Monday, February 27, 2017

Marcus Malone - A Better Man

So you like a bit of blues-rock, do you?  Well get ready to be knocked out by Marcus Malone’s new album A Better Man – and I mean floored by a sound that socks you between the ears with its big, fat production.  I tell you, right from the opening bars of ‘House Of Blues’, with Malone’s soulful baritone surfing a wave of magnificently meaty rhythm guitar from Sean Malone on a son-of-Peter-Gunn riff, this is a sound Martin Birch would have been happy to achieve with Whitesnake.
Marcus Malone and gang give it some stick
It’s tempting to look for comparisons with other artists and bands when listening to A Better Man.  But mostly it sounds like – well, Marcus Malone and his familiar band of co-conspirators.  So get ready for some  rockin’ blues tunes, some walloping good riffs (with the occasional homage, shall we say, to some classics), some spot-on high harmonies, and a few guitar harmony licks into the bargain.  You also get the odd corny lyric here and there, but hey, what the hell?
So check out the massive crunch of the ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’-like riff on the title track.  Check out the slide solos from Stuart Dixon and Julian Burdock and blazing harp from Alan Glen on ‘Too Long Gone’, over Chris Nugent’s shuffling drum rhythm.  Check out the 21st century grandchild of ‘Shakin’ All Over’ that is ‘Philomene’, with its chirping organ from Moz Gamble and winning exhortation to “shimmy shimmy shimmy, shake’n’shake’shake”.  Check out ‘Can’t Go Back’ and its ‘Heartbreaker’ riff.  Check out – well, you get the picture.
Marcus has a few other song-writing strings to his bow though.  There’s the AOR soul of ‘Stand Up (Love Of Life)’ for example.  ‘In Your Arms’ is a Foreigner-style slice of reflection – though with a lead vocal about an octave lower than Lou Gramm – that culminates in a cascade of highly polished vocal harmonies.  ‘Feelin’ Bad Blues’ goes for an easy-going down home porch vibe, opening over a simple, stomping kick drum and featuring honky tonk keys from Gamble. Most remarkably, ‘The Only One’ heads off into Byrds territory, with a psychedelic guitar wig-out from Sean Nolan while Chris Nugent belts the living daylights out of his kit.
I could go on.  The point is that Marcus and chums may not do anything wildly original, but they do it very, very well.  If David Coverdale were able to make an album like this nowadays, instead of fannying about with retreads of Purple tracks, he’d win back a lot of listeners from days gone by.  Mind you, he’d have to match Marcus Malone’s vocals too.

So strap yourself in front of your speakers, and get ready to have the blues rocked out of you!

A Better Man is released by Redline Music on 30 March, and can be pre-ordered from Amazon.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sean Webster Band - Leave Your Heart At The Door

It’s reassuring to find that Sean Webster dedicates Leave Your Heart At The Door to his wife, because otherwise – boy, you’d think the guy had an unhappy love life.  Or to put it rather differently, Webster specialises in dramatic monologues about heartache.  Deceit, despondency, defeat – these themes are his stock in trade, lyrically.
But if that sounds a bit miserable, it should be said that Webster and his pals carry it all off marvellously.  He has the happy knack of his setting these tales to melodies so natural that they sound like someone must surely have written them before.
The eleven tracks here come divided almost equally between soulful slowies and funkier, more upbeat tunes – for all that the words may sound pretty bleak across the piece.
Sean Webster - sure got the blues
So on the one hand we get a plaintive ballad like ‘Wait Another Day’, with its gentle arrangement and a soulful delivery.  On the other there’s the melodic opener ‘Give Me The Truth’, with its “woah-oh-oh” vocal theme, a great blend of guitar and keys, and a tasteful guitar solo from Webster resolving neatly back into the melody.  And there’s ‘You Got To Know’, with its rolling groove and surges of organ from guest keyboard player Bob Fridzema, who adds a few trills of adornment for good measure over the pushy drum rhythm from Joel Purkess.  For once the lyric here is determined rather than desperate, the protagonist insisting on getting the girl to whom the song is addressed.  Either way, Webster’s vocals sell the story in the rasping, emotional manner of Joe Cocker.
A couple of the more downbeat outings may not really hit the mark, but down the stretch the album really hits top gear.  The brisk friends-and-lovers narrative of ‘You Can Say’ is reminiscent of Texas on a good day – although Webster sure is different from Sharleen Spiteri – and builds up to a repeated refrain before fading out.
The title track ‘Leave Your Heart At The Door’ ups the ante in the manner of a top drawer Deacon Blue ballad.  It’s a cautionary tale about the emotional upheavals that await in adulthood, fatalistic about life’s ups and downs – mostly downs – with some nice chiming guitar lines.
Which just leaves the closing double whammy of ‘I Don’t Wanna Talk About It’ and ‘Til’ The Summer Comes Around’.  The former has an insistent groove and great melody, especially on the chorus, and musically could easily be taken for a steamy booty call song.  Lyrically though, this duet with PennyLeen Krebbers has the air of a bedtime conversation in the dark between a couple where the woman has just confessed she’s met someone else.  Dark stuff it’s true, but it doesn’t half develop some rousing momentum.  Album closer ‘Til’ The Summer Comes Around’ meanwhile, is an exquisite reading of Keith Urban’s narrative of young love and estrangement, wistful in the manner of Springsteen’s ‘Sandy’, and with an excellent guitar solo to boot.  Suffice to say it became a favourite of my other half when we caught the Sean Webster Band supporting King King on their recent Netherlands tour.
If you like a bit of bluesy soulfulness, delivered with conviction and great musicianship, Leave Your Heart At Door will surely fit the bill.  Just keep the Kleenex handy.

Leave Your Heart At The Door was released on 24 February 2017.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Taking the Low Road - King King in the Netherlands, Part 3

Dateline: 12 February 2017   Venue: Luxor Live, Arnhem

To be honest, I don’t know what visitors might find interesting about Amersfoort, other than that it’s the birthplace of the modern artist Piet Mondrian, and so home to the Mondriaanhuis museum.  But for whatever reason the sizeable dining room of this business-type hotel on the outskirts of town is heaving for Sunday breakfast.
Suitably fed and watered, it’s off to Arnhem for Sunday’s gig, which involved a replacement bus service part of the way because of engineering works.  It’s all very efficiently done
Let's hope that t-shirt was washed from the night before!
though, and we get dropped off at Arnhem railway station, just across the road from our hotel, the Best Western Haarhuis.  It’s pretty basic, but on the upside it’s handily placed for the town centre, and barely a hundred metres from tonight’s venue.
The snow has stopped, but it’s still brass monkey weather as we set off for a wander round the town centre, and in particular Airborne Plein, the small pedestrian space close to the John Frost Bridge which commemorates the Battle of Arnhem during the Second World War.  If you’ve ever seen the movie A Bridge Too Far, this is the bridge of the title.  Sadly the Airborne Museum is outside town – perhaps another time.
After catching the France v Scotland rugby in an Irish pub – Scotland lost, unfortunately, but the Chouffe beer compensated – there’s just time for a cracking steak in Vlees & Co before heading along the road for the gig.
The show is in the smaller of the two rooms in Luxor Live, a compact ballroom with high ceilings and a good stage, and even though it’s sold out the sight lines are excellent.
Gonna get funky!
Sean Webster and pals open the bill with another impressive set, getting under way with ‘Give Me The Truth’, featuring a strong solo from Webster, and as on previous nights including a convincing reading of ‘Thrill Is Gone’.  ‘Give Me Time’ is well constructed and soulful, and they close with a slinky take on ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’, with guest PennyLeen Krebbers duetting with Webster as she does on the forthcoming album version, helping to turn it into a steamy torch song.  Look out for a review of the album Leave Your Heart At The Door very shortly.
King King come onstage, and there’s an immediate reaction to ‘Lose Control’, signaling that once again this is no casual audience – they’re ready to rumble.  The band are on it from start to finish tonight, but ‘Rush Hour’ in particular catches the ear, right from it’s delicate guitar intro, and as it rolls forward Wayne Proctor and Lindsay Coulson dig out incredibly deep foundations.
By now it just needs the intro to ‘Long History Of Love’ to kill me, and remarkably Alan Nimmo manages to back it up with an even more incendiary guitar solo than the previous night.  It’s the same with ‘You Stopped The Rain’, which provokes dancing, singing, and
Sean Webster and PennyLeen Krebbers get slinky
immersion in its emotion – and again Nimmo nails the last of these with his guitar solo.
As a matter of personal preference I might replace ‘Take A Look’ with ‘What Am I Supposed To Do’ or ‘Taken What's Mine' but apparently it’s Mick the merchandise man’s favourite, and it has to be said that the rising scales at the end are gripping.
Are tonight’s crowd the best behaved ever during the quiet passage in ‘Stranger To Love’?  They must be contenders.  But by now it’s the way Alan Nimmo and Bob Fridzema climb back out of that segment that grabs me, as a preface to the storming solo that brings the song to a close.

It’s the end of the road in the Netherlands for both us and King King.  If the weather was cold the hospitality was warm, and the shows were a blast.  Now, new album coming soon is there?

You can find Part 1 of Taking the Low Road here.
And you can find Part 2 here!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Taking the Low Road - King King in the Netherlands, Part 2

Dateline: 11 February 2017   Venue: Cafe De Noot, Hoogland

Up in the morning for a wander round Breda’s town centre, taking in the wide space, cafes and restaurants of the Grote Markt and also the Grote Kirke, a light and airy cathedral that also lays out the history of the Nassau family and the Princes of Orange.
Then it’s time to hit the road – or to be more accurate the railway – and head for Amersfoort, where King King are playing on the Saturday night.  The Dutch rail service NS is the
Let there be rock!
business, with reasonably priced fares and frequent connections across an extensive network.  So despite a bit of confusion when we get off a stop too early for our connection in Rotterdam, we get to Amersfoort in good time.  The Van Der Valk Hotel A1 is evidently so-named because it’s located on the A1 ring road.  It’s a modern, glossy place, but our motives for being here are reflected in a photo of Mick’n’Keef on the bedroom wall.
The gig is in the next door suburb of Hoogland, and as the snow closes in again we get a taxi to the local eatery De Faam, where I get to sample Wildstoofpot, a tasty casserole of venison, rabbit and (I’m guessing) wild boar, before we make tracks the hundred metres or so to Café de Noot, as the snow gets heavier still.
Café de Noot is a real old-fashioned rock venue, a low-ceilinged, L-shaped room with a cramped, foot-high stage, decorated with musical instruments and posters celebrating everyone from Zeppelin to Buddy Guy, Rory Gallagher and Joe Bonamassa.  It’s also a sell-out tonight, and the two bars are doing a roaring trade.  A De Konincke beer?  I don’t mind if I do!
When Sean Webster and pals get going, Cafe de Noot shows off another asset.  If the sound balance in Breda was spot on, it was also a bit clean.  Here though, it has more oomph, generating the right kind of grit for a blues-rock gig.
Webster and co manage to squeeze out a bit more time tonight, and they impress again
with the sensitive narrative quality of Keith Urban's ‘Til' The Summer Comes Around’ and the bump’n’grind of ‘I Don’t Wanna Talk About It’, on which Webster’s vocals assume an eye-popping intensity.

Then King King are onstage and plugging in, as usual to the strains of ‘Alright Now’, and it says something about this crowd that they need no second invitation from Alan Nimmo to join in with the Free classic.  These punters are here to have a good time.
Lindsey Coulson gets in the groove
They’re damned tall punters too, some of them, and though I’m barely 2 metres from the stage there’s a good deal of head-tilting required to keep Nimmo in view.  But it really doesn’t matter, because by the time they get through a floor-shaking ‘Lose Control’ and into ‘Wait On Time’, it’s clear that tonight King King are cooking on gas.  Notes?  Feck taking notes!
There’s more urgency apparent tonight as they get to grips with ‘Waking Up’, with Nimmo getting his monitor level fixed with a nod and a wink to the sound desk without breaking stride.  His solo on ‘Long History Of Love’ is electrifying, even if some of the audience are a bit too vocal during the quiet section, leading him to suggest in his polite Glasgow manner that if they want to talk all night they can go outside and do it in the snow.
The room is rocking again for ‘More Than I Can Take', the place getting sweaty by now, and on ‘You Stopped The Rain’ Wayne Proctor’s drums seem to be driving Alan Nimmo to even greater heights on his closing solo.
In fact tonight I get more of an opportunity to pay attention to Proctor’s drumming, not least on ‘Take A Look’.  In some ways he’s an unobtrusive sort, not one for crashing around an array of cymbals – he only has two, for a start.  There are drummers I’ve seen who pay close attention to their guitarist, following their moves and underlining solos with little stings and flourishes, and they can be great at it.  Proctor doesn’t do that.  He doesn’t watch Alan Nimmo – in fact half the time his eyes are half-closed, as if he’s feeling the core of the song and bringing his drumming from somewhere deep down underneath to push it exactly where it needs to go.  Alan Nimmo may lead King King from the front, but Wayne Proctor is one hell of a back seat driver.
Alan Nimmo just about to lose control
On ‘All Your Life’ Nimmo gets into finger-snapping jazz-band leader mode as urges Bob Fridzema to “Go Bobby”, while Proctor amuses Lindsay Coulson with his own more pithy encouragements to Bob.
Proctor’s drumming in the middle of ‘Stranger To Love’ is immense, and the crowd are on their best behaviour during Nimmo’s sotto voce guitar solo, with no further threats of expulsion required.
There’s no messing about tonight with lengthy exits before an encore – God alone knows where the dressing room is, but it may require a trip outside.  So they only take the briefest of breathers before bringing the night to a close with ‘Let Love In’, to which the crowd add lusty vocal assistance.  Then it’s time for another drink – yep, a De Konincke will do nicely, thanks – before heading out into the snow.
King King should really be playing in bigger places than Café de Noot, as they are nowadays back in Britain.  But for now it’s great to catch them up close and personal, rocking a genuine rock’n’roll joint.

Next stop – Arnhem!

You can find Part 1 of Taking the Low Road here.
And Part 3 here.