Sunday, April 24, 2016

Listened to lately . . .

There’s been an awful lot of music competing for attention on the Blues Enthused playlist recently.  But here are a few selections that you really should try to get your ears around sometime soon.

King King – ‘Rush Hour (Radio Remix)’
Looking forward to seeing King King on their upcoming tour, and with this new single they should get some decent airplay to go with it. It’s actually a radio edit, with about 45 seconds judiciously trimmed from the album version.  But the mix also brings Alan Nimmo’s vocals further to the fore, and gives some extra oomph to Wayne Proctor’s drums.  Possibly not of huge interest to long-standing fans, except on a completist basis, but if you’re not familiar with King King yet then: (a) where have you been? And (b) check out this video, and get on board!

Tommy Castro & The PainkillersMethod To My Madness
If you like Mike Zito & The Wheel (and their Keep Coming Back was probably my favourite album of 2015), then this should be right up your street.  There’s a strong seam of Creedence-like 60s rock’n’roll, driven along by varied rhythms from Bowen Brown, as on the opening track 'Common Ground'.  There’s also some great blues, infusions of funk, and tinges of country, while the laid back ‘Ride’ sounds like a drive with the top down on a sultry night in NOLA.  

Rebecca DownesBelieve
I happened to give Downes’ first album, Back To The Start, a listen just recently, and thought to myself, “This isn’t half bad”.  The same applies to this follow-up.  It kicks off in a satisfying groove, with some nice playing and stinging guitar to back up Miss D as she unwraps her tonsils.  There are some pretty good songs on show too, often in a soulful, funky vein, but also taking in the good-time break-up song ‘1000 Years’, and the smoky ‘Could Not Say No’.

Wily Bo Walker & E D Brayshaw – Stone Cold Beautiful

With his deep, rumbling voice, I can imagine that Walker is aiming for a Tom Waits vibe.  He doesn’t quite have the poetry for that, but this is still an evocative collection of songs, with a cinematic quality to the stories and imagery.  The music is a good fit too, reminding me of Chris Rea in ‘Road To Hell’ mode, with Brayshaw’s piercing guitar work the icing on the cake from start to finish.  They like to spread themselves too – just six songs across about 40 minutes – but there’s not a minute wasted.  Here, though, is the relatively short 'Motel Blues'

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Dan Patlansky - Introvertigo

South Africa’s Dan Patlansky did a pretty good job of announcing himself on the European scene last year with his album Dear Silence Thieves, not least with the driving but funky rock of the belting opening track, ‘Backbite’.  There may not be a grabber of those dimensions on this follow-up, but it’s still another strong set, and one that confirms his potential as a performer who has blues roots but is succeeding in folding other influences into his sound.
Exhibit A:  Post-Grunge.  There’s an edginess to some of the songs here that recalls the likes of Foo Fighters, but without their clattering roughness.  So ‘Run’ is a controlled roar, with bleeping and buzzing nibbling at the edges of some Stevie Ray riffing. ‘Sonnova Faith’
Dan Patlansky gets in the mood
dynamically intersperses ringing guitar with pounding bass and drums from Clint Falconer and Andy Maritz.  ‘Heartbeat’ opens with a semi-acoustic nod to the kind of old-fashioned, repetitive blues that Moby would have chosen to fool around with on Play, before Patlansky twists the chorus into a more raw, Seattle blast, with a brief, squealing outro.
Exhibit B:  Melodies.  I couldn’t say where Patlansky gets this from, but he manages to weave in vocal melodies that sound like they have a lineage all the way back to Beat Boom pop.  ‘Poor John’ may open up in the kind of funky blues-rock vein that was at the core of Dear Silence Thieves, but the chorus could be by The Kinks.  There’s a similar Sixties feel to the arrangement in ‘Western Decay’, with its nostalgic contrast between the restrictions of modern life and more innocent days.  Meanwhile the melodic slowie ‘Loosen Up The Grip’ laces sensitive, bluesy guitar licks around swelling, non-bluesy choruses.
Exhibit C:  Lyrics.  Whether it’s ‘Poor John’, a tale of the revenge the protagonist intends to visit on a guy cheating with his woman, the withering indictment of entrepreneurial religion in ‘Sonnava Faith’, or the lubricious lust of ‘Stop The Messin’’, Patlansky shows that he has a sparky way with words.  Even if the themes may be familiar, he’s not inclined to give himself over to clichés.
But for all the innovation and freshness Patlansky displays, there’s still plenty to hit the spot for blues fans.  ‘Poor John’ has a breezy funkiness to it, while ‘Stop The Messin’’ serves up a husky vocal and jangling guitar over a pumping keyboard sound worthy of Stevie Wonder on ‘Living In the City’.  He comes over all epic on ‘Still Wanna Be Your Man’, with a suitably big solo over discordant, moody Hammond  organ swells.  And if ‘Bet On Me’ is a brief sojourn into Jimi territory, with its ringing guitar over a simple melody, it proves to be just a warm-up for the closing ‘Queen Puree’.  Hendrix is a declared influence, and here our Dan goes for broke with guttural rhythm guitar, channel-switching lead licks and echoing vocals, to conjure up the mood of – well, I’d say ‘Fire’ or ‘I Don’t Live Today’, but you take your pick.
A couple of songs here feel underdeveloped.  I’m all for brevity trumping self-indulgence, but the sub-three minute outings of ‘Heartbeat’ and ‘Bet On Me’ feel like they should have been explored just a little more.  On the other hand, producer Theo Crous deserves a nod for an impressively modern sound and mix that shows off Patlansky’s capabilities to best effect.
‘Bet On Me’ makes passing reference to the ‘blues police’ going after another guy, but Dan Patlansky doesn’t need to worry on that score.  He may be stretching the boundaries of modern blues-rock, but he’s sure to be taking an audience with him.

Introvertigo is released on 6 May.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Rides - Pierced Arrow

‘The Rides’ seems like a pretty bland monicker for a band that includes Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, plus Chicagoan Barry Goldberg, who himself has a pretty heavy-hitting track record as both a keyboard player and a songwriter.  Pierced Arrow meanwhile, the title of their second album, may seem a bit contrived unless you happen to know about the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company, a manufacturer of luxury cars back in the pre-WWII United States.
I was too young to really be aware of CSNY in their heyday, but while Neil Young has gone on to
Stills, Goldberg and Shepherd commune with nature
become of the great icons of classic rock music, and Crosby and Nash never seem to be done prattling on about their part in the good old days, Stephen Stills has always struck me as the dark horse of the outfit.  So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by him teaming up with Shepherd to form what he’s called “the blues band of my dreams”.  But I kind of am, as they seem like an unlikely combination.  So the first question is - does the sound really gel?
On the whole the answer is yes, though admittedly it sometimes seems like there are two different albums being played alternately, as Stills and Shepherd trade lead vocal responsibilities in their distinctive voices.  Stills goes first, on the mid-paced stomper ‘Kick Out Of It’, with his weather beaten voice underpinned by an offbeat rhythm from drummer Chris Layton and a colourful blending of Shepherd’s guitar with (I suspect) fuzzier tones from Stills. Shepherd’s singing is a rather less resonant affair, but adequate for the likes of ‘Riva Diva’, a boogie in an SRV vein on which there’s neat interplay between his guitar and Goldberg’s piano.
‘Virtual World’ is a deeper affair, a slowie on which Stills turns in a keening vocal over which Shepherd harmonises to conjure up a CSNY feel, while he also adds some subtle lead guitar licks.
Both of them get down to lead guitar business on a brooding version of ‘I’ve Got To Use My Imagination’, co-written by Goldberg with Gerry Goffin, and previously a hit for Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland.  But they keep it disciplined, with none of the extended noodling that Shepherd can sometimes perpetrate.  In fact the guitar work is one of the most satisfying features throughout, particularly when Stills gets stuck in
A few songs are on the slight side, such as the aforementioned ‘Riva Diva’, the Delbert McClinton-ish boogie of ‘I Need Your Lovin’’, and the rather redundant cover of Willie Dixon’s ‘My Babe’.  But even these are entertaining enough, not least because they’re both elevated by some sparking piano from Goldberg.  But these are redeemed by the gritty ‘Game On’ and the fragile ‘There Was A Place’, both of them featuring vocals from Stills.
Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts?  Perhaps not.  The writing credits may suggest this is a team effort, but my spider sense suggests that things get more interesting when Stills’ hand is on the tiller.  And a project that encourages him to keep working has to be a good thing.

Pierced Arrow is released by Provogue/Mascot on 6 May 2016.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Laurence Jones - Mash House, Edinburgh, 15 April 2016

It may say Laurence Jones on the ticket, but if you’ve seen Jones before you’ll know that this isn’t a one-man show.  Young Laurence may get an infectious degree of pleasure from his work, but much of the vitality of his band’s performance comes from the interaction between Jones and his trusty bassman, Roger Inniss.  Anyone remember Tom and Jerry?  The Inniss/Jones relationship reminds me of protective bulldog Spike, beaming “Dat’s my boy” at the antics of his pup, Tike.
Laurence Jones and Roger Inniss - "Dat's my boy!"
Joking aside, Jones often capitalises on the funk that Inniss brings to the equation with his 6-string bass, for example on ‘What I Need’, which they bring down to a murmur before an explosive finale.  A cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ is also a natural tour de funk, stylishly executed with Jones producing a great organ-like guitar sound through a Leslie pedal, while new kid on the drum kit Phil Wilson shows he can swing.
Wilson’s arrival is the main change since Jones toured last year, following the return of his predecessor Miri Miettinen to Finland.  Miettinen’s are big shoes to fill, with his looseness and sense of space, but on this showing Wilson has slotted in well.  He punctuates the brooding opener ‘Southern Breeze’ neatly, and contributes heavily to the twitching, shifting rhythms of new song ‘Take Me High’, a chunk of bump’n’grind with a hint of Johnny Winter’s ‘Rock’n’Roll Hootchie Koo’ about it. It’s an encouraging foretaste of Jones’ new album in the offing, produced by Mike Vernon.
Funk isn’t the only game in town though, as Jones lets loose plenty guitar fireworks with a howling solo on ‘Good Morning Blues’, and rolling guitar licks on ‘Thunder In The Sky’ as a prelude to a solo that veers towards epic proportions in the manner of a Michael Schenker wig-out.  There’s more variety too with the bright, Celtic feel of ‘Set It Free’, while ‘Fall From The Sky’ features some interesting variations, and Jones also introduces us to his new baritone guitar.
‘The Price I Pay’ features a lively guitar/bass duel playing around with great riffs you have known and loved, before Inniss underlines his groovemeister credentials with a squelchy bass solo.  They encore with a brisk ‘What’s It Gonna Be’, before vacating the stage to make way for some bleeding club night that’s taking over the venue for the latter part of the night.  A compact set from Jones and his compadres, but still great value in the keeping music live stakes.
The Black Circles - a Bratley with a Strat
Mancunian supporting trio The Black Circles also provide their fair share of the entertainment.  Guitarist Sam Bratley conjures up a full, colourful sound with ease, and on the slow blues ‘Bad Luck’ his voice hints at the late Jimmy Dewar’s soulfulness, while his extended solo stays interesting by dint of good dynamics, and great control, tone and variety.  ‘Gypsy Girl’ is as Hendrixy a rave-up as it’s title might suggest, right down to Bratley’s wah-wah heavy solo, while ‘She’s Dynamite’ is an SRV-like blast of boogie.

Stevie Ray influences are also abroad on the closing slowie ‘Stop Acting This Way’.  By the sound of it Bratley is well immersed in the works of Messrs Hendrix and Vaughan, but good on him and his bassist buddy Martin Saunders for translating their influences into something original, rather than just trotting out covers.  It’s an impressive support set, and if they can inject more of their personalities into their performance, in the manner of the headliners, they could be an exciting proposition.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Broken Witt Rebels - Georgia Pine EP

What exactly, I wonder, is a “Broken Witt Rebel”?  Or even an intact Witt Rebel, for that matter?  Whatever the origins of their name, this bunch of young Brummies seem to be fully functioning to me.  This five song EP from the four-piece shows them writing and playing with conviction, and mixing old-fashioned Brit rock with more contemporary leanings.
The thumping opening bars of ‘Low’ recall Golden Earring’s ‘Radar Love’, as an introduction to their more traditional side, with a sound akin to The Temperance Movement’s first album.  It’s a comparison reinforced by Danny Core’s voice, which is firmly in the raucous, quavery British tradition ranging back from Phil Campbell to the likes of Steve Marriott. Core on
Broken Witt Rebels - young guns going for it
Pic by Simon Davis
rhythm guitar and James Tranter on lead bang out a muscular riff, the latter also spitting out fills here and there around the anthemic chorus.  The following ‘Suzie’ has a more laid back Southern rock feel, in the vein of The Black Crowes, even as Core continues to holler away in gritty fashion.
‘Georgia Pine’ suggests something rather more modern and spiky, its slightly discordant guitar lines and occasionally keening vocals recalling the likes of Kings of Leon.  The closing ‘Guns’ is of a similar ilk, with its high-revving guitar and rolling drums, although in this instance the arena-ready chorus sounds just a little too derivative.
Sandwiched between these two, ‘Getaway Man’ demonstrates more ambition.  A dynamic affair that starts off in restrained fashion with just guitar and vocals, it eases into another chorus laden with singalong potential, before gradually building up a head of steam over its five minutes, taking in a stomping mid-section and an urgent guitar solo from Tranter along the way.

A five song EP may be a swallow that doesn’t yet make a summer, but on this showing Broken Witt Rebels are a promising outfit, with an appeal that’s likely to extend beyond old gits like me.  If they can deliver a bigger bundle of songs of the standard displayed here, then I can see them playing to a heaving mass of sweaty kids before very long.