Sunday, July 31, 2016

Bernie Marsden Band - Edinburgh Blues'N'Rock Festival, 30 July 2016

Early Saturday afternoon, and the Corn Exchange is already busy.  During the following hours around 800 fans will fill the place up for the inaugural Edinburgh Blues’N’Rock Festival – a successful first outing, which will hopefully be built on in years to come.
So to begin at – well, the middle, at around 6pm as the Bernie Marsden Band take the stage.  Right away Bernie and co set about delivering the goods to an audience whose appetite has been whetted by the four acts that shaped the afternoon.  Kicking off with ‘Linin’ Track’ from his 2014 album Shine, with its opening gospel feel slipping into something more heavy, and sidekick Jim Kirkpatrick weighing in with spot on slide guitar, Bernie swiftly has a crowd gathering at the front of the stage.
Bernie Marsden - gertcha!
They limber up a bit more with the Santana-ish instrumental ‘Strictly Latino’, with locked in guitar harmonies between Marsden and Kirkpatrick, before getting down to business with a selection of Marsden solo efforts, blues classics, and the big hits from his heyday with the pre-1987 (and best) formulations of Whitesnake.
Albert King’s oft-covered ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ is a decent showcase for Marsden’s vocals.  He may not have the resonance or the range to be a top-drawer blues bawler, but then neither did Albert King.  He’s earthy enough, with strong phrasing, and has developed a bit of a blues growl into the bargain.  On this, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’, and ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ – popularised by Howlin’ Wolf, but going way back to the Mississippi Sheiks and probably beyond – it’s evident that Marsden is as familiar with such blues mainstays as he is with his own backyard.
Shine also supplies ‘Kinda Wish You Would’, a short and sweet slice of boogie that works as a neat curtain-raiser to the hits Marsden contributed to Whitesnake.
Marsden can’t quite emulate David Coverdale’s vocal on ‘Fool For Your Loving’, but it really doesn’t matter.  It’s a classic riff from a musician who really is in the major league.  ‘Ain’t No Love (In The Heart Of The City)’ is a truncated version of the Bobby Bland original because, as Marsden has famously admitted, he overlooked a verse when he taught it to his Whitesnake bandmates.  But it’s still a crowd-pleaser, and he supplements it with a chunk of ‘Thrill Is Gone’ for good measure.
‘Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues’ is one of my all-time favourite blues-rock tracks, and after a teasing intro it lives up to that billing here.  If I have one regret, it’s that it isn’t given its own moment of acclaim, but slides into ‘Here I Go Again’.  Marsden knows how to work the crowd with it, as they bawl out the chorus, and he adds an upbeat, high revving coda to round it out.
‘Walkin’ By Myself’, in the manner of Marsden’s old pal Gary Moore, rounds out proceedings.  With old Whitesnake compadre Neil Murray on bass (a chant of “One Neil Murray" starts up at one point) and Micky Butler on drums Marsden has a suitably substantial rhythm section, and Jim Kirkpatrick’s guitar and backing vocal contributions suggest that Bernie has also found a foil to rival Micky Moody.  The only thing that’s missing is the gutsy sound of a Hammond B3 organ – but who could step into those shoes?
More reviews from the Edinburgh Blues’N’Rock Festival to follow . . . !

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Kentucky Headhunters - O2ABC2, Glasgow, 27 July 2016

Country Music Award winners my ass.  The Kentucky Headhunters may have been tagged as a country act by some American tastemakers many moons ago, but the simple fact is that they’re the most down to earth, on the money, don’t give a shit bunch of old fashioned rock’n’rollers you could hope to find.
Let me explain.  The backwoods Kentucky accents may say country music.  Some of the vocal harmonies may say country music.  But then Jimmy Witherspoon classified Chuck Berry as a country artist – and by the same token the Headhunters are a band who make the link between country, rock’n’roll, and the blues.
The Headhunters - a self-styled 'bunch of old farts'
But enough of the theory shit, and on with the show.  They kick off with a boogie assault on Jimmy Reed’s ‘Big Boss Man’, and follow it up with ‘Rag Top’, cruising along on a ‘Peter Gunn’ style bass riff with a ZZ Top groove and showing off their Southern rock tendencies.  And if there’s more of a country flavour to ‘Walk Softly On This Heart Of Mine’, featuring the aforesaid harmonies, that doesn’t stop them diverting into a segment of bonkers rifferama.
Did I mention that they don’t give a shit?  Witness, friends, their raucous take on ‘House Of The Rising Sun’.  And if that isn’t enough, they take some liberties with a certain famous epic, to create a jazzed up homage entitled, er, ‘Stairway To The Outhouse’.
But there are things they do care about, and one of them is the relationship they had with Chuck Berry’s late pianist and collaborator Johnnie Johnson. Introducing a chunk of songs from last year’s release Meet Me In Bluesland, guitarist Richard Young explains that they made it with Johnson back in 2003, and it comprised the last work he ever recorded.  The opening track from the album, ‘Stumblin’’ – “Let’s go stumblin’, ‘cause you know we can’t dance” – is inevitably a cue for dancing, and typifies their roguish charm, as does the dreamier ‘Shufflin’ Back To Memphis’.  From their album Soul they offer up Freddie King’s ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’, on which they also collaborated with Johnson, and even without his piano mastery they deliver it like the classic it is, with Greg Martin’s lead guitar as deft and soulful as you could wish for.
Along the way they demonstrate their ability to get jazzy on ‘Some Folks Like To Steal’, while ‘Wishing Well’ (no, not that one) is about as country as they get.  Regardless of genre
Doug Phelps gets windswept and interesting
though, their musicianship is where they’re on the money.  They’re tight as you like, with bewhiskered drummer Fred Young and bassist/lead vocalist Doug Phelps mining a solid groove from start to finish.  But they still do it with the relaxed feel of a band that know each other inside out.
I could have wished for them to do a couple more songs from Soul, like ‘Everyday People’ and ‘Last Night I Met Carl Perkins’.  And it would have been great if they’d conscripted an ivory tinkler to really give a nod to Johnnie Johnson on the Bluesland songs.  But what the hell, I’ll forgive ‘em.

The closing stretch yields yet more surprises, as they breathe life into the hoary old chestnut that is ‘Spirit In The Sky’, featuring a snatch of ‘Favourite Things’ – yes, Julie Andrews, Sound of Music, that one – and really stretch the envelope with ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’.  They’ve recorded these songs, people!  They say their goodbyes with a medley of the Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and ‘Hey Jude’, with support band Bad Touch joining them on stage to deliver the terracing chant on the latter.  All very well and good gents, but I wanted your take on Chuck Berry’s ‘Little Queenie’ – and that’s the only omission that really is unforgiveable!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band - Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, 23 July 2016

“Fun fun fun,” as the Beach Boys put it – although in the case of the Reverend Peyton, I’d guess his daddy supplied a pick-up truck rather than a T-Bird.
Hayseed Dixie’s bluegrass attack on AC/DC is a bit of a glib reference point for the dungaree'd Rev and his Big Damn Band, but it’ll do for starters – and drummer Max Sentenay can sure as hell smack out a rhythm with the kind of on-the-money regularity that would fill Phil Rudd’s shoes.
The Reverend Peyton goes with cigar box
It’s worth saying that the Damn Band is in fact far from Big, comprising as it does just Josh ‘The Reverend’ Peyton on guitar, his other half Breezy on washboard, and Sentenay on drums and, er, $5 bucket.  But the three-piece do make a big sound, with the Rev to the fore, electrifying the picking of old fashioned country blues guitar with a simple approach.  “The bass player in this band is my thumb,” he says, “and the rest of my right hand plays the lead guitar.  There’s no pedals up here.  The sound comes from two hands playing a real instrument, some speakers, and your ears.”
Into the mix along with the country blues go some spoonfuls of hillbilly and cajun, and a soupçon of Springsteen’s Nebraska on amphetamines.  It’s punkish, and simple, and it works.
Highlights include the frantic ‘Bean Blossom Boogie’ and ‘Mama’s Fried Potatoes’, and they chuck in covers of ‘When My Baby Left Me’ by Furry Lewis, and Bo Diddley’s ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover’, the latter one of numerous songs that has the audience shaking it’s collective tail.  Clapping, stomping and screaming is also actively encouraged, while Breezy is prone to augmenting her washboard by slapping the head of a bald punter standing at the front.  They can do more than just get frantic though, and prove it on 'Pot Roast And Kisses', which has a rhythm and a guitar line as delicious as its title.

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band are the sort of outfit that put smiles on the faces of their audience, and you can never have too many bands like that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mr Sipp - Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, 18 July 2016

It’s showtime, folks!  It may be a Monday, but in terms of entertainment Mississipian Mr Sipp (aka Castro Coleman) is a veritable Mr Saturday Night, his guitar playing imbued with grinning, duck-walking, strutting, face-pulling enthusiasm.
You want to know what he sounds like?  The second song tonight is ‘Thrill Is Gone’, doffing his cap to BB King, whose jazz-tinged single-note soloing is echoed frequently in the course of the set.  And speaking of jazz inflections, the rhythm section of Jeff Flanagan on bass and Stanley Dixon Jr on drums bring plenty swing to proceedings. Dixon in particular highlights his inventiveness and lightness of touch in the course of a couple of brief solo spots.
Mr Sipp - gettin' jiggy wit it
But BB isn’t the only King that springs to mind, as Sipp shows a liking for the kind of funk groove that Albert King achieved when making Born Under A Bad Sign with the Stax soul gang – and indeed amps it up even further on the likes of ‘Nobody’s Bisness’.  It’s good time music, and with his infectious energy Sipp has no trouble getting the audience to sing and clap along on demand.  But it’s not just the vibe that’s important – his guitar work lives up to those influences with its clarity and variety, notes winging in from odd angles in witty fashion.
“Can I keep it rolling?”, he asks between songs, his gospel background suffusing the performance with an eagerness to engage the audience in the whole experience.  And Sipp acknowledges his twenty plus years as a gospel performer with ‘I’m In Your Care Right Now’, a slower spiritual on which he underlines the quality of his soulful singing as he lets his voice wander in controlled fashion.  He also demonstrates his soul credentials by taking to a  keyboard for a rendition of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ – a better choice, to my mind, than the overly smooth soul outings he’s been known to produce once or twice on album.
The opening of ‘Miss Jones’ is one of the few occasions when Sipp’s playing feels like it’s starting to meander, with an overlong intro and one or two superfluous licks during the opening verse.  But he promptly blows any concerns away with a circumnavigation of the Spiegeltent, during which he shakes hands and puts an arm round punters for selfies, playing away all the time with his left hand, before bringing the song to a driving conclusion.
The set peaks with the following cover of ‘Smokestack Lightnin’’, a breezy rendition so different from the haunting style of the Howlin’ Wolf original that it’s the cue to get the audience up and dancing – including one enthusiastic fella who’s invited up on stage to shake his booty along with Sipp.
By the time he’s done, Mr Sipp has made it clear just why he received a Blues Music Award this year for his album The Mississippi Blues Child – and still clearer why, in a live setting, he won the International Blues Challenge a couple of years back.  The man’s a dynamite blues guitarist, and a natural born entertainer to boot.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Gov't Mule - The Tel-Star Sessions

So here are Gov’t Mule, going back to the vaults for their next release, a set of recordings dating from 1994, it’s title derived from the Florida studio where they laid the tracks down.
Right from the opening track, ‘Blind Man In The Dark’, the post-Hendrix, post-Cream vibe is apparent, with lots of syncopation and counterpoint going on between the trio, and an occasional air of free jazz that brings to mind the comment Jack Bruce was wont to make about Cream, It became almost like an Ornette Coleman band, with Eric not knowing he was Ornette Coleman, Ginger and me not telling him.”  The following ‘Rocking Horse’ continues in the same vein, while also drawing in Southern rock stylings that reflect Mule's connection to the Allman Brothers Band.
Gov't Mule - "Where's the rest of the gear?"
Two other things stand out immediately though – the quality of the production, and Warren Haynes’ vocals.  For all that these were ostensibly demo recordings, the clarity and separation in the sound is startling, for which credit is presumably due to the sound engineer Bud Snyder.  Whether it’s Haynes’ fuzzy riffing, the twanging bass of Allen Woody, or Matt Abts’ circling of his drum kit to fill in the gaps, everything has the space to be heard.  Haynes’ voice, meanwhile, strongly evokes the late Jimmy Dewar with its rich, soulful quality, and that's a hell of a recommendation.
They ease off on the jazzy pyrotechnics after these openers, and get into some bluesier terrain, to especially good effect on a cover of Free’s ‘Mr Big’, on which they demonstrate an earthy quality.  It’s a song choice tailor-made for Haynes’ voice, and just one instance of the marvelous rubber band textures of Woody’s bass.  Similar qualities are evident a couple of tracks later on the slow blues of ‘Mother Earth’, where keep it simple as they work around a sturdy riff, with Haynes injecting some tasty but disciplined lead guitar.
A straightforward reading of ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’ seems a bit redundant, enjoyable though it may be, especially when Haynes kicks in some nifty slide guitar, but ‘Left Coast Groovies’ takes a more interesting route with its twisted rock-funk groove, Woody’s bass big and dirty and to the fore.
The aforementioned Jimmy Dewar carried out vocal duties for Robin Trower back in the day, of course – another neo-Jimi guitar practitioner.  And there are some echoes of Trower in the closing ‘World Of Difference’, the dreamy, spacey ambience of its opening recalling ‘Bridge Of Sighs’.  (In actual fact the album closes with two different versions of ‘World Of Difference’.)
All in all The Tel-Star Sessions is more than just a treat for the completists, even if it has been dug out from the back of the archives.  It stands up well on its own account, and if its heart is deeply wedded to the late 60s it still manages to sound fresh and contemporary.  Well worth a whirl.

The Tel-Star Sessions is released by Provogue/Mascot on 5 August.