Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sean Webster Band - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 16 February 2018

To be honest, I’d never heard of Sean Webster until just over a year ago.  Not a dickie bird, until I was interviewing Ash Wilson and Webster’s name came up – and then coincidentally I caught the Sean Webster Band supporting King King in the Netherlands.  Between then and now, his album Leave Your Heart At The Door has had regular airings in our house, so I was looking forward to this headline appearance at the Edinburgh Blues Club.
Sean Webster - Man In Black
Webster and his amigos don’t disappoint.  Opening up with the tough and powerful ‘God Forsaken Town’ (the titles of some songs are, alas, guesswork on my part), they shift into the strutting ‘Can You Make A Move’ and quickly demonstrate how tight they are, with top quality use of dynamics, while Hilbrand Bos adds the first of a few impressive organ solos.  But it’s on ‘Hands Of Time’ that they really get into their sweet spot, an example of Webster’s strong songwriting that’s also a good platform for his soulful voice.  The following ‘Too Many False Alarms’ opens in slow and sparse fashion, and Webster decorates it with some lovely echoing guitar tones, before unfolding a solo that shows off the ability, when he’s at this best, to put you through an emotional wringer.
Webster may be the heart of the performance, notwithstanding his unassuming chat between songs, but his well-honed band also bring plenty to the party.  Since I saw him last he’s recruited a new rhythm section, with Floris Poesse contributing supple bass and Ruud Gielen whacking the skins mightily when the occasion demands it.  The ensemble cook up successive storms on ‘The Thrill Is Gone’, and some muscular funk-inflected Rock on ‘Give Me Time’.
Webster himself offers some expert storytelling on an evocative cover of Keith Urban’s ‘Til Summer Comes Around’, and after the rousing ‘Give Me The Truth’ he goes full tonto on the soul vocals front, with an impeccable reading of ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, on which he delivers a solo that weaves around and about the vocal melody, elaborating and amplifying the emotion of the song as it heads towards a compelling guitar and vocal ending.  And by the way, Webster does all this with just the one guitar – none of that endless swapping and re-tuning that so consumes some guitar geeks. 
The rocking ‘I Got The Blues’ includes some extra fun in the form of a sotto voce guitar and keys passage, before they close with ‘Mr Highwayman’, on which Webster and Bos depart the stage for a while as Poesse and Gielen embark on a highly entertaining rhythm section blowout.
I don’t know how many of this audience were familiar with Webster and co before tonight, but they roared for more, and got it in the shape of the slow and moody ‘Gravity’, with a very ‘Greeny’ intro, and finally the rousing, emphatic ‘You Gotta Know’.
Sean Webster is a damn good songwriter, he’s got the vocal and guitar chops to do the songs justice, and a well grooved band to do it with him. Other artists may get talked up big time, backed up by record labels and PR machinery, but to my mind the Sean Webster Band are among the unsung heroes of the current blues scene, and deserve more attention.
Speaking of well-grooved bands, local support act Cow Cow Boogie were also a wow.  “Is it rockabilly?  Is it R’n'B?” I asked myself as they ripped through the likes of ‘Scorched’, ‘Somebody’s Always Talking’, and ‘Candyman’.  And the answer is, "who cares?"  This was the first time I’d encountered their stew of styles, incorporating stand-up bass, and several tons of twang courtesy of both Stevie Slide on lap steel and Steve Milne on guitar, and it warmed up a cold February night no end.
Heads down, no nonsense Cow Cow Boogie
I’d seen singer Nicole Smits guesting with other people from time to time, but here she was on another level, hopping, bopping, and twirling about the stage in a way that suggested she’s truly at home on the Cow Cow Boogie range.  More to the point, her vocals are Patsy Cline-outstanding on ‘San Antonio Rose’, and even better on the irony-laden ‘Do Me Wrong’, her phrasing expert as she delivers sliding and cracked notes to truly tell the tale.  Special kudos too for managing to do something different with ‘John Henry’, in a convincingly jazzy arrangement involving just Smits plus Scott Mather’s double bass and George Logan’s drums. Hats off to Cow Cow Boogie for blending different genres into a coherent aesthetic with such conviction.

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