Sunday, January 24, 2016

Paul Jones and Dave Kelly - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 20 January 2016

Paul Jones and Dave Kelly have been at this game a long time – and it shows.  I mean this in a good way, of course.  As they progress through this  set comprising a wide range of blues classics, and a few originals, it’s apparent that musically they can read each other like a book.  Their playing dovetails with an impeccable sense of timing throughout, as they back each other up and trade off each other.
Dave Kelly - slide supremo
They trade the lead vocals on songs throughout the set, and occasionally do a solo number, and it’s worth saying that while Paul Jones may have the more celebrated history as a singer, Dave Kelly more than justifies the co-vocalist billing that he has with the Blues Band.  This first comes to the fore on ‘When The Levee Breaks’, where he delivers a strong and expressive vocal to match his ringing guitar and the neat injections of harp from his partner in crime.
Jones, meanwhile, introduces songs with a nice line in patter and plenty insight into blues history, as on ‘Noah Lewis Blues’, which he explains is a tribute to his favourite acoustic harp player.  It’s got a spare sound, notwithstanding Kelly picking up a Strat to add a strutting guitar riff that leans on the bass strings.
Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Dust My Blues’ is an early highlight – a song that, as Kelly explains, he actually played with the Wolf every night on a UK tour way back when.  It features impressive interaction between the two of them as they give it an extended workout, Jones contributing a great harp solo, while Kelly delivers some walking bass patterns alternating with twanging slide – something of a dress rehearsal for the terrific slide segment he produces on the following ‘Crossroads Blues’.
‘Sit Back Down’, from Jones’s latest solo album Suddenly I Like It, is a rollicking piece of R&B, with rolling bass lines from Kelly on his Strat, and an enjoyable call and response segment between slide guitar and harp.  They take a decidedly different turn though, with
Paul Jones gets reflective
Skip James’ ‘Hard Times Killin’ Floor’, which features intricate, sombre guitar underpinned by subdued harp.  It also showcases one of Kelly’s best vocals of the night, weary and sensitive.

Paul Jones introduces ‘Sonny Boy Williamson’ with plenty of detail about the Sonny Boy song, ‘Mighty Long Time’, displaying a fine sense of the ridiculous as he recounts its history.  He then adorns the song with some delightful falsetto moments – as well as a ‘hands free’ harp solo with the instrument lengthways in his mouth, cigar-style, in the finest tradition of some of the harmonica greats.
The Nat Adderley tune ‘Work Song’ is another peak.  With its jazzy feel it’s one of those tunes that whether you’ve heard it before or not, has a nagging sense of familiarity.  Jones invests some drama into the performance, as a reminder that he’s done some time in musical theatre in the past, as well as belting out some wailing, squawking harp.
They close with Muddy Waters’ reliably rocking ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’, and encore with Jimmy
John Alexander gets atmospheric
Reed’s ‘You Got Me Running’, into which they neatly insert a slice of ‘Bright Lights, Big City’.  It serves to demonstrate how well they swing – as if they haven’t done so already – and also shows off how well they harmonise vocally.
As an exhibition of what a guitar and a harp can deliver together when in the right hands, accompanying some time-served high quality blues voices, this was a gem.

Opening for the evening was Glasgow’s John Alexander, who made a positive impression with a beautifully full and warm acoustic sound and a slightly husky voice.  Songs like ‘Piece Of My Skin’ showed off his way with guitar lines that took interesting turns with a well-structured framework.  ‘Dangerous Wind’ offered a simple vocal melody balanced with rolling guitar runs and some moments of sharp punctuation.  The slightly Western feel of ‘Seven Cold Curses’, meanwhile, was atmospheric, suspenseful, and shimmering.  All in all a set that hinted at influences without being beholden to them – suggesting his album Rain For Sale may be well worth a listen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Listened to lately . . .

Daundering around in the car on various errands for a couple of days, I took the opportunity to catch up with some stuff that had escaped my attention lately.  See what you make of these!

Lincoln Durham - there will be blood!
Pic by Roger D'Water
Otis RushRight Place, Wrong Time.  Downloaded this a few months ago and then must have pretty much forgotten it was there.  And it’s great!  A great blues voice, good tunes, clear and bright guitar tones with some shit hot string bending, and terrific horns.  A good take on ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’ too.  Here's the title track, played live in Montreux.

Luther AllisonReckless.  Picked this up a few months ago after hearing the track ‘Low Down And Dirty’ on some radio programme, but it didn’t really grab me on the first few listens.  Gave it another spin this week though, and it all clicked into place.  Luther was of course something of a mentor to Walter Trout, and the opening track here, ‘I’m Back’, featured in Walter’s set on his recent UK tour.

Lincoln DurhamExodus Of The Deemed Unrighteous.  Stuck this on entirely by accident, having not listened to it in ages.  If you’re partial to a bit of one-man-band acoustic/semi-acoustic Southern Gothic blues, all rough edges, spartan drums, and tales of sin and violence, then this could be for you.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Paul Carrack - Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, 7 January 2016

Paul Carrack has an easy way with him.  By that I don’t just mean that he has the happy knack of connecting with his audience in the most natural way – though he does, with song introductions and odd snippets of chat that are self-deprecating and humorous.  It’s more that he makes everything seem so . . . effortless.
For a start there’s his voice.  One of the best soul singers in the country, he shifts around his register in the most unforced but controlled manner, with perfect phrasing and that distinctive warm, rich timbre. Carrack’s vocals may not have the idiosyncratic personality of, say, Van Morrison or Gerry Rafferty, but they have the same capacity to convey a mood and draw in the listener.
Paul Carrack and co - blow that horn, Stevie!
Then there’s his song-writing.  It’s easy to assume that Carrack has writing credits for most of the songs for which he’s well-known – like ‘Tempted’, for example - but actually that isn’t always the case, it’s just that he inhabits them so effectively.  But he can still hold his end up when it comes to producing a damn good hook, his first hit ‘How Long’ being a prime example, but hardly an isolated one.
Presumably he’s also responsible for the spot on, carefully balanced yet relaxed arrangements.  Early on in the set most of the colour is provided by Stevie Beighton’s sax and keyboards, but when they choose to heat things up on ‘Time Waits For No Man’ Carrack and his band get into a meaty funk groove, with Jeremy Meek’s bass well to the fore.  And as a few solos get shared around, Carrack’s own musicianship comes to the fore.
Up to this point he’s been content to strum along on acoustic guitar, but armed with an electric he casually spins out some tasteful, soulful solos, before getting behind his Hammond organ to show off his skills in that department too.  In interviews Carrack is modest about his instrumental skills, but he shows off his dexterity here.  Once again, effortless.
Songs from the new album, like the gritty gambling tale of ‘Bet Your Life’ (co-written with Chris Difford) and the more folkie ‘Watching Over Me’ fit in neatly alongside staples such as ‘Eyes Of Blue’, Mike & The Mechanics’ ‘Another Cup Of Coffee’, and ‘Love Will Keep Us Alive’ (recorded by the Eagles).
And ultimately Carrack isn’t precious about playing the hits.  ‘Tempted’ is pitched in mid-set, and there’s another stir of anticipation later when he eases into ‘The Living Years’.  Personally it’s not really my thing, but it is an earworm of a song, with a touching message that evidently brings a good few punters to tears.  When they follow up with Jackie DeShannon’s ‘Walk In The Room’ there’s minimal encouragement needed for everyone to get out of their seats. There’s enough of an echo of its jangly 60s beat incarnation by The Searchers to prick a nostalgic nerve, but Carrack and co manage to meld that with a Motown sensibility to create a sound distinctively his own.  It is, as they say, a barn-burner.

As are both ‘How Long’ and ‘Over My Shoulder’ with which they enter the home straight, with the audience happily dancing and singing along.  There’s no denying that at heart a Paul Carrack show is a rather cosy experience, but in the best possible way.  That word ‘heart’ may have something to do with it.  The man evidently loves what he does, and is very good at expressing that.  Effortlessly.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Flashback #7 - 'Mystery Train'

Happy New Year, folks!
I caught a couple of excellent gigs in Edinburgh by Blues’N’Trouble and the Jensen Interceptors over the festive season, but opted to have a holiday from reviewing for the week and just enjoy the craic.
Blues'N'Trouble get festive and funky
However in the course of listening to B’N’T's album No Minor Keys I came across their nicely funky version of ‘Mystery Train’, which put me in mind of my first encounter with the song.  It was probably right about this time 36 years ago, when hard rockers UFO were promoting their new album No Place To Run, and I heard a couple of band members being interviewed on radio – singer Phil Mogg and bassist Pete Way I’d guess.  Their version of ‘Mystery Train’ was given a spin, and they explained that it was a cover of an old blues song.
They went on to mention that the song was turned into a big hit by Elvis Presley, and then suggested that Colonel Tom Parker had had the effrontery to credit the song to himself – and in doing demonstrated that their knowledge of the song’s history had its limitations.
UFO sporting an 80s look
Because of course the ‘Parker’ whose name they’d come across in the writing credit wasn’t Elvis’s manager at all, but Junior Parker, who at one time played harmonica with Howlin’ Wolf, and later got a deal with Sam Phillips – who was also subsequently given a co-writing credit for ‘Mystery Train’.
Colonel Tom Parker may have been a ‘brand manager’ long before the term even existed, who had little feeling for the music but succeeded in commodifying Elvis.  He may even have been deserving of the stirring closing line spoken by the ghost of the King in The Waterboys’ song ‘I Can See Elvis’ – “I’m gonna slit the throat of that skinflint the Colonel!”  But at least he didn’t stoop to pinching a writing credit for ‘Mystery Train’!

Whatever, the song has become a blues standard, so you might want to check out how Junior Parker’s original stands up against UFO’s 1980hard rock version – or alternatively this rockabilly rendition by the StrayCats.