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.

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