Saturday, January 21, 2023

DeWolff - Love, Death & In Between

I can’t claim to be a long-time devotee of DeWolff, though I did enjoy their 2020 album The Tascam Tapes.  But I do admire the air of don’t-give-a-shit independence that emanates from the Dutch trio.  For one thing, the guitar, keys’n’drums combo don’t sound like some cookie-cutter blues-rock outfit, but march to the beat of their soul-blues-rock-and-whatever-else-they-fancy beat.  And they do it their own way, whether it’s recording The Tascam Tapes with the most rudimentary set-up you can imagine, or in the case of Love, Death & In Between, retreating to an entirely analogue studio in Brittany and recording the whole shebang live to tape, no overdubs, with a crowd of pals contributing additional musical chops to the enterprise*.
Oh yeah, and on Track 5 here, titled ‘Rosita’, they knock out a 16-minute plus extravaganza of
DeWolff pull their finger out
Pic by Satellite June
soul, gospellated testifying to “the Mighty Power of Love” (their delivery compels me to capitalise that phrase), a blast of uptempo Latino stylings, and even a bout or two of ‘Aquarius’-like vocal uplift.  Or if you prefer, you could focus on the slaloming guitar segments, the hurtling Hammond organ, the affirmative bursts of horns, or the sense of Joe Cocker getting by with a little help from his friends.  There are plenty of elements to choose from in this magnum opus.
But if all that sounds a bit overwhelming, they offer rather more disciplined fare elsewhere.  The opening ‘Night Train’ may not be the James Brown toon, but they do set the tone with a snippet of JB hollering “Ah ya ready for the night train?”  They set off with a suitably locomotive rhythm from Luka van de Poel, parping organ from Robin Piso, and an urgent guitar riff from his brother Pablo who also delivers a confident, expressive vocal, backed up by female interjections.  It all adds up to something upbeat, pulsating and fun, and they reinforce that vibe with the following ‘Heart Stopping Kinda Show’, celebrating the simple things in life in steadier but still thumpingly catchy fashion, full of horns tooting high and low alongside barrelling piano.  Later too, ‘Wontcha Wontcha’ combines snapping drums, brash horns and rollicking keys, plus a trumpet solo and an uptempo Santana-like bridge and guitar break, in an increasingly fevered, and maybe overlong, soul-funk wig-out.
They can cool things off too, whether with the Steely Dan-like subtleties of ‘Jackie Go To Sleep, with its tripping rhythm, jazzy guitar and silvery organ solo, or the Al Green delicacy of the swaying ‘Pure Love’.   ‘Mr Garbage Man’ has a yearning bluesy sensibility, stripped down and with a romantic soul bridge as it hints at the influence of Sam Cooke.  And there’s a spookier aspect to the closing ‘Queen Of Space And Time’, with its minimal percussion, swirls of Wurly organ, and interjections of flute and piano.
But they balance things in the opposite direction too, as they let rip halfway the bouncing, witty ‘Counterfeit Love’ and turn it into an organ-powered rock beast.  And just in case you think that’s an aberration, they follow it up with ‘Message For My Baby’, on which hooting and hollering in the background gives way to an intro of powerful guitar and organ chords.  They back off a bit to provide Pablo van de Poel with more room for a squealing, screaming vocal akin to Ian Gillan crossed with James Brown, before Piso gives it some serious welly on organ, over syncopated percussion, while van de Poel runs some busy interference on guitar – a combination they redouble after another burst of ecstatic church-like hollering, before chucking in a wailing sax solo for good measure.
After over an hour of this fervent soul-fuelled celebration I feel a bit of musical indigestion coming on, even with the periodic palate cleansers of the more laid back tunes.  But the DeWolff boys and their amigos really know how to put this distinctive sound together, and by god they do it with conviction.  I like ‘em.
 
Love, Death & In Between is released by Mascot Records on 3 February, and can be pre-ordered here.

*Sadly at the time of writing I have no information about the various supporting musicians, who make significant contributions to the album's sound.

Monday, January 16, 2023

The 2:19 - We Will Get Through This

Back in 2021 Belfast band The 2:19 released their debut album Revelator, a collection of very satisfying, meat-and-two-veg blues originals that showed a bit of potential.  Their new album We Will Get Through This isn’t as good as that.  It’s better.  Much better.
Let me begin at the very end, with the title track.  After a mournful flutter of harmonica 'We Will Get Through This' opens with just voice and acoustic strumming, as singer Chris Chalmers gently lays out a message of personal reassurance and encouragement in response to a shared moment of doubt and fear.  An undertone of organ emerges, then some sensitive electric guitar
The 2:19 play musical chairs
remarks.  Then as the lyric grows in conviction, the band come in, but subtly. A female voice adds sighing backing vocals, alongside brushes of piano.  And gradually, as the lyric becomes more universal in intent, the song evolves into a marvellous, uplifting slice of soul – especially when that female voice, the property of guest singer Amy Montgomery, comes to the fore and counterpoints Chalmers’ own moans and groans.
‘We Will Get Through This’ makes for a bravura climax, no question about it.  But the really great thing is that it doesn’t stand in isolation.  The album builds to this peak from the start as The 2:19 go through the gears with confidence.  They grab things by the scruff of the neck with the opening ‘No Smoke No Fire’, all crunching staccato chords, steady thumping beat and declamatory vocal, plus an impressively barbed guitar solo from Paul Wilkinson, and they don’t let go.
They loosen up a bit on the likes of ‘Turn Out The Lights’, but in a good way. A twitching shuffle, it’s crying out for handclaps to underline its good-time feel and go with the on-the-money harp solo from Andrei.  ‘Best Suit’ goes back to their roots, a slice of straight-up blues, with the bass and drums laying out a toe-tapping groove, and some rinky-dink piano and slide guitar as garnishing for a brisk tale of crime and punishment.  ‘Hey Carolina’ suggests they’ve supped at a similar Southern well to Robert Jon & The Wreck, horns and all, while ‘The Reach’ shows that they can get funky too.  And as a livener before the finale, ‘Seven Wonders’ is a cheerful chunk of Frankie Miller-style R’n’B, replete with rootsy harp and slide, on which the hero’s global sight-seeing always ends up back with his bewitching baby.
These songs all make for solid, impressive foundations.  But along the way they also detonate the fierce, surging ‘Ready To Go’, a stand-out propelled by some serious tub-thumping from Monty Sneddon, throbbing bass from Marty Young, and some ripped out, resonant rhythm guitar from Ady Young, as the underpinning for Chalmers’ edgy, semi-distorted vocal and a knife-edge guitar solo, also this time from Ady Young.
And they continue to demonstrate their potential down the stretch.  ‘Radio Smiles’ is laid-back and soulful, well-suited to Chalmers’ rich voice, a story of drive-time radio listening as a vehicle for personal reflections, with mellow organ from guest ivory-finagler John McCullough (who adds excellent brush strokes throughout) and similarly subtle horns from Barry McCrudden and Linley Hamilton, the latter also furnishing a well-placed trumpet solo.  There’s some evocative word-smithing too, like “an old song sweet enough to make a radio smile”, and if it’s a song that doesn’t hit the absolute heights, it’s still reaching for them.
‘Broken Harmony Blues’ is another matter though.  It’s a slow, sensitive duet, again featuring the alarmingly good Amy Montgomery, whose voice blends perfectly with Chalmers on a beautifully simple piano and voice arrangement that illustrates how less can be much, much more.
When I reviewed their debut album, I suggested The 2:19 had hinted at a spirit of adventure they hadn’t quite fulfilled.  On We Will Get Through This that spirit has flowered.  They’ve written some songs that stretch beyond the basic blues framework, been bold enough to bring in session musos to help them fully realise those songs, and been well-served by the engineering and mixing of Michael Mormecha.  Salutes and high fives all round folks – this is a damn good album.
 
We Will Get Through This is released on all major digital platforms on 23 January.
 

Friday, January 13, 2023

Speedbuggy USA - Sonic West

Eighties cowpunk, garage rock, rockn’roll.  Mash up that little lot, and some other stuff besides, and the end result might sound a bit like Speedbuggy USA.  They’re rootsy, raunchy, and do their thang with a decent helping of attitood on Sonic West, an album that came out last August, but which only crossed my path the other week.
‘Sonic West’ itself leads the way, introduced by an echoing, ‘One Step Beyond’ style call to arms, before rolling out of the station with an intriguing, Clash-like rhythmic interweaving of Steve Kidwiler’s guitar and Patrick Dennis’s bass as a prelude to a surf-rockish guitar excursion. Then before you can say “Dick Dale” they dial it down again for an atmospheric spoken interlude that’s the track’s sole vocal component.
Speedbuggy USA - not the usual country suspects
There’s a garage rock raunch to ‘Bad Reaction’, with its blasts of harp and distorted vocals on the edgy verse, and moaning backing vocals on the pre-chorus as they hint at the 60s likes of ‘Psychotic Reaction’ and early Yardbirds R’n’B, underlined by a pleasingly scratchy guitar solo that I'd have liked to get scratchier still.
“I wanna hear some country music, crank it loud,” demands singer Timbo on ‘Burn’, and they do, to the extent that Greg McMullen actually manages to make his pedal steel sound respectably gutsy, instead of that godawful snivelling sound it contributes to a lot of old-fashioned country music.  We’re in the realms of Lone Justice here, with a mucho catchy chorus and a smattering of wiry guitar breaks for extra rock’n’roll credits.  They crank things up even further on the following ‘Run With The Wolves’, which has moments of restraint but is really all about the ringing, charging chorus, with an increasingly feverish vocal from Timbo, runaway drums from Mike McNamara.
They really can write a good chorus, as ‘Just Give Me A Reason’ demonstrates.  There may be a Stonesy, stuttering quality to the verses, but it’s the chorus that dominates, yearning and enhanced by some sweet harmonies supplied by Cindy Wasserman of Dead Rock West.  Their skill in this department is underlined by the slowish ‘Don’t’, on which the verses are kinda inconsequential next to the call and response hook.
‘Left All Alone’ is more energetic fare, a harem scarem blast of country garage that puts me in mind of the Raelyn Nelson Band, with a twangeroonie guitar break and a borderline bluegrass burst of gymnastics towards the end.  ‘(One Tough) Son Of A Bitch’ explores a different kinda country angle, with “oh-woah-ho-oh” singalongs and pedal steel trimmings bracketing a Johnny Cash-like bit of storytelling, delivered in suitably assertive fashion by Timbo.
The Smiths’ How Soon Is Now’ pops up [careful with the video if you're averse to strobes], and as incongruous as that may sound they do a damn good job of making it work.  Kidwiler retains Johnny’s chiming, swooning guitar vibe, while Timbo ditches Morrissey’s fey, mannered stylings in favour of a more in-yer-face, finger-jabbing assertiveness.
They get more expansive on the closing ‘Hitch My Wagon’, which sets out with big fuzzy chords over a leisurely beat, gradually developing an out-in-the-desert-night openness to go with the romantic melody and Timbo’s aching vocal.  Kidwiler gets to wig out with a big, squealing guitar solo, and the epic feel is completed by his guitar bleeding all over the slow fade-out.
I may have mentioned country numerous times in this review, but this ain’t no Nashville sound.  This is country given a rock’n’roll shot of in the arm by a bunch of urban punks who like the twang and the tunefulness, but aren’t up for any sentimentality.  A few of the songs are a bit slight, truth be told, but I’ll let ‘em off because of their no messing, get on with it approach.  Sonic West is a pitcher of something fresh to wet your musical whistle.
 
Sonic West is out now on Rare Bird 
Records.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Eddie 9V - Capricorn

If you’re going to live up to a nom de musique like Eddie 9V, it pays to have a bit of chutzpah. And listening to Capricorn, it’s crystal clear that said Eddie – born Brooks Kelly - ain’t in need of any booster shots of charisma.
When opening track ‘Beg, Borrow And Steal’ springs out of the speakers, brightly soulful horns and snapping snare giving way to a bass-popping, finger-snapping groove, it makes for a pretty darned engaging start. But things really take off when Eddie’s personality-laden, near-squawking vocal bursts into earshot, like a new buddy taking you by the elbow and hurrying you along to
Eddie 9V - no retreat baby, no surrender!
catch the vibrant chorus waiting just down the road.  He adds a couple of nifty little guitar breaks along the way for good measure, and alto sax man Noah Sills steps forward to play around with the melody to add some extra seasoning.  This, I’m thinking, sounds good.
And that’s the review right there, really.  Capricorn is a collection of songs that thwacks into the bullseye. It's delivered in style, and it’ll loosen your lumbago and make you wish you had a dance floor and a partner at your immediate disposal.  But let’s give you a bit more info to chew on, huh?
The album takes its name from the Capricorn Records studio in Macon, Georgia where it was recorded.  But while Capricorn Records is possibly most strongly associated with the Allman Brothers, the soul vibe here is more akin to that of Macon’s most famous son, Otis Redding.  But judicious helpings of young Eddie’s blues sensibilities are folded into the mix too.
Slide guitar offers a signature refrain and a closing solo amid the horn punctuation of the swampy, offbeat ‘Yella Alligator’, which serves up another simple but damn good hook, the 9V fella singing about the bayou but sounding very like a creature of the streets.  ‘It’s Going Down’ has a woozy, bluesy feel, mucho relaxed and laid back, with flutterings of flute and pinging gutiar adding a summery flavour.  But ‘Down Along The Cove’ is brisker blues-rooted fare, peppered with Eddie’s slide guitar alternating conversationally with his vocal, until the slide has its moment on a gritty but playful solo, followed by a blast of rockin’ piano from Chad Mason.  The avowed influence of Sean Costello, who was raised in 9V’s home town of Atlanta, is evident here and elsewhere.
But songs like ‘Bout To Make Me Leave Home’ are delicious regardless of the blues quotient involved.  “We're trackin’ in history now,” Eddie drawls, and then they kick off a funky, rhythmic groove, simple and loose but fit to turn you to rubber, while the main man yelps out his frustrations.  There’s a classic soul vibe to the all-too-brief ‘How Long’, which comes buttered in Fender Rhodes piano and organ from Mason, with a sizzling little guitar solo as the cherry on top.  And ‘Tryin’ To Get By’ is another meltingly good song, perfectly delivered, bouncing along till it reaches a swooning pre-chorus to tee up its sunny, good-time refrain.  The multi-instrumentalist 9V is responsible for both the bass and drums here, and locks them into the pocket in swaying fashion.
There are more contemplative moments too, such as ‘Missouri’ (that's as in "Misery"), with its slinky bass and tapping drums.  And they cap off proceedings with the lazily shuffling, hypnotic groove of the dreamy ‘I’m Lonely’.  Once again, the instrumentation is woven together perfectly – bass, drums, keys, horns, guitar, everything – while Eddie, Mr Personality to the end, crafts another distinctive, soul-steeped vocal.
Capricorn is just the ticket to kick off the year.  This is a stylish, sassy, individual album, well-conceived, and well captured by Eddie 9V’s brother Lane Kelly in the producer’s chair.  Eddie 9V is the real deal – don’t say you haven’t been told!
 
Capricorn is released by Ruf Records on 20 January.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Jared James Nichols - Jared James Nichols

Listening to the latest, self-titled album by Jared James Nichols, is a bit like Christopher Walken playing Russian Roulette in The Deerhunter.  Every time you pull the trigger on a new track, there’s the strong possibility you’re going to get your head blown off by a heavy calibre riff.  Nichols is good on that front, no question.  When it comes to the quality of the songs though, I reckon a few chambers on this 12-track outing fire blanks.
Jared James Nichols tickles up an understated solo
The tracks that work best are the ones where some subtlety enters the equation. ‘Down The Drain’, for example, opens with a psychedelic, Beatle-ish intro of spangly guitar as the accompaniment to the appealing melody of the verses, which give way to a gutsy chorus powered by a beefy, if derivative, riff.  Nichols’ wah-wah soloing is impressive, and his vocal is urgent.  ‘Skin’n Bone’ mixes up a slow, squealing, ascending guitar line with a strong tune, and some big slabs of chords, generating some tension along the way.  There’s a brief whirl of a solo and a downshift into a swirling, phased segment, and there’s no excess fat.
‘Shadow Dancer’ is the longest track on the album, and Nichols and crew makes the most of it.  A bendy, effects-laden guitar intro prefaces a dreamy melody, before they step up with a solid chorus over ringing guitar and rolling bass.  Nichols’ vocal is convincingly angsty, and there’s a satisfyingly spacey, anthemic guitar segment, embellished with overdubs.  All in all it may be the best offering here.  There are similar elements on display in the closing ‘Out Of Time’ too, with its patient, echoing guitar theme and flickers of harmonics.  The tune is appealing, delivered in conversational fashion, and there’s an interestingly warped solo as icing on the cake.  All of which suggests that when Nichols is prepared to take his foot off the gas he can deliver some intriguing results.
On the other hand, it’s no surprise to hear that the heavy, mid-tempo ‘Hard Wired’ evolved from a jam with Tyler Bryant and his compadre Graham Whitford.  There’s a wailing intro, some stuttering riffage, and a couple more snippets of interest via a mellow bridge and a solo that scrambles its way into some kind of shape.  But the melody ain’t so hot, and the whole is less than the sum of its parts.  Much the same is true of the opening ‘My Delusion’, which has a stonking rollercoaster riff and a squawking ‘rawk’ vocal, but ultimately sounds like one of TB & The Shakedown’s less interesting, swing-free moments.
The rifferama on something like ‘Bad Roots’ is the real McCoy, with guttural guitar over thunderously rolling drums and pummelling bass.  But the chorus is, not to put too fine a point on it, half-assed.  Much the same is true of the full-throttle ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’, despite its fuzzy, scuzzy guitar chords over the pounding rhythm section, its curious, squeaking little riff, and the downshift into a piercing solo over elasticated bass.
And so on, and so on.  “I’m not trying to be anybody but myself and play the music I love for today,” Nichols says in the PR bumf for the album.  “I’m giving you loud ass guitars and no fucks given rock’n’roll, and I’m loving it.”  Fair enough Jared, and doubtless there are headbangers out there who’ll love all the foot-on-monitor, heads-down guitar bashing.  I reckon bit more wit, imagination, and consistency wouldn't go amiss though.
 
Jared James Nichols is released by Black Hill Records on 13 January, and can be ordered here.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Mudlow - Bad Turn

Mudlow are a trio.  Not a power trio, mark you.  If what you’re after is butt-shaking blues-rock, with lyrics about lascivious women and lots of guitar jiggery-pokery, then move along buddy.  Mudlow are on a different, more winding road with Bad Turn.
Listen to tracks like the opening ‘Lower Than Mud’ and, later, ‘One Bad Turn’, and you won’t really need to be told that Tom Waits is a big influence.  ‘Lower Than Mud’ has an [Explicit] label slapped on it, which is a laugh, because I can only make out about half of what guitarist and vocalist Tobias Tester is singing, and certainly can’t decipher any four-letter mischief he might be
Mudlow - just your average everyday party animals
Pic by Jonny Wilson
dealing out.  Not that I mind, because his growling, cackling Waitsian sound-over-sense brings a gloriously ragged edge to this dipping, looping, low-key boogie. ‘One Bad Turn’, meanwhile, evokes Waits in more balladeering mode.  It’s a downbeat monologue, like a late night drinker telling his tale to a barkeep who ain’t listening. “One bad turn, outside the house I used to own / Inside the yard’s overgrown, spreading grass and weeds I used to mow,” go the opening lines, setting the tone, against a sparse backdrop of pricking guitar, gently ticking drums, and restrained bass.
The boogie ain’t just any old two-step.  North Mississippi hill country vibes infuse the perky, twitching grooves of ‘Further Down The Road’, while Tester rolls out images like a tour guide rolling down the Main Street of some seedy town in a beat-up Oldsmobile, pointing out “Good ol’ boys getting teenage girls loaded in the local saloon”.  Subdued at first, it gradually gathers momentum, rattling and scraping its way towards a serrated, scratchy solo from Tester.  ‘Red Rock’ gives this hypnotic groove a modern lift, with a rolling, offbeat rhythm from drummer Matt Latcham and rumbling bass from Paul Pascoe laying the foundations for a fuzzy, Stylophone-like stutter of a guitar riff, coming over like the Black Keys, with a jolt of electricity making Tester yowl every time the chorus comes around.
There’s a vaguely Latin air to the skipping rhythm and prickling guitar of ‘The Last Rung Down To Hell’, backing the semi-spoken narration, until they shift into a more urgent gear to relate the final descent into the darkness.  And the following ‘So Long Lee (Redux) is another uptempo affair, scooting along in jagged fashion while Tester lets loose a whooping, yelping vocal.
Along the way both ‘Clean Slate’ and ‘Crocodile Man’ cleave more to brooding, murky atmosphere, the former with meandering guitar lines over similarly roving bass, the latter with a hushed vocal and more twinkling guitar over rolling bass and a tapping rhythm until they up the ante for a twanging, discordant guitar break and closing exclamations of “Lord have mercy on me”.  And the closing ‘Sundown’ is an acoustic-sounding collage of images from the end of a day, a mother “picking up her kid, he’s all fingernails and dirt” and urging him to “get out of this ol’ town”, all anchored by minimalist tripping drums and just enough bass.
Are some of those rippling, circling guitar lines a bit samey?  Maybe.  But Mudlow are really all about drawing you into a mood, a place, a grimy, dust-swept scene, and considering they come from Brighton, the sense of back roads America is pretty convincing.   Bad Turn is an album that fell down the back of the Blues Enthused sofa earlier in the year.  I wish I’d rescued it sooner.
 
Bad Turn is out now on Whisky Preachin’ Records [vinyl] and Juke Joint 500 [CD], and can be ordered here.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Laurence Jones - Destination Unknown

Principle #1:  As Todd Rundgren once said, if you’ve got a single, put it first.  Now nobody’s going to mistake Laurence Jones for a singles artist anytime soon, but the principle still applies, and Jones has followed it by opening Destination Unknown with a real attention-grabber of a track in ‘Anywhere With Me’.  Bursting into action with a taut, Schenker-like riff, it’s bright and fresh, and packs in plenty of twists and turns to keep your ears on alert.  The rhythm section are right on it, with neat variations from drummer Samuel Jenkins, Bennett Holland supplies some
Laurence Jones feels the spirit move him.
dandy blasts of organ, and Jones himself adds surging chords, guitar fill garnishing, and a zesty solo leading into a strident bridge.  Oh yeah, and a confident, spirited vocal too.  Okay Laurence, I’m in.  What’s next?
What’s next is ‘Can’t Keep From Loving You’, which opens with a bouncing riff over throbbing bass from Jack Alexander Timms and swinging drums from Jenkins.  It’s a good tune, with a witty guitar turnaround at the end of the chorus.  Which brings me to Principle #2: As someone once put it, “You get the chorus, and then at then at the end you milk it.  Do it five times!”   It’s a maxim Jones and co seem to have grasped, hammering home the hook here - and elsewhere - even while Jones sends guitar licks flitting between the lines.
There’s a tense urgency about ‘Give Me That Feeling’, which suits a lyric about getting all hot and bothered over a girl.  The pushy, low-end, stop-start riff works a treat, another catchy chorus comes swathed in organ from Holland, and Jones adds a clever, needlingly different guitar break for good measure.
Do they keep up this glowing standard over the course of the remaining tracks?  Well, perhaps not – but they give it a good go.  There’s an air of Foreigner-like AOR to the likes of ‘Gave It All Away’ and ‘I Won’t Lie Again’, the former swirling and kicking and the latter neat and swinging, if less memorable.  And there’s a similar vibe later with ‘Said And Done’, this time with a mellow opening of pulsing bass and chocolate box piano before Jones enters with a probing guitar line, and then a yearning vocal backed up by satisfying harmonies.
‘Tonight’ veers from sensitive verses to a muscle-flexing chorus, and if the value of adding a delayed coda initially seems doubtful that’s soon brushed aside as it swells into a whirling organ solo and some lofty, sweeping guitar work from Jones.  There’s a touch of latterday King King-like soulfulness too, on the romantic ‘Holding Back’, which veers between a breathy chorus and a strong guitar theme, and on the closing title track, with its glossy harmonies and ascending chorus, plus its good use of dynamics and the impactful bridge that prefaces Jones’ melodic solo that wraps itself around the final replays of the hook.
Destination Unknown is a worthy follow-up to previous album Laurence Jones Band - an enjoyable ensemble performance from Jones and his amigos, this time with a new rhythm section in Timmis and Jenkins.  The arrangements are concise but punchy, slipping in enough flourishes to sharpen interest along the way, and the sound is clear, tight and well-balanced.  Well done chaps.
 
Destination Unknown is out now on Marshall Records, and can be ordered here.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Quickies - Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton, The Commoners, and Selina and the Howlin' Dogs

The latest Quickies round-up brings together three different brands of blues'n'roots under one roof, with some rock'n'roll, some Southern rock, and some British blues-based rock.
 
Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton – The Stardust Sessions
 
Ever the moving target, Samantha Fish recently announced that she was getting together with Texan guitarist and singer Jesse Dayton, an outlaw-country-meets-punk-rock kinda guy,  for a bundle of US dates and an album of originals titled Death Wish Blues, produced by Jon Spencer and due out in the Spring.  And to seal the deal the pair then rush released this 3-track EP on 2 December.
Writing together the duo apparently “envisioned a sound that married the explosive blues with
Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton, not necessarily in that order
Pic by Skyler Smith
alt-rock”.  Well, whatever that may sound like, this collection of three covers is two parts rock’n’roll, and one part Americana.
‘Brand New Cadillac’ was originally released by British rock’n’roller Vince Taylor and His Playboys in 1959, and famously covered by The Clash 20 years later.  Hell’s bells, that was 43 years ago!  Whatever, the SF-JD take is an adrenaline blast, jaggedly banging out the ‘Peter Gunn’-like riff, while Fish and Dayton compete and interact with breathless vocals and some suitably scratchy guitar breaks.  Then they double down with a souped-up version of Magic Sam’s ‘Feelin’ Good’ (aka ‘I Feel So Good (I Wanna Boogie)’).  Dayton leads on the street-talking conversational vocal, getting into some vocal and guitar call and response and trading stinging licks with Fish.  These two tracks are, essentially, a hoot.
‘I’ll Be Here In The Morning’ is a whole different kettle of potatoes, although counterpointing slam-dunk rock’n’roll and acoustic sensitivity is a formula that will be familiar to Samantha Fish fans.  Indeed this cover of a tender Townes Van Zandt song would have fitted very snugly onto her Belle Of The West album.  Acoustic picking and strumming is the basis for some delicate Fish singing, and low-down country-ish vocals from Dayton, with some mandolin-like trilling guitar providing a minor diversion along the way.   Evidently Fish and Dayton are ready to be romantic as well rambunctious.
 
The Stardust Sessions is out now as a digital-only release, available here.
 
 
The Commoners – Find A Better Way
 
“The Black Crowes are a considerable influence for us,” says Commoners vocalist and guitarist Chris Medhurst.  This, I think, is an understatement.   I mean, I like the Black Crowes, got a few of their albums and everything.  But listening to Find A Better Way I’d infer that the Commoners positively adore the Crowes.
The Commoners try to find a better way out in the country
‘Find A Better Way’ itself sets the scene, kicking off with a big, ringing riff, reinforced by a blast of organ, before Medhurst embarks on an impressively raunchy vocal – a vocal that channels Chris Robinson to a quite bonkers degree.  Gotta say though, it’s a really strong song, with a powerful hook rammed home by the backing vocals, while guitars power along and the guesting Jeff Heisholt adds a gutsy organ solo.  The following ‘Fill My Cup’ starts off with another surging riff over hammering drums from Adam Cannon (yes, really), before chilling out for the first verse, suggesting more light and shade may be in the offing.  And maybe a smidgen more dynamics are evident, but that’s soon overcome by another anthemic chorus, with darn near choral backing vocals, and slide guitar flitting in and out courtesy of Ross Citrullo.
There’s plenty more of this densely arranged sound to follow.  ‘More Than Mistakes’ features a stomping backbeat and Citrullo’s guitar melding with waves of organ, plus a guitar solo that opens with a nod to Hendrix’s ‘Third Stone From The Sun’, while ‘Too Much’ opens with a scudding rollercoaster of a riff, and Medhurst’s vocals start in a lower, less plaintive pitch.  Even when they start off slow on ‘Naturally’ though, with just acoustic and sparse electric guitar, and a cooler vocal from Medhurst, things end up getting very intense.
‘I Won’t’ leans towards country rock, and brings with it pedal steel courtesy of fellow Canadian Michael Eckert that really isn’t my bag.  This isn’t Eckert’s fault, it's purely a matter of personal taste.  ‘Hangin’ On Again’ reaches for the epic, starting slowlish with serpentine slide guitar and more restrained vocals over soulful organ from Miles Evan Branagh, and features tasteful slide guitar wrapping itself around the vocal.  Inevitably Medhurst ends up getting all worked up, and Citrullo breaks out a very Southern slide solo, but there’s more subtlety at work here than elsewhere.
There will be Southern rock fans who love Find A Better Way from first to last, and good luck to 'em.  But while I enjoyed particular songs, I could do with The Commoners being a bit less relentless over the span of an album, and a bit less in thrall to their inspirations too.
 
Find A Better Way is out now on Gypsy Soul Records. 
 
 
Selina and the Howlin’ Dogs – Blues Revisited
 
I love it when a plan comes together, and on songs like ‘On The Line’ and ‘I Still Want More’ Reading-based Selina and the Howlin’ Dogs join the dots to show what they can do.
‘On The Line’ kicks off with a catchy combination of chiming guitar work and bubbling bass, over a rolling, offbeat rhythm, engaging the butt as well as the ear, while singer Selina Arch is supported by some handy backing vocals on a satisfying melody.  The Dogs have aspirations to
Selina and the Howlin' Dogs go for the gritty urban look
add hip-hop to the mix at times too, and here the rap element delivered by bassist Mark Peace fits into the skipping rhythm nicely.  The closing ‘I Still Want More’ kicks off with brisk stop-time guitar chords over a fast clip rhythm, setting up an appealing power-pop vibe.  It’s the basis for Arch to rattle out a simple verse, and a chorus that comes with a useful hook attached, while guitarist Alan Burgin knocks out a tasty solo worthy of a Pretenders hit.
Other good moments include ‘The Way Things Are’, with its fuzzy, low slung, if somewhat familiar sounding rock riff.  It has another likeable chorus, and Burgin offers up a spiky but all too brief guitar break.  ‘Never Get Over You’ opens up with an urgent, tumbling riff over clattering drums, before cooling off into the semi-funky verse, and Burgin produces a nicely melodic guitar solo over the swinging rhythm section of Peace and drummer Tobias Andersson, who clearly have some jazz chops between them.  
There are plenty of interesting things to catch the ear over the course of 13 tracks.  ‘Please Me Now’ comes with an edgy if under-powered guitar riff, and Arch injects personality into the Blondie-like chorus, but it could do with something punchier than Burgin’s rather sedate, jazzy solo.  And ‘Get Up’ suggests some tasteful soul-jazz capability, with Peace and Andersson syncopating nicely in the run-up to a rippling Burgin solo, and Arch making with the required slinkiness.
Things could be better in several respects though.  The mix feels thin, making the band sound tame and leaving Arch’s somewhat reedy voice unhelpfully exposed until the moments when double-tracking produces more depth.  Stylistically meanwhile, they’re scattergun; blues fused with elements of rock, funk and hip-hop may be their aim, and they do all of that with varying degrees of success, but from a songwriting perspective they pack the most punch when they’re in power pop territory.
There’s a bundle of musical talent circulating within Selena and the Howlin’ Dogs.  But they need more focus, and some sympathetic production, to give that talent direction and make it count.
 
Blues Revisited is out now, and can be ordered here.