Saturday, May 30, 2015

Larry Miller - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 29 May 2015

You gotta love Larry Miller.  He may be about as contemporary as an episode of Minder, and bear about as much relation to the Mississippi Delta as Arthur Daley, but the guy knows how to put on a show. He delivers his brand of old school, shape-throwing, air-punching, meat and potatoes 70s blues-rock with total abandon, and has the crowd on his side even before the set opener ‘Mad Dog’ reaches its frothing climax.  He careers around the stage, with frequent off mic imprecations
Larry Miller wrings that neck
to the crowd of “Yeah! Come on!”  And when he isn’t gurning with intensity as he wrings the life out of a Les Paul during another frantic solo, he’s grinning fit to bust with sheer zest for it all – and his enjoyment of his work is utterly infectious.
It’s full throttle stuff, and if the slow blues of ‘Calling All Angels’ is no classic then ‘Soldier Of The Line’, the title track of his latest album does provide a satisfying breather, as Miller straps on an acoustic and conjures up a suitably Gallic mood for its World War I tale.
Miller’s between songs banter is also unselfconscious and amusing.  Introducing his inspiration Rory Gallagher's 'Walk On Hot Coals', he notes that it was recorded for Irish Tour '74 in Belfast around Christmas 1973, and pronounces "That's where I live - 1973!"  He even spins an amiably daft spiel about the movie Braveheart as he introduces ‘One Fine Day’, which is another highlight drawn from his latest album.  So too is ‘Mississippi Mama’, a stomper of a song with a riff from rock heaven.
Set closer ‘Backstabber Blues’ may be a long-standing staple of Miller’s set, but endearingly that doesn’t stop him forgetting the first line.  It really doesn’t matter though, as he and his band keep the ‘Cell Block No 9’ style riff going.  Drummer Graham Walker and Derek White on bass are sterling sidemen throughout, laying down solid foundations on top of which Miller can do his thing.
After all this, doing Gary Moore’s ‘Parisienne Walkways’ as a second encore seems a bit anti-climactic - a better option would be the typically high octane ‘Still Ain't Done With The Blues’.  It would also be appropriate, since if he ever gets round to writing his life story, I reckon that could be the title.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Stephen Dale Petit - At High Voltage

Whoa, hold the phone!  Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters, there’s a riot going on!  Where’s that volume control – does it go up to 11?  Turn that sucker up!
Er, yeah.  All of which is to say that with At High Voltage Stephen Dale Petit has delivered seven tracks and 36 minutes of scorching r’n’b’rock’n’roll, that comes roaring out of the blocks like a jet-propelled hot rod at full throttle.
Picture this.  The Pirates have recruited some snarling hybrid of Iggy Pop and Liam Gallagher on vocals, and summoned up the ghost of Lee Brilleaux on harp.  Then they’ve limbered up for a live show by getting well and truly dosed up on amphetamines and adrenaline, while listening to Motorhead and MC5 just to get in the mood.
To be honest, until now I was only vaguely aware of Stephen Dale Petit as an occasional columnist for The Blues Magazine.  Turns out he’s been an American-guitar-fiend-in-London since the 90s.  Recorded live at the High Voltage festival in 2010, this set finds Petit teamed with Pretty Things Dick Taylor on bass and Jack Greenwood on drums, and Laurent Mouflier (now with The Wang Dang Doodle) on harp.  Previously a limited edition vinyl release, now it’s available in other formats.  And what you get is a performance with an astonishing level of intensity. 
The combination of originals and covers opens with ‘3 Gunslingers’, a high-revving, head-on collision between Dr Feelgood and Iggy’s ‘Lust For Life’.  Mouflier blows up a storm on the following ‘It’s All Good’ (which it is).  There’s an incendiary version of ‘Summertime Blues’, while penultimate track ‘People Talk’ is a delicious shot of boogie.
The set closes with an extended version of ‘Shakin’ All Over’, which Petit introduces as “Johnny Kidd and the Pirates – circa 2010”, and which captures all of the raw energy that made the original a classic.
Sometimes the blues is about great songs.  Sometimes it’s about astonishing guitar prowess.  At High Voltage is all about primal energy.  Get it.  Now.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Adventures in the South - Memphis, Part 1

After a drive of about 3 hours from Nashville, soundtracked largely by a mega playlist of blues and country compiled on my iPod, we pitched up at our hotel in downtown Memphis, right across the street from the baseball park and a block away from the legendary Peabody Hotel, home of the Peabody Ducks (of whom more later).
After a brief wander around getting our bearings, our first stop was the Memphis Rock'N’Soul Museum.  Situated in the legendary Beale Street, and designed by the Smithsonian Institute, it’s . . . brilliant.  Especially in its early stages, it conveys brilliantly the overlapping, interweaving musical elements from gospel, blues, country and whatever else that that came together in the melting pot of the Mississippi Delta.  And it’s not just what it tells you and shows you – it’s what it lets you hear.  Like many museums, it provides a headset and headphones to guide you through the experience.  But in this case, it also allows you to select music from ‘juke boxes’ showcasing typical songs from each period. So as you progress through the museum you’re liable to encounter numerous people in ‘silent disco’ mode, getting on down to unheard music they’ve chosen to listen to.  Then next thing, you find yourself doing the same thing!
Homely decor in the Blues City Cafe
Closing time was approaching, and we were barely half done in the place.  But as we left one of the staff offered to endorse our tickets to enable us to come back the next day at no extra cost.  Now that’s customer service.
The evening began with ribs in the Blues City Café on Beale Street, before stepping next door to the Café’s ‘Band Box’ music venue, where we encountered a half decent Elvis tribute act – not an Elvis impersonator, but a young band serving up some energetic versions of the King’s hits.  Entertaining enough, and lapped up by some Elvis fans in the room, but it was time to explore.

A bit of wandering around the Beale Street environs ultimately brought us to Jerry Lee Lewis’s club, where we found a bunch of young guys doing a convincing job on a selection of blues, country and rock’n’roll – to an audience of about ten people.  The guitarist claimed to have played Carl Perkins in the recent Johnny Cash movie – whether he meant the acting part, or guitar on the soundtrack, I wasn’t sure.  But they put on a good show, with a degree of instrument swapping going on, and a cameo appearance from an off duty Elvis impersonator.  Pity the ambience was a bit dead, but a quiet night didn’t go entirely amiss, as we had lots planned for the next couple of days.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Listened to lately . . .

Thought I'd share some of what I've recently been lending an ear to, in addition to the stuff I've been reviewing.  So in no particular order, and in amongst some other stuff, there's been:
Kaz Hawkins - Get Ready  (Soon to be seen at the Ardrossan Music Experience.)
Selwyn Birchwood - Don't Call No Ambulance
Aynsley Lister - Home
Ben Poole - Live at the Royal Albert Hall (Another young British guitar dude, if you haven't heard of him, but with a soulful thread in his repertoire.)
Bop English - Constant Bop (Not really a blues album this one, but a side project by White Denim guitarist and vocalist James Petralli - may give it a review some time soon.)

What about you folks?  Feel free to leave a comment about the music that's been getting heavy rotation on your turntables/cd players/iPods.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Rising Souls - The Rising Souls

After catching The Rising Souls performing a short set at the Edinburgh Blues Club the other week, I reckoned their debut mini-album from 2014 might be worth a swatch.  So here we have eight tracks from the Edinburgh trio, spread over 24 minutes or so.  And it has to be said that it’s an encouraging effort.  With Dave Archibald on guitar and head-turningly good vocals, Roy ‘Kelso’ Laing on bass, and Tom Reed on box and percussion, they manage to explore a variety of styles with a relatively limited palette.
Rising Souls, sitting down
Opening track ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’ is a woman-done-me-wrong protest with an air of work song about its chorus, sung over a nagging bass line.  It also manages to encompass an overt nod to Marvin Gaye’s ‘Can I Get A Witness?’  The following ‘Monster’, meanwhile, offers a contrastingly cool, swinging slice of Bill Withers-like soul, with a light touch on guitar and cleverly phrased vocals from Archibald before he opens up with some urgency in the second half to insist to his girl that “I’m on my way!”
For me, ‘Steady’ and the trotting ‘Fool In Time’ provoke vocal comparisons between Archibald and Paolo Nutini.  On these songs Archibald’s singing has a slightly drawling, quavery intonation, but the most significant point is that he doesn’t ‘Americanise’ his vocals.  ‘Sail Along The Distance’, meanwhile, adds some mournful harp playing from Tom Reed to the mix, to complement its halting, shimmering arrangement.  (Fun fact for trivia fans - on the original CD 'Sail Along The Distance' is mis-tagged as 'Man In Black', and vice versa.)
Nutini isn’t the only resemblance that springs to mind though.  ‘Sorry That I Love You’ has a riff that suggests a Stones demo, complemented by a vocal that's less Jagger than rasping Paul Rodgers bluesiness.  It's also a tune designed for relaxed booty-shaking.
Closer ‘The Boxer’ is more percussive, with a soulful chorus and some out of the ordinary, jazzy guitar chords, vaguely reminiscent of Steely Dan, and here and there conjuring up some faint, acoustic echoes of Foo Fighters’ ‘The Pretender’.  But at the same time it’s a track that ploughs its own rootsy, acoustic furrow.
If this is the instrumental framework The Rising Souls intend to work with in the future, the challenge will be how to develop songs more fully, and in different directions.  But this is a more than promising down payment for the full scale album they’re recording this summer.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Laurence Jones - What's It Gonna Be

The portents are good for What’s It Gonna Be right from the opening title track, which lets loose with a beefy blues rock riff worthy of King King in one of their heavier moments, and is garnished with some neat turnarounds and a tasty solo.  And the sound conjured up by Jones and his co-producer Roger Inniss is impressive – big and muscular.
The following ‘Don’t Need No Reason’, a funkified slice of R&B featuring some great bass from Inniss, and ‘Evil’, with its chugging, almost Quo-ish riff, suggest a couple of other things.  One is
that Laurence Jones’s song writing has become more confident and mature since his last album Tempation.  And the other is that his vocals have improved considerably, showing more depth and resonance.
Okay, so a couple of the tracks that follow may tend more towards filler territory, but let’s not dwell on that.  There’s also a cover of Bad Company’s ‘Can’t Get Enough’, on which Jones duets with Dana Fuchs, that I can’t make my mind up about.  On the one hand, I’m not sure there’s much to be gained by covering such an iconic track.  On the other, I rather like the more swinging, Southern Rock-tinged arrangement.  But then I’m not wild about Dana Fuchs’ contribution – it would have come over better if she'd delivered her vocal with a lighter touch.  It’s a puzzler.
There’s a degree of variety in evidence as well though.  ‘Don’t Look Back’ is a smooth, melodic slowie, on which guest vocalist Sandi Thom does a decent turn.  Meanwhile ‘All I Need’ has a lighter sound, played out over a nagging, shuffling rhythm.  And the riff on ‘Set It Free’ has a mildly Celtic flavour to it, accompanied by a gentler, more wistful vocal from Jones.
And there are a couple more highlights too.  ‘Good Morning Blues’ opens with some crackly commentary from Leadbelly about the circumstances that demonstrate that “the blues got ya”, and develops into an enjoyable bump’n’grind, featuring a squealing wah-wah guitar solo.  ‘Stop Moving The House’ is the real highlight though, closing the album with a piece of good-time, (literally) bar-room boogie that entertainingly shows the drunken flip side of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘The House Is Rockin’’, with an appropriately distorted guitar solo.  And what Scotsman could fail to appreciate the chorus “Had too much, drank too much Grouse / Open the doors – stop moving the house”?
So in answer to the question What’s It Gonna Be – it’s patchy, but still another step forward for Laurence Jones.

Kara Grainger - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 8 May 2015

That Kara Grainger knows what she’s about is evident from her sound alone.  When she appears at the Voodoo Rooms, strapping on an acoustic guitar, I’m surprised to see that her band features bass, drums and keyboards, but not a second guitar to create a bit more substance.  But it turns out that she creates a satisfyingly full guitar sound on her own account, thanks very much, particularly when she adds some slide into the mix.  Later on she cranks things up a notch with the aid of a Strat, but the sense of balance is retained.
It’s a sound that makes comparisons with Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi inevitable, as she bridges country blues and melodic soul of the Paul Carrack variety.  And if Grainger’s guitar playing is accomplished, her voice is the perfect tool for the job in hand, full of light and shade, and delivered with impeccable control.
Kara Grainger directs operations
The other key element in the Kara Grainger equation is the songs, which are perfectly weighted to fit that countrified blues-meets-melodic aesthetic.  She seamlessly blends together her own songs with covers going right back to the roots of the blues, such as Robert Johnson’s ‘Come On In Kitchen’ and ‘Love In Vain’.  Contrasting highlights include the downright delicious ‘Lost In You’, and the punchiest moment of the set, ‘Little Pack Of Lies’.
She warms up as the set progresses, especially perhaps once she’s been delivered a whisky by one of the audience.  But there remains a sense that she’s playing within herself, and I’d love to see her let loose now and then, to go to the edge.  Perhaps this is a consequence of doing this tour with a young British pick-up band.  She evidently has them well-drilled, as they respond to her signals without batting an eyelid, but they don’t give the impression that they could offer much in the way of spontaneity. Which is a shame, because as impressive as this performance was, I sense that Kara Grainger has a lot more in the tank.
The Rising Souls opened the evening with a short set that generated an increasingly warm audience response, and deservedly so.  The Edinburgh trio, playing guitar, bass, and box and percussion, served up a bunch of rootsy, soulful original songs featuring standout vocals from Dave Archibald.  I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wanting to see and hear more from them in future.
Piranha Blues followed up with a breezy set of classic covers, delivered with swing and wit and some original arrangements.  Have to say I still prefer Van Halen’s version of ‘Ice Cream Man’, but I particularly enjoyed ‘Just A Little Bit’, which brought back memories of Clarksdale, MS – of which more another time.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Flashback #5 - OGWT at the Capricorn Records Picnic

I recall occasionally standing waiting for a bus in Edinburgh, back in the mid-70s, outside a record shop called (I think) Allan’s, and being tempted by an album on display in the window by a band called Stillwater.
Bearing in mind the dates, you’ll appreciate that this had nothing to do with the fictional band of the same name that featured in Cameron Crowe’s entertaining rock movie from 2000, Almost
Capricorn Records alumnus Elvin Bishop
.  Instead, my interest had been stirred by an Old Grey Whistle Test Special guided by Bob Harris, featuring a number of southern rock and blues artists.
Now, at the time, I knew next to nothing about these genres, or the bands and performers that Whispering Bob had the good luck to encounter.  But some of the names stuck with me, even though I scarcely gave them another thought for years, such as Dickie Betts and (recent Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame inductee) Elvin Bishop.  And there was also the aforesaid Stillwater, from whom we saw a guitar wig-out that caught my attention.  Hence the contemplation of that album in the Allan’s record shop window.
Having embarked on this exploration of the blues in recent years, the Stillwater clip in particular kept coming back to me.  A bit of Googling led me to clips of them on YouTube – and incredibly, not just the OGWT clip of them performing ‘Sam’s Jam’, but the whole hour-long programme!

So enjoy if you will, this OGWT special centering on the Capricorn Records Picnic in Macon, Georgia.  It opens with the now surreal image of Bob Harris doing a piece to camera on his transatlantic flight while casually smoking a fag, before capturing all manner of interesting stuff.  Get ready for plenty of long hair, beards, and Stetsons - and a terrific closing jam featuring Betts and Bishop.