Saturday, September 24, 2016

Aynsley Lister - Eyes Wide Open

Aynsley Lister has a lot going for him.  He’s a top quality singer, with a clear voice that’s easy on the ear.  As a guitar player, he’s even better, capable of real fireworks.  When he puts his mind to it, he’s an imaginative songwriter.  He has a crack band, with Bennett Holland on keys, Boneto Dryden on drums, and Steve Amadeo on bass.  Oh yeah, and he’s a good-looking sod too.
Eyes Wide Open is an album that shows what Lister is capable of, with songs that explore different avenues and are delivered with style, and the opening couple of tracks show off some typical Lister qualities.  ‘All Your Love’ enters with pulsing bass and a steady beat,
Aynsley Lister, eyes wide shut
over which some injections of guitar climb, but it’s the clear and easy vocal that marks him out – Lister has a distinctively English singing voice, lacking any American affectations.  ‘Everything I’ll Have To Give’ meanwhile, is a piece of soulful blues that’s right in his wheelhouse, with a rolling, easy rhythm and a piercing guitar solo with enough twists and turns to keep Jeremy Clarkson happy.
But he mixes it up a bit after that.  ‘Il Grande Mafioso’ has a cinematic vibe, with a Mediterranean feel instigated by the acoustic guitar intro, some seriously twangy guitar work, and piano lines that evoke the Harry Lime Theme.  Later, the halting and moody ‘Dishevelled’ recalls his previous cover of Nina Simone’s ‘I’m Feeling Good’.  It may not have the climactic peaks of the latter, but it does have a sinuous guitar solo, woven around the melody and elaborated with changes of pace.  It also evokes a late night sleazy bar encounter beautifully, Lister’s languid vocal perfectly delivered.
In between these, Lister occupies more straightforward territory with ‘Won’t Be Taken Down’ and ‘Time’.  The former has a restrained verse, offset by a surging chorus with seriously big guitar chords bringing the oomph.  The latter is light and sprightly, with twitchy guitar licks and one of the best hooks of the album in its soaring chorus.
For me, the second half of the album doesn’t quite maintain the standard set over these first six songs.  This isn’t to say that the track list includes any duds; Lister is far too professional for that, and there are always interesting things going on, not least in his guitar work.  But a ruthless advisor might have advised pruning a couple of the slighter songs in order to push the quality threshold to the max.
As I say though, he still does interesting things.  ‘Troubled Soul (Intro)’ is a delicate, Mark Knopfler-ish guitar vignette. ‘Kalina’ has a lovely, mellow guitar refrain, and here as elsewhere the interplay of Lister’s guitar with Bennett Holland’s keys is delightful.  I’d have liked a stronger melody and chorus, but it still achieves lift off by means of Lister’s guitar solo.  Meanwhile ‘Other Part Of Me’ is a relationship celebration with a tune and arrangement that bathe the lyrics in sunshine – the Commodores' ‘Easy Like Sunday Morning’ springs to mind.
Aynsley Lister isn’t easy to pigeonhole.  He shifts shape fluidly around a soulful, bluesy, rocky style.  I’m beginning to think he might be Britain’s answer to Robben Ford – someone who wants to push the songwriting envelope and find new ways of expressing himself, and has the top-drawer musicianship to match.  Hell, he’s a better singer than Robben Ford too.  If you haven’t been giving Aynsley Lister your attention before, you should start now.

Eyes Wide Open is released by Straight Talkin' Records on 7 October.  Check Aynsley Lister's tour dates for a gig near you.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Stevie Nimmo Trio - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 21 September 2016

Sold out signs for the Stevie Nimmo Trio at the Edinburgh Blues Club, and if this performance is the shape of things to come they’ll have standing room only at bigger venues before long.  This, my friends, is a band in crunkingly good form.
First though, a word about GT’s Boos Band, recently mentioned in dispatches in the BBC’s
Stevie Nimmo makes some noise
 UK’s Best Part-Time Band competition.  Opening the show, they turn in a solidly entertaining set.  Greig Taylor has a satisfying down and dirty blues voice, and connects with the arrangements going on around him.  Meanwhile Johnny Boos delivers lead guitar in a variety of styles, including some neat fingerpicking on the driving R’n’B of opener ‘Seven Questions’, a nicely shimmering segment on ‘High N Dry’, and a sparky solo on the shuffling fun that is ‘Everybody Knows’. ‘Chain Of Love’ is a likeable slow blues with a strong vocal, and they go for the epic with the dynamics of set closer ‘Amsterdam’, though it’s a song that might have been better placed mid-set.  They go down well, and deservedly so.
But to the main event.  When I saw Stevie Nimmo and co play in Glasgow back in May, they were terrific.  This show was even better – with the benefit of an additional ingredient which we’ll get to later.
“Let’s make some noise,” says Nimmo as they plug in, and they do that right from the git-go, with the tough but danceable ‘Roll The Dice’, the first of several songs from SkyWon’t Fall – still my favourite studio album of this year.  They follow that with ‘Still Hungry’, even tougher and grittier, before changing gear with ‘Running On Back To You’.  It’s a slower, more structured take on the blues, with a Floyd-ish arrangement underlined by soloing from
Two Nimmos for the price of one
Nimmo that has an air of Dave Gilmour about it, and subtle variation from Craig Bacon on drums – and Nimmo holds the audience in thrall with a ‘hear a pin drop’ ending.
Nimmo’s vocals are impeccable tonight too, exemplified by the tenderness with which he imbues the soulful ‘Change’, and the way he invests ‘Gambler’s Roll’ with meaning.  In fact they generally crank the Allman Brothers song up a notch from the version on Sky Won’t Fall, with Matt Beable’s tense bass lines reminiscent of John McVie on ‘The Chain’, while Nimmo’s soloing ranges from delicate to intense.
They go on to dish up more covers, including a couple Nimmo recorded on his first album The Wynds Of Life.  Storyville’s ‘Good Day For The Blues’ is a song to put a smile on your face, while ‘Lonely Night In Georgia’ highlights ‘Crispy’ Bacon’s drumming finesse.  Sandwiched between these two though, is the highlight of this segment – an epic rendition of Big George Watt’s ‘The Storm’, on which Nimmo delivers a solo very much in the spirit of Big George, big on space and atmosphere, as well as an outro making terrific use of controlled feedback.
As if that isn’t enough, for the finale a surprise guest puts in an appearance – Alan Nimmo
GT's Boos Band get down and dirty
strapping on a guitar to play that funky music on an extended caper through ‘Lovin’ Might Do Us Good’.  So we’re treated to the brothers Nimmo swapping some blistering solos, and at one stage dropping effortlessly into a double-barrelled take on the riff to the Allmans’ ‘Jessica’ (aka the Top Gear theme).  Are they done yet? Nope – eschewing a walk off stage and a walk back on for an encore, they launch into a monster version of ‘Going Down’, twin guitars crunching into the riff, just to finish the audience off good and proper.

The Stevie Nimmo Trio are so down to earth they look like they could be cast as coppers in Life on Mars, while Nimmo’s between-songs chat is self-deprecating and at the same time respectful of the artists he’s learned from and played with over the years.  But this is also a band at the absolute top of their game.  Buy the album.  Go see them supporting Robin Trower.  Enjoy.

For details of headline gigs and tour dates supporting Robin Trower, go to

Thursday, September 22, 2016

King King - King King Live

Made In Japan.  Live And Dangerous.  Live In The Heart Of The City.  Exit Stage Left.  Name your own favourites.  Back in the day, the live album was a key landmark in a rock band’s development – a bringing together of material from across their repertoire, in communion with their audience.  On a magical night in Glasgow back in May, in front of a crowd frequently going nuts, King King captured a performance well worthy of the genre.
Great live albums have key ingredients that make them distinctive: previously unreleased material perhaps; different arrangements of songs that show off their evolution; and crucially, an electricity that comes from something being created in the moment, in front of a crowd.  King King Live ticks all the boxes.  In spades.
King King - on the night at the Glasgow O2ABC in May
After the rousing opener of ‘Lose Control’, we get something new, or at least something borrowed, with a belting cover of the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ ‘Wait On Time’.  Propelled by a walking bass line from Lindsay Coulson, it’s classic R&B with a twist of funk – and not the last time that they show off their command of the latter.
You’ll pick your own highlights, but ‘A Long History Of Love’ is one of mine, here extended to over ten minutes without ever disappearing up its own backside. It may not have the reflective, delicate quality of the studio version, but it makes up for that with a fresh and soulful organ solo from Bob Fridzema, and an urgency and passion that give it a different, gripping character.  They go large on ‘Stranger To Love’ too, closing the set proper, but it’s still a noodle-free zone – though newcomers may be puzzled by the moments in which Alan Nimmo’s trademark near-silent guitar solo delves into the auditory range of canines.
There’s a genuineness to King King – how many bands would leave a namecheck for the support act on their live album? – that shines through in their music.  Exhibit A: another
Bob Fridzema - surges, flourishes and solos
standout track, ‘You’ll Stop The Rain’, introduced by Alan Nimmo as a tip of the hat to his brother Stevie.  The lyrics are meaningful, the vocal delivery sincere, and to top it off Nimmo delivers a searing solo with climactic tension and release.  It was sensational on the night, and it’s sensational here.
Elsewhere they bring their funky swagger to ‘All Your Life’ and the good time encore of ‘Let Love In’, and if these don’t make you feel like dancing then you’re dead from the waist down.  ‘All Your Life’ in particular epitomises how tight but loose they’ve become – in a groove, but relaxed with it.
Across the album you can hear what the whole band contributes: Lindsay Coulson’s bass bubbling away in varying styles;  Wayne Proctor’s drums adding punctuation and power, bringing oomph to the likes of ‘More Than I Can Take’ and ‘Crazy’; and Fridzema adding surging organ, flourishes of piano, and solos to complement Nimmo’s guitar, as on ‘Jealousy’.  And all of this is highlighted by clear, unfussy production that brings the right sounds to the fore at the right time.

I love Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, all those bands of yesteryear.  But let’s face it, that was then.  King King Live is the living, breathing, here and now of classic rock.  And it’s the business.

King King - Live is released by Manhattan Records on 21 October.  Available for pre-order from Amazon now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Beth Hart - Fire On The Floor

So how do you like your Beth Hart? Angsty chanteuse offering tales of life's trials? Or perhaps the gutsy belter of choice to heavyweight guitar honchos? On Fire On The Floor you'll find a healthy portion of the former, but rather less of the latter. What you'll also get, on the opening tracks here, is Hart as princess of sweet soul music - and it suits her.
'Jazz Man' lives up to its title with some piano-tinkling, horn-tooting, scat-singing grooves.
Beth Hart demonstrates jazzy soul leaning
'Love Gangster' has an easy Latin rhythm and drawling vocals, and a naggingly familiar, twanging guitar line in the background – feel free to comment if you recognise it! But it's 'Coca Cola' and 'Let's Get Together' that really catch the ear. The former, with its blissfully languid opening, is a sexy, summery song of youthful innocence, in contrast to the songs of strained experience that are often Hart's stock in trade. The latter, meanwhile, shows that Amy Winehouse wasn't unique in being able to expertly execute funky soul-lite with a Dap Kings vibe.
A bonus of this soulful style is that Hart tends to smooth out her trademark vibrato, which often serves her well but begins to grate if she sticks to it relentlessly. But if you’re a fan of her quavering, confessional side then there are several examples to savour here.
Top of the list is the ineffably sad ‘Woman You’ve Been Dreaming Of’, with spare piano chords, bowed bass and brushed drums underpinning images of a woman losing her husband.  Hart conveys the mundanity of the woman’s everyday chores with shades of Paula Cole’s ‘Where Have All The Cowboys Gone’, but adds a twist of infidelity to complete the cruel picture.
‘Good Day To Cry’ is a torch song with strong echoes of Lorraine Ellison’s ‘Stay With Me’, with Hart’s vibrato recalling what was so good about Elkie Brooks at her best.  The title track finds her conjuring up hints of Billie Holliday and Nina Simone, depicting the ennui of a stale relationship, shot through with flashes of bitterness.  Closing the album, ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ is piano-led, simple, and evocative, outlining the things that give us security in life.
The punchy ‘Fat Man’ provides some variety, with its stabbing vocal phrases in the verses and a driving chorus.  ‘Baby Shot Me Down’ executes a crisp change of gear too, with a shuffling, twitchy beat and bluesy piano, and a familiar sounding, descending chorus.
Fire On The Floor underlines Beth Hart’s versatility as a writer and interpreter, conjuring up images and feelings across a range of styles and moods.  The jazzy soul leanings are a delightful surprise, and when she nails a ballad she really nails it.  She may get tagged as a blues singer, but there’s a whole lot more to her work than that.

Fire On The Floor is released in Europe by Mascot/Provogue on 14 October 2016