Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Jed Potts and the Hillman Hunters - Jed Potts and the Hillman Hinters

Must admit I’m feeling a bit guilty about having taken so long to get round to reviewing this first album by Jed Potts and the Hillman Hunters, since they released it a couple of months back.  But hey, it took Jed Potts ages to get the damn thing out, so I’ll cut myself a little slack.
Potts is a prominent fixture on the Edinburgh blues/funk/jazz music scene, showing off his guitar skills in a variety of different bands.  His own trio, as this debut recording featuring ten covers and three originals demonstrates, focuses on good time rock’n’rollin’ blues.  I’d have liked to hear another of his originals, the entertaining ‘Ain’t It Rough (When Your Baby’s In The Huff)’, but sadly that will have to wait for another day.
Jed Potts - Is this man a gangster of love?
Two of the three Kings are to the fore, kicking off with BB King’s ‘Days Of Old’, which sets the tone with lots of energy and sparkling guitar from Potts, notes bending and snapping hither and yon.  His voice is on the light side, without the depth or rasp of yer real deal blues singer, but he compensates for that with good phrasing, injecting songs with the necessary personality.  The sound is also a bit on the thin side, lacking a bit of bottom to properly bring out Jonny Christie’s kick drum and Charlie Wild’s bass, which is a pity because they’re a swinging rhythm section, but after cranking the volume up a bit I gradually got used to it.
And speaking of swinging, Freddie King’s ‘Sen-Sa-Shun’ is the first of a few instrumentals on which Potts throws off sparks with his guitar as he skates around in numerous directions – and even if the drum sound is a bit tinny, Christie’s contribution still gives the tune the requisite fizz.  The self-penned instrumental ‘Puttin’ It Aboot’, meanwhile, is even more rapid-fire, with racing bass and drums and Potts’ fingers well and truly nimble over the top of a jazzy beat that hints at Sean Costello – an influence that’s even more apparent on the later ‘Draughts’, with its lazy sense of swing, and casual strumming of bright chords interspersed with licks fired in from unexpected angles.
There’s a sense of fun abroad throughout, whether in the simplicity of an old-fashioned rock’n’roll such as Elvis’s ‘Tryin’ To Get To You’, on which they capture the vibe perfectly, or BB King’s ‘Fishin’ After Me’ – ‘Catfish Blues’ by any other name – with its skipping rhythm and Potts combining rhythm and lead playing to great effect.  Meanwhile Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s ‘Gangster Of Love’, with its stop-time riff a la Muddy, is delivered with the wit it deserves.
Taking things down a notch the original ‘Four Leaf Clover’ is a major key but sounding-kinda-minor slow blues that’s mellow, with a well-honed arrangement, subtle dynamics, and plenty of variation in style, and while ‘Down In The Alley’, by the rather obscure Nappy Brown, doesn’t manage the level of angstiness someone like Sean Costello might bring to it, Potts still coaxes surprising accents of a non-pedal variety from his guitar.
Either side of the latter, Rudy Greene’s uptempo ‘Juicy Fruit’ is all buzzing, rattling guitar, and Freddie King’s ‘Sidetracked’ brings the curtain down in suitably effervescent and relaxed fashion.
Jed Potts ain’t no shredding blues rock guitar slinger.  He’s an old school electric blues player, and an inventive one at that. His brand of music is really a live thing, for people to shake their collective booty.  But meantime, anyone fancy a party?  Okay then - let’s grab a few beers and it’s all back to Jed’s!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Rob Tognoni - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 22 June 2018

I’m just getting myself a beer in the bar when Rob Tognoni comes onstage, but still manage to latch onto his modus operandi pretty damn quickly, as he and his trio crash into a spiky riff, soon accompanied by a catalogue of sparky guitar licks, leading up to a high-powered wah wah solo.  Oh yeah, there are some vocals in there too, delivered in a kinda tuneful, enthusiastic bark, and the overall package is enough to get the crowd on side from the git go.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that I know Rob Tognoni’s canon backwards.  The Australian has been on the go for a long time, and has a catalogue of albums stretching back to the mid-90s, but I only came across him for the first time last year.  So I vaguely recognise ‘Birra For Lira’, the title track from his 2015 album, which features another squawking solo, but for much of the set all bets are off.
Rob Tognoni and Gaz Rackham - lean on me
Never mind, by the time he gets stuck into another stomper from his 1995 album Headstrong, it’s clear that with his impish grin that this is a guy who enjoys his work.  Given his Australian provenance it’s easy to say that there’s an air of old-fashioned hard rock a la AC/DC to his sound, but ‘Bad Girl’ does fit that bill, with its sledgehammer riff and drummer Mike Hellier doing his best impression of Phil Rudd on-the-money timekeeping.  And while Tognoni – aka the Tasmanian Devil – doesn’t don fancy dress, he’s still a showman, of the arm-flourishing, lip-pursing, hip-wiggling (yes, hip-wiggling), machine gun soloing variety.
Bassist Gaz Rackham – who could be cast as the cousin of Eric Stoltz in Pulp Fiction – seems permanently amused by his gaffer’s antics, whether of the shape-throwing or the plank-spanking variety.  But with his 5 string bass he and Hellier make up a rock solid but supple boiler room on the likes of ‘Drink Jack Boogie’, a Johnny Winter-ish affair that’s one of the highlights of the night, with a decidedly bluesy intro from Tognoni, and the more subtle title track from his Tognoni’s latest album Brave, with its offbeat rhythm.
They close the first of two sets with a jam on ‘Dark Angel’, building from a slow bass’n’drums intro to feature crunching riffs and fluid licks, and some impressive pickless soloing from the Tog, even if his nod to ‘Toccata and Fugue’ is a bit naff.
The second half kicks in interesting fashion, as some slow funky blues develops into something that may or may not be called ‘One More Hit’, and which feels like the Stones taking a walk on the wild side with Lou Reed, semi-spoken vocal and all, but with Tognoni then getting excited enough to be play with his teeth, get down on his knees, and embark on some windmill armed, toreador-like guitar heroism.
It’s all a bit endearingly daft, but he does demonstrating good taste by then covering Rory Gallagher’s ‘Shadow Play’.  It’s a great tune of course, and though RT isn’t Rory he doesn’t let the side down. In fact by now I’m forcibly reminded of Larry Miller, another meat-and-potatoes hard blues-rockin’ geezer and Rory fan who is great fun.
The R’n’B groove of ‘Mr John Lee’ (as in Hooker), is swingingly good to the point that plenty of asses are being shook in the audience, and a reading of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ is like a Tour de France descent in top gear, with suitably brisk drum and bass solos and ‘Let There Be Rock’ style dynamics.
Andrew Robert Eustace - rollin' down down the Delta
They close with ‘Hey Joe’, which features some unsatisfyingly noodling guitar to these ears, though the Togster does conjure up some decent low volume weeping guitar effects, followed by more energetic guitar wrangling, and a sturdy rocker of an encore sends the crowd away happy.
In the support slot Glasgow’s Andrew Robert Eustace and his band deliver an entertaining set of Delta orientated electric blues.  Eustace is a tall and genial sorta guy, effectively gruff line on the vocal front and satisfyingly useful in the guitar department.  ‘Can’t Wait To See That’ is a decent Mississippi stomp, with two guitars rollin’ an’ tumblin’ around the riff and a scrabbling solo.  But the following ‘Broke Down And Beat’ is a highlight, a chunky shuffle with an appealing groove topped off with a good hook in the chorus.  ‘Bad Weather Blues’ is a strutting, upbeat 12 bar, with a fiery solo from Eustace as the band stoke the engines for a crescendo that should really develop into something bigger.
Things get a bit samey as the set progresses, even though they relax a bit as the songs go by, and the lyrics of ‘Running Man’, confessing to killing a man, feel a bit inauthentic.  ‘Crooked Old Dog’ rattles along nicely though, with its semi-Celtic guitar riff and a hint of stop-time rhythm, and ‘Had Enough’ slithers down the Delta nicely on a jittery riff.  They could do with developing a bit more rhythmic variety – a Bo Diddley beat might be a useful avenue to explore – but Eustace and chums seem to have a clear sense of the sound they’re after, and the man himself injects some personality both vocally and on guitar. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Paul Rodgers - Free Spirit: Celebrating The Music Of Free

I was too young to ever see Free play live in their heyday.  So my eyes lit up at the announcement of Paul Rodgers’ Free Spirit tour last year – but sadly I couldn’t make it to any of the shows.  Judging by this 16 song recording of the Royal Albert Hall gig, I missed out big time.
Apart from anything else, this set has been impeccably recorded.  Whether the acoustics of the Albert Hall contribute to that at all I don’t know, but right from the bright opening number ‘Little Bit Of Love’ the drum sound is crisp, and the guitar and piano are mingled effectively.  Paul Rodgers’ voice is also clear as a bell, and by the following ‘Ride A Pony’ it’s evident –
Paul Rodgers - the spirit is willing, and the flesh is able
as if there were any doubt – that his pipes are still in excellent condition.  Where some of his vocal contemporaries are struggling in their later years, Rodgers is still a powerhouse whose reach is undiminished.  What’s more, as they get down to business on the gritty ‘Woman’ it’s apparent that he’s still the master of melisma, stretching syllables over several notes, and of wordless, “whoa-oh” articulation of soul.  In fact in this mode the influence of soul giants like Otis Redding is so obvious that the labelling of Free as a blues rock outfit seems a bit lazy - soul rock would be more accurate.
Rodgers is backed here by Deborah Bonham’s band, and if living up to the reputations of Paul Kossoff, Simon Kirke and Andy Fraser is a big challenge they seem to relish it. Guitarist Pete Bullick delivers a piercing solo on ‘Be My Friend’ that captures the depth of feeling well – and evidently pleases the crowd – and as the song progresses Gerard ‘G’ Louis’s piano backing emerges nicely.
They ease off with ‘My Brother Jake’, although revving it up a bit towards the end as Bullick’s guitar fizzes and sparks, and continue in a lighter vein with the roomy simplicity of ‘Love You So’, with Rodgers colouring in the margins around the melody. ‘Travellin’ In Style’ is a sunny affair, with the audience warming up their tonsils for subsequent exertions, before ‘Magic Ship’ marks a shift in terrain with its mystical feel, the piano intro carrying some Celtic undertones before the rhythm section kicks in.
Thereafter they get into the more muscular kind of groove that really does suggest blues rock.  ‘Mr Big’ has a tense play-off between the guitar and Rich Newman’s drums, before Ian Rowley is showcased on bass, evoking Andy Fraser’s rubber band sound.  ‘The Stealer’ has a mean strut, and another good solo from Bullick, while ‘Fire And Water’ has a soulful, rock steady straightforwardness. ‘The Hunter’ is brisk, and down and dirty, and then it’s party time on ‘Alright Now’, where Newman appears to dial up the beats per minute a fraction, giving it a fresh, zippier feel as the crowd sing themselves hoars.
Then they crunch into ‘Wishing Well’ and that classic descending riff, again powered along nicely by Newman’s drumming towards those wonderful lines, “Put up a fight you believe to be right / And someday the sun will shine through”.  The audience can still be heard singing along in the background, and I suspect there were smiles galore as they bathed in the warm glow of a trip down memory lane.
For me the album peaks there, with the following ‘Walk In My Shadow’ and ‘Catch A Train’ exhalations to end the night, even though both are tough enough, the former with its big riff and some squealing feedback, while Bullick essays some very Koss-like guitar on the latter – a song never actually played live by Free.
The album is titled Free Spirit: Celebrating The Music Of Free, and there’s certainly an air of celebration about it – even of a nostalgic love-in.  And why not?  It’s a strong body of work to celebrate, to say the least, and with Paul Rodgers’ voice well to the fore the spirit is alive and well.

Free Spirit is released by Quarto Valley Records on 22 June 2018, in various formats including 2 disc CD/DVD including tour booklet.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Big Boy Bloater & The LiMiTs - Pills

If you’re in the market for a blast of aggressive but witty R’n’B, then look no further.  As English as cod and chips, Big Boy Bloater majors on the kind of collision between Chicago R’n’B and Chuck Berry rock’n’roll evident in both early Stones and the Feelgoods.  His 2016 outing Luxury Hobo showed him throwing his own twists into that mix, and Pills repeats the trick.
The title track, with its ascending guitar figure, rocking bass from Steven Oates, and Bloater’s typical gargled-with-broken-glass-this-morning vocals, kicks off a hat-trick of tracks in this vein.  ‘Friday Night’s Alright For Drinking’ may be a bit vin ordinaire in places, but the chorus has plenty of fizz, and in addition to Big Boy’s pinging slide licks it benefits from
Big Boy Bloater - naturally charming
some classy female harmonies that provide extra oomph.  ‘The Saturday Night Desperation Shuffle’ is the real winner though.  A ‘Ballroom Blitz’-like drum rhythm from Matt Cowley sets the tempo, matched by fast-striding bass from Oates, over which the Bloat lays an urgent guitar riff, and a spiky solo.  And while he may not carry the air of menace that Lee’n’Wilko conjured up, he does offer a wry line in observational lyrics.
Pub rock, we’re often reminded by those who were there, wasn’t a sound or a scene, it was just rock music being played in a bunch of London pubs by a variety of different bands. It’s striking though, that when Bloater departs from the forceful R’n’B template, he’s liable to come up with the bobbing Anglo-Country that is ‘Stop Stringing Me Along’, a tale of relationship failure with acoustic strumming and ooh-oohing female backing vocals, that recalls another pub rocker, Nick Lowe.
‘Oops Sorry’ is a bit of lightweight rock’n’roll that’s also in Lowe territory, both musically and lyrically.  A whimsical tale of heartbreak that extols the merits of Gaffa tape and super glue, it features chiming piano and a Latino guitar solo.  And just to round out the pub rock comparisons, ‘Slacker’s Paradise’ is a skipping effort initially redolent of Graham Parker, and a witty vision of consummate idleness with perfectly matched laid back accompaniment.
The back end of the album may contain some efforts that don’t quite hit the bullseye, like the ultimately inconsequential ‘Mouse Organ’, with its inflections of European jazziness, or the closing ‘A Life Full Of Debt’, a melancholy tale of consumerism based on ukulele strumming.  And while ‘The Digital Number Of The Beast’ is a humorous take on “the rise of the machines”, pinging out some musical binary code, it lacks the focus on display elsewhere.
But hey, there’s still room for the quintessentially Bloaterist ‘Unnaturally Charming’, a spooky B-Movie yarn about a young man whose easy charm masks a dangerous misfit, with swirls of fairground organ in the background, jagged guitar counterpointed by more female backing vox, and closing out with a repeated, Dan Auerbach-like guitar lick.
Big Boy Bloater ain’t no teenage guitar hero.  He’s not trying to make some clever crossover into another market.  His act is founded on down to earth elements of rock’n’rollin’ directness, delivered with wit and imagination.  He takes some basic R’n’B virtues, and turns them into something as fresh as a mug of whelks.  Go get a fork and dig in.

Pills is released by Mascot Label Group on 15 June.
Big Boy Bloater tours Britain in September and October - details here.