Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking 2017 - Part 2

So here it is, Merry Christmas.  Everybody having fun?
Part 1 of the Christmas Stocking shared some goodies from names who were new to me in 2017 - including Ash Wilson and the Starlite Campbell Band, who were responsible for two of the best albums of the year.  So who else lit up the year for Blues Enthused?
Toronzo Cannon, the most famous blues playing bus driver in Chicago, paid a flying visit to
Toronto Cannon plays tartan blues
Britain for a few dates in January and delivered a cracking show based on original material
rather than old standards.  Drawing heavily on his most recent album The Chicago Way, he demonstrated his talent for contemporary lyrics, both serious and funny, to go with his top quality guitar playing – and top quality band.  But for me the highlight of his set was the wild rendition of ‘John The Conquer Root’, from his 2013 album of the same name.
The brothers Nimmo had a traumatic year, to say the least.  Alan Nimmo suffered repeated vocal problems, causing King King to cancel several dates earlier in the year, and then take three months off from touring in the autumn.  Elder brother Stevie Nimmo, meanwhile, was in fine form as he and his Trio toured in the early part of the year.  But then he went and broke his arm in a cycling accident in the late summer.
The show must go on though, and Blues Enthused interviewed Alan Nimmo in the run-up to the release of King King’s latest album. Exile & Grace continued the band's steady rise, though for me it fell a tad shy of their best.  Irresistible rockers like ‘(She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’’ and ‘Long Time Running’, and emotional epics like ‘Broken’ and ‘Betrayed Me’, certainly hit the motherlode.  But ‘Find Your Way Home’ strayed a mite too close to REO Speedwagon ballad territory for me, and closer ‘I Don’t Want To Lie’ felt lightweight.  But hey, the King King boys are back on the road now, and new songs will undoubtedly catch fire in a live setting.
Meanwhile it was great to catch up with Stevie Nimmo for a chat back in March, and see
Not The Nimmo Brothers, honest
him continue to perform live in the autumn, broken arm and all. This gave fans the chance to see a unique line-up of the 'StevieNimmo Trio + 1' – the +1 being brother Alan, who took over on guitar for the tour while being hors de combat himself on the vocal front.  Stevie’s injury will delay the recording of a new album, but to hell with that – that bike crash was a sore one.
On a more positive note, the European Blues Award for Best Band went to Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado, and for my money the Danish outfit are well worth it.  Their latest album Change My Game has strong songs, light and shade, and some big fat riffs, while Risager himself has a great rumble of a blues voice.  They delivered on the live front too, though I still think they could hit top gear a bit more often.  Still, I’m looking forward to a jaunt to see them on home turf in Copenhagen in February.  And in the meantime, here they are with the stonking ‘Maybe It’s Alright’.
US guitar honcho Eric Gales only has a top gear, and a turbo-boosted top gear at that.  His new album Middle Of The Road was good, but live he was something else altogether.  In my old age I’m less invested in guitar veneration, but it has to be said that Gales was total catnip to the guitar nuts who had assembled from near and far – and entertainingly so.  Here he is at the Dallas Guitar Show, with a mash-up of ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ and ‘All Along The Watchtower’.  Get your air guitar out!
If you want a real rock’n’roll thrill though, you need to go to a master like Steve Van Zandt.  His Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul show in Glasgow was one of the absolute highlights of my year, a riotous bouillabaisse of soul and R’n’B and rock’n’roll from a guy who’s imbibed and digested enough popular music to be a walking radio station.  Van Zandt
Samantha Fish - the Queen of '17
may be incongruously bashful with his between songs patter, fidgeting with his rings and his bandana, but when they count in the next song he and his band are a genre-busting, straight from the heart, Technicolor delight.  Here they are from that Glasgow gig, with ‘I Don’t Want To Go Home’.  They got that right.
And so to the Queen of 2017.  People, I give you Samantha Fish.  Two albums from her this year, of very different hues, and there are some who baulk at them because neither was the heavy duty electric blues they wanted.  Nuts to that.  Chills And Fever is one of my favourite albums of the year – a concept album, but not as prog rockers know it, Captain.  Dusting off a heap of rhythm’n’bluesy soul and pop tunes from the vaults, Sam Fish added stinging guitar and her own inimitable voice to create something that went way beyond a covers album.  “That’s the human condition,” she said in an interview.  “Love, desire, heartache . . . .”  I think Miami Steve would approve.
Then she released a semi-acoustic album, Belle Of The West, that got into songwriting, Americana style, painting pictures and creating moods with some deliciously subtle arrangements.  While your average blues rocker sticks to their knitting, here’s someone pushing boundaries.
And to top it all off, on her European tour young Samantha managed to blend all this with material from her previous album Wild Heart and rock everybody’s socks off onstage.  She’s hard-working, she’s fun, and she knows her own mind.  There’s more to come from Sam Fish.  As the lady herself put it, apropos of something else, “I guara-damn-tee it!”  So let’s give it up for her oil can guitar version of ‘Gone For Good’, in this video lovingly assembled by a fan.
That was the year that was.  Roll on 2018!

You can find Part 1 of the 2017 Christmas Stocking here.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking 2017 - Part 1

So this is Christmas, and what have we done?  Another year over – and it’s been a pretty good one on the blues’n’roots’rock’n’rollin’ front.  It’s been a year of discoveries too.  Not necessarily all new artists by any means, and not all written about here either, but people I’ve tripped over the first time. Let’s unwrap some of the new finds Blues Enthused made in the course of the year, shall we?
Simon Campbell unwraps some 60s British blues - 21st century style
Just to prove the point that there are old timers out there you can still get acquainted with, I had fun reviewing the latest album by Washington DC’s The Nighthawks for Blues Matters magazine.  All You Gotta Do is a pretty damn enjoyable collection of old-fashioned R’n’B from a gang who’ve been around for god knows how long.  Check out this footage of ‘Livin’ The Blues’, from their earlier album 444.
Simon Campbell has also been kicking around for a looong time.  But in the company of his missus Suzy Starlite, he put together new outfit the Starlite Campbell Band to release one of my favourite albums of the year, Blueberry Pie.  It’s a crackling modern take on Sixties British blues, with strong songs, great guitar work, and sharp lyrics.  Lend an ear to these snippets of tracks from the album, and see what you think.
Just to complete a trio of oldsters, while I was on Blues Matters reviewing duty I also encountered James Litherland, once upon a time guitarist and vocalist in Colosseum.  His latest album Back'N'Blue is a classy collection of tunes showing the songsmithery of an old pro.  Often cool and funky, with clear, looping guitar lines snaking around your ears, he also weaves in some other styles with ease, and whenever I give the album a spin it's a treat.  Here he is wandering around the music shops of Soho, and going for a pint in the Angel pub - good choice by the way - to the strains of his single 'Can't Live Without You'.  Oh yeah, and there's Les Binks, once of Judas Priest, on drums!
I’ve also been introduced to a couple of truly solo performers, of the one-man band variety.  Latterly there’s been Canadian Steve Hill, who manages to get all Zep-tastic with guitar, cymbals and kick drum, all on his ownsome.  Here he is giving it big licks on ‘Dangerous’, from his album Solo Recordings: Volume 3.  And earlier in the year I reviewed High Dollar Gospel, the latest album by a fella from Virginia called Eli Cook, for Blues Rock Review.  In
Sean Webster - naturally soulful
the review I wondered why I hadn't heard of him before.  But bizarrely,
 I think I may have caught a bit of Cook playing live a few years back, late night in a bar in Charlottesville, Virginia.  I gather he does play with a band on occasion, but he was on his own that time, and he’s on his own here with this version of ‘Catfish Blues/Gasoline’.
Nearer to home, I reckon the newcomer making the most impact on record this year was Ash Wilson, with his album Broken Machine.  Wilson didn’t just announce himself with some bloody good soulful blues, served straight up, he chucked in a few twists of Josh Homme-like stylings for good measure.  You can also read here about how a rather iffy synth gave an edge to the title track of the album.  Wilson has ended the year taking over from Innes Sibun as guitar honcho for Sari Schorr, but here he is playing his own haunting tune ‘The Hitcher’ in London back in August.  And yes, those are indeed Bob Fridzema, Roger Inniss and Wayne Proctor making up his band.
Ash Wilson also described how he’d played previously with Netherlands-based Sean Webster, and spoke enviously of Webster’s aptitude with an emotional, soulful vocal.  By complete coincidence, it turned out Webster was the support act to King King on a jaunt I took to the Netherlands back in February, so I swiftly had the chance to catch him live
Elles Bailey - the kid shows promise
before reviewing his impressive new album Leave Your Heart AtThe Door.  Here he is performing one of my favourites from the album, ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’, with guest vocalist Pennyleen Krebbers, who also featured on the album version.
And it wouldn’t do to end this instalment without a contribution from the fairer sex – in this case the up and coming Elles Bailey.  The husky voiced Bristolian’s album Wildfire showed real promise, and she and her band lived up to that promise live too, straddling roots genres to good effect.  Here she is with a stripped back take on one of her best songs, the Janis Joplin-inspired ‘The Girl Who OwnedThe Blues’, from a Whispering Bob Harris session.

That little lot should keep you entertained for a while when the rest of the family decide to watch some rubbish Christmas telly.  Look out for Part 2 before the leftover turkey is finished!

Don't miss out on Part 2 of the Christmas Stocking.  Check it out here.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Listened to lately . . . Rob Tognoni, The Waterboys

Rob Tognoni – Brave

“Well throw another prawn on the barbie Bruce, and chuck me a cold one!”
Ahem.  Or to put it another way, with Aussie blues rocker Rob Tognoni coming to a parish near me next year, in the midst of numerous laps of Europe, I reckoned it was time to delve into the Tasmanian Devil’s catalogue.  So here we are with his most recent album, the 2016 release Brave.
If you like Dan Patlansky you might well like the Tog, methinks.  Sonically there are similarities, and they share a hoarse rasp on the vocal front.  But where Patlansky often
Rob Tognoni frying a few frets
deploys a post-grunge punch and edginess, Tognoni tends towards more of a good time
hard rockin’ vibe.  So ‘Voodoo Girl’ sounds like Big Boy Bloater on vocal duties for a rehash of Thin Lizzy’s live version of ‘Rosalie’, and ‘1974’ is a nostalgia trip in a similar vein to that Kid Rock mash-up of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Werewolves Of London’ from ten years ago.  ‘Latino Lounge’, meanwhile, is wah-wah laden lunacy.  It’s something you could imagine Dave Lee Roth cooking up with Steve Vai maybe, if they’d had a heavy night of partying, accompanied by an incessant tape loop of Phil Daniels’ contribution on ‘Parklife’.
Not that it’s all comic cuts.  ‘Dammed [sic] If I Did’ is a neat semi-acoustic blues that could have come from fellow Aussie Russell Morris.  On ‘You’ Tognoni conjures up violin effects, and adds in some Latin percussion for variety – as he also does on the title track. ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ revolves around a fresh, ringing guitar motif, while ‘Happy Birthday’ is straight ahead boogification, and the closing ‘Don’t Be Too Hard On Me’ is a lick-embroidered slice of SRV-style rockin’.
Don’t go to Rob Tognoni for philosophy.  Don’t expect the meaning of life – unless, of course, the meaning of life for you is brightly lit, let’s have a laugh, fret-frying rock’n’roll.  He’s a good bet for that.

Check out Rob Tognoni's 2018 European tour dates here.

The Waterboys – Out Of All This Blue

And now for something completely different.  When The Waterboys first came to prominence, back in the early Eighties, I would have positioned them among the widescreen New Wave acts of a Celtic background that included U2, Simple Minds and Big Country.  But that was a long time ago, and perhaps distracts from the extent to which roots music styles have informed the work of Waterboys kingpin Mike Scott in the subsequent decades. 
Mike Scott - spindly legged mystic rock'n'roller
Whether it’s the Celtic folk stylings of Fisherman’s Blues, or the punchy R’n’B undertones of Modern Blues, Scott has an inventive way with roots music, welding it to his clever, idiosyncratic lyrics to create music that’s fresh and original.
This year’s model of The Waterboys came in the form of Out Of All This Blue, a double album released back in September, on which Scott has opted to base most tracks on ‘drumscapes’ that he has constructed electronically, rather than relying on yer actual drummer type fella.
Now, that wouldn’t be my choice. Electronic beats have their place, but they’re no substitute for the rhythmic drive that contributed to Modern Blues being a belter of a recording.
Still and all, you can’t keep an imaginative muso and wordsmith down.  And Scott has duly achieved a decent hit rate of quality songs.  The likes of ‘If I Was Your Boyfriend’ and ‘If The Answer Is Yeah’ weld catchy tunes to Scott’s trademark humour and way with metre, and ‘New York I Love You’ – among others – displays his near unique talent for enlivening a narrative with a distinct sense of place.
The second disc kicks off in fine form, starting with the driving ‘Hammerhead Bar’ (with real drums from Ralph Salmins, I note), memorialising the madcap hostelry John Entwistle had in his mansion. ‘Mister Charisma’ is a brief and ambiguous contemplation of Keef and his eccentricities.  And ‘Nashville, Tennessee’ is a rootsy bit of country that simultaneously manages to celebrate Waterboys keys player and Nashville resident Brother Paul ‘Goldilocks’ Brown, and Memphis: “My heart is in Memphis, but my ass is in Nashville, Tennessee”.
Even the bonus ‘Blue Variations’ disc (in the deluxe edition) has some treats to offer, such as the opening ‘The Memphis Fox’, an ass-shaking instrumental take on ‘The Connemara Fox’ (from Disc 1) with Paul Brown’s organ to the fore over – fair play – a kick ass drumscape from Scott.  There’s a nu-soul in an alternate version of ‘Didn’t We Walk On Water’, with scat vocals from Jess Kav, and a live version of ‘Nashville, Tennessee’, recorded in Nashville itself on the day it was written – to a wowed audience, natch.
Okay, there are some lightweight eccentricities along the way that will probably make your shrug your shoulders rather than tap your toes.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained – and going on a trip with Mike Scott is always an adventure.

You can find details of The Waterboys' 2018 tour dates here.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Adventures in the South - Vicksburg to Lafayette

Now then, where were we?  Ah yes, Vicksburg.  For anyone new to the Adventures in the South travelogue down the Mississippi, you can go back to the beginning with the Prologue, or check where we left off with the Clarksdale to Vicksburg episode.
Vicksburg is generally recognised as the foot of the Mississippi Delta, the fertile plain spreading out from the Big Muddy.  It’s not a Delta in the classic sense, like the Nile Delta for example, occurring when a river branches out as it nears the sea.  What’s more, Vicksburg isn’t strictly on the Mississippi any more, having been left behind when the river changed its course decades ago.
Waking up in the Andrew Jackson Suite of the Anchuca B&B, we had Sunday breakfast in the airy dining room.  I decided to give grits another go, this time of the cheese variety, and it has to be said they were at least more palatable than the ones I’d sampled in Denny’s back in Memphis.
Just some of the local attractions in Lafayette that we didn't see
And then we were off, aiming for Lafayette, a couple of hundred miles away in Louisiana.  First stop though, was a Walmart on the outside of town.  I’d mislaid my shaver, so needed a replacement, and we took the opportunity to pick up a spare holdall as well.  And yes, the place sold guns, in all shapes and sizes.
Continuing down Highway 61, we stopped for lunch in a baking hot Baton Rouge, then took a sharp turn west to cover the last 50 plus miles along Highway 10 to Lafayette.  For a substantial chunk of this the road was on stilts over the bayou, with signs periodically advertising the presence of alligators in the area, which I think was designated a nature reserve or similar.  It was a dramatic example of the effort necessary to negotiate the swampy southern land.
Approaching Lafayette in the late afternoon, we were running low on petrol, and looking to the south there were dark clouds and flashes of lightning heading our way.  And sure enough, before we could reach a gas station, a tropical downpour arrived.  If you’ve ever visited Disneyworld, this was the same kind of rainstorm that seems to hit the Orlando area metronomically at 5pm each day in summer – short lived, but torrential.  And although it soon began to ease, it was still a bit disconcerting when you were struggling to find your way around town – which was a bit of a nuisance, as Lafayette was the one place on this trip where we hadn’t booked accommodation in advance.
After taking shelter and filling the tank at a gas station, we groped our way towards downtown, expecting that to be the obvious location for a hotel or two, and tripped over a Courtyard by Marriott.  Initially I went in just to see if they had a local map, but after a swift consultation we decided to take a room for the night.  We were feeling tired and grubby after the drive, and all too ready to avail ourselves of the very hospitable young staff, a decent room, and even laundry facilities.
The idea behind visiting Lafayette had been to seek out some Cajun music, this being the heartland of the style apparently.  This would turn out to be a bust though.  After having a rest, dealing with the laundry and getting freshened up, we emerged into the lobby looking decidedly more human.  “Hey, y’all clean up real good!” laughed the receptionist, which said it all about how bedraggled we must have looked on arrival.
We ordered a cab to take us downtown to a likely sounding restaurant, and had a drink while we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  A good 45 minutes later the cab finally turned up – and got us to the restaurant just in time to be told that the kitchen was closing.  In fact it seemed like the centre of Lafayette was closing all round, with the exception of a large sports bar, where we ordered a couple of beers and considered our options.
Cajun music was no longer on the agenda, we reckoned.  Options to eat out looked limited.  Our planning for Lafayette, we concluded, had been sadly lacking.  So we cut our losses, got a cab back to the hotel, and got fed and watered on a bottle of red wine and a couple of burgers and fries, while the hotel staff gave us tips for our next destination – New Orleans.

It may sound like a total cock-up, but it was one of those bizarre episodes you look back on and laugh.  Like WC Fields visiting Philadelphia, we’ve been to Lafayette.  It was closed.