Sunday, June 26, 2016

Vintage Trouble - Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, 25 June 2016

Close your eyes.  Imagine you’re in Memphis on a hot summer’s evening.  You’re in a bar where a band is on top form, cranking out covers of the very best blues and soul hits that came out of the place.  You’re dancing, you’re smiling fit to bust.  You’re singing along.  You’re having a ball.
Except you’re in Glasgow, and the band is playing all their own stuff and it sounds just like all those classics.  They’re Vintage Trouble, and it feels just as damn good.
"Hey Nalle - you forgot to put your tie on!"
The die is set from the second Nalle Colt strides onstage, unwraps some slide guitar worthy of Jimmy Page on ‘In My Time Of Dying’, and lights the blue touchpaper on a frenetic ‘Run Like The River’.  They segue into the yearning ‘Nobody Told Me’ beautifully, by means of a singalong passage, after which Ty Taylor asks “Can we make this Fruitmarket into a dance party tonight?”  Is he kidding?  The place is going daft already.
All this may sound like unconstrained fandom.  So sue me.  My other half hasn’t seen them before, and her face is a picture of gobsmacked contentment.  That’s the impact Vintage Trouble have.
I can imagine that when VT got together they had a vision of what they wanted to do.  But jeez, the execution!  ‘Strike Your Light’, with rattling drum patterns from Rich Danielson, is a 60s throwback that totally inhabits the spirit of ‘Twist And Shout’.  Or maybe ‘Shout’ – take your pick.  And then they whack out ‘Another Man’s Words’ just to demonstrate that they can produce a classic hook in a slower vein too.
They chuck in a couple of new songs, demonstrating that they’re not standing still.  ‘Rollercoaster’ and ‘Turn The Sky To Blue’ both have an air of funk about them, the latter in particular essaying a Stevie Wonder vibe á la ‘Higher Ground’ perhaps.  And their eye for crowd-pleasing detail is evidenced by their introduction of a piper they met on the street to lead a Highland dance party.
One answer to a wealth of material is to do what Springsteen does, and just play for hours.  Another is to compress things by way of medleys, and for the time being that’s VT’s chosen route.  A mash-up of ‘You Better Believe It’ and ‘Soul Serenity’ crash lands into ‘Angel City, California’, which then melts into ‘Jezzebella’, which in turn downshifts into ‘Gracefully’ before they go full circle.
‘Doin’ What You Were Doin’’ reinforces their ability to hit the nail smack on the head, its Smokey Robinson feel resulting in a swaying mass of bodies, with Colt producing a sweet guitar solo into the bargain.  And then they go in the other direction with a revved up ‘Blues Hand Me Down’ as the soundtrack to Taylor’s inevitable crowd-surfing.  Throughout all of this Danielson demonstrates a Charlie Watts-like versatility behind the drums – visible this time rather than hidden away at the back as he was at the Barrowlands last year – while Rick Barrio Dill bops away energetically on bass.  Oh yeah, and their harmonies are spot on too.
Slydigs, with a little help - "It's E, then D, then G."
They do a request spot for an encore, and go with the calls for ‘Nancy Lee’.  It’s as good a choice as any, though I’d have liked them to find room for ‘Before The Teardrops’ too.  And then it’s time to file out, having danced the night away.

Slydigs are on support duty again, as they were last autumn.  They’re still gallus, as they say in these parts, with drummer Pete Fleming still flailing away effectively in the manner of Keith Moon crossed with Dave Grohl, only now with a worse haircut.  Nalle Colt appears to lend them a hand on a decent ‘Hey Joe’/Zeppelin segueway, but their heart is really in the land of Oasis, as an acoustic number echoes ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, and closer ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ recalls ‘Rock’n’Roll Star’.  And it has to be said they have the effervescence of Britpop rather than the stodge of Britrock.  But making that count in the shadow of Vintage Trouble is, as they say, a tough gig.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Gary Hoey - Dust & Bones

After doing this reviewing lark for a while, all sorts of things start to drop through your letterbox.  Some of them are great, some of them less so.  Some artists are familiar, some of them you’ve never heard of.  Gary Hoey fell into the unknown category till a few weeks ago, but his new album Dust & Bones is a little gem.
Regular readers may have worked out that I like a bit of variety in my blues, and Hoey does a good job on that front.  He serves up a couple of rocked up Delta style tracks, a couple of West Side electric blues-style tunes, some blues rock with epic flavourings, and a moody instrumental, among other things, showing an aptitude for the different styles both vocally and on guitar.
Opener ‘Box Car Blues’ is touted in the PR bumf as a mash-up of Robert Johnson and Led
Gary Hoey - not a brat with a Strat
Zeppelin.  Well, up to a point Lord Copper.  It may have a solid, weighty riff, and an air of ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ in Hoey’s slide interjections, but he doesn’t really go for the kind of sturm und drang that Zep would whip up.  Instead it’s more akin to the nifty rock’n’rolling blues of ‘Steamroller’, a worthy, slide-heavy tribute to Johnny Winters, and later the satisfying boogie of ‘Blind Faith’, again punctuated with a plethora of slide fills.
Meanwhile there’s a witty piece of jump blues in the form of ‘Who’s Your Daddy’, a tale of paternity concerns, of all things, that puts me in mind of the young tyro Andy Poxon, though with more maturity vocally.  A similarly effective take on BB King-style good-time blues is apparent on the shuffle of ‘Back Against The Wall’, with some added SRV-ish sizzle to Hoey’s soloing.
‘Coming Home’, a duet with Lita Ford of Runaways fame, recalls Bryan Adams doing ‘I’ll Die For You’, which I can’t say is really my thang, well executed though it may be.  More to my taste is ‘Born To Love You’, on which Hoey really goes down Texas way with a barnstorming homage to ZZ Top, complete with a trademark chugging riff and a vocal that could easily be by Billy Gibbons himself.
There’s more of a classic rock vibe to the title track and ‘This Time Tomorrow’, both aspiring to the epic, with occasional hints of Ritchie Blackmore and Robin Trower channelling Hendrix, while ‘Ghost Of Yesterday’ is even more of a hard rock wah-wah outing.
The album closes with the instrumental ‘Soul Surfer’, its rolling bass line from AJ Pappas and restrained drums from Matt Scurfield creating a dreamy, sultry atmosphere into which Hoey injects sparkling lead lines – faintly jazzy, faintly Latino, and faintly evocative of Stevie Ray, this time in laid-back mode.

And that’s it.  Ten tracks, 39 minutes, and no over-reaching. Clean production, well-conceived songs, and enjoyable playing.  Nothing exotic, nothing too flash.  Dust & Bones is just good modern blues, well done.

Dust & Blues is released by Provogue on 29 July.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Moreland & Arbuckle - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 18 June 2016.

Beards! Cigar box guitar!  Volume!
Moreland & Arbuckle are not a lightweight outfit, even if harp man Dustin Arbuckle and guitarist Aaron Moreland present something of a little’n’large image out front.  As they blast into set opener ‘Mean And Evil’, from new album Promised Land Or Bust, Arbuckle’s vocals are reverb-heavy, and indeed the sound is heavy generally, with Kendall Newby contributing plenty of oomph on drums.
Moreland right, and Arbuckle left - and Newby
At their best the heaviness has a groove to it though, that has plenty folk eager to dance to ‘Long Way Home’.  They go on to deliver a Hill Country-ish instrumental in ‘Red Bricks’, harp and guitar blending nicely over a skipping, Irish sounding rhythm from Newby, before getting down to some slow boogie on ‘Woman Down In Arkansas’, from the pen of fellow Kansan Leo McBee.
Throughout these songs Moreland demonstrates a pick-less rhythm-cum-slide guitar style that more than compensates for their lack of a bassist, and might well get a nod of approval from Keef.
Arbuckle does strap on a bass towards the end of their first set though, underpinning the likes of ‘Take Me With You (When You Go)’, and freeing up Moreland to deliver a howling, thumb-picking solo on ‘Promised Land Or Bust’ itself, before bringing the curtain down with the grinding, crunking ‘Hannah’.
They take too long getting back on stage for their second set, dissipating the momentum they’ve built up, but they continue to have impressive moments, with some chugging R’n’B, Moreland offering up a couple of decidedly Stonesy riffs, and Newby rattling out interesting, varied drum patterns.  They finish the night with a curfew-busting take on ‘John Henry’, underlining their heavyweight credentials.
Black Cat Bone get their mojo - well, you know
It has to be said that the audience have been well primed by Black Cat Bone, who mainline on a grinding, grimy Delta blues sound.  Over pounding cajón rhythms they mix in wailing harp, edgy vocals, fuzzed up guitar and even slide bass, in a manner reminiscent of Tim Timebomb. With regular guitarist Luis Del Castillo unavailable, special credit has to go to stand-in Harry C Fisher for getting to grips not just with the material but also the dirty, garage-like sound.  Highlights include ‘Got To Move’, a Delta classic which they deliver with conviction, and a take on Slim Harpo’s ‘Hip Shake Baby’ served up with Doors-like attitude.

It can all end up sounding like an unholy racket at times – but in a good way.  When they get into a meaty groove, and even add some satisfying high harmonies, you have to think that Black Cat Bone are a band with a fair old quotient of punky mojo and hoodoo.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Joe Louis Walker - Dingwall's, London, 9 June 2016

There are three good reasons for enjoying Joe Louis Walker.  For one, while he sits firmly in the tradition of electric blues, he likes to innovate.  For another, he’s at home in a variety of blues styles.  And last but not least, he has a tremendous sense of fun.
JLW - all kinds of blue
All these traits are in evidence throughout this London gig kicking off a series of UK and European dates.  The swinging credentials of his band are evident from the off, on the R’n’B of ‘I’m Not Messin’’, and reinforced on ‘T-Bone Shuffle’, a song which goes back to Walker’s contribution to BB King’s Grammy-winning Blues Summit album of 1993.  Walker’s exhortations to ‘let your hair hang down and have a natch’l ball’ hit the nail on the head, as he shows off his guitar chops with a witty, wonky guitar solo.
A subsequent slow blues instrumental underlines the jazzy quality to his playing.  But where jazz stylings often end up sounding studied and self-indulgent, in Walker’s hands the result is entertainment not ego, full of unexpected twists and turns and playful tones that regularly brings laughs from bassist Lenny Bradford.
Walker has a background in gospel music, and it continues to play a large part in his work, making good use of his strong and expressive voice.  Here he cranks up some chunky rhythm guitar on ‘Soldier Of Jesus’, but the real highlight is the classic ‘Wade In The Water’ from his latest album Everybody Wants A Piece, which takes off into a heavy funk workout with Travis Reed delivering a belting organ solo.
Kat Pearson payin' dues
Meanwhile Walker comes over all Chuck Berry on a blistering run through ‘Around And Around’, before highlighting teasing slide on Earl Hooker’s ‘Blue Guitar’, and some more meaty riffing under another Reed keyboard solo.  All the while Bradford on bass interlocks tightly with Reed’s keys and Byron Cage on drums, with Cage also following his leader’s guitar to punctuate the solos.
By the time we get to ‘One Time Around’ a dance vibe has taken hold, and it’s party time for sure on the encore of ‘Too Drunk To Drive’, with its ‘Peter Gunn’-ish theme embellished by forays into the riffs of ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘All Day And All Of The Night’.
All round it’s a performance that demonstrates Joe Louis Walker is one of the leading lights of modern electric blues, as well as a connection to its past.

Openers Kat & Co start their set in quiet fashion but gradually hit their stride, with Kat Pearson’s resonant vocals and Francesco Accurso’s piercing guitar well to the fore.  By the time they’ve rattled off a ‘Rollin’ An’ Tumblin’ variant and got stuck into ‘Payin’ My Dues’ they’re getting well into it, and arousing plenty of audience interest for the rest of their brief set.