitar from Nimmo.  A stinging guitar solo releases some pressure, allowing it to ease off again, but soon enough the tense power returns, with a forceful grunt of “Huh!” from Nimmo heralding a climactic section that discharges the batteries fully.
But they also take that epic sensibility, that tension between sensitivity and power, and apply it to a quintessential blues-rock number in ‘Stranger To Love’, which doesn’t half channel Bad Company, with quiet sections giving way to Wayne Proctor whipping up a storm on drums, Fridzema leaning hard into his Hammond organ, and Nimmo letting loose some howling guitar.  The end result was something ripe to be turned into a tour de force in their live set - and it duly was.
It's something of a surprise that to date King King have only released five studio albums.  But that handful is bolstered by a barnstorming live album on which ‘Stranger To Love’ wasn’t the only song deserving of that tour de force label.  King King Live, released back in 2016, also includes an extended version of ‘A Long History Of Love’ that somehow manages to transcend the original, while ‘Rush Hour’ is also given fresh energy and is the focus for an exuberant singalong.  But ‘You’ll Stop The Rain’ undergoes one of the most ear-catching transformations. Already a corker of a track on Reaching For The Light, the song that Alan Nimmo wrote about his brother Stevie suffering cancer becomes a searing, impassioned classic here, peaking with an explosive Nimmo guitar solo.
But another King King quality that’s punched home on . . . Live is less to do with drama and more to do with getting your butt moving.  To wit, the boys could get funky!  Not that this was a revelation, but it’s brilliantly captured here.  Early on they roll out a cover of the Fabulous Thunderbirds ‘Wait On Time’ that’s irresistibly swinging R’n’B.  Then towards the end they retrieve ‘All Your Life’ from their first album, and spend ten minutes getting seriously groovy, with Hammond organ wrangler Bob Fridzema being “turned loose on ya”, as Alan Nimmo puts it, to pump up the hip-shake quotient.
The live album turned out to be the high point for the line-up of Nimmo, Proctor, Fridzema, and bassist Lindsay Coulson. Their following studio album Exile & Grace didn’t quite have the consistency to match the career-spanning . . . Live, and the band were prevented from touring it
The live and dangerous Nimmo brothers
immediately on release – and perhaps bringing the material properly to life – by Alan Nimmo suffering vocal problems that required an operation and prolonged rest.  But there are still numerous bright spots on E&G, especially when they’re cranking it out in a blues-rock vein.  The opening ‘(She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’ is bright and box-fresh, serving up the wonderful tongue-in-cheek line “Stone cold devil woman foolin’ around” and a delicious key change.  But my pick for this piece is ‘Long Time Running’ – a Whitesnake-ish good time rocker with gutsy guitar chords, jangling piano from Fridzema in addition to waves of organ, and a gotta-join-in hook of a chorus.
Which brings us to the most recent King King album, Maverick, featuring a new line-up with 
Zander Greenshields on bass and Andrew Scott on drums. And just as I thought the slow tempo soulful blues emphasis of Standing In The Shadows was a bold move, they set another brave course on a couple of tracks here.  ‘Whatever It Takes To Survive’ may be a blues-tinged power ballad, but ‘By Your Side’ and ‘When My Winter Comes’ are piano-led, less bluesy, and more subtle.  ‘By Your Side’ features a passionate, piercing guitar solo, but my pick from the pair is the stunningly unadorned ‘When My Winter Comes’.  Originally written for a proposed film, it relies on just Jonny Dyke’s piano, Alan Nimmo’s lead vocal – and some sumptuous harmonies thanks to a cameo appearance from brother Stevie, who joined the band after the album’s release.
In these songs there’s something of a tilt away from a blues focus to a broader melodic rock style. It’s not a definitive shift, but it’s discernible in other tracks on Maverick.  For my last selection though, I’m going with the opening track, ‘Never Give In’, a tough and gritty blast of blues-rock that confirms the blues is still in the KK boys’ DNA – though perhaps a bit more glossy than in the past.  It’s an apt note to close on lyrically too, because King King have had to be resilient in the face of a few vicissitudes down the years, from Alan Nimmo’s vocal issues, to regrouping around new line-ups, and management changes.
It's now over three years since Maverick was released.  Surely the time has come for King King to bring us their next musical chapter, and deliver a rocking new album!

You can find a YouTube playlist of all ten tracks here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Cedric Burnside - Hill Country Love

I really like North Mississippi Hill Country blues.  I like the often hypnotic grooves, the edgy drumming that’s always liable to undergo an eruption, and the real sense of heart that’s often discernible in the music. But to be honest, this album by Cedric Burnside has me in three minds, as it were.
There are tracks on Hill Country Love that hit the nail on the head.  ‘Juke Joint’ for instance, is a song about the pleasure of getting on down which sports one of the more low down, gritty guitar parts on the album, which seems to get doubled up as the song progresses.  The drums are simple but snappy, and there’s a tricksy dot-dot-dotting guitar break.  My only complaint is that it rather fizzles out when it’s begging for some kind of incendiary finish. ‘Coming Real To Ya’ works too.  It’s simple/borderline simplistic - a bit more languid, with rolls around the
Cedric Burnside - coming real to ya!
Pic by Jim Arbogast
drum kit and two guitars intertwining to good effect and getting into stinging, stabbing mode, and some really squeaky slide playing at the end.
‘Love You Music’ is another example, weaving prickly, sitar-sounding guitar into a guitar figure that could come from some sub-Saharan outfit like Songhoy Blues and weds it to rolling tom-toms that suddenly flip into paradiddling snare and back again, before getting seriously agitated in support of the central guitar break.  And the following ‘Toll On They Life’ is slower, the guitar initially just following the melody as it builds a mantra-like vibe for the head-shaking commentary, before a warmer guitar tone triggers the chorus, and a twanging guitar break offers more variety.
But on the other hand ‘Closer’, a prayer to get closer to god, may be lean and bright with its tootling guitar, but really is too simplistic.  ‘Thank You’, with its stumbling guitar line, squawks of harp and basic rhythm, just feels sonically thin and really doesn’t amount to much. And I can’t quite make my mind up about the brief and winsome ‘Strong’, which belies its title with its musing vocal, pattering drums and sugar-spun guitar remarks.
The third element I’m juggling with here is the inclusion of three old classics in ‘Shake Em On Down’, ‘You Got To Move’ and ‘Po Black Mattie’.  ‘Shake Em . . . ‘ is kept primitive, with acoustic slide guitar and a near incantated vocal, but doesn’t develop much – though to be fair there’s an argument that’s in its Hill Country nature. The take on ‘You Got To Move’ is atmospherically spare, its plinking guitar moving with the melody and reinforced by some conversational harp.  But the most convincing cover is the closing ‘Po Black Mattie’, which is given a loose but popping treatment, with lightly jogging guitar and bass nagging away like a toothache against a backdrop of pushy, insistent drums that get all action at times, like they’re trying to escape. But do these oldies -especially the first too – actually add much to the equation, or are they just pleasant padding?
But to close on a positive note, 'Hill Country Love' itself has a sunny vibe with its hipwiggling rhythm and low down riff. And ‘Funky’ is properly engaging with its jangling guitar backed up by syncopated drums and burbling bass, and our Cedric’s repeated exhortations to “get funky, get funky, get funky”. And he even gives an entertainingly James Brown-esque introduction to a spanking drum break.  It’s one of the tracks here with the most personality.
Hill Country Love runs to 14 tracks, but should have been trimmed. And while Burnside suggests that the ad hoc recording space he and producer Luther Dickinson used “made the sound resonate like a big wooden box”, I’d have liked a bit more muscle to be on display.
Still and all, Cedric Burnside has got the Hill Country sound in his blood, and there are a couple of fistfuls of those idiosyncratic grooves on offer here.
Hill Country Love is released by Provogue Records on 5 April, and can be ordered here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Elles Bailey - Live At The Fire Station

It was a year ago yesterday that I wrote a review of Elles Bailey playing live in Edinburgh, and since Live At The Fire Station is a document of the same tour, one might wonder what more there is to say beyond what I wrote then.  But as it turns out, the album provides the opportunity for a deeper appreciation of certain aspects of her live show.
For one thing, it may be Elles Bailey’s name on the backdrop, but she ain’t doing this alone, and Fire Station absolutely justifies her calling on the audience at the end of ‘Sunshine City’ to “Give it up for this incredible band!”  It’s not that there are lots of jaw-dropping individual showcases
Elles Bailey - cooking up a perfect storm
being served up – though there are a few excellent solo spots.  But as an ensemble this gang absolutely click as they deliver some quality arrangements that allow the songs, and Bailey’s vocals, to shine.
A good example is ‘Perfect Storm’, which evolves in measured fashion over Matthew Jones’ tripping drums.  There are no displays of flashy virtuosity, but in addition to the fuzzy guitar stings from Joe Wilkins and dreamy organ from Jonny Henderson, Matthew Waer unwraps some delicious bass variations - having already found some tasty grooves on the preceding ‘Colours Start To Run’.  Meanwhile the soulful voice of backing singer Demi Marriner – who wasn’t available for last year’s Edinburgh gig – complement Bailey’s lead vocal beautifully.
This is not, by any means, an isolated example. ‘Stones’ is a simple enough song, but the arrangement is always interesting, with Wilkins’ angle-grinding slide injections and edgy solo, along with Marriner’s voice, adding some spice to Bailey’s own impressive delivery.  It is, mind you, one of numerous instances of Bailey’s fondness for “Ah-wooh-ah-ooh” type vocal interpolations, a tendency she could do with tempering in her future writing.  No such qualms about the aforementioned ‘Colours Start To Run’ though, which is really all about the melody and the vocals, peaking in a pre-chorus and chorus which are downright divine, and do justice to some superb lyrics.  And speaking of lyrics, the brooding, sophisticated and cleverly structured ‘Shining In The Half-Light’ is as good a bit of writing as you’re going to get about the alienation that comes with our modern online life.
Sophistication comes in different forms of course.  ‘Spinning Stopped’ is a delicate lullaby which is kept very simple, and is all the better for it.  Meanwhile the halting ‘Halfway House' comes over like a folk song that’s been bathed in soul, and is all about another marvellous chorus, elevated by the backing vocals of Marriner and, indeed, Wilkins.  Bailey may be an Americana award-winner, but to me these outings are far more convincing than the cowboy blues Americana arrangement of ‘Medicine Man’, which is in any case outdone in its own terms by the gripping ‘Cheats And Liars’, with its stronger chorus and better dynamics.  Basically, Elles Bailey has some better shots in her locker than ‘Medicine Man’.
Bailey and co can rock out too, in case you were wondering.  The inspired good-time cover of John Martyn’s ‘Over The Hill’ is upbeat from the off, but they don’t half whack out the latter part of it.  Meantime the revved-up ending of ‘Hole In My Pocket’ gives a big lift to the rather middle-of-the-road song, with Wilkins’ guitar scrabbling around like a Jackson Pollock painting.  But it’s with the set-closer ‘Riding Out The Storm’ and the encore ‘Sunshine City’ that they really hit rocking paydirt. The former is a great song, the verse drawing you in towards a chorus that’s sublime, with a great hook, and I do love a good false ending, especially when it allows Joe Wilkins to take the spotlight and dig out a sizzling solo. And ‘Sunshine City’ is a no-arguments barn-burner, a great tune with a crunking riff and swooping organ over Jones’ driving, swinging beat, and Bailey hollering away from the front as they make like a locomotive steaming down the track.
Those Americana awards are all very well, but for me Elles Bailey is really a crossover artist who puts the songs first, has bags of soul in her vocals, and with the help of her amigos is ready and willin’ to rock in pursuit a good time. And that’s a very tasty recipe for a live album.
Live At The Fire Station is out now and available here.

Friday, March 15, 2024

DeWolff, with Silveroller - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 14 March 2024

“In a statement tonight, the police have warned members of the public about an outbreak of flared trousers in the Edinburgh area. They say the issue seems to have been imported from the Netherlands by the Dutch rock group DeWolff, but has quickly spread to encompass the young British band Silveroller. More information will be available in due course.”
Crackerjack Pablo van de Poel
“Hello Edinburgh!”
“We are DeWolff, and we have come all the way here tonight to ask you something!”
“Are you ready to rock’n’roll?”
“Are you ready . . .
“ . . . for the NIGHT TRAIN?”
The roared response makes it clear that the healthy crowd here tonight – me included - are all on board the DeWolff musical locomotive, and ready for a magical mystery tour that smashes together blues-rock, super bad James Brown funk, gospel ecstacy, snippets of jazzy fusion, and sweet soul music.
And so we’re all off on the ‘Night Train’, an original from their album Love, Death & In Between mark you, and not a cover of the Godfather’s tune.  And believe you me, the trio are kicking ass from the outset.  Guitarist and singer Pablo van de Poel is a jack-in-the box front man, delivering some face melting guitar (well, it certainly looks like it’s melting his face), while his Robin Piso sets about wrenching the guts out of his Hammond organ, and younger brother Luka van de Poel is giving his drum kit a right-in-the-pocket hammering, and adding on-the-nose vocal harmonies on a regular basis.
‘Heart Stopping Kinda Show’ lives up to its title, not least because it is a totally banging soul tune straight outta Memphis, though it’s also ramped up by a short and sharp blast of organ soloing and a screaming wah-wah solo from Pablo, who also embarks on a mid-song bout of infectiously
Harmonious drummer Luka van de Poel
hammy patter about how this is about more than the show they’re putting on, but about the choices we make that make life worth it – like coming out in the pouring rain on a Thursday night to see this gig.  These guys don’t take themselves too seriously, as their very 70s embroidered brown outfits attest, all flares and aeroplane collars.
They cool things things off with ‘Will O’The Wisp’, a chilled blues with filigrees of jazzy guitar and organ, and some falsetto soul vocals en route to a swirling organ interlude that’s not so much psychedelic as the Phantom of the Opera – and no, I don’t mean Iron Maiden, or Andrew Lloyd bleedin’ Webber either.
‘Tired Of Loving You’ is a dynamic blues ballad that takes in a lengthy, now and then classically tinged guitar showcase until Pablo wigs out good and proper and they head down the highway propelled by a surge of hair-flailing organ that Brother Robin then dials down into a soul-classical mash-up en route to a bone-crunching finale.
They take another detour with the 70s style funky blues rock of ‘Double Crossing Man’, before letting loose with a throbbing, gristly riff on ‘R U My Saviour?’.  DeWolff don’t sound much, if anything like The Who, but on songs like this there’s a similar Pop Artiness sensibility in the electrified air I reckon – at least until they put the hammer down with a spell of hectic guitar/organ interplay. Does this sound a bit like those other Dutch masters Focus? Well yes, it does a bit. Just a little. Sorta.
But before we have time to dwell on that they’re cueing up ‘Treasure City Moon Child’, with a
Study in brown Robin Piso
strutting start featuring some Santana-like guitar tones before it explodes into three-piece havoc of pummelling hard rock.  There’s still light and shade though, including a scat singalong led by drummer Luka, a nod to Little Richard’s ‘Keep A’Knockin’’, and ultimately a scorching guitar/organ face-off before they take their leave.
At this point it would be fair to say that DeWolff have gone down a storm with the assembled throng.  Except they’re not done yet, oh no.  For an encore they uncork a 20-plus minute version of their multi-section soul rock suite ‘Rosita’, into which they chuck the kitchen sink, the taps, and all the crockery within reach. There are swooning soul sounds, southern rock guitar inflections, Latino flavourings, and a whole of gospellation peaking in a hands in the air walkabout by Pablo, delivering a jittering testament to the “Mighty Power Of Love” (back in 2019 Pablo witnessed a sermon by the Rev Al Green in Memphis), all culminating in a manic, howling guitar promenade in which he stretches his corkscrew guitar to the limit. To encore with this magnum opus might seem like a daring, high risk gambit, but by the time they’re done there are Cheshire Cat grins all around the room.
Once upon a time there was an Aussie band called Mental As Anything. I can’t tell you a damn
thing about what they sounded like, but I can tell you that DeWolff deserve to inherit that mantle. In the best possible way.
Jonnie Hudson struts his front man stuff
Oh yeah, there was a support band too, by the way – and Silveroller garnered plenty of cheers for their half hour set.  They serve up a meaty starter of British blues rock with opener ‘Black Crow’, featuring a taut riff, pistoning Hammond organ, and skelping drums.  Then singer Jonnie Hodson whips out a harmonica for the bluesier rocking groove of ‘Trouble Follows Me’, with Aaron Keylock adding slippery slide to the crunching chords.
Hodson, with his shaggy hair, scarf and flares – I did warn you – is a strutting, mic-stand waving front man of the old school, to the point where I half-expect him to announce “’Ere’s a song for ya!”, but in a Scouse accent.  The thing is, he carries this off effortlessly, and looks destined to play bigger stages.
As do Silveroller as a whole, I should emphasise, as they deliver some mighty appealing material in fine style. ‘Ways Of Saying’ changes gear from a blue ballad intro into raucous rock’n’roll recalling the Faces, while ‘Other Side’ opens with gritty slide playing from Keylock and suggests Bad Company getting good and heavy, with bubbling bass from Jake James Cornes and whacking drums from Joe Major bringing a bucket of groove.  There’s soulfulness in ‘Come On, Come In’, and Keylock weighs in with a properly blues-rocking solo. But they kick things up to another level with the crackling closer ‘Hold’ and its turbo-charged riffing, plus a wild organ solo from Ross Munro, who sounds like he’s passed a Diploma in Jon Lord-ism with flying colours.
Silveroller look and sound like the real deal to me.  They’re bright and fun, and whatever their influences they still have their own sound, while Hodson and Keylock have a bit of a Glimmer Twins brothers-in-arms thing going on. Go see ‘em ASAP, and make up your own mind.