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.

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