Sunday, February 17, 2019

King King - Boiler Shop, Newcastle, 16 February 2019

What is it about Alan Nimmo?  Bit by bit, as King King have inched towards full-blooming success over 10 years, the man has forged an incredible rapport with their growing audience.  Tonight in Newcastle, before they’ve even played a note, he straps on his guitar to the strains of ‘Highway To Hell’, then cups his hand to his ear as the chorus arrives, and grins as the crowd roars out the words.
This is just the beginning, of course.  More and more, as the years have gone by, King King gigs have generated a sense of communion.  It’s de rigeur for rock bands to incorporate a bit of a singalong with the crowd in their show of course, typically a bit of call and response
Alan Nimmo in the pink
in a song towards the end of the set - job done.  But with King King, as with Springsteen, over time things have taken on a life of their own.
So on ‘Rush Hour’, just a few songs in, there’s no waiting till the end for the audience to get stuck in.  Jonny Dyke trills out a keyboard intro, Alan Nimmo offers a vague invitation, and the Boiler Shop Choir are off and running.  They still do the usual bit at the end, but evidently the crowd aren’t satisfied, because after the last note has died away they have another go at it, a capella.  Much the same happens towards the end of the set, on ‘You’ll Stop The Rain’, where Nimmo has the crowd singing the guitar refrain, and they like it so much they do it again off their own bat when the song is over.  “Splendid,” says Nimmo with a chuckle.
Nimmo can even elicit a roar of approval with just his trademark clenched fist salute at the end of a song, like a goalscorer celebrating a goal.  But if this is all starting to sound like the football terraces set to music, then let’s be clear that there’s a whole lot more to a King King show than that.
They’ve shaken up the set for this tenth anniversary tour, and there are now three servings of tough, dystopian funk early on, in the form of ‘Broken’, ‘Lose Control’ and ‘Heed The Warning’.  Jonny Dyke’s swelling keys bring an epic feel to ‘Broken’, while they simply kick ass on ‘Lose Control’, with those immense drum rolls from Wayne Proctor and a stonking little solo from Nimmo.  The meaty ‘Heed The Warning’, meanwhile, features jittery clavinet from Dyke, who seems increasingly at home in the KK brotherhood these days, and contributes some dreamy organ to the soulful ‘Coming Home’ – the inclusion of which underlines that they have plenty of untapped shots in their locker when it comes to material.
Lindsay Coulson and Alan Nimmo reach for the light
And let’s not ignore just how good a guitarist Alan Nimmo is. He and his gang conjure up excellent dynamics on ‘Stranger To Love’, as a basis for a masterly solo that brings grunts of “Go on Alan” from a couple of punters, and huge cheers when the last note expires.  In a different vein ‘You’ll Stop The Rain’ achieves escape velocity, as always, with his stunning second solo.
Their range is also apparent in the switch from the perfect, frivolous rock froth of ‘(She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’’ to the dramatic ‘Take A Look’. The latter has had few previous live outings, but if they’re of a mind to include an AOR power ballad then it strikes me as a stronger candidate than ‘Find Your Way Home’, which closes the set proper.  I’m all for the dads-and-daughters sentiments of ‘FYWH’, which show off another side of Nimmo’s readiness to explore real-life emotions, but for me the melody lacks a mysterious something.
Speaking of emotions, tonight is bassist Lindsay Coulson’s penultimate gig with the band.  So it seems appropriate that the encores go back to debut album Take My Hand, with the title track serving up some party funk before ‘Old Love’ sets a seal on the night.  Nimmo eschews the ‘silent running’ segment that’s traditionally decorated the Clapton/Cray cover (or alternatively ‘Stranger To Love’), but there’s still delicacy and feeling galore in his solo.
King King may not yet have absolutely hit the big time, but they have come a long, long way
Sari Schorr - vocal force of nature
over the last ten years.  The line-up may change, but the spirit abides, and continues to win hearts and minds.  Let’s see if a new album this year can bump them up another level.
It says something about King King that they can outshine opener Sari Schorr as easily as they do, because she and her band are far from being support act cannon fodder – very far indeed.  They deliver their set in brisk fashion, knocking out a strong and well chosen batch of songs that show off Schorr’s towering vocals to good effect, as well as the guitar work of Ash Wilson.  They make a good pairing, with Schorr getting down in old-fashioned rock chick fashion while he does his stuff.
‘Damn The Reason’ is the only offering from first album A Force Of Nature, and shows off Schorr’s ability to bring dramatic intent to a song, while their cover of Bad Company’s ‘Ready For Love’ hits the nail on the head.
‘King Of Rock’n’Roll’ neatly counterpoints tinkling piano ripples from Stevie Watts with rumbling guitar chords from Wilson, who whips out an array of impressive solos across the set on a variety of guitars, including startling, piercing tones on ‘Never Say Never’, the title track of Schorr's second album.
‘Maybe I’m Fooling’ cranks up the momentum, with gut-thumping drums from Roy Martin, before they rock out big time with the obvious set closer ‘Valentina’, with its infernally catchy hook.
She gigs a lot, does Sari Schorr.  Sometime soon she and her gang are bound to be playing near you.  Go see ‘em, and cop an earful of her vocal firepower.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Robben Ford - Purple House

When I was looking up this album on Amazon in readiness to buy it – yes folks, I do actually shell out my own shekels on some of this stuff – I noticed that the reviews were mixed. One complains that the album’s disjointed and doesn’t flow, amongst other things, while another says it’s Ford’s weakest outing of all, and someone else moans about it consisting of just 9 tracks spread over 35 minutes.  To all of which I can only say this: phooey!
I can’t tell you I’ve got all of Robben Ford’s stuff.  But I can tell you that his 2015 album, Into The Sun, has had regular airplay in this house. Why?  Because it showed that Ford is someone prepared to think outside the same old box and explore fresh angles, which he does with cool assurance rather than any kind of show-offery.
Cool dude Robben Ford captured in a warm light
The same is true of Purple House.  If you were to tell me, for example, that Ford had spent some time listening to Fleet Foxes in the run-up to making this album, I wouldn’t be surprised.  Not that you’ll hear anything that sounds like ‘White Winter Hymnal’, all folky acoustic arrangements and soaring harmonies.  But songs like ‘Empty Handed’, ‘Bound For Glory (Underdog Rises)’ and ‘Willing To Wait’ respectively feature ambient, reverb-drenched vocals, a halting guitar motif, and ringing chords under a verse that suggest ‘Rain Song’ as much as Americana.  And with some evocative images thrown into the lyrics, a pastoral quality can be glimpsed in some of these songs.
But that’s not the whole story.  ‘Tangle With Ya’ kicks things off with clattering, syncopated drums from Derek Phillips, ahead of a surging, ascending riff and bursts of sax that create an air of just-contained urgency – before Ford tops things off with a sumptuous, Steely Dan-like guitar solo.  Contrastingly, ‘What I Haven’t Done’, written by Kyle Swan, has a lazy feel, with a drawling, dragging vocal and woozy horns, before a bridge that quotes ‘Soul Man’ as it triggers Ford’s solo.
What you also get are some dreamily catchy choruses, as on ‘Bound For Glory’, where it’s attached to a sparkling guitar line, and the earworm-hook of ‘Break In The Chain’.  The latter sets sail with acoustic strumming including rippling chords, and an assertive vocal from Ford, before progressing after a minute and a half to some tough guitar that heralds guest vocals from Shemekia Copeland, and then an intriguing, semi-scrabbling middle eight that carries hints of Hendrix.  On the brief ‘Wild Honey’, meanwhile, there’s a creeping, guitar line at the outset, leading to a luscious chorus, while a prickling guitar theme comes and goes.
Ford takes a step back at the start of ‘Cotton Candy’, letting it lean on a snapping snare drum, bass and vocals as it develops an implicitly funky vibe that’s reinforced by Tyler Summers’ sax.  Then the guitar weighs in with Prince-like pinging notes that counterpoint a top notch solo.  Then going down another avenue, ‘Somebody’s Fool’ is a crunching, modern day blues – nothing original about the tune, but the delivery is stonkingly good, with a gritty, swaggering vocal courtesy of Travis McCready, and squelching guitar accompaniment.
The aforementioned ‘Willing To Wait’ features a crystalline guitar intro, and a piercing, brittle solo from Drew Smithers that twists into a shimmering, psychedelic bridge, and ultimately a brief, hooky vocal outro that’s rounded out – not for the first time – by lush female backing vocals.
There’s an inventiveness at work throughout these songs that picks up where Into The Sun left off.  It only lasts 35 minutes - so what?  Robben Ford packs more content into that space than most artists would manage in an hour.  If Jeff Beck is someone who gets plaudits for pushing the boundaries, then so should Ford – and he writes good songs too, songs that aren’t run of the mill.  If it’s supersonic shredding from a guitar slinger that floats your boat then look elsewhere.  But if you’re up for some less-is-more imagination then look no further.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Walkin' The Blues - Ian Siegal's Swagger Revisited

Why take the time to have a look back at Swagger, you ask?  It’s not an anniversary, is it?  Well, from some of the PR bumf I’ve seen over the years, Swagger was apparently hailed as something of a shot in the arm for the British blues scene when it came out in 2007.  But that’s not it.  It’s actually that Ian Siegal seems to pay it scant attention, so I feel like someone else should.
Ian Siegal unwraps a throat-shredding squeal
The thing is, I found this album for myself, back when I was just starting to delve into blues stuff back in 2011.  Didn’t know Ian Siegal from shit, but listened to some snippets on eMusic, downloaded it – and was hooked.  I’ve been following him ever since, and you know what?  In all the times I’ve seen him live, the bastard has only ever played one song from Swagger – namely the philosophical meditation on death that is ‘Mortal Coil Shuffle’, which here features harp from Big Pete Van Der Pluym.
Anyway, first track out of the gate is the title offering, and it lives up to its premise, strutting along on a cool beat and jangling chords, while Siegal unwraps the most Howlin’ Wolf-like vocal ever likely to be delivered by a guy from Portsmouth.  It’s also the first example of Siegal’s characteristic wordsmithery, its lyric peppered with sharp imagery conjuring up the swagger in question.
Siegal’s work often displays a fondness for paradox, here most clearly in the form of ‘Catch 22’, the entertaining résumé of a woman who will “shower you with compliments, then spray you with Mace”, played out over Siegal’s fizzing slide guitar. Just as eloquent is the penultimate track ‘Curses’. Here Siegal mulls over, at wonderful, withering length, the failings of a man whose “mind is like a soup dish, wide and shallow”, and whose wife “has the hostess skills of Lady Macbeth”, before wishing a range of creatively unpleasant fates to be visited on him. It’s all set to a patient arrangement that takes in banjo and clanking percussion and is, as they say, a hoot.
If the humour is dark, the music can be too, as on ‘God Don’t Like Ugly’, which starts off with murmured vocals over little more than ticking drums and plonking bass, before Siegal gets his dander up and adds his own backing vocals.
All of the above is also indicative of the variety Siegal brings to the pursuit of roots music, not ploughing the same furrow over and over, but still managing to produce stuff that sounds . . . elemental.
Swagger - an album that shines like a diamond
Take, for example, his twin-barrelled readings of ‘Horse Dream’, written by his mysterious chum Ripoff Raskolnikov.  This striking monologue of a youngster expressing anxiety to his father about the maltreatment of a horse echoes the burning angst of a similar scene in Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent.  Siegal gives it two different treatments, firstly the brief, acoustically strummed ‘Horse Dream (Western)’, and secondly the deeper, brooding ‘Horse Dream (Swamp)’.  On the latter reading prickly guitar notes are picked out over doomy drumbeats and rolling bass, while nagging, minimalist organ chords hover in the background.  Against this backdrop Siegal mounts a vocal crescendo that shifts from the abuse of the horse to “an entire people being led to the slaughter on a single man’s whim”, as a precursor to a subtle, glittering guitar solo that I’m guessing is down to producer Matt Schofield.  It all adds up to 6 minutes of sheer class, and if Raskolnikov is responsible for the raw material, probably only Siegal could bring it to such devastating fruition.
A selection of covers bring other colours to the palette. There’s the twitchy groove of the second track, John Lee Hooker’s ‘Groundhog Blues’, which features the first outing for Siegal’s trademark throat-shredding squeal.  Then there’s the Little-Richard-channelling-Fats-Domino N’Awlins R’n’B of ‘I Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave’.  And from the pen of Don Covay, who also wrote ‘Chain Of Fools’, there’s ‘I Don’t Know what You Got (But It’s Got Me)’, on which Siegal manages to cross Sam Cooke-like soul with a country vibe.
Elsewhere there’s the urgent Chicago sound of Siegal’s own ‘Stranger Than A Green Dog’, and his shuffling ‘High Horse’, with its added 'kitchen utensil' percussion.  And closing the album is his rendition of ‘Let My Love’, by the now late and lamented Glasgow icon Big George Watt.  And though I actually prefer Siegal’s take on one of Watt’s other classics, ‘Take A Walk In The Wilderness’ this still makes for a top drawer conclusion.
Thirteen great tracks in all, exploring different roots avenues, and all tied together into a coherent whole, with due credit for their contributions to his then rhythm section of Andy Graham on bass and Nik Bjerre on drums, plus guest ivories bod Jonny Henderson.  If you’re a blues fan, and you’ve never heard Swagger, then you need to get your shit together and go unearth a copy.  Like, right now!
Meantime, regular Siegal watchers will probably get my drift if I say that the next time I see him live I might shout at the start of the set, “Don’t play anything from Swagger!”  Perversely, that might do the trick.  But I’m not holding my breath.  Bastard.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Listened to lately - Karen Lawrence and Blue By Nature, Neil Warden, and Head Honchos

Karen Lawrence and Blue By Nature – Best Of Live

If you like Sari Schorr when she’s in R’n’B mode, á la ‘Demolition Man’ perhaps, then Karen Lawrence should be right up your street. Oddly, Best Of Live is actually a selection of 8 remastered tracks taken from a 1998 album titled Live At The Lake, and clocking in at a mere 34 minutes it certainly isn’t an exercise in self-indulgence.
The opening ‘It’s All About You’ is symptomatic of what’s to follow, with a chugging rhythm
carried by the bass, while two guitars play off rhythm and lead against each other, and Lawrence shows off her convincing vocal chops.  Once upon a time a backing vocalist forboth Aerosmith and Jeff Beck, she may be a blues bawler, but in a singing rather than shouting vein.
Her quality is also evident on the following ‘Another Day, Another Mile’ where she brings personality to the lyrics while the band demonstrate how well honed they are, the rhythm swinging on another slice of good time boogie while the guitars trade licks.  And the same is true of the later ‘I Had It All Wrong’, a tough and funky affair powered by kickass drumming, while Lawrence brings twists and turns to her delivery, fairly spitting it out at times.
Other highlights include the soul ballad ‘Fun And Games’, a torch song with the feel of, say, ‘Dark End Of The Street’, on which Lawrence does a pretty good job of conveying heartache. And there’s ‘It’s Been So Long’, which brings more variety to proceedings as it opens up slinky but gradually builds up to a steam conclusion, in a transition well worked by all concerned.
If you fancy a bit of an R’n’B party, albeit a brief one, Karen Lawrence makes for a pretty good hostess.

Neil Warden – Canalslide Blues

For anyone whose curiosity was piqued by my glowing comments about the Neil Warden track ‘The Alchemist’, when reviewing the recent Jock’s Juke Joint Volume 4 compilation, here’s some more of Mr Warden’s work for your consideration.
This four track EP from last year, recorded at Canalside Studios in Edinburgh – the pun in the title will explain itself – again shows off Warden’s ability to paint in music, as it were, or perhaps to provide the instrumental soundtrack for an unseen movie.
Opener ‘The Road Home’ is typical of what he has to offer with the singular style of his Weissenborn lap steel guitar.  One one level it’s simple, built around a repeated theme, but the overall effect is wistful, with a touch of a Celtic feel, and evoking open spaces with a sense of stillness amid the fading light of the Scottish gloaming.  It may not sound much like
Mark Knopfler’s music for Local Hero, but the mood is similar.
‘Canalslide Blues’ itself feels like it is improvised around a central theme, falteringly going in search of an enigmatic melody that’s just out of reach, while on the closing ‘Dust Bowl’ Warden’s slide playing quivers and shivers through a repeated refrain, conjuring up images of tumbleweed blowing through the desert.
Neil Warden gets down to al fresco Weissenborn work
In between, the seven minutes of ‘Mantra’ isn’t so gripping – meandering and less melodic, with fewer points of traction for the listener.  All in all though, Canalslide Blues is another illustration of Neil Warden’s out of the ordinary talents.

Head Honchos – Bring It On Home

Hailing from Indiana, Head Honchos are headed by the father and son twin guitar attack of Rocco Calipari Sr and Rocco Calipari Jr. And when I say attack, I mean it. These guys may give the occasional nod to funk or soul, but at the end of the day they’re in the business of blues rock.
Now, I’m partial to a bit of heads down, no nonsense boogie myself, but over the thirteen tracks on Bring It On Home the Caliparis and their gang – about whom I’m afraid I have no further information – seem to be stuck in a single, high-revving gear. Okay, maybe two gears.
‘Not For Me’ kicks off the set with hammering drums, growled staccato vocals and the two guitars going at it, with a so-so wah-wah solo, and from there on they scarcely pause for breath until, rather late in the day, closing track ‘Soul Free’ provides some relief as they swing their way around an easy-going riff.  But boy, could I have done with some more variation in style before then.
There’s maybe a hint of the Allmans about the guitar riff on ‘Come Strong’, and the drums may be toned down by the merest fraction, but it doesn’t really stray from their basic template.  ‘Next To You’ has a strutting riff and slide guitar, but Rocco Sr's vocals are pitched at the same level as on everything else, and the drum assault doesn’t let up. ‘Fire On The Bayou’ may suggest that they’re in the market for a serving of funk, but it lacks the loose-limbed subtlety of The Meters’ original, even if some organ playing introduces a touch of much-needed dynamics. By the same token ‘That Driving Beat’ reaches for horn-driven soul-funk, and is actually quite likeable, but suffers from the air of relentlessness that pervades most of what’s on offer.
A cover of ‘99½Won’t Do’ finds things toned down half a notch, with some wonky guitar effects thrown into the mix, but you’d be hard pressed to recognise its ancestry as a Wilson Pickett hit. But bizarrely, when they then trot out ‘Going Down’, a tune that begs for a crunching approach, they don’t absolutely put the hammer down.
Don’t get me wrong, Bring It On Home isn’t a bad album, and these guys can certainly play.  But they really should learn how to turn down the heat so that not every ingredient ends up overcooked.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Sugaray Rayford - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 15 January 2019

So here’s a question for you folks.  When was the last time you heard a singer announce, before a note has been played, that “We’re gonna get butt naked about 10 songs in”?  Not an everyday occurrence is it?  But what this gig demonstrates is that Sugaray Rayford is not your everyday live performer.  Oh no. He’s a colossus.
When he’s finished warming up the packed crowd with a getting-to-know-you preamble, and his band get down to business, it’s with crunking funk guitar from Alastair Greene, a gut-thumping backbeat from drummer Lavell Jones, honking horns and whatever else they can
Sugaray checks if Edinburgh is on the soul train
chuck in as a platform for Sugaray to get to hollering – and boy does he holler, like a soul locomotive. Not only that, but when Greene rips into a screaming solo, and Drake Shining takes over with rattling piano, the Sugar fella likes to get his groove on.  We are talking about a seriously big black dude – and he will not object to that description – who likes to get on down, and wants the audience to get down with him.  As he says, this is not a concert, this is party time.
If you want a blow by blow, track by track account, then go find another reviewer.  But there’s strong evidence for Sugaray’s assertion that he has a band who can play anything he wants at the drop of a hat.  One minute they’re playing something as mainstream as ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’, but with a whacking horn sound, and throbbing keyboard runs from Shining ahead of a freshly-laid-this-morning organ solo.  The next, just to make a point it seems, they deliver a slab of floor-shaking reggae.  And then, for no apparent reason other than that the big man fancies it, they launch into ‘Comfortably Numb’, with Shining delivering most of the vocals, and Greene going for broke on an eardrum melting solo.
For the most part though, it’s a feast of funk, soul and blues – I was going to say a diet, but that’s not a word that fits in the same sentence as Sugaray Rayford.  I reviewed his stylish album Southside a few years back, but didn’t foresee the degree of energy that he musters on stage from listening to that recording.  The reason, I think, is that digital ones and zeroes, or flimsy magnetic tape, simply do not have the capacity to capture such a huge personality.  Whether it’s the big fat soul groove of ‘Blind Alley’ (at which point I notice a woman in a parka and big scarf, dancing but somehow not melting), a rollicking ‘Beans And Cornbread’ with walking bass from Alan Markel, or an explosive version of ‘Grits Ain’t Groceries’ (“Ready for something soft?” he asks beforehand), they’re all driven along with the force of an avalanche, with Rayford’s rich, mountainous, soulful voice to the fore.
On a slow blues he resumes after an instrumental solo without the aid of a mic, and goes walkabout in the audience, out the door and into the front bar, singing all the way out and back.  But then it’s back to top gear with Al Kooper’s ‘Nuthin’ I Wouldn’t Do (For A Woman Like You)’, with a great horn riff and a cracking little solo from Alastair Greene, before they close out with ‘Cold Sweat’, the chemistry between the band as they funk it up to a drum-thrashing finale – and still leave room for a mellow interlude, and a sax showcase from Aaron Liddard when he too ventures offstage to cook up a call and response passage with the crowd.
As Steve Van Zandt would put it, “Gabeesh?”  You get the picture?  Sugaray Rayford is a Blues Award nominee for BB King Entertainer of the Year, and no wonder. Frankly I think they should just hand it over now.
Earlier that same evening, I arrived in time to stand at the doorway of the already jammed
Bourbon Street 5 set light to 'Matchbox Blues'
ballroom, and catch another outfit in the middle of a damn fine reading of ‘As The Years Go Passing By’, with a rather cooler and younger black dude catching the mood nicely on vocals.  This was support band Bourbon Street 5, and the singer was Emmanuel James Mathias.
Their delivery of the Fenton Robinson classic is in keeping with a set of old-fashioned electric blues revolving around the likes of Bobby Bland’s ‘I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog The Way You Treated Me’, a trio of Albert King tunes including a strong version of ‘Matchbox Blues’, and their own, well-penned ‘Heart Mending Blues’.  They combine in a satisfyingly tight-but-loose sound, underpinned by the supple rhythm section of Rod Kennard on bass and Stuart Spence on drums.  Guitarist Louis Crosland is an effective foil for Mathias’ spot on phrasing and interpretation, extending himself with some well-judged soloing without ever becoming aimless, while Guilhelm Forey on keys proved adept at switching from jazzy little piano soloing to soulful swells of organ on ‘Matchbox Blues’.  It’s all good stuff, and the rousing reception they got was well deserved. Their contribution to the night could be easily forgotten in the wake of the Sugaray experience, but I look forward to seeing more of them.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

JP Soars - Southbound I-95

Well, this is fun.  Florida-based JP Soars has received a 2019 Blues Award nomination for Blues Rock Artist, which seems like an odd category choice to me, but Southbound I-95 is certainly an entertaining album that deserves attention.
Not that you’d guess this from the opening track ‘Ain’t No Dania Beach’, I suspect.  A rather corny paean to the said seafront, Soars’ vocals sound like he’s maybe been overdoing some of the ‘erb mentioned in the lyric.
On the following ‘Sure As Hell Ain’t Foolin’ Me’ though, Soars’ vocals find a gravelly, characterful sweet spot, that had me scratching my head for who I was reminded of.  After a bit of pondering, I concluded it was Matt Isbell, of Memphis’s Ghost Town Blues Band, and in fact the GTBB sound is a good reference point for much of Southside I-95 – which is a good recommendation for starters in my book. And ‘Sure Ain’t Foolin’ Me’ is a good example of the grooving funk-blues Soars can deliver, with sharp lyrics, horn punctuation and subtle organ from Travis Colby adding richness to the mix.
JP Soars chooses a big yellow one from his guitar locker
The title track though, is indicative of how Soars can vary the menu.  It’s a road song, and a Dick Dale surf guitar extravaganza, full of ringing chords and whammy bar action, laid out over an offbeat rhythm.  At the other end of the other album there’s another blast from the past with ‘Go With The Flow’, an instrumental that reaches back to Cab Calloway era stuff, with jungle drums whacked out on floor toms – a bit inconsequential in the end, but amusing enough.  But with Soars toting all sorts of guitars in the course of the album, the variety on offer reflects the breadth of his musical interests.
More mainstream are ‘Shining Through The Dark’ and ‘Satisfy My Soul’, the former conjuring up a warm, relaxed and optimistic vibe, with a soulful sax intro and perfectly judged guitar tones, and the latter a Stax soul belter, simple and straightforward over a snapping beat, with a jangling riff and squealing sax solo from Sax Gordon. And both tracks also feature spot on backing vocals from Teresa James into the bargain.
In between, ‘The Grass Ain’t Always Greener’ is a snappy bit of rock’n’roll, with bar-room piano from Colby, a stop-time riff, and honking sax, while ‘Arkansas Porch Party’ provides a breather in the form of a lightweight, acoustic instrumental of a country-ish blues hue.
If it’s yer actual blues you’re after, ‘Born In California’ is a more stripped back affair, with rasping slide guitar and vocals as gritty as the childhood hard times described in the tale of being raised in Arkansas, where the singer had “no money, but I sure had a lot of love”.  And if that smacks of Mike Zito on a good day, ‘When You Walk Out That Door’ is a slow blues straight out of the BB King playbook, with a bitter lyric and exquisite guitar work, peaking in an expansive solo that’s well worth the time devoted to it.
After that, Soars elects to take another musical detour, with three songs of varying degrees of Latin ingredients.  ‘Deep Down In Florida’ swings in a Mexican-sounding fashion, aided by woozy horns, while ‘Across The Desert’ is a melancholy instrumental that does goes exactly where it says on the tin, with laid back twanginess, and harp accompaniment from Lee Oskar, set to a Latino rhythm.  And ‘Dog Catcher’ rounds off the triptych with something best described as salsa-blues, in a jaunty and lyrically wacky affair that smacks of the Mavericks here and the Allmans there.
The slower ‘Troubled Waters’ has Beatle-ish air to it, and along with ‘Dania Beach’ could maybe have been trimmed to bring more focus to an album that has plenty enough variety across the other material.  But hey, that’s just my take on it.  I strongly recommend you take a trip down Southside I-95, and find out for yourself what it has to offer.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Listened to lately - Eric McFadden, Mike Sponza, and the Allman Goldflies Band

Eric McFadden – Pain By Numbers

I’m liking this.  With his scratchy voice, and often equally scratchy, squalling guitar, Eric McFadden’s primary setting is rugged post-British Invasion American rock.  But there’s more to the San Franciscan than that.  I’m smelling the late Sixties.  I’m smelling Creedence, peace and love, and jam bands.  Or maybe I'm on completely the wrong scent!
If ‘While You Were Gone’ is a bluesy stomp, with a squealing guitar solo, then ‘Love Come
Eric McFadden doesn't it do it by the numbers
Rescue Me’ is an uplifting, post-Beatles response to the oddity and despair of some biblical episodes, with surging, gospel-like organ from producer Tab Benoit (whose presence is itself an encouraging sign) and scurrying bass from Doug Wimbish.  ‘The Girl Has Changed’, meanwhile, is pumped up, champing at the bit R’n’B.
‘Fool Your Heart’ starts out as a cool rumble before morphing into a catchy AOR affair with a raw, Keef-like solo, while ‘The Jesus Gonna See You Naked’ is a gritty slice of bump’n’grind that could have gospel, Prince and Zeppelin in its genes.
Then by way of variation, at one end of the spectrum you get the simple and effective acoustic blues ‘Never Listened Too Good’, with its tasteful solo and hint of the sax line from Springsteen’s ‘Spirits In The Night’, and the virtuoso Spanish guitar vibe of the closing ‘Cactus Juice’.  At the other end there’s the heavy, doomy ‘Skeleton Key’, and the supercharged Delta boogie of ‘If I Die Today’, with the rhythm section of Wimbish and drummer Terrence Higgins clattering along in helter skelter fashion.
McFadden and co may show a tendency to go for a stomping beat once or twice too often.  But leaving that quibble to one side, Pain By Numbers ain’t painful at all – it’s a pleasant surprise.

Pain By Numbers is released by Whiskey Bayou Records.

Mike Sponza – Made In The Sixties

Italian guitarist and producer Mike Sponza has a long list of credits to his name, and the fact that this collaboration with one-time Cream lyricist Pete Brown was recorded at Abbey Road Studios suggests that they mean business.  Made In The Sixties is an interesting concept, devoting a song to each year of the decade, and it’s packaged in some imaginative artwork by Romeo Toffanetti.  But it’s also flawed in several respects.
The musicianship on display is good, and the arrangements are satisfying, starting with the loping soul-funk of ‘1960 – Made In The Sixties’, and continuing with the likes of the Latino vibe on the clunkily titled ‘1962 – A Young Londoner’s Point Of View On Cuban Crisis’, which features a nice trumpet solo from Chris Storr and effective percussion from Mauricio Ravalico, and on to the surging riff and waves of organ on ‘1967 – Good Lovin’’, to which Michele Bonivento adds a satisfyingly soulful organ solo.
But too often the melodies are samey, and if I’ve rarely been impressed by Pete Brown’s lyrics in the past, he’s done nothing to change my mind here.  They’re schoolboy-ish fare, especially when evoking the Cold War on ‘1961 – Cold, Cold, Cold’ and the aforementioned 1962 outing, and there are strained rhymes scattered throughout.
What’s more, Sponza may be a decent guitarist – he delivers some stinging licks and a tidy wah-wah solo on the closing ‘1969 – Blues For The Sixties’ – but he ain’t no singer. Regular readers will know that dull vocals don’t cut it here at Blues Enthused.  You can have an average voice and still be convincing if you invest it with personality, but Sponza barely rises above the mediocre on his four outings – though even he does better than Brown, who is inexplicably let loose on the 1962 offering.
Things improve greatly when Nathan James brings genuine feel, range and soul to ‘1963 – Day Of The Assassin’, and when Dana Gillespie gets to grips with ‘Good Lovin’’, but even Eddi Reader can’t do much to enliven the sluggish ‘1965 – Even Dylan Was Turning Electric’.  Rob Cass has a decent stab at ‘1968 – Just The Beginning’ though, using a megaphone effect to suggest the street demonstrations of the time.  But it’s a pretty anodyne slice of soul for the subject matter, and though Bonivento’s use of a celesta adds a
Gary Allman and AGB chums
warm vibraphone-type sound, it’s scarcely evocative of the subject.
Made In The Sixties is a good idea, but less than effectively realised.  The musicians do their best, but they’re fighting an uphill battle in light of the vocals and the limitations of the material.

Allman Goldflies Band – Second Chance

Yep, there’s another member of the Allman clan doing their thang now folks.  In this instance it’s Gary Allman, cousin to Greg and Duane, who has hooked up with former Allman Brothers Band bassist Dave Goldflies to form the Allman Goldflies Band.
Goldflies is apparently something of a bass icon, and even takes a solo on the opening ‘Ever Been So Lonely Baby’.  And to be fair, his six-string bass playing is stylish throughout – which is just as well, because it’s pushed well forward in the mix.
Allman, meanwhile, contributes keyboards and groaning vocals, as well as some tasteful, patient slide guitar on the otherwise mundane “missing my baby while I’m on the road” fare of ‘Pretty Green Eyes’.
There are good things on Second Chance, most notably the guitar work of Joe Weiss and Matt Siegal, which is frequently subtle and understated, but all the more effective for it, with some jazziness here and there that I take to be the work of Chicagoan Weiss, who apparently has a jazz background. Together they contribute some nicely double-tracked lines, and some interesting moaning, string-like effects, to ‘Standing In The Georgia Rain’, as well as some satisfyingly ‘Jessica’ like licks on ‘Southern’s All I Ever Want To Be’, to make up for some clichéd lyrics.
There’s also a decent guitar contribution from Luthor Wamble, on ‘You Gave Me Love’, a pleasant enough but derivative ballad undermined by some all too lazy words.
Elsewhere there’s the country-leaning ballad ‘Yesterday’s Blues’, with more good guitar work and a ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’-style organ motif in the background.  ‘Can’t Turn Back Now’ is a funky affair, riding along on tip-tapping cowbell and a bumping bass line from Goldflies.  And incognruously, Goldflies also contributes ‘Fadiddle’, an instrumental that begins with a sombre, mournful intro from acoustic guitar and Goldflies’ fiddle, before coming over all Gogol Bordello, en route to a showdown with the Devil in Georgia by the sound of it.
If you’re a sucker for Southern rock then by all means give Second Chance a spin, and see what you reckon.  But for me it’s lacking the depth to make a real impact.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Wille & The Bandits - Paths

Wille & The Bandits have been knocking around for a few years now, working hard, ploughing their own furrow.  But you know what?  I reckon that with Paths, despite its anodyne title, they’re about to propel themselves a couple more rungs up the ladder.  They’re beardy and they’re bluesy, and they’re delivering roots rock for now, folks.
Opening track ‘One Way’ blasts along on a buzzsaw slide guitar riff from Wille Edwards, allied to a hard-rocking, shoutalong chorus and a slithering slide solo.  If you’re looking for some head-shaking, neck-snapping rock’n’roll, then this fits the bill.  It also features the kind of hippy-ish social commentary that’s their stock in trade, conveyed with conviction and some pleasingly original wordsmithing.  The same ethos is evident on the following ‘Make
Love’, this time set to funk blues with a stuttering rhythm from Andy Neumann’s drums and fuzzy guitar from Edwards, tied together by throbbing bass from Matt Brooks (who elsewhere contributes cello when the vibe demands it).
Wille & The Bandits celebrate a big thumbs up from Blues Enthused
There’s often an edginess redolent of Dan Patlansky, without the same level of Hendrixian guitar fireworks, but on ‘Victim Of The Night’ they also demonstrate an ability to write something with an air of hooky Eighties AOR, aided by some swooping backing vocals and washes of organ, while Brooks’ bass bobs about over a simpler drum groove from Neumann.
It’s in the middle of the album that they really dare to be different though.  ‘Chakra’ features Morse Code-like, African-sounding percussion to complement an offbeat rhythm from Neumann, underneath sweeps of electric Weissenborn lap steel from Edwards.  The following ‘Keep It On The Down-low’ is built on hip-hop funkiness and semi-rapped vocals from Edwards on the verses.  And both songs, it should be noted, have well catchy choruses.
‘Judgement Day’ is apparently inspired by the classic TV series The Wire, and certainly carries echoes of Tom Waits’ ‘Down In The Hole’ which was the show’s theme tune – simple drums and a spiky little guitar line from Edwards leave plenty room for Brooks' bubbling, rumbling bass to shine.  And then they veer away into entirely different territory with ‘How Long’, a plangent, widescreen affair that to these ears has a much more British feel – the sort of thing that post-Britpoppers Doves delivered to good effect a few years back.
‘Watch You Grow’ has an eerie opening that almost begs for Robert Plant to put in a sudden appearance to croon “In the eeeevening”, before it settles into a relaxed and mellow groove involving more World Music percussion from Neumann, and muted, sensitive Weissenborn licks from Edwards, on which the song surfs liltingly to a close.
Closing track ‘Retribution’ has a retro, classic rock vibe that seems to delve back into the Seventies, taking its time then revving up with a soaring slide solo, before turning off the heat with a neat, brief acoustic coda.  But, like the earlier ‘Find My Way’, it’s perhaps an example of where they could have pushed themselves harder to find that little something extra.  Or maybe I’m just being picky.
All told though, Paths is an adventurous album from a trio who have something distinctive to say, both musically and lyrically, and have said it in accomplished fashion.  Good songs, good hooks, good musicianship.  Well played, gentlemen.

Paths is released on 1 February by Fat Toad Records.
Wille & The Bandits are touring Britain in March.  Tickets available from their website here.