Monday, December 7, 2015

Big Joe Louis - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 4 December 2015

There are a few idiosyncrasies about Big Joe Louis’ performance.  For one thing, this is a trio that features two guitars and drums, but no bass.  Not that it seems to matter, because between them Joe and his guitar-toting sidekick Lewis Fielding seem to conjure up enough bass sounds from their six-strings.  Not surprising perhaps, when they could stick up a sign on stage announcing “Guitar picks strictly prohibited”, given the way both of them flutter their right hand all over the strings throughout.  And just for good measure, Joe wears his guitar “side saddle”, strapped over his right shoulder.
Big Joe Louis - who needs a bass player?
Whatever, there’s plenty twitching and shuffling of feet in time to the rhythm as they launch into something possibly called ‘Black Mare Blues’.  At which point I have to offer an unusual disclaimer – from this point onwards most song titles are merely an approximation, such is Louis’ liking for obscure songs from the blues canon, which he doesn’t always identify clearly.
No matter, he has a booming voice well suited to the Chicago R&B style at the heart of his sound, and it all sounds promising as they settle into the chugging rhythm of ‘Joe Lee’s Rock’, with its refrain of “Find my baby before the sun goes down”, with Joe adding some nicely twanging guitar lines.  There’s also a suitably discordant solo to reflect the lyrics of a Woodrow Adams song of the “my woman done me wrong” variety.
Any self-respecting blues artist should have a “train” song in their locker, and there were two on offer here, as the traditional spiritual ‘I’m Going Home On Train’ segues into the gutsy, enjoyable boogie of Louis’ own ‘Go-Go Train’.
Simon Kennedy struts his stuff
And yet, and yet . . . forty five minutes in, and the set still hadn’t achieved lift off.  There’s some encouragement in the form of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, but while it’s good it lacks urgency, and that’s pretty much how matters progress.  Lewis Fielding’s guitar work in particular is often interesting, but nothing grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go.  On record Big Joe often makes use of piano or harp, and maybe something of that ilk would help to broaden the palette live.  Maybe Peter Greatrix is asked to be ‘Steady Eddie’ too much on drums, instead of kicking them into top gear.  Whatever, there continue to be good
moments, such as the “underwater” guitar tone of Joe’s solo on Charley Booker’s ‘No Ridin’ Blues’, and the spirited reading of ‘Santa’s Messin’ With The Kid’.  But all in all the ‘wow factor’ is in short supply.

The Simon Kennedy Band opened the evening with an enjoyably brisk set, kicking off with Freddie King’s ‘Cannonball Express’ to set the tone.  Another bass-free set-up, featuring guitar, keyboards and drums, they offer some well-structured originals such as well as strong covers.  Kennedy is one of the more enjoyable guitarists I’ve enountered from Support-land, delivering neat, sharp fills and rhythm guitar variety on ‘Lord I Pray’.  There’s good interplay with Mirek Hodun on the likes of ‘Riley B. King’, and Hodun also serves up some interestingly mournful sounds on the gospel song ‘On That Morning’.  And they top things off satisfyingly with a good take on Kirk Fletcher’s ‘El Medio Stomp’, with choppy rhythm guitar from Kennedy and Brian Macleod letting it rip with loose, swinging drums, showing off their ability to mine the Texas/LA blues seam.

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