Monday, December 26, 2016

The Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking 2016 - Part 2

Christmas dinner fully digested?  Good, because here come few more platters of goodies.
You could call 2016 the Year of the Nimmos.  If Stevie Nimmo came up with my favourite studio album of 2016, his brother Alan’s outfit King King released a live album to rank alongside classics of the genre.   To put the icing on the cake, I was there at the Glasgow O2ABC gig in May when it was recorded, so I can testify to the fact that King King Live captured all the crackling intensity of that night.
Jo Harman lets her hair down
The support act on that tour, Dan Patlansky, turned plenty of heads with his live performances.  He also delivered an album, Introvertigo, that emphasised the waves made by its predecessor, Dear Silence Thieves - way more modern than your average blues-rocker, Boo Boo.  Wondering what sounds King King and Patlansky might make if they played together?  Well here they are, giving it big licks on the last night of that tour, with ‘Little Wing’.
A more rough and ready purveyor of originality was Big Boy Bloater, with his album Luxury Hobo.  Founded on R’n’B shot through with pub-rock Estuary Englishness, it still manages to fold in some other musical horizons.  Sadly I had to miss out on an opportunity to see Bloater live.  But the Bloat also does a nice line in quirky videos, so here he is with his band the Limits giving us ‘I Love You (But I Can’t Stand Your Friends)’.  Ah yes, a good old fashioned ‘brackets’ title!
Summertime brought the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, one of the highlights of which was Mr Sipp, the self-styled Mississippi Blues Child.  Now here is a guy who knows how to take classic electric blues and put on a show full of personality.  Check out this award-winning performance from the 2014 International Blues Challenge for evidence.
Vintage Trouble go native in Glasgow
From the Jazz & Blues Festival to the Edinburgh Blues’N’RockFestival, which furnished an early sighting of local band The Rising Souls in their newly electrified four-piece incarnation.  By the time the autumn came they were releasing a new four-track EP - featuring the title track 'Set Me Free' in the course of an impressively taut launch gig full of brand new material.  If you fancy the idea of Led Zeppelin having a love affair with Aretha Franklin, as they put it, then keep tabs on them in 2017.
Singer-songwriter and soul siren Jo Harman also pitched up at the Blues’N’Rock Festival, walking a tightrope between hold-your-breath sensitive ballads and shake-yer-booty bluesy soul.  Next year is a big one for Harman, whose much-touted second studio album People We Become is scheduled for release in February.  Three years have passed since her widely applauded debut Dirt On My Tongue, and it’s time for her to live up to her promise.  Here she is giving it big licks on ‘Through TheNight’.

What better way to close the Christmas Stocking than with American soul’n’blues stirrers Vintage Trouble?  Blues Enthused will actually be seeing out the year with them at their New Year’s Eve gig at the Sage Gateshead, and if they’re as good as they were at the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow during the summer then it should be a helluva Hogmanay party.  Get in the festive mood with VT in festival mode, at Glastonbury 2015.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking 2016 - Part 1

'Twas the night before Christmas, and time to concoct a winter warmer of blues, as a thank you to everyone who’s found their way here to Blues Enthused, and to all the bands and artists who made it possible.
Stevie Nimmo gets gallus in Glasgow
So let’s start by giving it up for Stevie Nimmo, who delivered my favourite studio album of the year with Sky Won’t Fall.  It’s got variety, it’s beautifully produced by Wayne Proctor and his House O’Tone chums, but above all it’s emotionally real.  The Stevie Nimmo Trio also delivered the goods on the road, and it was a delight to catch them in Glasgow and later Edinburgh, where they were joined at the end of the night by Stevie’s brother Alan.  Check out this performance of the mesmerising 'Running Back To You' from his run of Spring UK dates.
Another top drawer album this year was Dust And Bones, from Gary Hoey.  To be honest I’m not sure I gave Dust And Bones enough credit when it was released, because in retrospect it stands up damn well alongside the cream of 2016 albums.  Hoey sure as well knows his way around a fretboard, and his album does due diligence on a range of blues styles.  And as luck would have it, he also likes a festive ditty, so here he is a few years back giving big licks to ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’.  (We’ll forgive him the haircut.)
There was lots of good stuff going on in the middle of the year, not least the visit of Joe Louis Walker to these shores.  I was lucky enough to be able to do a short interview with JLW, before seeing him deliver a belter of a show at Dingwall’s in London – it was a privilege to see such a premier performer of electric blues, accompanied by his crack band.  From the same set of UK dates, here they are playing ‘Young Girl Blues’ during a soundcheck for their gig at The Convent.
The summer also gave us the first Edinburgh Blues’N’Rock Festival, one of the highlights of
Joe Louis Walker delivers day-glo blues!
which was the set by the Bernie Marsden Band, who rocked the joint good and proper – check out this version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’, complete with Bernie’s typically humorous introduction.  Not content with that, Bernie formed an alliance with fellow Festival performers Safehouse, and returned to Edinburgh for a unique night of Southern rock meets blues-rock under the banner of 'SnakeHouse' that was a blast for all concerned.  Here they are doing ‘Trouble’, with Safehouse vocalist Chris Peebles demonstrating that he could give a certain Mr C a run for his money.
Let’s hear it for the ladies too, with a nod to American vocalist Sari Schorr.  Having paid her dues over the years, Schorr got together with producer Mike Vernon and guitarist Innes SIbun to deliver her impressive debut album A Force Of Nature.  They’ve followed up with a lengthy stretch of well-received gigs by Sari Schorr & The Engine Room, which will hopefully reach venues near more of us in 2017.  Meantime, here’s a snippet of the album, and some chat from the winning Ms Schorr.
Let’s close for now by taking a look forward to the New Year.  I didn’t get round to reviewing Chicago blues man Toronzo Cannon’s album The Chicago Way, but it’s an up to the minute take on the classic Chicago seam of the genre, ranging from social commentary in ‘The Pain Around Me’ to relationship humour in the likes of ‘Bad Contract’.  Cannon is coming to Britain for the first time in the humour for a short run of dates – catch him if you can.

That’s all for now folks, except just for a festive laugh here's David Coverdale reading 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas' - honest!  Part 2 of the Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking will be with you soon.  Meantime - Merry Christmas!

Toronto Cannon's UK dates are:
19 January - Edinburgh Blues Club
20 January - Goin' Up The Country, Overton, Wrexham
21 January - The Great British Rock & Blues Festival, Skegness

Stevie Nimmo is touring France in February and the UK in March 2017.

Sari Schorr is touring Europe and the UK in early 2017.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Aynsley Lister - The Caves, Edinburgh, 18 December 2016

Aynsley Lister may tread the boards of the blues circuit, but he sure as hell doesn’t dwell at the grit’n’raunch end of the blues spectrum.  What Mister Lister serves up is smooth and sophisticated cuisine, not pub grub.
Aynsley Lister - let me tell you a story 
The opening instrumental is funky, and strong on dynamics, with hints of SRV and nice keys from Andy Price.  But most importantly it immediately signals the clarity of Lister’s guitar tone.  The show that follows is bookended by one of Lister’s specialities, a brand of supremely catchy, funky white soul that recalls Hall and Oates, maybe, with added guitar spice.  ‘Inside Out’ puts down a marker, and ‘Other Part Of Me’ has more oomph than on recent album Eyes Wide Open, but at the end of the set ‘Stay’ and ‘All Of Your Love’ stand out, the former with a distinctive “yahoo” garnish to the verse, and the latter with its chunky, ringing guitar riff.  All of which are well suited to Lister’s polished, pitch perfect vocals - even when he's struggling with a cold.
In between, he gets into storytelling mode both lyrically and musically on the likes of ‘Il Grande Mafioso’, on which he makes good use of vibrato while conjuring up a seedy, underworld vibe.  By the same token ‘Early Morning Dew’, from his 2009 album Equilibrium, perfectly captures the perspective of a slow lane observer of the rush hour.
‘Hyde 2612’ puts together some different ingredients, as Lister hauls out a semi-acoustic guitar to deliver a big sound, adding touches of slide in the course of some guitar/bass interplay with Steve Amadeo as a precursor to an impressively varied solo, before taking things down to just guitar and drums.
There’s a touch of boogie to ‘Sugar’, featuring a tongue-in-cheek guitar and piano duel between Lister and Price, but it’s the swing they bring to the blues that stands out on both ‘Quiet Boy’ and Muddy’s ‘Champagne And Reefer’, with Price nicely upping the jazz quotient on piano, and Boneto weighing in emphatically with swinging drums.  In fact the longer the night goes on the more Dryden shines.  He doesn’t just knit the sound together beautifully with Amadeo, he underscores the funk and swing in the arrangements, shifting rhythms to great effect in the fiery encore of ‘Purple Rain’.
Derek Smith cruises down Main Street
If I have one wish for the next time I see Aynsley Lister, it’s that he finds a space to take some bigger risks and shoot for the moon and from the heart.  The guy is a Premier League guitarist, a top-drawer bandleader, and an adventurous songwriter.  And I think he’s still got more gears at his fingertips.

On the undercard, Main Street Blues deliver the kind of earthy, rocking blues that’s right up my thoroughfare.  I can’t say I was familiar with Coco Montoya’s ‘Last Dirty Deal’ or Walter Trout’s ‘Broken Heart’ before, but these guys give them both a gutsy, early British blues-rock feel, hinging on the mix of Derek Smith’s guitar and Iain Hanna’s organ sound, and underpinned by the well-grooved rhythm section of John McEvoy on drums and John Hay on bass.  The self-penned ‘Cold Bed’ has a surging riff and an air of Robben Ford’s ‘Howlin’ At The Moon’, and stands up well alongside a soulful reading of Albert King’s ‘Breaking Up Somebody’s Home’.  Catch ‘em if you can.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Blues For Rowan Alba - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 11 December 2016

“At Christmas we buy a £10 present for our service users.  It may be the only present they get, and it may just be £10 for the electricity” - Helen Carlin, CEO of Scottish homelessness charity Rowan Alba.

Edinburgh Blues Club supports Rowan Alba throughout the year, but tonight a gig featuring five local bands provides the opportunity to do a little bit more.  Offering some support for the homeless can still be a fun experience though, right?
Logan's Close do that thing they do
It certainly can, when a band like Logan’s Close are on stage.  At first blush, with their sharp suits, retro guitars and boyish looks, “Beatles tribute band” springs to mind.  Wrong.  This lot aren’t into lazy imitation.  They get gleefully wired into this stuff like they’ve time travelled back to the early Sixties and felt the excitement British kids had for the R’n’B and rock’n’roll sounds coming out of the States.
So right off the bat they come up with an engaging, jagged reading of Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I Say’, and later they come up with a stonking version of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, before slipping in a cover of something by Lee Dorsey that’s new to me but will have me researching his repertoire pretty damn soon.
This stuff is interspersed with originals that fit like a glove.  ‘Dance In The Dark’ is set to a stomping Latino beat, and brings to mind the knowing affection for the Sixties and joie de vivre of the Tom Hanks movie That Thing You Do. It’s the same with the harp’n’harmonies
The smoky and sophisticated Laurence Murray
fun of ‘Ticket Man’, the Fab Four-meets-Chuck of ‘C’mon Pretty Lady’, and the jungle rhythm of ‘Mine All Mine’.  I know it’s only rock’n’roll, but this ain’t half bad.
Closing proceedings the Laurence Murray Project offer a complete contrast with a laid back but precise sound that suggests – oh, Steely Dan maybe?  Right from the off they’ve got a good sound all round, playing with a nicely smoky feel, and a wonderfully clear tone to Laurence Murray’s guitar.  A song that they liken to an Eagles B-side offers some good riffs and neat shifts in tempo, and the more straight-ahead blues of ‘Things That I Used To Do’ emphasises their polish, as well as the fact that Murray’s voice also has a smoky quality.  His voice works well on a cover of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ too, without them putting much of a personal stamp on it.  So when a new tune towards the end of the set offers a bit more attack it’s more than welcome – a bit more of that oomph to match their technical proficiency wouldn’t go amiss.
Earlier, Dead Broke And Dirty open up with a take on Alabama 3’s Sopranos theme, ‘Woke Up This Morning’, delivered in a spooky boogie mode.  It’s a prelude to some country folk style stomp on ‘Break Free’, directed at Donald Trump - a seam they mine further on ‘Rattlesnake Roll’, which feels a bit like cowgirl punk a la Lone Justice.  In between, a cover of ‘I Put A Spell On You’ fits the same endearingly ramshackle sound - which you could call rough as a badger’s arse, but in a good way.  And hey, I’ve always got time for a band that are moved to play ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’.
Becky Pilcher gets Celtic
The Becky Pilcher Blues Band deliver some guitar led blues across a range of covers.  Ms P captures a nicely Celtic feel with her fingerpicking on Rory Gallagher’s ‘A Million Miles Away’, to which she adds some effective weeping effects on her solo.  Her rhythm section impress consistently, and compadre Calum Stevenson gets on board to offer some suitably Hendrixy guitar sounds on ‘Voodoo Chile’ to which the two of them add some good vocal harmonies.
Opening the evening, Nobody’s Business take a more vocal orientated approach to some blues classics, covering all the bases from Dr Feelgood to BB King, SRV, Albert King and even the Allman Brothers, on a version of ‘Whipping Post’ that shows off some slinky bass playing as well as characterful vocals.
Ultimately this was a night on which some local bands got the chance to strut their stuff.  But more than that, they managed to pull in a crowd that raised £1130 for a good cause.  Being able to contribute to that, as artist or audience, is a good thing, and we’re lucky to be able to do it.  As Helen Carlin noted, in the course of expressing her appreciation, “it’s massively unlikely you’ll ever need our services”. Sadly though, plenty people do.

For more details of the work done for the homeless by Rowan Alba, visit their website: www.rowanalba.org

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Starlite Campbell Band - Blueberry Pie

Picture this, a day in December.  On the bus to work at dark o’clock.  Stick the earphones in, and give a first listen to an album sent to you by some band you’ve never heard of. And then - hold the phone.  This is really, really good.
As album titles go, Blueberry Pie sounds too sweet to be wholesome.  But don’t be fooled.  This outing by the band formed by the wonderfully named Suzy Starlite and her other half Simon Campbell - a British Blues Award nominee in 2011 – is satisfying like a good malt whisky.  It may be comforting, warm and familiar, but it also has depth and bite.
"Aargh - the feedback, Suzy!" - the Starlite Campbell Band get down and dirty
Opening track ‘Walkin’ Out The Door’ comes across like a mash-up between ‘Green Onions’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’.  And if you think that sounds derivative, think again.  It’s knowing and clever, with a languid vocal by Campbell and extended, warped guitar notes from him to decorate the opening verses, progressing to a controlled, focused injection of soloing.
There’s a decidedly British Blues sensibility at work here, exploring a variety of different blues dimensions along the way.  ‘You’re So Good For Me’ rides in on a crunch of fuzzy guitar, leading up to a zinging solo over swells of Hammond organ, and a teasing bridge to a solo by keyboard player Jonny Henderson – who’s a perfect foil for Campbell’s guitar from start to finish.  But underpinning all of that there’s another hint of Sixties soul, in the vein of ‘Treat Her Right’ or ‘Mr Pitiful’.
A blast of harp from special guest Danny Boy Sanchez heralds a Chicago R&B angle to ‘Say What You Want’, but with sharp, original lyrics that give it an original twist: “Information is a bitter sweet fix / We used to wrap it in fish and chips”.  ‘Cry Over You’ is a slowie with a piercing guitar intro that brings to mind Gary Moore in ballad mode, and interestingly staccato vocal phrasing that may indicate why Campbell’s Blues Award nomination was in the vocal department.  His voice may not be earth-shattering or unique, but he knows what he’s about, evidenced by the pleasingly smoky quality he brings to ‘I Need A Light’, complementing the jazzy mood conjured up by Steve Gibson’s pattering drums and Suzy Starlite’s slinky bass.
The balance in the material is also demonstrated by excursions into Freddie King territory with the instrumental ‘Shimmy’, developing variations on a spiky guitar theme, and at the other extreme ‘Thrill You’, which is laid back blues in the manner of ‘Come Rain Or Come Shine’, featuring another smoky vocal and a good organ solo and accompaniment from Gibson.  ‘Empire’, meanwhile, is a driving and glossy take on R&B, with a fuzzy ascending riff and a stinging guitar solo.
The title track touches on Campbell’s acoustic blues interests, with nice vocal harmonies and a measured garnishing of slide, and Ms Starlite gets a featured vocal of her own on ‘Guilty’, to which Campbell adds another controlled, piercing guitar solo, perfectly fitted to the song.
Blueberry Pie isn’t ground-breaking, or wildly adventurous, but it knows where it’s coming from. It’s also fresh and modern, it’s witty and literate, it swings and it rocks, and it’s well-nigh perfectly executed.  Hell, even the cover photograph is sparky.  To paraphrase Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks, this Blueberry Pie is worth a stop.

Blueberry Pie is released by Supertone Records on 1 February 2017.