Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Listened to lately . . .

Time to catch up on a couple of albums from the last year that slipped by without any Blues Enthused comment, but first of all a new single from a familiar name.

Mollie Marriott – Control/Truth Is A Wolf
Put Steve Marriott out of your mind.  Mollie Marriott isn’t some raucous blues-rock bawler like her dad.  As this single from her forthcoming album Truth Is A Wolf demonstrates, she’s
Mollie Marriott - blonde ambition
Pic by Rob Blackham
much more in Jo Harman territory, vocally and stylistically.  Co-written with Sam Tanner of Brother Strut, ‘Control’ kicks off in the vein of a modern work song, over a steady, throbbing drumbeat, while Marriott’s voice swoops and soars over it.  Gradually the tempo picks up, some impressive backing vocals add depth, and a gritty guitar solo puts icing on the cake.  ‘Truth Is A Wolf’ is a slower, haunting effort with a bluesy edge, on which Marriott demonstrates excellent vocal control as she imitates a wolf-like howl – in an entirely musical fashion, I should make clear.  These two tracks from Ms Marriott represent a promising overture for the album to come.


Truth Is A Wolf is released on 3 November.
Mollie Marriot tours the UK supporting Bad Touch in November and December.

Selwyn Birchwood – Pick Your Poison
Floridian Selwyn Birchwood’s first album Alligator album in 2014, Don’t Call No Ambulance, was a strong calling card, and if anything this follow-up released back in May is even stronger.  ‘Trial By Fire’ kicks off the album with Othar Turner-like fife and drums as an intro to a distinct air of hypnotic North Mississippi hill country, a slitheringly convincing first stop on a tour of blues styles.  Birchwood’s lap steel guitar gets a rollicking workout on ‘Guilty Pleasures’, while they do a nice mash up of funk and a reggae beat on the title track, and ‘Reaping Time’ follows in an old blues tradition - the solemn contemplation of death.
It’s all drawn together by Birchwood’s gravelly voice, and a meaty sound bolstered by the sax playing of Regi Oliver.  Musically the material is both original and mature, and Birchwood also has a knack for a lyric, getting fiery with the political statement of ‘Police State’, and witty on the likes of the gospelly, N’Awlins-tinged ‘Even The Saved Need Saving’.  No two ways about it, Selwyn Birchwood is a rising star.

Fantastic Negrito – The Last Days Of Oakland
I bought Fantastic Negrito’s latest offering last year, but somehow it slipped my mind for ages afterwards.  Which is a shame, because it’s as adventurous an affair as his earlier Fantastic Negrito Deluxe EP, reviewed here back in 2015.  Multi-instrumentalist Negrito allies old blues stylings – going all the way back to the haunting traditional folk song ‘In The Pines’, popularised by Lead Belly among others – to loops and beats to create something that may not be unique, but manages to sound old-fashioned and modern at the same time.

If truth be told he overdoes the work song notion a bit, but there’s still plenty of mileage in the rock steady bass and drums, falsetto vocals and keyboard trills of ‘Working Poor’, the cantering syncopation of ‘Scary Woman’, and the Prince-like juddering staccato of ‘Hump Thru The Winter’.  Reprised from the EP, ‘Lost In A Crowd’ veers from tense stomp to wistful refrain, while ‘Rant Rushmore’ goes the other way with a fragile verse belying bitter, twisted lyrics before crashing into a heavy chorus.  Fantastic Negrito may not have quite cracked the formula yet, but he’s got enough going on to give Gary Clark Jnr a run for the money in the blues-meets-beats stakes.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

JW-Jones - High Temperature

Got an album you stick on at times, that isn’t so downright irresistible that it has you singing your head off or doing bad dancing around the living room, but it’s still really good?  I don’t mean just okay.  I mean dependably, enjoyably good.  I think High Temperature, the new album from Canadian blues guitarist and singer JW Jones, may well fall into that category.
JW Jones - knows his way around a guitar
For a start, it features a good range of well-crafted, varied songs.  Produced by Grammy Award winner Colin Linden, also musical director of the TV series Nashville, it’s perhaps natural that its core it has a trio of country-tinged songs. ‘Away Too Long’ leads the way with its bright vibe and twangy guitar licks, followed by ‘Same Mistakes’, with its neat lyrics and nice organ work, and then the more reflective song of resignation ‘Leave Me Out’.  The latter features appealing piano from Kevin McKendree and a dash of lap steel, while Jones nails the storytelling country-style vocal.  He may not have an outstanding voice, but what he’s got he uses well, with personality and the ability to sell a song.
There are more hints of country elsewhere, but it’s not all Nashville-style.  Far from it.  Opener ‘The Price You Pay’ meanders and splutters into life in a distinctly Stonesy fashion, and maintains that mood with bursts of honky tonk piano and a decidedly Keef-like solo. Closer ‘Wham’ is a different proposition, an instrumental that recalls Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘Travis Walk’ – a bit of a throwaway ending, in truth, fun though it is.
In between, the title track is a lightweight but enjoyable swinging shuffle, nicely driven along by drummer Bryan Owings, and featuring a great, old-fashioned rock’n’roll solo from Jones, with some jokey asides.  In contrast ‘Who I Am’ is a cool and introspective tale of a tough childhood and the positive influences that resulted in some solid adult values.  Autobiographical or not, it’s well put together lyrically, with reflective yet expansive guitar work played over swells of organ.  ‘Midnight Blues’, meanwhile, is an upbeat piece of bluesy rock’n’roll’n’pop with a catchy riff, and wouldn’t sound out of place on Samantha Fish’s Sixties R’n’B homage Chills & Fever.
Down the stretch there’s more variety in the form of ‘Already Know’, with its Motown-ish soul-pop verses, and Jones trying out a falsetto vocal to good effect.  Better still, ‘Where Do You Think I Was’ is an ironic road song over a Lizzy-style stop-time riff, winking at perceptions of the glamour of touring.
As you should have gathered by now, Jones peppers this material with entertaining guitar work, convincingly firing off licks in a range of different styles – makes me wish I’d caught him live a year or so back, when I last had the chance.  A couple of the thirteen songs may not add much to the equation, but overall High Temperature – naff title by the way – is a good album.  A genuinely, enjoyably good album.

High Temperature is released on Solid Blues Records on 20 October 2017.
JW Jones starts an 18-date UK tour on 23 November 2017 - details here.

You can read Blues Enthused's exclusive November 2017 interview with JW-Jones here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

King King - Exile & Grace

In which the King King boys go unashamedly rocktastic.  But then, is that really such a departure?
Alan Nimmo says Exile & Grace has a rockier feel and sound to it than their earlier output.  But the truth is that there’s always been a hard-hitting side to King King.  Go back to debut album Take My Hand – and hey, if you’ve only recently got on the KK bus, you really should – and you’ll find that it bolts out of the traps with three blasts of rocked-up R’nB headed up by live favourite ‘Lose Control’.  And they’re backed up later by ‘I’ll Fight My
Way’ and ‘Broken Heal’, just in case you didn’t get the drift.  So in the immortal words of Tom Jones, what’s new pussycat?
Well okay, so they’ve traded a measure of bluesy swing for a dollop of sheer rock oomph.  But trust me, the oomph works on the likes of ‘(She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’’ and ‘Long
Exile & Grace - laid back it isn't it
Time Running’.  There’s simply no arguing with the lead single, which rides in merrily on a neck-snapping riff, jackhammer drums from Wayne Proctor, swathes of Jon Lord-ish organ from Bob Fridzema, and a brief but squealing guitar solo from Alan Nimmo.  Lyrically it’s not Shakespeare, but that never stopped ‘Tutti Frutti’ being a rock’n’roll classic, did it?  ‘Long Time Running’ bursts into life with a catchy riff, interlaced with endearingly music box keyboard frills, and features some changes of gear from Wayne Proctor to keep you on your toes.  But more to the point, both songs have dynamite hooks that will have all and sundry singing their little heads off when they’re played live.
There’s a dark undertow present too though, to complement these grabbers.  The key words to describe both ‘Broken’ and ‘Betrayed Me’ are “tough and tense”.  ‘Broken’ explores state-of-the-world lyrical territory, in a fashion that’s the bleak flip side of brother Stevie Nimmo’s similarly gritty ‘Chains Of Hope’.  Meanwhile ‘Betrayed Me’ kicks off with interesting guitar tones from Nimmo played off against delicate piano colourings from Fridzema, which then develop into brooding swells of organ as the tension builds.  It’s a grower in a similar vein to ‘Stranger To Love’, with an intriguingly bitter lyric, and has the potential to become something mountainous live.
‘Find Your Way Home’ is a big power ballad, with a vibe carried largely by Fridzema’s Hammond that draws on 80s AOR as much as the blues.  As it progresses it develops an epic quality, but the big finish it hints at is never quite delivered.  Young Bob also has a Stevie Wonder-ish hand in the funkiness of closing track ‘I Don’t Wanna Lie’, which offers another earworm of a melodic chorus.  It brings the album to a close with an oddly perfunctory ending though, which suggests the sequencing could have been better.
Elsewhere, 'Heed The Warning' is full of muscular swagger, built on sturdily dovetailed chords from Nimmo’s guitar and Fridzema’s organ, and is a good each way bet to take over from ‘Lose Control’ as a set opener of choice.  ‘Tear It All Up’, celebrating the live experience of supporting Thunder in big venues, has a chunky riff pushed along by Lindsey Coulson’s pulsing bass, and is elevated by a decidedly Thunder-ous mid-section, but it begs for a more roof-raising chorus. And 'Nobody Knows Your Name' is a low-life-in-high-places type tale, set to a jagged Bad Company style riff over more bubbling bass from Mr Coulson.
As a card-carrying member of the Standing In The Shadows Appreciation Society, I know King King are capable of more emotional depth than is evident here, and there's a studio album coming some time when they give us everything they've got and leave us gasping on the canvas.  But Exile & Grace, like Reaching For The Light before it, takes a big stride towards conquering the broader horizons of classic rock.  So for maximum pleasure, turn the volume up.  Louder.  I said LOUDER!  Go on, you know it makes sense.

Exile & Grace is available for pre-order now:
Amazon LP: http://amzn.to/2fL0yeN 
Amazon CD: http://amzn.to/2wa1UGL 
iTunes: http://bit.ly/KKE_G
Merch bundles: https://kingking.tmstor.es/

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Pretty Things and Mike Sanchez - Edinburgh Blues'N'Rock Festival, 29 July 2017

It’s well into the evening at the Corn Exchange, and after a belter of a set from the Stevie Nimmo Trio it’s time for those Sixties veterans The Pretty Things.
They get the ball rolling with a bundle of R’n’B, including their own short and sweet ‘Honey I Need’, and ‘Mama Keep Your Big Shout’ which features rippling guitar from original member Dick Taylor and a great bass riff from George Woosey.  They also turn out an idiosyncratic take on ‘Big Boss Man’, with a harp solo from second guitarist Frank Holland and some nifty guitar work from Taylor, who cuts a stooped figure but has evidently got the spirit.
Dick Taylor and Phil May - pretty young things
But while the Pretty Things had their roots in the R’n’B scene of the early Sixties, they also delved into more experimental fare as the decade wore on.  Consequently they progress to songs like ‘Same Sun’, which provides an echo of the earlier set by Miracle Glass Company, followed by something heavier, wilder and more psychedelic that I suspect was ‘We’ll Play House’.  It’s good, but also points towards a particularly English style of whimsical psychedelia that just isn’t my cup of Joe.  So ‘She’s Next Door’ benefits from some chiming guitar lines and a pleasantly wonky Strat solo from Frank Holland, but the title track from their cult classic album S.F. Sorrow really doesn’t do it for me, while to my ears ‘I See You’ is just yawnsome.
Things buck though when they get back on the authentic R’n’B beat with ‘Can’t Be Satisfied’, propelled by a stomping bass drum from Jack Greenwood.  Taylor adds acoustic slide to that, and does an even tastier job with it on Robert Johnson’s ‘Come In To My Kitchen’, a song that always repays sensitive handling.
Phil May then announces that it’s time for them to get into Bo Diddley mode, and things duly get more electric on ‘Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover’.  ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ shows off the originality of Diddley’s material, with the band’s young dudes Woosey and Greenwood hunkering down and delivering bucket loads of energy, while Phil May lets loose with the trademark vocal squawk that can be heard on many a PT recording.
‘Ramona’ is based on the typical Bo Diddley beat, and could just as easily be ‘Not Fade Away’ or ‘Bo Diddley’ itself, but is set apart here by some call and response guitar and bass between Taylor and Woosey, and a powerhouse drum solo from Greenwood.  Which just leaves time for them to bow out with ‘Big City’, with its rousing chorus and an explosive finish.
I must confess that Mike Sanchez has passed me by before now, despite the fact that the piano man has been a long time associate of the likes of Mick Fleetwood, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, and a member of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings.  I imagine their interest is due to his authentic feel for old-fashioned rock’n’roll, judging by his performance here.
If he eases in with the boogie woogie of ‘Back To The Highway’, he’s soon cranking it up.  ‘Red Hot Mama’ is driving rock’n’roll, while on ‘I Get So Hungry’ he and his band pick up the
Mike Sanchez does some ivory tinkling
swing baton from Deke McGee, with some corny lyrics worthy of Louis Jordan.  ‘I’m Ready’ has more of a Fats Domino feel than the wildness of Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis, and Sanchez demonstrates that he has a good voice for it.   Contrastingly, there’s a New Orleans vibe to ‘Rock Rock Rock’, with a great tenor sax solo from Martin Winning just one illustration of what a crack band Sanchez has.
Coming down the stretch it’s just a catalogue of hits from all quarters, kicking off with an unusual take on John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boom Boom Boom’ that suddenly switches into ‘Shake Your Hips’, which is where Black Cat Bone started the day nine hours earlier.  Sanchez then embarks on a rollicking medley of Bo Diddley songs interspersed with god knows what else, including the likes of ‘Tequila’, ‘Oh Well’ and ‘Black Betty’.
By now it’s getting late, and a fatigued crowd is starting to thin out, but Sanchez keeps pounding it out for a while longer, concluding with a finale that includes ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ and ‘Wild One’.  It’s a good rockin’ end to the night, but as with Deke McGee it feels rather lost in a big room like the Corn Exchange.  If I ever see Mike Sanchez again, I want it to be some place where the walls are sweating and the audience has a heaving dance floor shaking.  That’s where this stuff would get really red hot, mama.


Friday, August 4, 2017

The Afternoon Session - Edinburgh Blues'N'Rock Festival, 29 July 2017

Two o’clock, tick tock.  It’s curtain up for the second edition Edinburgh Blues’N’Rock Festival, and this time around it’s local boys Black Cat Bone doing the opening act honours, with their distinctive brand of “alt blues rock’n’roll”.
And what that means right now is that their take on the much-covered Slim Harpo choon ‘Shake Your Hips’ (aka ‘Hip Shake Baby’), is a chugging, head-on collision between the
Black Cat Bone - not what you'd call pretty in pink
grungy hard rock and old fashioned R’n’B, overlaid with the growling vocals and howling harp of front man Ross Craig.
Their mix of new songs and tracks taken from their 2015 album Growl exploits a deliciously big, greasy, dirty groove laid down by the two guitars of Luis Del Castillo and Charlie Wild, and the bass and drums of Jonny Voodoo and Kai Wallace.  They need to take care though that the groove doesn’t turn into a rut in which everything sounds the same.
Highlights include ‘Remiss’, on which a bluesy slow guitar intro gives way to a stomp’n’grind that begins to suggest the Doors inhabiting a very dark place.  ‘Punks Not Pushers’ manages to roll to a different rhythm as well.
They get brisker in places, but ‘Lost’ reinforces the impression of Jim Morrison piloting an especially doomy version of ‘Roadhouse Blues’, and they conjure up a big finish on ‘Love My Baby’.  Good on ‘em.
Glasgow’s Deke McGee Band are in a rather more traditional vein.  With McGee’s sax to the fore, they’re a throwback to the “small big bands” of the late 40s and early 50s, devoted to the jump blues and rockabilly that were key ingredients in the recipe for rock’n’roll.
A veteran of work with many a big name from the blues and beyond, McGee assuredly knows what he’s about, and they duly set about putting the boogie in the woogie.  Naturally they can lay back and swing as well though, with McGee demonstrating the liquid he can bring to his vocals on ‘Here Comes Trouble’, which encourages a couple of very talented swing dancers onto the floor to strut their stuff.
Deke McGee - good rockin' at three in the afternoon
They could possibly do with a fuller sound for venue the size of the Corn Exchange – there’s a sense that this stuff would really come alive in some cramped, sweaty joint where the dance floor is irresistible.  But no matter, new song ‘House Rent Party’ rocks away nicely, while Floyd Dixon’s ‘Hey Bartender’ is given an outing with plenty of pizzazz but lacking the kind of raucous backing vox that could make it really take off.
Connor Smith carries off some sparkly, jazzy rockabilly guitar on ‘Blind Blind Blind’, followed by a stand-up bass solo from Simon Gray as a prelude to a neat sax and guitar duet passage.  They finish up by giving it some welly on Big Joe Turner’s ‘Hide And Seek’, featuring a hammering slab of piano work from Tim Brough.  The frequent return visits of those dancers, and some others, is testament to the fact that Deke and co know have got the requisite swing.
Emmy-nominated American duo Mirror Speaks The Truth describe their music as ‘Gothicana Soul’, but in truth it doesn’t seem to me to be much that’s Gothic about it, Southern or otherwise.  Comprising singer Glenda Benevides and guitarist/vocalist Gene Williams, they’re certainly confident performers, delivering a blend of soul that’s underpinned by Williams’ acoustic guitar and layers of electronic beats, backing vocals and other instruments.  The sound is then garnished with lyrics that have a decidedly American pop-psychology turn that doesn’t really convince.
Benevides is a strong vocalist, and on the likes of ‘Hold On’ they deploy some modern rhythms, but the longer they go on the clearer it becomes that they’re not setting the heather on fire.  In the end it’s a relief that they restrict themselves to just a thirty minute set.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Evening Session - Edinburgh Blues'N'Rock Festival, 29 July 2017

It’s 5pm at the Corn Exchange, and the Edinburgh Blues’N’Rock Festival gets down to serious business, as Gerry Jablonski And The Electric Band take the stage.
This, I have to say, turns out to be the most enjoyable set I’ve seen to date from GJ and co, despite – or maybe because of – the fact that it only runs to 50 minutes or so. Leaning heavily on material from Trouble With The Blues and a forthcoming EP, it maintains the balance throughout between Jablonski’s guitar and Pieter Narojczyk’s harp that is their trademark, without lapsing into spells of AOR as they're sometimes prone to do.
Jablonski and Narojczyk - slaves to the rhythm
They’ve always been capable of turning out strong material, and that’s certainly evident tonight, from the opening new song ‘Heavy Water’ to the closing favourite of ‘Slave To The Rhythm’.  Jablonski himself is on fine guitar soloing form too, cranking out a couple of scorchers on ‘Two Time Lover’ and ‘Soul Sister’, and contributing an intro to ‘Dancing With The Angel Of Love’ that draws on ‘Nessum Dorma’ in a style redolent of Gary Moore.
As usual, Narojczyk is a force of nature.  Prowling the stage with an in-yer-face intensity isn’t enough for him on ‘Hard To Make A Living’, and as Lewis Fraser drives it forward with rampaging, booming drums he leaps off the stage to get closer to the audience.  On ‘Two Time Lover’ he repeats the trick, before climbing on a table in the midst of a group to deliver his solo.  It’s typical of the bristling energy he brings to the show from start to finish.
As a counterpoint Jablonski has a tendency to indulge in a bit too much goofing around, hopping about during solos in a manner that doesn’t quite fit with the weapons-grade harp-blowing of his partner.  But he does bring a strong vocal to the party, and is capable of ripping into a muscular riff on the likes of ‘Fork Fed Dog’, while Grigor Leslie also delivers a squelchy, funky bass showcase on ‘Trouble With The Blues’.  So it’s a big thumbs up to the whole crew for this outing, and I look forward to hearing that new EP.
Next up, Miracle Glass Company turn out to be the surprise package of the day.  Coming on to a squall of feedback, the Edinburgh trio turn in a thumpingly impressive performance running through songs from their 2016 debut album MGC1.  Mining a psychedelic seam,
Miracle Glass Company go all cycle-dealer
their material is shot through with echoes of everyone from CS&N to late period Beatles to the Eagles to the Byrds – hell, I’ve even got notes about the Monkees and the Stone Roses.
A constant throughout all of this is the quality of their vocals.  Each of them – William Douglas on bass, Austen George on guitar and Andy Duncan on drums – contributes lead vocals at some point.  But collectively they also grab the ear with a succession of classy three-part harmonies.
The material and the playing have a similar impact, and variety with it.  So ‘T.R.O.U.B.L.E’ delivers a Beatle-ish melody garnished with rumbling drums, prickly guitar followed by a hazy solo, and manages to sound both forceful and imaginative.  Douglas contributes both heavy bass and a Macca-like vocal turn on the sunlit Sixties style pop of ‘Big Beat’.  ‘Miss Rain’ has a spacy, Hendrix-ike intro before turning into mellower Byrds territory, with a great middle eight feature more of those marvellous harmonies, followed by a suitably country-style guitar solo from George.  ‘Little Country Thing’ is neatly structured, with a tripping beat and lovely little guitar fills.
The closing ‘Turnaround’ takes it all to the max, with a thudding beat and quirky passages leading up to a wig-out mid-section where they dip their toes into jam band waters amid a storm of drums and guitar.  This was my first encounter with Miracle Glass Company, but it sure won’t be the last.
If Miracle Glass Company don’t have a whole lot to say for themselves in the course of their set, when the Stevie Nimmo Trio come on stage the main man immediately begins to engage with the audience, enquiring if any of them are going to get their arses out of their seats without him badgering them.  And as the riff of ‘Roll The Dice’ ring out, people do start to filter onto the dance floor, in time to witness Nimmo crank a fierce guitar solo.
Stevie Nimmo - out of the black and into the blues
If the audience eases into proceedings in response to Nimmo’s banter, it’s evident that the band are also in relaxed form and enjoying themselves.  Nimmo in particular seems to be in the zone, unfurling a gut-wrenching solo on the gritty ‘Still Hungry’, and then yet another belter on the hypnotic ‘Running Back To You’, where propelled by Craig Bacon’s drums they whip up a storm of a crescendo.
‘Change’ cools things off and lets everyone take a breath before they interrupt the stream of songs from Sky Won’t Fall with the semi-countrified cover of Storyville’s ‘Good Day For The Blues’, from Stevie’s earlier semi-acoustic album The Wynds Of Life.
‘Chains Of Hope’ dirties things up again over bubbling bass from Mat Beable, before the good time tour de force that is ‘Lovin’ Might Do Us Good’.  Starting off in a light funk mode, it morphs into a cavorting Southern rock jam that has smiles on the faces of the band as well as the audience, even before the now traditional injection of a snippet of the Allmans’ ‘Jessica’.
Just to put the tin lid on it, they wheel out ‘Going Down’, with what seems like an extra funked up intro.  Nimmo does justice to the weight of the riff, and gets the crowd on board for a chorus or two before they put the pedal to the metal at the end, the three of them leaning their collective big feet on the gas.
A few couples even attempt to swing dance to the muscular likes of ‘Still Hungry’ and ‘Chains Of Hope’.  That, I imagine, isn’t something they’ve seen much before.  But it’s testament to the finesse of Nimmo and his boys, delivering loud blues rock with a light touch, and once again producing a good day for the blues.