Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Rising Souls - Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh, 26 November 2016

Metamorphosis.  There’s a good word.  You could say that in the course of 2016 The Rising Souls have metamorphosed, rather than gradually evolved, from semi-acoustic stripped back soul outfit to full-on blues-rockers.
If I can't nail some song titles, don’t blame me boys and girls.  Half the songs they performed at this launch of the their new Set Me Free EP are so new they haven’t even been properly named yet, such is the surge of creativity the Souls are going through just now.
After roaring off the starting grid with the stonking riff of something that may yet be christened ‘I’m Coming’, they really get down to business with ‘Walk On’, on which a heavy, bass-laden riff and a Zep-esque feel still leave room for singer Dave Archibald to embark on a scat-singing break before guitarist Joe Catterson lets loose with a wailing solo.
The Rising Souls - let there be Blues-Rock!
Next up they get into a brooding vibe, with some positively Chris Isaak-leaning whammy bar antics from Catterson, and sleepy, drawling vocals before they launch into some crash bang wallop hard rock, with Archibald getting into full on Paul Rodgers mode.
‘Narcos’ is a steady throb interspersed with spiky chords, during which it becomes evident that Catterson has his own female fan club in the audience.  More to the point though, he’s a guitarist who appears to be usefully intent on providing texture and colour rather than embarking on interminable bouts of shredding.
They slot a dreamy acoustic opening into one offering, before giving it some welly, but Archibald also retains the ability to write something in a Nina Simone-ish late night jazz mood.  Those just serve to leaven the heavy stuff though, as they bring to mind modern rockers like Rival Sons as well as Zeppelin down the closing stretch.  ‘Learn To Love Me’ has a huge riff, and a great strutting bridge featuring a change of tempo, but that’s just a prelude to some unnamed monster with a neck-snapping rhythm, and bright, slithery guitar. ‘Kelso’ Laing makes with a rumbling bass line, and the vocals seem to echo Deep Purple’s reading of ‘Hush’ before they go headlong into a storming conclusion featuring all-action drumming from new boy Reece Braid.
The title track from the EP demonstrates the range of Archibald’s vocals as they veer towards Doors territory, and also underlines his ability to come up with strong melodies and hooks.  (I’m assuming here that he’s still the main writer in their new incarnation.)
The set closer is unnamed, so I’m going to name it.  It’s called ‘Lay This Burden Down’.  Got that, gents?  Again there’s a Led Zeppelin component in evidence, but crossed with the soulfulness of Free – and it’s well and truly a big finish.  For an encore Kelso leads them into a funky groove that may or may not be called ‘Give Me Your Love’, showing off those soulful roots as Archibald makes like Otis.  Sort of.

It’s a brief set, and in truth some of the songs still feel under-developed.  So there’s work to do, even if the adrenaline rush of the occasion made this set a blast.  But the Souls have got a coherent sound, some strong material, and Dave Archibald still has a vocal that can turn heads.  What’s next?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

'Snakehouse', with Bernie Marsden and Safehouse - Stramash, Edinburgh, 24 November 2016

And now for something unique, folks.  It’s Snakehouse – a notion born of a chance conversation at the Edinburgh Blues’N’Rock Festival back in July, when Bernie Marsden agreed that yeah, he quite fancied the idea of doing a show with local band Safehouse, playing a heap of classics by the Allman Brothers, Whitesnake and others.  And why not?
And so here we are in Stramash, with Safehouse opening proceedings with Moby Grape’s ‘Hey Grandma’.  Now, who the hell remembers Moby Grape?  I certainly don’t, though the name seems vaguely familiar.  But I gotta say, you’ll remember this full throated stomper the way that Safehouse deliver it, especially for Chris Peebles’ raunchy vocal.  Peebles comes across as a throwback to somewhere in 70s America, all flailing hair as he gets his rocks
Liz Jones gives an extra dimension to Snakehouse
off to the music, underlining the vibe of Southern rock that’s the Safehouse speciality.
They keep up the good work via a great guitar solo by John Bruce on Big George Watt’s ‘Take A Walk In The Wilderness’, and driving boogie with swirling keys on ‘Can’t You See’, until eventually it’s time for Bernie Marsden to enter the fray.  He demonstrates his subtlety right away with the responsiveness to the vocals of his little fills on ‘Double Trouble’, underlined by the lovely Peter Green feel of his interplay with Bruce after his solo.
There are highlights aplenty as Gary Davidson joins them to provide a twin attack with Sean Scott on drums for the Allman Brothers stuff.  This is serious guitar territory of course, and Bruce and Marsden duet to great effect on an instrumental, before Marsden produces a rollicking solo on ‘Black Hearted Woman’.  Not to be outdone, as they all get tied tight to the ‘Whipping Post’, Bruce lets go with a rip-roaring solo that demonstrates the sheer physicality of his playing.  They close this
Bernie gets down to business
portion of the show with ‘One Way Out’, on which they’re joined by Edinburgh harp supremo Gary Martin, and which frankly achieves an insane intensity from Marsden’s solo onwards.
They come back onstage with a smokin’ version of ‘Hush’, on which Bruce shows his mettle once again on his closing solo, before getting funky with Little Feat’s ‘Spanish Moon’.  Tackling ‘Trouble’ with Chris Peebles on vocals prompts the thought, “David Coverdale, oo’s ‘e then?” before Marsden takes centre stage for a rendition of Robert Johnson’s ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind’, which features some nice interplay with Ali Petrie on keyboards, before Bernie gets down to some serious business in the guitar stakes.  And just to underline his Premier League status, he then demonstrates some exquisite tone on Skynyrd’s ‘Simple Man’.
There’s then another shift in tone as guest vocalist Liz Jones joins the band to deliver top drawer lead vocals on The Animals’ ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s ‘Ain’t No Love (In The Heart Of The City)’, reinstating some verses that Whitesnake forgot (ie, Bernie forgot when he taught it to them).
They wind up proceedings with ‘La Grange’, with two drummers on the go again alongside bassist Andy Stirling, and serving up as meaty a delivery of the riff as Billy Gibbons could hope for.  Encoring with Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’ naturally leads to some mass choir practice for the crowd – though personally I’ll always prefer ‘Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues’.

It’s the end of a wild night of music, a celebration of its simple pleasures, and a night to remember for the Safehouse guys and their compadres.  Call it blues, call it rock, call it what you like – this is what it’s all about.

King King - Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, 25 November 2016

The boys are back in town, and it’s alright now.  King King came to the Queen’s Hall and rocked an enthusiastic crowd that needed no invitation to have a good time in their company.
Any concerns about the state of Alan Nimmo’s voice, after his recuperation from a throat operation caused the cancellation of numerous dates, can be set aside.  He treads carefully on a couple of lines in set opener ‘Lose Control’, easing himself in, but that doesn’t last long.  He may be under doctor’s orders to take it easy, but that doesn’t compromise his vocal performance here.
Alan Nimmo - kilt-swinging blues-soul-funk-rock brother 
The set list mirrors the recent live album, with the omission of ‘Crazy’, and the audience lap it up, asses getting shook on the funky R&B of the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ ‘Wait On Time’, and lungs getting a workout during the singalong on ‘Rush Hour’.
It’s not just about audience participation though.  Alan Nimmo’s guitar solo on ‘Long History Of Love’ may essentially be the same as on the last tour, but tonight it’s a spellbinding, gut-wrenching affair, giving you the feeling that it’s coming from somewhere deep down inside.  I reckon that sense of commitment, of a determination to invest the music with meaning, is a key part of their appeal.
They’re as tight as a duck’s proverbial of course, which helps.  Drummer Wayne Proctor plays a key part in this, although he goes about his business so unobtrusively he may not get the attention he deserves.  He doesn’t just hold things together, he punches things home, giving the twists and turns of their arrangements maximum impact.
Their material also makes them stand out from the herd.  Calling King King a blues-rock band is simplistic.  Their roots may be in the blues, and Alan Nimmo may love classic rockers, but their sound has more facets to it than that.  ‘More Than I Can Take’, for example, is a rock song fashioned out of funk with added corners and sharp edges.  And Nimmo’s ear for a melody and warm voice naturally lead down soulful avenues, to a crossroads where the likes of Deacon Blue and Paul Carrack collide with hard rock.  Welcome to King King, your neighbourhood blues-soul-funk-rock stars.
Mind you, the blues and rock elements are still important, and ‘Stranger To Love’ captures
Wayne Proctor - bringing the big beat
their essence beautifully.  It’s full of passion and dynamics, with a blistering guitar solo that shifts down into ear-straining quiet notes, during which chatterers at the back of the hall are swiftly encouraged to shut up by their neighbours.
All that’s left after that is the kilt-swinging funk of encore ‘Let Love In’, a cue for more dancing and one last bout of audience singing.  There are doubtless newcomers in the hall, but it’s clear that not many of this crowd are casual spectators – they know every word, follow every note.  Sometimes Alan Nimmo looks around the hall, and I sense he’s drinking it in, checking that all these punters really are there for them.  He’d better get used to it – King King are on the verge of something big.
Support band Broken Witt Rebels don’t have King King’s maturity, but they’ve got no shortage of youthful energy.  As they launch into the anthemic opener ‘Low’ singer Danny Core’s sandpaper voice grabs you warmly by the throat, and as a front man he isn’t backward in coming forward.  They may lack subtlety at times, but beneath the bombast they throw some neat flourishes into their arrangements, and ‘Guns’ in particular demonstrates that they can produce a good hook.  It’s all very Kings Of Leon, and they undoubtedly have an audience, evidenced by the air punching and shouts of ‘Up the Rebels!’ in some quarters.  The hipster haircuts and facial hair bemuse me, but then I’m an old git, and I’m sure the little girls will understand.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ian Siegal - La Belle Angele, Edinburgh, 18 November 2016

Welcome back my friends to a tour of the house of blues - with your expert guide and conductor Ian Siegal.
Ian Siegal is the kind of blues artist who travels down both the highways and byways of the form, making connections to related genres as he does so.  So relying entirely on his own material for this tour celebrating 25 years on the road doesn’t stop him referencing other people’s songs along the way.
'I'm not the station, I'm not the tracks, I am the train'
He kicks off with the rumbling bass groove of ‘The Skinny’, before swiftly branching out with the North Mississippi hill country influenced ‘Better Than Myself’, featuring twangy guitar and the first reminder of his top-drawer quality as a wordsmith.  ‘I Am The Train’ is an early audience favourite, a slice of chugging country that sounds like Johnny Cash playing the blues.
‘This Mortal Coil’ is more traditional blues, seriously slowed down, restrained and teasing.  A series of songs from Meat And Potatoes get more upbeat, and explore a variety of rooms in the house of blues.  Siegal’s trademark rasping squeal is let out to play on ‘Brandy Balloon’, its funk inclinations underlined by a positively James Brown-ish conclusion, while  ‘Butterside Up’ sounds like downbeat, late period Stax.  And if ‘Bloodshot’ is essentially R&B out of Chicago, Siegal suddenly steers it to the Thames Delta with a teasing nod to ‘My Generation’ as he slots in half a phrase of ‘people try to put us down’ and catches the audience reflexively completing the line.  “Gets ‘em every time,” he grins.
On ‘Hard Pressed’ drummer Raphael Schwiddessen and bassist Danny Van’t Hoff lay down a groove that treads the path from blues to funk, and then Siegal deepens the groove further by taking a diversion into Prince’s ‘Sign O’ The Times’ and ‘Get Off’.  It’s also a song that demonstrates nicely Siegal’s penchant for paradoxical wordplay.  ‘Sugar Rush’ maintains the vibe, ultimately adding a soul connection by folding in Sam Cooke’s ‘You Send Me’.
All of this is knitted together by Siegal’s gravelly voice, like a Hampshire Howlin’ Wolf.  But as his slide playing on the apocalyptic blues of ‘Revelator’ illustrates, he’s no mean guitar player either.  In fact with regular guitarist Dusty Cigaar replaced for this leg of the tour by
Jed Potts gets into the groove
Joel Fisk, Siegal takes on more lead guitar responsibility than usual, and has the feel to make a great fist of it.
He closes with ‘Falling On Down Again’, another song from Meat And Potatoes – I’d have loved to hear more from Swagger – and I sense that it takes its inspiration from Big George Watt’s ‘Take A Walk In The Wilderness’, which is so often a staple of Siegal’s set.
Let's not ignore the fact that the crowd are well warmed up for the main event by Jed Potts and the Hillman Hunters, accompanied for the occasion by the excellent Husky Horns.  Potts, like Siegal, has a well crafted ability to braid together the threads of roots music, and he and his compadres deliver an accomplished, swinging, good time trip down the Mississippi, incorporating Chuck Berry’s ‘Back To Memphis’, the Dixie Cups’ ‘Iko Iko’, Hank Williams’ ‘Jambalaya’ (yes, The Carpenters had an ear for a classic), and Gary US Bonds’ ‘New Orleans’.  And they round off their set with one of Potts’ own songs, ‘Ain’t It Rough When Your Baby’s In The Huff’, which features some tongue-twisting versifying to underpin its rock solid R’n’B credentials.  More please!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Laurence Jones - The Caves, Edinburgh, 17 November 2016

A hundred and eighty gigs so far this year hasn’t dimmed the enthusiasm of Laurence Jones and his band.  Which is just as well, because that enthusiasm is infectious, and does a lot to sustain their set.
Launching into action with ‘Got No Place To Go’, they immediately demonstrate one of their strengths, with a chunky, funky riff that folds in Roger Inniss’s bass and makes clear early on that drummer Phil Wilson is now well and truly in the groove since joining a year or so ago.  They keep up the good work with ‘Can’t Keep Living Like This’, which features some interestingly twangy guitar in the verse, a huge riff in the bridge, and a Hendrixy solo from Jones.
"I've told you Rog, you can have a bass solo in a minute!"
Jones is a technically impressive guitarist, and he makes good use of effects to add variety to his sound, as on the offbeat, twitchy ‘Something’s Changed’.  He’s also capable of mining a fruitful seam of funk – and why wouldn’t he, when he has the not-so-secret weapon of Roger Inniss and his six-string bass at his disposal? His latest album Take Me High hinted at him going further in this direction, but it’s less in evidence than I expected, which is a pity.
They add a shot of reggae to ‘Something’s Changed’ though, morphing it into ‘I Shot The Sherriff’ as a prelude to more echoes of Clapton with ‘Cocaine’.  ‘Thunder In The Sky’ offers a slow blues epic, which shows off a good sense of space, and also demonstrates that Jones’s voice has come on leaps and bounds over the last couple of years.
There are a couple of good hooks too, on ‘I Will’ and ‘Live It Up’, the latter featuring another novel, squelchy guitar effect.  ‘Addicted To Your Love’ is a slow grind with some howling guitar, and ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ closes the loop with another chunky riff.
I like Laurence Jones and his band, but four albums in it’s time for him to make a big stride forward.  He needs to push beyond the prosaic lyrics evident in a lot of his songs, really connect with things emotionally, and bring that out in his playing.  Strangely, his set omits
Johnny Boos does some finger pickin'
tracks that have that resonance about them, such as the struggle of ‘Down & Blue’ – which I’m sure has personal connotations – or the humour of ‘Stop Moving The House’.  But they encore strongly with the R’n’B of ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’, with it’s mic-less singalong, and I like ‘em.  I’d just like to see what Laurence and co can really do.
Full credit to support band GT’s Boos Band for trying to come up with material that doesn’t plough a predictable furrow.  The punchy opener ‘Seven Questions’ is followed up by the imaginative ‘High N Dry’, with its tempo changes and shimmering passages.  They get well and truly ambitious with the epic feel of ‘Amsterdam’, which has an interesting up tempo segment and atmospheric guitar from Johnny Boos, but begs the question whether the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  A more coherent attempt at doing something adventurous is the set closer ‘What I’m Wishing’, with a powerful closing solo from Boos.  In between, ‘Letham City Blues’ is gutsy, and ‘Real Born Winner’ dishes up some bright rhythm and blues.  I look forward to seeing them add greater consistency to the variety.