Sunday, October 22, 2017

Elles Bailey - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 20 October 2017

I like her.  I like her voice, I like her songs and I like the arrangements. I like her guitarist, and I like her amiable chat between songs. Less keen on her hat though.
I downloaded a copy of Elles Bailey’s album Wildfire a week or so back, and was pleasantly surprised.  Previously I’d only clocked a video of the title track, but as I listened to the album I kept saying “Good song” to myself about one track after another.  And after this gig I’m well impressed with what she and her band can do live as well.
Let’s start with her voice, shall we?  Ever so slightly husky, Elles Bailey isn’t just spot on with
Elles Bailey - good songs, good singer, good band
her musicality, she catches the tone of individual songs convincingly and conveys bluesiness, soulfulness and rootsiness as required.  And it has to be said that she’s a confident performer too, moving around the stage easily and selling songs well.
This set emphasises that her material isn’t just good, it’s varied too.  The quality threshold is consistently high, whether it’s the swinging soul of ‘Shackles Of Love’, with it’s doo-doo-doo interjections in the chorus, or the contemplative ballad ‘What If I’ that grows in intensity to underline its positive message; whether it’s the vaguely folky, vaguely Celtic feel of the acoustic ‘Waiting Game’, with its skipping drums, or the stomper that is ‘Let Me Hear You Scream’.  Pick a style, and Bailey and her band carry it off with polish.
No disrespect to the rest of the band, who are tight but relaxed and show good rapport, but guitarist Joe Wilkins is key to the whole affair.  He serves up a wonderfully gritty slide intro on the opening ‘Wildfire’, and follows it up with a strong solo, then another one on the following ‘Same Flame’. He makes marvellously spooky use of his whammy bar on the brief ‘Barrel Of Your Gun’, then there’s well-worked interplay with Bailey when she takes to the piano for ‘Believed In You’.  She looks like she’s having fun on ‘You Asked To Know’ with its
Joe Wilkins - decorator extraordinaire
Bo Diddley beat and riff, but it’s Wilkins who decorates the song perfectly.  The guy is no prima donna, he just makes really good choices on how to serve songs, then executes those choices with style.
And I still haven’t got to the real highlights.  ‘Time’s A Healer’ is an acoustic ballad with a catchy melody and a nice lyric. ‘The Big Idea’ is a sassy blues that’s musically witty and well punctuated, with an up-tempo jazzy closing section. And the set closer ‘Girl Who Owned The Blues’, a memorial to Janis Joplin, is a great tune that manages to blend tinges of country with the kind of white soul you might find in some stuff by Deacon Blue or early Texas.
I’m going to praise with faint damns and say that the encores are the only time the standard slips a little.  A reading of John Prine’s ‘Angel Of Montgomery’ is tidy, but tidy isn’t enough when you’ve heard the sensitivity Bonnie Raitt brings to it.  And while ‘Howlin’ Wolf’, her tribute to Chess records artists, has evidently been a mainstay of her set for ages, it’s feels
Logan's Close - truly, madly, deeply fun
a bit hackneyed, rescued only by a barnstorming instrumental round-up with an eyeballs-out solo from Wilkins.
Elles Bailey isn’t the finished article yet.  But she’s young and she’s got bags of potential.  Get the album. Go see her.
It’s credit to Bailey and her band that they stand up to the challenge of following Logans Close, who are as much fun as ever.  Carl Marah and Scott Rough could probably form a comic double act based on their between songs patter, but let’s focus on the music.  The jangly sound of ‘I Wonder Why’ is irresistible as a starter. ‘Funk’ is Kinks-like, with good harmonies even without the usual contribution from drummer Mike Reilly, and a great arrangement all round.  ‘Ticket Man’ is a highlight as usual with its rumbling bass riff, and Marah setting aside his guitar in favour of harp.  “Sorry I swore,” says Rough at the end of it.  “I forgot it was a seated gig.”  Which I imagine roughly translates as “hope I didn’t offend all you oldies”.
Their cover of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ remains manic, with a brilliant guitar and drums crescendo between Marah and Reilly.  But I still love the crisp rock’n’roll of ‘C’mon Pretty Lady’, with its bop-shoo-wop chorus, and ‘She’s Mine’ is a wild finish worthy of ‘Twist And Shout’.  This set feels a little ragged at times, but Logans Close are still fresh, danceable – and bonkers.

Elles Bailey is touring Britain and Ireland until 10 December.  Details here.

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