Friday, December 13, 2019

Listened to lately - Sloe Train, and Highway 491

It's not quite planes, trains and automobiles, but there's a bit of a transport theme to this instalment of Listened to lately, with albums from Oxford-based Sloe Train, and Glasgow's Highway 491.

Sloe Train – Eclectic Blues

Sloe Train say on their Facebook page that “Live performance is our passion, we love to entertain”, and I can well believe that if I caught them doing their thing in the corner of the pub then I’d have a pretty good time.  Besides, I’d fit in seamlessly with this bunch of greybeards, appearance wise, so obviously I’m simpatico, right?
Well, yeah.  Getting your sound down on an album is a rather less forgiving environment of course, where limitations are liable to be exposed.  But still – in their better moments on Eclectic Blues Sloe Train really aren’t bad, if you know what I mean.
As on the opening ‘Up And Down’ for example, an energetic blast of R’n’B with a good riff
Sloe Train - Blues. Booze. Snooze. In that order.
propelled along by driving bass, and with a pretty on-the-money solo from guitarist Jerome Brand.  And Pete Carlisle goes at it with gusto on vocals, not least with some daring long notes here – while there’s sometimes a shakiness to his delivery, his enthusiasm and phrasing just about carry him through.
Their best stuff tends to chuck something of the Stones into the mix.  ‘Misty Autumn Rain’ is a highlight, as Chris McCormack’s drums and Tony Ecclestone’s bass carve out a deep, gutsy groove, allied to a Keef-like riff, while Carlisle gets his tonsils round a decent chorus in a ‘Wild Side Of Life’ vein, and Brand solos with some rock’n’roll conviction.  There’s a spoonful of ‘Brown Sugar’ in the riff to ‘Could Have Been The One’, and some pleasing Knopflerisms in Brand’s soloing.  There’s some decent swing to ‘Nobody’s Business’ too, with Chris Burrows’ piano motif paraphrasing the melody of ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’.
Elsewhere the eclecticism of the album title is evidenced by the ska-influenced organ line in ‘Feel Like Going Home’, wedded to semi-reggae beat and rhythm guitar, while ‘Family Man’ cracks open some funky riffing, underlined by a pleasing offbeat rhythm and grooving bass.  There’s also a 'Whiter Shade-ish' aspect to the organ on ‘Here To Stay’, a plaintive song about emotional commitment until they start tripping the light fandango on the chorus.  Sort of.
But their best pivot in another direction is ‘Gone Too Soon’, which brings to mind The Searchers as they comfortably occupy a laid back beat with a doo wop bass line, with Carlisle’s crooning vocal beefed up by some decent harmonies, all topped off by a tasteful guitar solo.
Other songs could do with more spark to hit the mark, though they’re delivered well enough and show some nice touches here and there.  But I imagine a band whose interests are listed as “Blues, Booze, and the Occasional Snooze” had fun assembling the album regardless.

Highway 491 – These Places, In This City

If you take a gander at the track listing for this debut album by Highway 491, and see ‘Boom Boom’ and ‘Smokestack Lightnin’’, you may well anticipate that you’re going to be served up a full slate of vintage-style electric blues.  In this you would be wrong.
Sure, their take on the Howlin’ Wolf classic, recorded as a duo by main men Cameron Arndt on harp and vocals and Leo Barrie on guitar, is a fairly traditional if haunted reading, with squeaking guitar and gruff vocals, although Arndt is no match for the Wolf in the latter department.  And John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boom Boom’ is also also delivered in a pretty straight and energetic fashion, especially when they rock things up on the instrumental breaks.  But there’s a hint of punkish vibrancy around it, and Arndt’s vocals, apparently making use of a bullet mic, hint at something more edgy.
Highway 491 - Blues with an edge
Pic courtesy of John McIntyre
And indeed the rest of the album does explore a more off kilter vibe in which the band’s blues foundations are less apparent.  Opener ‘The Record’ is all jungle drums, hoots of harp, ominous bass and bleeping guitar, which taken together with more distorted, discordant vocals amounts to something dark and slightly twisted.  The following ‘In The Loop’ has a doomy riff supplemented by scratchy guitar licks, although Arndt’s angsty voice also combines encouragingly on some harmonies with Barrie and drummer Derek Whiteford, and there’s a neat drop into a quieter, ruminative bridge.  And ‘Feet To The Fire’ thrives on some driving, punkish energy, with snarling vocals from Arndt, distant ‘woah-oh-backing vocals’ and a squall of guitar from Barrie, but is undermined by some rather naff downbeat passages.
‘Third Time Lucky’ goes for something different, opening with off-key chords that draw in a stalking bass line from Jack Oliver to create a macabre vibe that’s enhanced by subtle organ and piano colourings from guest keyboard whizz Bob Fridzema, and a bendy guitar solo.  All in all it sounds like The Doors summoning up the ghost of Muddy Waters, though at seven and a half minutes it overstays its welcome.
‘Crime And Punishment’ is more R’n’B-like, and has a bit of swagger conveyed by the guitar riff and the guest harp of Chris Small, and also some well-suited slide guitar.  But the simplest pleasure is probably ‘A Lie Agreed Upon’, on which Arndt and Barrie serve up appealingly counterpointed guitar riffs, and decent harmonies create something of a retro feel, though again it’s overlong.
I have the sense that Highway 491 are still trying to find their voice.  Blues may be their roots, but it feels like they’re being pulled towards something more outside the box.  There are interesting things on These Places, In This City, but they’ll need more focus all round to define their sound.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Raelyn Nelson Band - Don't

The Raelyn Nelson Band get billed here and there as ‘country garage’, and the cover of Don’t recalls the iconic art of The Clash’s London Calling and also its inspiration, the self-titled debut from Elvis Presley.  And with Raelyn Nelson herself being the grand-daughter of Willie Nelson, if you’re in the market for the kind of cowgirl punk made by Maria McKee and Lone Justice, this seems like a likely port of call doesn’t it?
Well yeah, Raelyn and her gang do have a certain raucous, rockabilly-ish charm, combining
Raelyn Nelson plays heads down, no nonsense, mindless mandolin
rattling drums, bouncing bass, undercurrents of mandolin, twanging guitar and surges of punkish chords on songs like the opening ‘Weed And Whiskey’ and ‘Hating You’.
Nelson doesn’t have the kind of intense vocal authority displayed by Maria McKee, mind you.  Instead she has a rather winsome voice that makes some of these songs sound like a roughed-up version of The Bangles’ jangle-pop as much as the Dixie Chicks in rambunctious mode.  Or maybe Foo Fighters doing ‘Big Me’.  No, really!
Which, I should say right away, is absolutely fine by me.  However you want to describe it, Don’t is a thirty minute, ten track album on which Nelson and co take an “in - shake it all about - out” approach that’s irreverent, well put together, and quite simply great fun.
‘Pieces’ brings together a slamming riff, shouts of “hey”, some razor-like guitar, and lyrics about “Bloody Mary mornings and nights on the town” – and a key change to boot - to produce a head-shaking, bopping delight.  ‘Mama Cry’ combines crunching chords worthy of The Undertones, spot-on harmonies and a neat melody.  ‘Everything Falls’ drops down into third gear, with sweeter, spangly guitars and a yearning vocal.  The closing ‘Rebel Girl’ opens up as a pounding stomp, with a whiny vocal that’s as discordant as Nelson gets, then adds some scrabbling guitar to conjure up a bit of rock’n’roll that just about justifies the mandolin-smashing cover pic.
If you’re expecting me to tell you about the other tracks, don’t hold your breath.  I’ve told you all you need to know already.  I like it.  The more I listen to it, the more I like it.  Don’t may be slight, but it's still a frothing, bubbling adrenaline rush of – hell, call it whatever turns you on, I don't care.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Seth Rosenbloom - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 8 December 2019

After this opening show of Bostonian Seth Rosenbloom’s first ever trip to Britain, I bet he’s counting his blessings that he’s avoided the pitfall of the unsympathetic pick-up band.  Lancashire-based trio the Midnite Johnny Band know their stuff and then some, have clearly done their homework on Rosenbloom’s material, and provide more than just a solid platform for him to do his stuff.
Seth Rosenbloom gets down to business
Right from the opening ‘Keep On Turning’ the foursome produce a big, full sound, giving full rein to the first of some imaginative riffs, while Rosenbloom offers a clean and tuneful Bonamassa-like vocal, and turns out an all action solo that emerges as his frequent modus operandi.
The following ‘I Can’t Help It’ is equally chunky, a ‘Dust My Broom’-like 12 bar with an SRV feel, which is good rhythmically from all concerned, and confirms how tight they are.  Then the slow blues ‘Broke And Lonely’ finds Midnite Johnny contributing some shimmering backing on guitar while Rosenbloom produces an interestingly quiet and brittle-toned solo before progressing towards a howling closing segment.
And there’s enough going on in more upbeat songs to maintain the interest levels too.  A mid-tempo blues is underpinned by a twitching rhythm from drummer Paul Burgess (who has played with the likes of 10cc, Jethro Tull, and Chris Farlowe) and stuttering bass from Norm Helm, underlining the suppleness of their playing, to which Midnite Johnny adds an equally interesting solo before Rosenbloom gets his wail on in characteristic fashion.  He then throws some nice curve balls into his second solo on the “break-up song” ‘Right About Now’, over more subtle colourings from yer Midnight fella, before building to a well-worked strident finish.
Rosenbloom follows up on an appetising Johnny solo on Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s ‘I Don’t Believe’ with a tastefully bluesy offering of his own, capping off another SRV-like slice of straight ahead good time fun.  Then Rosenbloom steps back to let Midnite Johnny lead on his own song ‘Long Road Home’, a rollin’ an’ tumbling Mississipi stomp based on Johnny’s
Midnite Jonny slithers around on slide
slithering slide guitar, given variety dynamics and changes of pace, with Seth entering into the spirit of things on his own solo.
A rendition of Elmore James’ ‘Look Over Yonder Wall’ provides an opportunity for a subtle, varied Rosenbloom solo, going from quiet to full on over racing bass lines, en route to a nicely wonky ending.  Then he closes the set with a decent exploration of ‘Little Wing’, before they encore with an enjoyable gallop through Elmore James’ ‘Wild About You baby’, with crunking solos from both guitars.
Rosenbloom is a clean cut, affable young guy, with an equally clean cut voice that he could do with developing into more of a tool, to give focus to his songs.  His set is a bit guitar-centric for my taste, with a lot of high speed, accurate work at the bottom of the neck, but it has to be said that it was enjoyable fare, and a large chunk of the audience lapped it up.
Support band The Blind Lemon Gators are a more old-fashioned R&B proposition, led by
guitarist Ian Donald and singer Greig Taylor.  Opening with a cover of ‘She Talks To Angels’, they combat a rather intrusive snare drum sound with a growling vocal from Taylor and delicate slide from Donald to capture the song’s mood.
Greig Taylor insists he's keeping his coat on, right?
They’re good on lively material like ‘Seven Questions’ and the tightly energetic Mississipi groove of ‘City Of Gold’, on both of which Dave Ivans provides additional colour with injections of harp, though at times they could swing more.  But they also get slow and reflective on ‘A Little Death Around The Eyes’, a song about Taylor observing his children going through problems, with a suitably delicate melody.
Muddy Waters’ ‘Champagne And Reefer’ is a bit of a slow grind though, and I didn’t really go for their take on ‘Goodnight Irene’, which to these ears wandered too far from the haunting melody captured by Leadbelly.  But they get back on track with the bouncing shuffle of ‘Gravy Train’, and if their set close ‘Better Land’ doesn’t quite hit its gospel song target, it does feature some brooding, warped guitar from Donald.

Seth Rosenbloom plays the second of his UK dates at the Wrotham Arms in Broadstairs on 10 December.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Christone Ingram - Kingfish

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram has been on my radar for a while of course.  The kid – he’s just 20 – has been touted all over the place as “the future of the Blues”, so his name would be hard to miss.  It’s just taken me some time to get round to his debut album Kingfish.  And having done so, I can belatedly confirm young Christone is pretty darn good.
His quality is summed up by one song, ‘Been Here Before’.  One of several co-writes with producer Tom Hambridge, it’s a simple acoustic blues with a lyric based on his grandma’s perception of Ingram’s uncanny maturity – “that boy’s been here before”.  And the sentiment is borne out by the delivery, with a neat guitar motif, minimalist backing, and a
Christone "Kingfish" Ingram - "Get in there!"
“less is more” Kingfish solo.  And in large measure that’s the story of the album.  We have here a 20 year old with a rich, molasses-like voice, who prefers varied, subtle guitar playing to wanton shredding.  A grown-up, in other words.
Hailing from Clarksdale, a legendary stop on the Mississippi blues trail, Ingram nevertheless has a curiosity about the wider world, outlined on the opening ‘Outside Of This Town’.  A chunky riff is the entrée for his warm voice and quality phrasing, garnished with stiletto-like guitar licks that are precise not wasteful, and with tension and release in his solo.  As a piece of songwriting it’s not rocket science, but it is well constructed.  And in a similar vein ‘It Ain’t Right’ may be a fairly perfunctory 12 bar, but it’s well put across, with a sparkling solo combining quick trills and long sustained notes.
There’s well handled social commentary on ‘Believe These Blues’ and ‘Hard Times’, both penned by Hambridge with Richard Fleming.  The first is a slow to mid-tempo blues with a lyrical, varied first solo, that displays real feeling, while the second is another acoustic blues, on which Keb’ Mo’ contributes resonator guitar.
More uptempo variety comes by way of the crisply tripping ‘If You Love Me’, with Ingram showing off some pitter-patter vocal delivery simple drums from Hambridge, embroidered with some squawks of harp from Billy Branch.  And ‘Trouble’ is similarly upbeat, but with a Latin beat provided by congas, some subtle piano colourings from Marty Sammon, and effective guitar/vocal call-and-response work from Ingram.
In contrast the closing slowie ‘That’s Fine By Me’ is all languid resignation about the end of a relationship, with a sparse guitar opening accompanied by jazzy drums, a piano solo that catches the mood, and a fitting guitar solo that grows out of the melody, demonstrating that Ingram is capable of covering all the bases.
I do have a couple of questions mind you.  Like why bother to include ‘Fresh Out’, a song Hambridge and Fleming wrote for Buddy Guy?  Okay, it provides an excuse for Guy to add a verse of vocals and a solo.  But really it’s little more than an amped up version of ‘Come Back Muddy’, from Guy’s album Born To Play Guitar, and anyway I don’t think Ingram needs the leg up.
What’s more, Guy’s presence means that ‘Fresh Out’ features four guitarists.  And  Keb’ Mo’ may have come along to join the party for one song and stuck around to strum on a few more, but with the additional presence of Rob McNelley, several songs feature three guitarists.  There’s not exactly a ‘Born To Run’ wall of sound going on here, and Ingram copes fine as the lone guitarist on songs like ‘Trouble’ and ‘That’s Fine By Me’, so what are the others adding to the equation?
Whatever.  Those gripes aside, Christone Ingram is by no means one of those fly-by-night, over-hyped guitar “prodigies”.  On the evidence of Kingfish I wouldn’t saddle with him that “future of the blues” tag, but I’ve no doubt that he’s an artist with a very bright future.

Kingfish was released by Alligator Records on 17 May.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Laurence Jones Band/Matt Pearce & The Mutiny - Oran Mor, Glasgow, 1 December 2019

It’s three years since I last saw Laurence Jones play live.  And a lot has happened in the world of Laurence Jones since then.  He’s changed from a three-piece to a four-piece, bringing in Bennett Holland on keys.  He’s grown his hair and grown a beard.  He’s changed record labels.  And he’s released two albums, last year’s The Truth, and the most recent Laurence Jones Band.  He’s still smiling though, in the same rather endearing way as always.
Tonight’s set leans heavily on those two most recent albums, kicking off with ‘I’m Waiting’ from Laurence Jones Band.  With Bennett Holland giving it some welly on organ, and new bassist Jack Alexander Timmis supplying bubbling bass, it conjures up a surging late 60s
The guitar may gently weep, but Laurence Jones smiles 
rock sound that’s one of the strengths of the new album, and which continues through the following ‘Stay’.  ‘Wipe Those Tears Dry’ is funkier, with loose-limbed bass from Timmis providing a great groove, and its also apparent that Jones’ voice has developed further over the years, especially backed up by Holland and additional backing vocalist Abbie Adi.
By the time they get to the soulful, retro ‘Quite Like You’ it’s apparent that the new songs have that bit more oomph than on the album.  In sub-zero Glasgow, drummer Phil Wilson had come onstage swathed in a scarf, but by now he’s getting warmed up on the song’s bouncing rhythm, while Holland supplies some funky organ.  And on ‘Mistreated’, propelled by a great bass line, Jones delivers a big wah-wah solo which is the focus for them to collectively whip things up.
Jones reverts to a trio for Stevie Ray Vaughan’s slow blues ‘Lenny’, on which he does a good turn, with delicate use of his whammy bar contributing to interesting bendy segments.  Then he sits down with an acoustic for an appealing run through ‘Long Long Lonely Ride’, with bluesy piano tinkling from Holland and a tasteful, twanging guitar solo.
If I had to choose a song from The Truth for them to play live, the romantic ‘Take Me’ probably wouldn’t be it, and although Jones’ solo kicks off a rousing crescendo the ensuing singalong doesn’t seem a good fit.  ‘What Would You Do’ is more interesting though, a twitchily funky, danceable affair that grows from choppy riffing, through and organ solo to a call and response guitar and keys passage.
Personally I’m more interested in seeing what Jones can do with his satisfying guitar showcase on his slow blues ‘Thunder In The Sky’ than the admittedly decent stab at ‘All Along The Watchtower’ that precedes it, great song though it is.  And another cover in the form of CCR’s ‘Before You Accuse Me’ chugs along rather stiffly at first, but starts to swing nicely after a boogie-ing piano turn from Holland leads into a Jones’ solo, with Wilson playing nicely behind the beat.
They close with the Stonesy, good-time handclapping vibe of ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’, before returning to encore with ‘Live It Up’, a bit of a throwaway enlivened by Wilson
Phil Collins lookalike Matt Pearce gets stuck in
standing as he whacks out the drum intro, and some “Hey Hey” audience participation initiated by Holland.  Jones and co are a tight band, and they warmed up a freezing night, but I can’t help thinking Jones really needs to comb his repertoire for a couple of more powerful songs to create a set that really takes off.
Support band Matt Pearce & The Mutiny are no slouches, and make their own sizeable contribution to the evening’s entertainment.  Pearce, the guitarist with hard rockers Voodoo Six, is a dapper specimen in jacket, waistcoat and feather-adorned titfer, and a confident performer on both guitar and vocals.
‘Scarecrowing’ opens their forty minute set with tight-but-loose, funkiness, Pearce pitching in some controlled wah-wah playing alongside a clavinet-style solo from Joe Mac on keys.  ‘Like A Hammer’ is all slinky verse and crunching chorus, with Pearce getting into some busy guitar/bass harmonising with Kelpie McKenzie.  There’s a ballsy fuzziness to his guitar sound on ‘Ordinary Blues’, which as he hints in his introduction has a decidedly Rush-like riff going on under the verse.
He switches from Les Paul Gold Top to a hollow body to contribute slide guitar on the bluesy riff of ‘Gotta Get Home’, the title track from their first album, which also features some gutsy vocal harmonies on its Beatle-ish anthemic chorus.  New song ‘Got A Thing Going On’ is muscular and bright but also jazzy, and ‘Set Me Free’ is another well-constructed track, slower and with Pearce’s solo built around some strong themes.
They close with a medley of Prince’s ‘Strange Relationship’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’, giving it some serious biff on the latter, with fuzzed up guitar on the riff and some blazing organ, before going off to a big cheer.  Matt Pearce & The Mutiny are a serious proposition with their brand of rocked-up funk, and I fully expect them to be out there drawing their own audiences before long.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Malone Sibun - Come Together

It’s easy to tag Malone Sibun as a blues rock outfit, combining as it does the talents of Detroit-born singer and guitarist Marcus Malone, who has released a handful of albums here in Britain, and guitarist Innes Sibun, who has previously worked with Robert Plant and Sari Schorr alongside his solo career.  It’s a handy enough label for what they do, but Come Together, their first album working together, demonstrates that they’re not one-trick ponies - even if the psychedelic sleeve, featuring the two of them looking like they've been jabbed with cattle prods, is a bit of a decoy.
Malone and Sibun - not the psychedelic cover pic
Songs like ‘Let Me Love You’ and ‘Lovelight’ certainly fit the blues rock archetype.  ‘Let Me Love You’ opens up with a gritty, Zep-esque somersaulting riff, to which Sibun adds filigrees of slide guitar before it settles into the kind of territory that’s familiar from Malone’s earlier work.  Again, it’s easy to compare his vocal style with Paul Rodgers, but if the cap fits as you listen to this, while Sibun makes his presence felt with a needle-sharp solo.  And yes, there’s something vaguely Whitesnake-ish about   the vibe of  ‘Lovelight’, with its ripped out, ruff’n’tuff chords and catchy chorus complemented by smatterings of lead guitar, before a key change triggers a good solo from Sibun, and they take it down for the bridge before adding a guitar harmony segment for good measure.
The slow blues box is ticked by ‘So Tired Of Living’, a Sibun composition on which Malone comes over all Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland while his partner adds guitar licks over simple organ colourings from Stevie Watts, and shows bags of feeling on his solo, when he stretches things out and leaves plenty of space, though at times he does have a tendency to go to the other extreme with flurries of unnecessary notes.  And there’s even a hint of talking blues about ‘Rabbit Hole’, a slight but fun affair with a shuffling rhythm laid down by Malone’s long-time drummer Chris Nugent, more slide guitar from Sibun, and a rollicking bridge and solo.
But Malone and Sibun also like to veer into more soulful stylings.  ‘She’s My Girl’ may rock, with big chords and squealing Sibun slide, but at heart it’s a booty-shaking Sixties soul concoction with a “where have I heard it before” chorus that morphs into an irresistible “ooh, ooh, ooh-la-la” middle eight.   Meanwhile both ‘I Want You Back’ and the closing ‘Everyday’s A Miracle’ are relaxed and sun-kissed offerings, the former with Philly-sounding backing
Partners in crime getting down
vocals – but thankfully no syrupy Philly strings – and the latter with an optimistic lyric that’s
straight out of the Malone playbook, and a spot on solo from Sibun that glides over a key change.
There’s more good stuff too, starting with the opening 'Come Together' with its tough, stop-start riff and a Morse Code-like solo from Sibun, though I’m less convinced by its rather strained backing vocals.  It lays down a marker with its great sound though, bringing out booming drums from Nugent and grooving bass from Roger Inniss.  ‘Taste Of Your Love’ is reprised from Malone’s 2007 album Hurricane, and while I might have picked others from his back catalogue, provides some stylistic balance with its acoustic guitar opening reminiscent of Whitesnake’s ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry No More Today’ and patient, sometimes double-tracked vocals, before revving up and kicking ass from the bridge onwards.  And ‘Jodie’ is a rattling blast of roll, with honky tonk piano from Watts in the background and a scrabbling Sibun solo over a great bass groove from Inniss.
Ultimately I reckon Come Together is one killer song short of really knocking it out of the park, but that’s a compliment really – a sense that the best may still be to come once the Malone and Sibun partnership has matured.  But their first outing still confirms that these are blues rockers who have plenty of musical clubs in their bag, and who know how to swing ‘em.

Come Together is released by Redline Music on 31 January 2020.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Airbourne/Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown - Barrowlands, Glasgow, 21 November 2019

Well, that was a bit mental.  All the elements of your typical Airbourne show appeared to be present and correct the other night.  If my ears will stop ringing, let’s see if I can summarise.
“Here-we, here-we, here we fucking go,” into a ‘Sin City Ain’t Bad Place For Riff Raff To Give The Dog A Bone’ barrage of jackhammer riffage, a wall of not-quite-noise pounding out of a cliff-face of Marshall stacks.  Lead singer and guitarist Joel O’Keeffe pinballs around the place ripping out screaming licks while bassist Justin Street and rhythm guitarist Harri Harrison career back and forth, swapping sides of the stage in between delivering football terrace shoutalong backing vocals on the choruses of favourites like ‘Raise The Flag’ and ‘Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast’.
Joel O'Keeffe - that beer can's existence is almost over
There’s sweat, feedback, crowd-surfing, and helicopter-haired headbanging from Street.  There’s manic “Here’s Johnny!” leering from O’Keeffe, and colourful bouts of swearing from him devoted to the joys – no, the necessity, of getting pissed.  Twenty minutes in there’s his ritual shoulders-aloft wander through the audience during the magnificent ‘Girls On Black’, pausing only to smash a beer can against his head till it explodes.
But wait, what’s this?  During their long-standing ode to hanging tough, ‘Bottom Of The Well’ they get into some subtle dynamics, bringing things down between choruses and giving O’Keeffe room to undertake some meditative guitar explorations – well, almost meditative.
Cranking it out again on the likes of ‘It’s All For Rock’n’Roll’, O’Keeffe is sat on the apron of the stage soloing when a flight case emblazoned with the Gothic logo ‘Lemmy’s Bar’ is rolled on behind him, bearing 5 plastic pint cups filled with ice, a bottle of JD, and cans of Coke.  So O’Keeffe plays barman, doling out the Jack and Cokes and distributing them to band and audience members.
There’s an air raid siren solo by drummer Ryan O’Keeffe, accompanied by ear-splitting, thunder-laden sound effects, heralding his little brother’s appearance up by the PA stack.  There’s beer-throwing, and in the midst of it all the frenetic, anthemic ‘Live It Up’ and ‘Stand Up For Rock’n’Roll’, both good tunes beneath the mayhem and sheer volume.
They don’t go large on the new album Boneshaker – both the title track and the brief ‘Backset Boogie’ sit well amongst earlier material, but to these ears ‘Burnout The Nitro’ is a bit of a racket.  But the sound doesn’t seem great to be honest – everything is louder than everything else to the point nothing stands out.  But this ain’t my first rodeo with Airbourne, and let’s face it, nuance is scarcely the order of the day.  Their offering is an out-and-out, high voltage, rock’n’roll party – and that, they indubitably deliver.
This is though, my first live experience of Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown.  I’ve enjoyed their last two albums - the most recent, Truth And Lies, showing off a very modern-sounding hard rock band with a strong understanding of the blues in their armoury – so I’m keen to see what they have to offer.
The first thing to be said is that Tyler Bryant himself is a bona fide rock star in the making. 
Tyler Bryant shows off his star quality
Fashionably thin, clad in a loose-fitting shirt, skinny tie askew, and a waistcoat, with a boyish grin and hair that constantly needs to be flicked out of his face, he’s certainly photogenic enough.  But he’s also possessed of a distinctive voice, capable of both raunch and sensitivity, and shows off some zinging guitar skills as he skulks around the stage in a hunched duck walk.
And when they hit their stride, as on the driving ‘On To The Next’ and the rolling blues rock groove of ‘Ride’, The Shakedown sure as hell live up to their promise.
‘Weak And Weepin’’ sports a riff that could have come straight out of co-guitarist Graham Whitford’s band Aerosmith, and if there’s a satisfying Zep-like crunch to ‘Eye To Eye’, it also has some more twenty-first century touches in a manner similar to Dan Patlansky. I could live without their moments of full throttle squalling heaviness though, as on the set closer ‘Lipstick Wonder Woman’, and the spell when drummer Caleb Crosby comes to the front of the stage to belt the bejeezus out of a drum as accompaniment.  But maybe they feel the need to give Bryant more support, as Whitford is a stolid presence to one side of the stage and bassist Noah Denney seems almost to be pushed to the wings on the other.
But for my money they really show their worth when Bryant straps on a Resonator guitar and grabs a slide for a cover of ‘That’s Alright Mama’, which becomes a springboard for some anything but unplugged exploring of bluesy outer limits.  Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown surely have a big future, but I reckon their strength is really in their roots.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The World Of Mick - MICK I

Many and varied are the albums which cross the Blues Enthused threshold.  This week it’s MICK I (as in Mick One) by The World Of Mick, a combo put together by long standing session man Mickey Wynne, who has worked with the likes of Julian Lennon, Zak Starkey, John Entwhistle, and Georgie Fame.
Little surprise then, that retro influences are apparent right from the opening ‘Love Of My Woman’, a semi-acoustic, happy-go-lucky bit of skifflish rough and tumble, with some twanging stand-up bass and tickled ivories decorating simple guitar and drums.
Mickey Wynne does some woodshedding
There are more Sixties stylings on ‘Beautiful Thing’, ‘Northern Girl’ and ‘I’ll Always Be With You’.  The first of these is Merseybeat-esque bright and jangly pop, a bit slight, but with an appealing melody and some neat slide guitar from Phil Saatchi, plus some whooshing sound effects.  ‘Northern Girl’ is also Beatle-ish, this time in a gently acoustic mode, with a simple, pleasant melody and warm vocal, and interestingly mixed instrumentation that sounds to me as if it includes – I could be wrong – a harmonium.  ‘I’ll Always Be With You’ is folkier pop, based on picked acoustic guitar and accordion from Anja McLoskey.  It’s a bit winsome, and its simple melody feels rather derivative, but it displays a good sense of harmony.
Accordion is also in evidence on the most distinctive song on the album, ‘French Blooze’, contributing to a very Parisian musette feel.  It’s an atmospheric piece, with a distant, distorted vocal, a rippling guitar line that drifts from foreground to background over more stand-up bass, and a spoken French voiceover delivered in rumbling fashion by Patrick Bergin – yep, the actor who once played Robin Hood, who also adds some minimalist harmonica.
A couple of songs, ‘Don’t Be A Prisoner To The Past’ and ‘Free Ride’, add Celtic folk touches.  The former is ushered in by a tasteful vocal harmony intro, then strolls along on a loping bass line and strummed acoustic guitar, with more accordion from McLoskey and some satisfying fiddle embroidery from Glenn Somerville.  The latter adds some synth embellishments to the mix, and is enlivened by the electric guitar and drums.  But as pleasant as these songs are, they ultimately feel a bit tame.
A couple of tracks make use of snippets of the American comedian Bill Hicks talking about changing the world, “exploring space, both inner and outer” and such like, though to what purpose I’m not sure.  The first is ‘La Troc’, a gypsy folk-ish instrumental on which acoustic guitar and fiddle are joined by a thumping beat and clacking wood block, to good effect.  The second is ‘All Quiet’, which starts off with just acoustic guitar and distinctive, restrained percussion as the basis for semi-spoken vocals, before drums and electric guitar kick in to up the ante.
The stronger songs include ‘Fooled By You’, which with staccato vocals over guitar and pedal steel from BJ Cole warms up into something energetic with competing voices on its refrain, and ‘You Are The Message’, which ticks along on a pulsing backing track, with the electric guitar motif creating some urgency.  And the closing ‘Twin Flames’ similarly stands out with its yearning feel and a controlled, switchback melody, making use of nicely blended voices, and an elegant electric guitar break.
MICK I is neatly assembled, with occasional touches of Jackie Leven-like quirkiness, and ‘French Blooze’ in particular has a certain je ne sais quois.  But it could do with more of those sparks of the unusual to give The World Of Mick a stronger, distinctive identity.