Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ian Siegal - The Hug & Pint, Glasgow, 24 October 2015.

Snug and Pint might be more appropriate, as the basement room of the Glasgow pub is jam-packed for this solo acoustic show by Ian Siegal.
Never mind, the man himself is in good form tonight, perhaps reflecting an episode the night before in the Isle of Man, in which – if he is to be believed – he was dumped in a Jacuzzi fully clothed at one in the morning.  Whatever, he goes on to deliver a breezy set lasting nearly two hours, leaning heavily but not exclusively on the material featured on his Man & Guitar album.
'The Silver Spurs', originally recorded on 2009’s The Dust, gets things out of the starting blocks, featuring some hammering slide guitar.  'Mary Don’t You Weep No More' follows, a great example of Siegal’s affinity with for aged songs with timeless, beckoning melodies – the set closer of Stephen Foster’s 'Hard Times (Come Again No More)' being another.  He doesn’t mess around with songs like these, he lets his delivery release the emotional content in both the words and the music.
Ian Siegal - he's the train
Elsewhere though, there’s fun to be had, whether it’s the introduction of a blues stutter into 'Mortal Coil Shuffle', his stab at emulating the finger picking of Charley Patton on 'Pony Blues', or his self-deprecating name-dropping. (Sample:  “I’ve met Jason Isbell [formerly of the Drive-By Truckers] three times.  But each time I’ve managed to forget I’ve met him already.  The last time was the worst, because he’d stayed at my house the night before.”)
Highlights include ‘I Am The Train’, which he notes won a Blues Award even though in his view it’s a country song.  To which the obvious response in these parts is “Aye right, Ian”, since the delivery is so blues-driven.  Conversely, his take on Robert Johnson’s ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ confirms that it makes for a delicious piece of country music – check out the version by Crooked Still for another example.
Siegal is a human jukebox of the interface between blues and country, of course, whether classic or obscure.  So in keeping with tonight’s upbeat vibe we get a rollicking version of Taj Mahal’s arrangement of the traditional ‘T’ain’t Nobody’s Business’, with its speed freak rap in the middle.  And for a first encore – “this is my time”, Siegal suggests with relish – we get treated to a laugh-out-loud outing for Dr Hook’s ‘Michaelangelo’ (their misspelling not mine), which is entirely more salacious than its title suggests.
Siegal is well known for the depth of his vocal growl, enabling him to channel Howlin’ Wolf to great effect.  But tonight he also has time to test his theory that a Johnny Cash vocal can lend gravitas to any old schlock, with a burst of Britney Spears followed by Bryan Adams ‘Summer of 69’.  Fittingly though, the night closes with a rendition of ‘Take A Walk In The Wilderness’, the plaintive classic by his Glasgow pal Big George, which he is close to making his own.

Due to travel delays I only caught a few songs from Edinburgh’s own Jed Potts.  But his solo versions of ‘Heatwave’ and ‘Take Me To The River’, armed only with electric guitar, showed off his ability to get to the heart of these “barn burners” (as he described them).  He’s got a good melodic voice too, which could have done with less reverb on this occasion.  I look forward to catching him again soon with one of his numerous bands.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Joe Louis Walker - Everybody Wants A Piece

I first came across Joe Louis Walker when I took a blind punt on his last album, the Tom Hambridge-produced Hornet’s Nest.  It was good stuff, good enough for me to go in search of some earlier albums, namely Between A Rock And The Blues and Witness To The Blues.  The former in particular struck me as a cracker of an album.  Produced by Duke Robillard, it was maybe overlong, but it didn’t half convince me of Walker’s aptitude with a range of blues styles.
Some time later, I came across some comments about the production of Hornet’s Nest, by a reviewer on Amazon or somewhere, to the effect that Tom Hambridge could maybe do with learning that less is more, that turning things up to 11 all the time isn’t always the best
approach.  And I thought, yeah, bang on.  Hornet’s Nest is still good fun, and I love the energy of tracks like ‘Stick A Fork In Me’.  But JLW is actually better when he lays back a bit, finds the right angle for each song, gives it a bit of room to breathe.
So here we have Everybody Wants A Piece, with Paul Nelson at the helm.  And it’s back to the future, as it were, returning to the ease and range of Between A Rock And The Blues.  It may not be an out and out tour de force, but it still displays the qualities that make Walker one of the foremost blues exponents of his generation.
The opening title track sets a good standard, with its grabbing, shifting riff and scattergun lead guitar licks.  It’s a classic guitar-keyboards-bass-drums set-up, with Walker adding sporadic bursts of squealing harp, as on Taj Mahal’s ‘Do I Love Her’.
The Danny Kirwan-penned ‘One Sunny Day’, with its descending riff and guitar-vocal harmonies, may not quite match the mountainous, grinding groove of ‘If There’s A Heaven’, from Between A Rock . . . , but Walker gives it a damn good try.  Meanwhile there’s an inventive, brittle wah-wah sound on the slow instrumental ‘Gospel Blues’, which is then out-gospelled by the traditional ‘Wade In The Water’, which features more playful wah-wah soloing from Walker on the way to getting well and truly funkified.
Buddy Guy’s ‘Man Of Many Words’ gets a good workout, suggesting that Buddy had been getting a good earful of Otis Redding’s ‘Hard To Handle’. The strutting ‘Young Girl Blues' features neat boogie-woogie piano from Phillip Young, who contributes a variety of keyboard sounds throughout, before they close proceedings with the shuffling ’35 Years Old’, on which Walker makes good with both serpentine slide guitar and high-pitched harp.
Across the 11 tracks on show here Joe Louis Walker again covers a lot of blues bases, and does it with class and conviction.  He may not quite be the heavy hitter that Buddy Guy is in the blues pecking order, but Everybody Wants A Piece demonstrates that he continues to be one of the best electric bluesmen of his generation.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Danielle Nicole - Wolf Den

Trad-modern bluesy soul.  Contemporary old-fashioned soulful blues.  Twenty-first century Stax meets NOLA funk.  Stick your own label on it, but this debut album from Danielle Nicole is an impressive affair.
Previously Ms Nicole, aka Danielle Nicole Schnebelen of Kansas City, plied her bass and vocal skills with her two brothers in the band Trampled Under Foot.  Now stepping out on her own, she’s recruited New Orleans based guitarist/producer Anders Osborne to helm her first outing, and to co-write most of the material with her.  Osborne is a new name to me but, with a workaholic resume redolent of Luther Dickinson (who also puts in an appearance
here), he’s done a top-notch job of bringing this project to fruition.
The sleek, eye-catching cover illustration sets the tone, and it’s confirmed by the title track, on which bursts of organ and a rolling bass line revolve around throbbing, heavily treated guitar lines to provide a laid-back underpinning for Nicole’s immediately impressive voice.  It’s a controlled but slick opener, with added sparkle provided by a sparse, shivering guitar solo – catch a live version on her website.
In fact guitar contributions are neat but relatively restrained throughout, with the focus more on the songs and the arrangements as a frame for Nicole’s gutsy, swooping, soulful vocals.  Whether it’s the Sixties soul of ‘How You Gonna Do Me Like That’, all handclaps and girl harmonies, the ‘La Bamba’-esque rhythms of ‘You Only Need Me When You’re Down’, or the pleading torch song of ‘Just Give Me Tonight’, she lives up to the top quality foundations that have been built for her.  And when a female singer puts you in mind of Etta James, as Nicole does on ‘Take It All’, you have to sit up and take notice.
Not all the songs may be 5-star belters, but you’ll wait in vain for a deflating dud.  There’s enough in the Big Easy vibe of ‘Easin’ Into The Night’, for example, to maintain the momentum ahead of the stomping rocker ‘Didn’t Do You No Good’, which lives up to the Zepp-ish lettering on the cover.
A cover of the Annie Peebles classic ‘I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home’ has Nicole giving it plenty to demonstrate her connectedness to the roots of her soul sound.  ‘In My Dreams’ takes funky drum patterns, mixes in some boogie-woogie piano undertones, and shows Nicole in more playful mode, sounding like she’s having fun.
Big thumbs up to all concerned for Wolf Den.  Danielle Nicole is out of the blocks with a bang. 

Hayseed Dixie - Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, 17 October 2015

As previously noted in this blog, my other half Jill has a liking for bluegrass.  So what better way to indulge her interest than a Hayseed Dixie gig?  Like Alabama 3’s cross-pollination of “sweet pretty country acid house music”, Hayseed Dixie’s “Rockgrass” mash-up works a treat.
Famously originating in the epiphany that Hank Williams’ Lost Highway and AC/DC’s Highway to Hell were one and the same, the band duly deliver some slices of that initial inspiration early in their set, with ‘Hell’s Bells’ and ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.  But anyone expecting a one-trick High Voltage pony or merely a dumb joke should think again, for three reasons.  One - over the years their repertoire has evolved to cover a wide variety
Hippy Joe Hymas makes with the mandolin
of rock anthems, plus original material and, er, Norwegian classics.  Two – these boys can’t half play.  And three, it may all be a bit of a laugh, but it’s a smart and knowing laugh; as main man John Wheeler says at the end of a philosophical rap about Hegelian synthesis, these are educated rednecks.
So on a bare stage they set about demonstrating just what “an acoustic band that plays fuckin’ loud” can do, with the likes of Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ seguing into Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ – personally I’d have preferred more of Edwin, but each to their own.  They collide ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ with a middle section channelling ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’.  Hell, they even manage to take a piece of high-cholesterol AOR schlock like ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, and turn it into something that has the crowd progress from smiling to laughing to whooping as if it’s the very stuff of life.
The show would have better balance if they did more of their own stuff, like the excellent ‘Hangovers Hurt More Than They Used To’ and ‘She Was Skinny When I Met Her’.  Apart from anything else they need to give all concerned a rest from the furious pace evident on the likes of ‘Ace Of Spades’ and ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ (the latter working far better than the earlier ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’).  Along the way Hippy Joe Hymas and Johnny Butten respectively turn in blistering mandolin and banjo solos, while Wheeler occasionally swaps acoustic guitar for suitably frantic fiddle.
They encore with a medley that takes in everything from ‘Hotel California’ to Wham, two blasts of Dio, and a snatch of Abba en route to ‘Highway To Hell’.  As brilliantly bonkers as it is, I’d like a decent slab of Bon Scott-era AC/DC myself.  But hey, this is a show that demonstrates, as John Wheeler says, that “Coldplay sucks!”
Ah, hard rock support bands I have known!  Anyone remember Dedringer? Samson?  Actually The Jokers aren’t that bad, and do a decent job of warming up proceedings.  Front man Wane Parry has a good way with the crowd, even if his singing is inaudible half the time.  Meanwhile Paul Hurst isn’t as gormless on guitar as his goofy gurning and shape-throwing suggests, and they have a thumpingly tight rhythm section.  They may have a look that suggests Metallica, but in their better moments they echo classic rock in the vein of Bad Company and UFO, and they certainly seem to love what they’re doing.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Nimmo Brothers - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 1 October 2015

The Nimmo Brothers are big. Big guys. Big riffs. Big hooks. Big solos. Big stupid Cheshire cat grins.  Get the picture?  They don’t do things by halves, these boys. This is their twentieth anniversary tour, and before a note is played Alan Nimmo is shouting to the audience “Let’s have a ball!”  Which all and sundry duly do.
"Let's have a ball!"
‘Bad Luck’ is a big opener, only to be surpassed by ‘Shape I’m In’, which melds a Thunder-ish quality with some heads down, no nonsense boogie-ish riffing worthy of Parfitt andRossi. ‘Long Way From Everything’ down shifts to begin with, with a cool guitar intro and soulful vocals from Stevie Nimmo, before letting rip with a blistering solo from brother Alan that you can just lose yourself in, with Wayne Proctor’s drumming underpinning its intense trajectory.  They could have packed in and gone home then, three songs in, and the crowd would probably still have felt they got their money’s worth.
The Nimmos are masters of dynamics, as demonstrated on ‘All I Want’, which announces itself as a slow blues, with solos from both brothers that start off restrained before exploding, but are always expressive.  This is also a band that is not so much tight as synchro-meshed, as illustrated by the pounding ‘Nothing In Chicago For Free’, with its rock steady beat.  ‘Reason To Believe’, meanwhile, shows off Stevie Nimmo’s slide skills and their ability to punctuate a song with occasional twists in order to keep it interesting.
"Careful with that axe, bro!"
Both Alan and Stevie Nimmo are great singers, and each will have their champions.  Stevie has power and guts in spades, while Alan has more warmth and depth to his voice.  But in all honesty this is a no holds barred guitar extravaganza, with the brothers jamming to their hearts’ content on ‘Waiting For My Heart To Fall’, which also features a neat accelerating segment led by Alan.
Bassist Matt Beable steps out front to kick off the set-closing ‘Black Cat Bone’, a mighty slab of wailing funk-rock’n’blues featuring call and response guitar, some balls-out rocking, and even party tricks of a lead guitar meets Twister variety.  In this, as in everything else, the Nimmo Brothers attack everything they do – every damn thing – with more relish than you’d find in a Chicago dog.
They scarcely get off the stage before they’re back for an encore, resurrecting the Whitesnake take on ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’.  Inevitably it sparks a singalong from the sell-out crowd. Plenty of love in evidence for the Nimmo Brothers though, as they celebrate their twenty years prior to an extended sabbatical.
Warming up for headliners like that may seem daunting, but Hot Tin Roof make a decent fist of it with their line-up of electric guitar, acoustic guitar and box.  Their set of covers and originals doesn’t quite have the muscle to keep the audience’s attention throughout, but they have some good moments along the way. The staccato ‘Little Boy Soldier’ features a nice solo in a Peter Green vein from guitarist Gavin Jack. ‘Mr Businessman’ works its way interestingly around a guitar line resembling a slowed down, toned down take on the riff from ‘Whole Lotta Love’.  J.J. Cale’s ‘Magnolia’ features some subtle guitar, and an appealingly cracked vocal from Andy McKay-Challen.  But best of all is ‘Have You Ever’, with its pleasing guitar intro and offbeat chords, and a 60s West Coast vibe played out over a cantering rhythm from Kenny Miller on box.

But hey, are support bands all contractually obliged to play John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boom Boom’ these days?  This was the third rendition I’ve heard in the last month.  Never mind, I’ll forgive them since they closed with a decent reading of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘Pride And Joy’.