Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Jo Harman, Dr Feelgood - Edinburgh Blues'N'Rock Festival, 30 July 2016

This may be a blues festival, but “Ain’t nothing but the blues” isn’t really a slogan that fits Jo Harman.  Sure, she can give it big licks in the funky, bluesy soul department, as this set confirms.  But she also lays down a marker early on with ‘Cold Heart’, one of the keynote songs from her first album Dirt On My Tongue.  It’s a delicate, piano-led ballad, and Harman sings it with all the sensitivity the lyrics require, before the song builds and builds, and she matches the crescendo with a towering vocal.
Jo Harman gets lost in music
I have a sense that this kind of heart-on-sleeve material has a special appeal for Harman.  She serves up a cover of country song ‘That’s How I Got To Memphis’ in soulful fashion, garnished with a neat, brittle solo from guitarist Dave Ital, while ‘Lend Me Your Love’, from her forthcoming album scheduled for 2017, is another ballad with a barnstorming ending.  And she has more songs of this ilk in her locker - check out the aforesaid album Dirt On My Tongue.
But the soul-baring stuff is balanced with Jo getting her groove on, as it were.  ‘Through The Night’ is a particularly tasty slice of rocked up funk, with some licks that remind me of UFO’s ‘Rock Bottom’ of all things, while ‘Heartstring’ is a twanging thang, with a big bluesy bridge and a muscular organ solo from Paul Johnson.  ‘When We Were Young’, also from the next album, is danceable soul, featuring a whooping, octave-hopping vocal from Harman and honky tonk piano from Johnson.
Being sandwiched between a stonking, crowd-pleasing set from Bernie Marsden and the bill-topping rock’n’roll hit parade that is Dr Feelgood is a challenging gig for an emerging artist playing unfamiliar material, even one as talented as Harman.  She could do with working the whole of the stage a bit more, or releasing guitarist Ital from his corner to interact with her.  But quibbles aside, this was a polished set that must surely have won her some new fans.
The last time I saw Dr Feelgood was at the Retford Porterhouse in 1981, just as they were
Robert Kane rouses the rabble
about to release the compilation album Dr Feelgood’s Casebook, and they knocked my socks off.  Back then they still had three of the original members, the only newbie being Johnny Guitar on, er, guitar.  So the current day line-up featuring none of the original personnel is a bit like talking about my father's axe – it’s had three new handles and two new blades.
But guitarist Steve Walwyn, bassist Phil Mitchell and drummer Kevin Morris are all long-standing Feelgood alumni, well versed in the band's ethos. Vocalist Robert Kane has been with them a mere 17 years, and doesn’t have the harp chops or bristling, moody intensity of Lee Brilleaux – but who would?  But he gets into the songs and works the crowd with no shortage of energy, occasionally grabbing for his mike stand and missing, or leaning a tad heavily on Morris's drum kit.
The simple fact is that these guys are good enough to take the Feelgood repertoire by the scruff of the neck and make it shake, rattle and roll.  Right from the driving boogie of opener ‘Best In The World’ they demonstrate that the classics of Thames Delta R&B are still the real deal.
Frankly this stuff is beyond criticism.  But if you want some highlights then ‘If My Baby Quits Me’ grabs attention with a rumbling bass riff from Mitchell and sizzling Telecaster soloing from Walwyn, who goes on to deliver some thunderous slide on ‘Rollin’ An’ Tumblin’’.  ‘Back In The Night’ is a cue for crowd mayhem, and they nail the choppy attack of ‘Roxette’.  The outstanding ‘Down To The Doctors’ is milked with a delayed coda, and ‘Gimme One More Shot’ is Chuck Berry gone wild.
I could go on.  But the bottom line is that the Feelgood motto should be “Crank it up, and crank it out”.  It's a motto they live up to.

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