Monday, March 28, 2016

Martin Harley & Daniel Kimbro - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 24 March 2016

And now for something completely different.
Martin Harley goes Weissenborn-less
The blues is often described as a simple musical form, but it still manages to be multi-faceted.  So here we are tonight with Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro, an unlikely duo hailing from Woking and Tennessee respectively, and playing Weissenborn lap steel guitar and stonkingly big double bass.  It’s about as far away from yer average blues rocker as it’s possible to get – but it works.
On the opening ‘Cardboard King’ Harley demonstrates a delicate touch on his lap steel, while Kimbro bows his bass, giving the song a deep and eerie undertow.  That may all sound a bit worthy, but the reality is anything but, as they go on to deliver a variety of material with an air of laconic wit.  Their combined sound is terrific on a jazzy reading of Muddy’s ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’, and if they veer uncomfortably close to gypsy jazz on Harley’s own ‘Drumroll for Somersaults’ then thankfully that’s a one-off.  (If you like gypsy jazz then good luck to you, but I’ve never been a fan.)
‘Automatic Life’ is a good tune though, and stands up well next to a lovely version of Leadbelly’s ‘Goodnight Irene’, on which Harley executes a suitably woozy vocal.   But on the rattling ‘Money Don’t Matter’ they also show that they can swing plenty, coloured with some spot on vocal harmonies over the top of the rhythm.
These two li’l ol’ wine drinkers come across just as simpatico as Ian Siegal and Jimbo Mathus, if without the same degree of ragged charm.  They bounce off each other to create great rhythmic patterns on ‘Chocolate Jesus’ – following an introductory snatch of ‘Eye Of The Tiger’, just to underline that they don’t take themselves too seriously.
‘Blues At My Window’ starts off seriously slow before bursting into sudden attack mode, coming off like Tom Waits pouring himself in the door from the pub and then crashing around the kitchen. But set closer ‘Honey Bee’ buzzes along brightly in classic acoustic blues territory.
They encore with the similarly charming ‘Love In The Afternoon’, before tackling the venerable ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’, on which it has to be said they teeter on the edge of self-indulgence with some extended soloing that might have been better placed earlier in their set.  But that doesn’t alter the sense that these guys offer some distinct and different pleasures.
Gary Martin blows that thing
The Neil Warden/Gary Martin Trio – and guys, you really have got to get yourselves a better name than that – provide suitably imaginative support.  For a start Neil Warden is also toting a Weissenborn lap steel – like buses, they evidently all come along at once – and with Martin on harp and vocals and Jim Walker on drums their take on ‘Goin’ Down South’ is subtle, supple, and rhythmic.  Their variation on Muddy Waters’ ‘I’m Ready’ is measured and restrained, with heavy reverb on Warden’s guitar and Walker using brushes on drums, and the mood extends into the smoky New Orleans jazz feel of ‘Sexy Black Dress’, on which they’re joined by John Burgess on clarinet, duetting neatly with Martin’s harp.
Neil Warden goes Weissenborn
When Warden goes electric on ‘Red Hot Mama’ they really start swinging though, with the guitar and drums locked into an addictive groove while Martin gets busy with a Hornet mic for both his harp and vocals.  ‘The Dream’ is a slower affair, with Warden reverting to lap steel and working up a spooky level of reverb in the manner of Link Wray on ‘Rumble’.
They finish up with a couple of songs harking back to Martin and Warden’s past endeavours with the late Tam White.  They work up a funky head of steam on ‘Working Class White Boy’, Martin selling the song with a punchy vocal, and then close with the brooding slow stomper of ‘Stonemason’s Blues’, a belter of a song showing off White’s quality as a writer.  I don’t know if Warden, Martin and Walker plan to make this a regular thing, but this was certainly an entertaining and interesting diversion from the norm.

Glasgow’s Gus Munro opens the evening, playing solo on electric guitar, and also conjuring up a singular sound.  Making use of echo he layers guitar sounds nicely, with slide as the cherry on top. Singing repeated refrains in his slightly vulnerable voice he goes for a hypnotic vibe at times, to good effect on his ‘Fossil Grove’, inspired by Big George Watt’s song of the same name.  But he also gies it laldy on ‘Leaving Trunk Blues’, with some hammering rhythm guitar to complement a slice of falsetto vocal.  Like the acts to follow, he does a good job of exploring a road less travelled.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Working with the Wolf - Dave Kelly remembers

Dave Kelly is best known as a stalwart of the Blues Band, and one of Britain's leading slide guitarists.  But at the tender age of 22 he was a member of the John Dummer Blues Band when they got the gig to back Howlin’ Wolf on his May ’69 UK tour.  Before his recent gig in Edinburgh with Paul Jones he recalled the experience of that tour.
“We’d already done one tour with John Lee Hooker, and we were asked if we’d like to back Howlin’ Wolf and we said we’d absolutely love to – even though we never got paid! 
The Wolf - moaning' at midnight
“We loved his music.  You know, he had so many songs, not just 12 bars, things that needed arrangements and needed rehearsed – and we never got to rehearse with him.  The day before the first gig in Sunderland, we’d set up above the Roebuck pub in Tottenham Court Road, and Wolf came in with Roy Tempest the tour manager.  He shook hands with everyone, and told us to play some blues, which we did.  We went two or three times around, and he said “Fine.”  He said “Play me a shuffle beat.”  So we did that, and he turned to Roy Tempest and said “They’re fine,” – and that was it.
“He never told us what he was going to play, he never told us what key – he’d give us a count, and we’d start.  Over the two and half weeks, mostly things were in the same key that he’d done them the night before.  One night at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, he started the riff for 'Somebody Walking In My Home'.  So John Dummer comes in on drums, we all start playing that riff, and then the Wolf goes “Whoa-oh, Smokestack Lightnin’” – he just changed the song, it was wonderful!
“His voice was wonderful, absolutely wonderful.  The best gig was the City of London Polytechnic in the West End, where everybody turned up, there were loads of faces, an enormous crowd turned out.  That was in the first week, and he just . . . tore it up.  Crawling around the stage on all fours, lying on his back and howling – he put on such a show.  Another great one was the El Rondo in Leicester, which was quite late on, and he’d spoken to his wife on the phone and I think he was feeling homesick.  And he sang 'I Hurt Your Feelings, I Didn’t Mean To Do You No Wrong' [aka 'Tell Me What I’ve Done'].  There were a lot of young people there, a lot of students, and he had them sit down on the floor, and he went amongst them, and went down and sang on one knee, and it was so intense.  You know, missing his wife, and then he did that and just poured it all out.
Dave Kelly - British slide guru
“He was a powerful man, and a powerful singer.  I don’t know how often he wore out his harmonicas, but a hell of a lot of air went through them!  A big man, big lungs, and he used them.  Of course we didn’t have monitors in those days, it was just the PA.  So he said “Put those speakers behind me so I can hear you.”  We had to be careful with feedback, so we got them sort of in between, in front of us.  So he wasn’t as loud to us as out front, though we could hear him.
“It was a pleasure to back him.  It kept you on your toes, because you didn’t know what song he was going to do, or what key he was going to be in – it was a great learning curve, a pleasure and an honour.”

Dave Kelly’s latest album, Solo Performances: Live in Germany 1986 to 1989 is out now via Hypertension.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Dani Wilde - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 18 March 2016

It’s been a hard day’s night all week, and I have to admit that when I turned up to see Dani Wilde at the Voodoo Rooms I wasn’t altogether sure she’d be the tonic that I needed.  But by the end of the night I’ve concluded that not liking Dani Wilde just isn’t a viable proposition.
On the DW albums I’d heard in advance, 2011’s Shine and last year’s Songs About You, the focal point generally seemed to be her vocals, which often seemed to veer towards the
Dani Wilde - a woman who enjoys her work
winsome and tricksy.  But she catches me on the hop right from the off tonight, as she smiles her way through the chugging good time boogie of ‘Rock Me Right’, which at once shifts the focus to her idiosyncratic pick-free guitar style.
Her softer side is still in evidence, as she picks up an acoustic guitar and shows off some impressive vocal dynamics on ‘Glorious Day’, with its tasteful echoes of ‘Try A Little Tenderness’.
Jon Chase on bass  and Jack Bazzani on drums provide low key but solid support for Wilde’s guitar playing, and it’s noticeable that when her brother Will Wilde joins them on harp he gives the sound even stronger foundations.  ‘Call On Me’ features a neat vibrato intro from him, and later a gutsy solo to complement another impressive lead guitar workout from his sister.  There’s a hint of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ in the bridge, which is perhaps what prompts her to tag on a slice of his ‘Friend Of Mine’ as a basis for a singalong.
The first half of the set yields another highlight with the slow blues of ‘Abandoned Child’, on which Will Wilde’s harp again adds some muscle, and the second half keeps up the momentum with the satisfyingly Jimmy Reed-like R’n’B of ‘Little By Little’, followed by the rocking ‘Mississippi Kisses’, on which Chase finds an enjoyable bass groove and Wilde indulges in some scat singing.
Brother Will adds some muscle
Wilde’s vocal gymnastics do get an airing on the sensitive ‘Loving You’, where she overdoes her penchant for breathy yelps, but it’s a pleasure to find that throughout the show she generally sidelines the mannerisms apparent on record.  Consequently ‘Angel Of Montgomery’, made famous by Bonnie Raitt, is allowed to stand on its own merits as the touching song that it is.
There’s something rather incongruous about Wilde, with her girlish south coast speaking voice, introducing ‘Let Me Show You’ with the explanation that it’s about the desire to instruct a younger man in how a woman wants to be loved.  Musically though, it’s a plenty entertaining romp through Chuck Berry rock’n’roll territory, and paves the way for a strong finish.  ‘Red Blooded Woman’ is a slow and seductive blues stomp that aspires to Etta James territory, and they proceed to get all funky with a rendition of Big Mama Thornton’s ‘Hound Dog’.
Frankly I’d rather hear Wilde tackle something fresher than ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ for her final encore.  It’s a great song of course, but it’s overdone, and she has plenty worthwhile material of her own draw on, as a subsequent listen to 2012's Juice Me Up confirms.
Dani Wilde has the capability to explore a lot of roots music avenues, but that may make it a  challenge to mould a coherent sound.  Songs About You revealed strengths with country-tinged personal material, notwithstanding the overuse of that vocal box of tricks.  This show, with brother Will guesting on harp, shows off her enthusiasm for soul-infused blues, but  I reckon a slide-playing extra guitarist wouldn’t go amiss to add more bottom and grit to her sound.
Whatever.  Dani Wilde’s enjoyment of what she does is infectious, and plenty of tonight’s audience walked out with smiles on their faces.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Stevie Nimmo - Sky Won't Fall

Heads up people.  Any notions that Stevie Nimmo might get left behind by the gathering momentum of younger brother Alan’s outfit King King should be dismissed immediately.  Put simply, on his second solo album Sky Won’t Fall the material, the delivery and the sound have all come together for Nimmo the Elder to deliver one of the most impressive albums of the year so far.  The quality standards may slip once or twice – one of them being the rather clichéd lyric of the Allman Brothers’ ‘Gambler’s Roll’ – but this is praising with faint damns.
The muscular riffs familiar from some of the Nimmo Brothers’ past material are present and correct on a number of tracks, beginning at the very beginning with ‘Chains Of Hope’.  The
Stevie Nimmo, giving it large

following ‘Roll The Dice Again’ hits the nail on the head even harder, with its urgent, spiky chords, while ‘Still Hungry’ offers up a tough, grinding statement of intent – and on all of these songs Nimmo’s characteristic booming, resonant vocal is also to the fore.  But even on these hard-hitting songs, whether it’s because he’s liberated by the sense of starting a “new chapter of my musical life”, or perhaps because of the influence on the sound of knob-twiddler Wayne Proctor, Nimmo’s delivery sounds unforced and at ease.
This tight but loose vibe continues as the album explores other styles, among them the slow blues of ‘Running On Back To You’, a highlight on which Nimmo’s measured vocals and soloing revolve around a hypnotic groove firmly underpinned by Mat Beable’s bass.  Meanwhile there’s a wonderful simplicity to the loping ‘I’ll Pray For You’, with its repeatedly swelling chorus over unfussy drums from Craig Bacon, which shows a real lightness of touch, especially in Nimmo’s vocal.
That delicacy is also evident in the ‘head’ voice Nimmo deploys to good effect on ‘Change’, and in the fragility of the highly personal closing track ‘Love You More Tonight’, where Nimmo juxtaposes hard questions with the image of his baby daughter.
I recall Alan Nimmo at a Nimmo Brothers gig last year reflecting on ‘Gotta Slow Down’ by saying with a chuckle “That’s our dance track.”  But hey, why shouldn’t burly Glaswegians trip the light fantastic?  And just to prove the point, Stevie Nimmo serves up ‘Lovin’ Might Do Us Good’, as breezy a cocktail of funk to evoke warm summer evenings as you could hope for.

I’ve got to be honest, Sky Won’t Fall is better than I was expecting. Like a golfer well and truly in the zone, Stevie Nimmo has played a round where he’s managed to strike the ball out of the sweet spot time after time.  Good on him.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Adventures in the South - Clarksdale, Part 2

After dropping off our car and bags at the Comfort Inn outside town, we got a cab back with the friendly local taxi driver.  “I had some folks from England ride with me the other day,” he said.  “They say you don’t got no churches over there!”
“Well, we do,” we replied.  “But they tend to be bigger, and there aren’t as many of them.”  This is undoubtedly true, given that in small southern towns like Clarksdale there seems to a church of some description on every other street corner, painted white and about the same size as a family house.
Once in town, we settled into the Yazoo Pass for some grub, but as they didn’t sell wine I
Al fresco cuisine in Sunflower Avenue
had to do a quick sprint round to the local off-licence for a bottle of vino.  Fed and watered, we then wandered round to Ground Zero for a drink, where a trio of old fellas were sat down on stage doing their thing, rather incongruously accompanied by a willowy young woman standing to one side, playing a small keyboard and shaking her tush.  Having given them the time of day, we decided to follow Roger Stolle’s tip, and so headed off to Red’s Blues Club.
Red’s is both literally and metaphorically “across the tracks”, in the sense that it is both the other side of the defunct railroad, and in the black part of town - not that the latter distinction meant much to us.  Strolling along Sunflower Avenue in the evening heat, initially there was no real sign of Red’s.  There was, though, a guy operating a dirty great smoking barbecue in the street, and when we asked after Red’s he jerked a thumb at a nondescript door and said “In there.”
As Steve Cheseborough notes in his guide Blues Traveling, “From the outside, Red’s looks like it has been closed for years.  But make sure to stop in on a Friday or Saturday night for excellent live blues in a super-authentic jook joint.  So authentic, in fact, that the place seems about to fall apart.  Insulation and ceiling tiles are falling from the ceiling, and it leaks when it rains.”
Well, it wasn’t raining when we were there, so no leaks were in evidence, but otherwise all
"Big A" gives it big licks in Red's Blues Club

of the above rings true.  Playing that night were Anthony “Big A” Sherrod and the Blues All-Stars, and although their set was mostly made up of blues standards from all points of the compass, rather than stuff specific to the Delta, they certainly delivered the goods.
So we were served up stuff like Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightning’ (admittedly the Wolf came from these parts), Jimmy Reed’s ‘Big Boss Man’, and Rosco Gordon’s ‘Just A Little Bit’ (aka ‘Teeny Weeny Bit Of Your Love’), but if the All-Stars on bass and drums were content to sit back and quietly take care of business, “Big A” was out there selling it, with a characterful voice and impressive lead guitar work.
With a long lead on his guitar, Sherrod was often out among the small audience as he played, cooking up an atmosphere and encouraging people to get up and dance, and punctuating songs with his catchphrase, “Wait a minute”.  It may not have been the most original set, but the feel of the blues ran through it like a golden thread, making it well worth paying a few bucks for one of his CDs.
When they took a break around midnight we reckoned it was time for us to make a move and get a cab back to the hotel, conscious of the longer drive we had planned for the next day.  This, it would turn out, was a mistake, as the next thrilling instalment will reveal.

If you want to read ‘Adventures in the South’ from the start, here’s the Prologue. If you want to read more about Clarksdale, here’s Part 1.