Thursday, July 19, 2018

Chris Bevington Organisation - Cut And Run

Feeling a bit blue, chum?  In need of a pick-me-up?  Never fear, Dr Cameron has just the tonic.  Get your ears around Cut And Run, the latest outing by the Chris Bevington Organisation – positively one of the most upbeat, good time albums so far this year.
Bassist Chris Bevington may have his name on the tin, but in terms of musical direction he’s got some top quality accomplices in the shape of multi-instrumentalist, producer and hit songwriter Scott Ralph, working in tandem with FM honcho Jim Kirkpatrick.  Between them this pair have not only turned out twelve indecently enjoyable original songs, they’ve also collaborated on production and mixing to give them a vibrant, knock your socks off sound.
"Look lively, there's a snapper!"
Regardless of the Ralph/Kirkpatrick axis though, this is an ensemble affair in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  You want reference points?  Now and then the sound puts me in mind of a YouTube clip I saw of Clapton doing Freddie King’s ‘Tore Down’ with a big band.  Other times – bearing in mind that Jim Kirkpatrick is a frequent collaborator with Bernie Marsden – it suggests nothing so much as early Whitesnake blues-rock with horns.
The Clapton reference is relevant right from the off, as ‘It’s My Life’, with its rattling rhythm and harmonised guitar riffing, recalls one of my favourite Clapton recordings, ‘Motherless Children’.  And there are several more tracks to make you shake yer booty thereafter, starting with ‘Got To Know’, a tale of a “one time woman with a one track mind” on which Adrian Gibson’s trumpet and Mike Yorke’s sax really take flight for the first time. Later, ‘Rollin’’ features a grabbing, spiky riff and a knuckle-dusting guitar solo.  Best of all in the party mode though, is ‘Coming Down With The Blues’, a rollicking effort with a squawking trumpet solo from Gibson, injections of sax, and sassy backing vocals from Sarah Miller and Kate Robertson – the ladies’ contribution being as polished as you might expect from alumni of the Steely Dan tribute outfit Nearly Dan.
The Chris Bevington Organisation have more strings to their bow though, evidenced by the ballad ‘Won’t Daydream No More’, with its exquisite melody initially underpinned by sensitive backing vocals and Dave Edwards’ organ. And there’s more variety in the likes of ‘Sing Myself To Sleep’, which swings as woozily as the title suggests, and also the title track, which opens somewhere down the Mississippi with a megaphone-style vocal before rousing itself into something more raunchy, with some nifty slide playing from Kirkpatrick.  Meanwhile the engine room of Bevington on bass and Neil McCallum are especially to the fore with the lurching, offbeat rhythm of ‘Had Enough’, and the tub-thumping ‘Ain’t Got Nobody To Love’ with its urgent, stabbing horns.
Cut And Run is an album packed with good tunes, all delivered with energy, brio, and what you will, courtesy of some great playing and singing from all concerned.  It has variety, but it’s still tied together beautifully, courtesy of the arrangements and production.  I’m even impressed by the different-from-the-rest cover art – no geezers with guitars pics, but instead a continuation of the sequence of run-down building photos from the earlier albums.
If you want to listen to some ground-breaking piece of innovative music-making then forget it.  But if what you’re after is something to loosen your limbs at the end of the daily grind, then get in line – this is what fun sounds like, folks!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Southern Avenue - Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, 15 July 2018

Southern Avenue’s self-titled debut album from 2017 may be a good introduction to their bluesy, gospel-tinged soul oeuvre, but this performance demonstrates that onstage they spring to life in vivid Technicolor.
Signed to the modern version of Stax Records, Southern Avenue have the goods to refresh the Sixties soul aesthetic in a similar fashion to Vintage Trouble.  Ori Naftaly’s guitar often adds a new slant to the basic soul template, drummer Tikyra Jackson and touring bassist Gage Markey inject bouts of serious syncopation, and Jeremy Powell throws an adrenaline rush of organ into the mix.
Tierinii Jackson - tiny but towering
And then there’s Tierinii Jackson.  Right from their opening number, the uptempo R’n’B of ’80 Miles From Memphis’, Southern Avenue’s lead singer is an elphin bundle of positive energy and charisma who shows the potential to propel the band to another level.  She’s got vocal power to burn - goodness where it comes from, as she’s tiny. She also hints at some jazzy capabilities now and then, but more to the point she has the kind of church background that enables her to do justice to the gospel inflections of their sound with ease, and also the sensitivity to do justice to the dreamy soul of ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright’ – with added harmonies from sister Tikyra.  Add to that a winning smile, and a readiness to dance like the music demands it, and you have one helluva magnetic performer.
From the debut album, ‘What Did I Do’ is built on a guitar lick that strongly recalls Corner Shop’s ‘Brimful Of Asha’, of all things, and Naftaly serves up some serious twang. ‘Peace Will Come’ is a slice of gospel for the 21stCentury, sounding like a mash-up between ‘Wade In The Water’ and Tommy Castro’s ‘Common Ground’.  They demonstrate good dynamics, starting off slow and steady before funking it up with chunky guitar and keys riffs, while Naftaly shows off his penchant for rockabilly-tinged guitar soloing – not for the first or last time. Ann Peebles’ ‘Slipped, Tripped, Fell In Love’ meanwhile, the only cover on the album, is simply a spot-on blast.
They rouse the audience with a few other nifty cover versions too, like Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’, slowed and sultry in a Stax-like stew, a suitably strutting stab at ‘Come
Southern Avenue strut their soulful stuff
Together’, and a relaxed, loose reading of Etta James’ ‘Blues Is My Business’.
They close the set proper with the anthemic gospel soul of ‘Don’t Give Up’, on which the audience are recruited into a call and response routine for the duration of the song, while Powell gets stuck into an organ wig-out, and Jackson goes into towering mode with her vocals.  Then they put an unexpected cherry on top with a whirl through ‘Superstition’, with Laftaly conjuring up some interesting wah-wah – except, y’know, who cares about details like guitar tones by that stage, with the crowd getting to their feet to dish out a warm ovation?
Southern Avenue still have some growing to do, to be sure.  I had the impression they slotted in some new songs along the way tonight, without identifying any titles, and if so they were all well up to the mark. But they could still do with a few more to help them cut down on the number of covers.  And now and then it felt like they needed to find another gear, to give it all a bit more dig.  These things will come, but in the meantime they won a bundle more fans with this show.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Little Steven and The Disciples Of Soul - Whitley Bay Playhouse, 2 July 2018

The curtain parts, a rumble of drums and burst of chords heralds the appearance of the Disciples Of Soul, and before Steve Van Zandt can even shuffle his way to the front of stage, the audience are on their feet.  The Whitley Bay Playhouse may be a compact but bijou venue, but as Little Steven kicks off with Arthur Conley’s ‘Sweet Soul Music’ the night is made for dancing.
What follows is a two and a half hour show that’s equal parts Stax Soul Revue,  grand tour of rock’n’roll history, and – as the main man himself puts it – spiritual nourishment through live music.
Steve Van Zandt preaches spiritual nourishment
And that’s not a grand claim.  Just a few songs in they serve up Etta James’ ‘Blues Is My Business’, which not only features a 100% grabber of a hook, but is a platform for no less than six – count ‘em, six – different instrumental breaks kicking off with Andy Burton’s organ, and taking in guitars, piano, sax, and all action trombone from Clark Gayne. But here’s the thing, every one of these solos serves the song, and they’re all fun rather than exhibitions of self-indulgence.  After a sublime key change they could almost pack in right there and it would still be worth the ticket.
Except of course they don’t stop there.  It’s all so intense at one stage the backing singers JaQuita May, Sara Devine and Tania Jones take advantage of a solo to cool themselves off in front of fans next to the keyboards.  The ladies are dancing queens of a wholly different stripe from the usual repetitive groovers, though they’ve evidently been developing more co-ordinated moves since last autumn.  Not sure I approve of that mind you – I like ‘em best at their most non-conformist. Still, they add bucketfuls of snap, crackle and pop to the show, and Ms May is still “hotter’n a fox in a forest fire”, as another musical Van Zandt might have put it.
Hotter'n a fox in a forest fire in Whitley Bay
‘Until The Good Is Gone’ is a tribute to the great radio days of Van Zandt’s youth, featuring wonderfully gospellated call and response vocals between him and the girls.  ‘Under The Gun’ takes a very different road, with an Arabic intro worthy of Robert Plant leading into a pounding affair in which Steve and his guitar buddy Marc Ribler exchange ringing guitar chords a la Lizzy’s version of ‘Rosalie’, before a wild ending in which drummer Rich Mercurio goes certifiably nuts.
In between there’s ‘Angel Eyes’, which like the later ‘I Saw The Light’ seems almost like a throwaway at first, before turning into something immense.  Moments like these almost sum up the paradox of great pop music, that it can seem ephemeral on the one hand and timeless on the other.
Along the way there are so many different ingredients added to spice up the menu, from the sublime Motown-esque melody on ‘Some Things Just Don’t Change’ to the signature terrific horn riff on ‘St Valentine’s Day’ (on which Mercurio again shows that a drummer doesn’t need a solo to take the biscuit), from Morricone-style trumpet and guitar duet on ‘Standing In The Line Of Fire’ to the spot-on doo-wop arrangement of ‘The City Weeps Tonight’, and even the hard rocking of ‘Salvation’, on which the girls go wild.
There’s a slight dip in intensity with James Brown’s funk film theme ‘Down And Out In New York City’, as all five of the horn players take solo turns – all of which are fine in themselves, but which detract from the tension the song generates.  That done, they take a breather for the subdued mandolin-and-accordion of ‘Princess Of Little Italy’.
Disciples Of Soul - born to be wild
From there on though, it’s like a bobsleigh ride of thrills and spills, starting with the great hook of the floor-shaking ‘Ride The Night Away’, and continuing with the Latino vibe of ‘Bitter Fruit’, on which Van Zandt cries “Mambo!” to usher in a percussion showcase from Anthony Almonte as a song of defiance turns into a celebration. ‘Forever’ ends the set proper, but although they take a bow they go straight into the encores, and then they bring the house down when they “try something” with a stab of stop-time R’n’B which some of the Geordie locals go nuts immediately recognise as a hit by local Sixties heroes The Animals.
‘I Don’t Wanna Go Home’ triggers a forest of hands in the air to greet the aspirational lines “I know we have to try, to reach up and touch the sky”.  Most bands would struggle to top that, but Van Zandt still has ‘Out Of The Darkness’ up his sleeve.  It’s an air-punching anthem for our times, and sums up perfectly Van Zandt’s philosophy of musical and social togetherness.
I love live music, but there are some shows that reach up to another level altogether, and this was one of them.  If you were at this gig, and didn’t come out punch-drunk with enjoyment, and your face tired from smiling, then what the hell do you want from life?

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Waterboys - Playhouse, Edinburgh, 29 June 2018

Long, long time ago, I can still remember – playing The Waterboys’ ‘Big Music’ as my rallying call before going out to do my final university exams.  They weren’t a band I particularly followed at the time – I was primarily a hard rock kid back then – and my acquaintance with Mike Scott’s oeuvre has been haphazard since.  I loved Fisherman’s Blues, and there was then a long hiatus until somehow I picked up on the blindingly good Modern Blues a couple of years back.
So now here we are again at the Edinburgh Playhouse, scene of many a great gig in days of yore, but now largely given over to musicals.  Which probably explains the numerous signs insisting that the place is a seated venue, and “would patrons please co-operate in ensuring everyone can see”.  In other words, sit yer ass doon!
The Waterboys - first class jiggery-pokery
Which is a pity, because there’s plenty of danceable stuff in the Waterboys’ set, and it’s clear that some of the audience are itching to shake their booty on some of the jiggery-pokery stuff like ‘When Ye Go Away’ and the spankingly rumbustious ‘The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy’.
Fortunately Mike Scott has a trick up his sleeve to allow us at least a vicarious dance sensation, in the form of hip chick backing swingers Zeenie Summers and Jess Kav, who get on down in exuberant, loosely co-ordinated fashion throughout.  They also provide spot on vocals, with Kav especially impressive and versatile, ranging from soulful to scat-singing to well-nigh classic soprano at times.
By contrast Steve Wickham, looking like your favourite absent-minded professor with his waistcoat and stuck-up hair, often looks rather bemused by proceedings, when not actually playing, swaying gently while holding his fiddle in both hands.  But then he chucks in his trademark pirouette as they roll back the years with ‘A Girl Called Johnny’, and when he rips into that scudding riff on ‘We Will Not Be Lovers’ you know exactly what he brings to the party.
There are a few tunes from the latest album Out Of All This Blue.  It may have been a bit of an erratic outing, but Scott still pulls out some strong songs with the likes of ‘If The Answer Is Yeah’ and the country-style tribute to keyboard player Brother Paul Brown, ‘Nashville, Tennessee’.  Personally I reckon the tag-line of the latter would be better reversed to “My ass may be in Nashville, but my heart is in Memphis, Tennessee”, but that might have required a whole different lyric.  I’d also have preferred to hear something upbeat like ‘The Connemara Fox’ or ‘The Hammerhead Bar’, rather than the more mellow ‘Man, What A Woman’, but hey, I’ll give Mike Scott a pass on that.
In any event there’s enough from Modern Blues to keep me happy. In addition to being a sublime lyricist, Scott is an excellent raconteur, and cleverly uses a bit of guitar tuning as a catalyst for a story that neatly lines up the muscular ‘Still A Freak’.  Then after the interval he neatly bends the premise of ‘Nearest Thing To Hip’ to turn it into a nostalgia trip for lost Edinburgh record shops from the heyday of vinyl.  There’s no need for storytelling with the rattling set-closer ‘Long Strange Golden Road’ though.  ‘Anthemic’ is a word that could have been invented for Mike Scott’s songwriting, and this is a beat poet visionary call to (peaceful) arms.  It’s also one of several songs on which Brother Paul goes to town on his Hammond organ, apparently wrenching soul from the very guts of it.  His addition to the Waterboys ranks a few years ago was a signal moment.
They encore with ‘The Whole Of The Moon’, and inevitably the audience rise en masse to acclaim the archetypal example of Scott’s “Big Music”, singing along merrily as they’re conducted by Summers and Kav.  They stay on their feet for ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, the first blast of Scott’s delving into folk traditions, on which Scott and the girls join in with Wickham to twirl through the classic fiddle riff, summing up the collective spirit of the evening.
Mike Scott is blessed with the ability to create a multi-faceted repertoire.  As The Waterboys’ Facebook page puts it, “The Waterboys belong to no movement, genre, school or fashion. We play Waterboys music.  We follow the twists and trails of the music wherever it leads, wherever the adventure unfolds. Come with us.”  Yeah, it may sound a bit corny.  But Mike Scott is still a freak, and a bloody good one at that.