Thursday, August 30, 2018

Listened to lately - Mike Zito, Bernard Allison and Vanja Sky

Caravans – don’t you just hate ‘em?  Bloody pain to overtake when you’re on a long journey.  But then there’s the Ruf Records Blues Caravan, on which three Ruf artists tour together, which is a rather more enticing proposition.  And since I’m due to catch the 2018 edition in a few weeks, featuring Mike Zito, Bernard Allison and Vanja Sky, I reckoned it was time I boned up on their latest material.

Mike Zito has been a go-to artist for me ever since I cottoned to his albums Gone To Texas and Pearl River, and my favourite album of 2015 was his Keep Coming Back, a rock’n’rollin’ affair chock full of great songs.  This year saw him release First Class Life, and while it’s not Keep Coming Back it still has some great moments, not least on the guitar front, where Zito is on terrific form right from the gritty, slithering slide attack of opener ‘Mississippi Nights’.
Mike Zito gives himself back problems 
The centrepiece of the album is ‘Old Black Graveyard’, a moody, spooky number that’s the most intense offering here, built on a repetitive, undulating motif and long, haunting slide notes that eventually build into a squealing danse macabre of a solo.
Other treats include the laid back ‘I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treat)’, on which Zito shows off his relaxed way with something reflective, the swinging blues of ‘Dying Day’, with its strutting bass line from Terry Dry, and the witty ‘Back Problems’, a funky affair of the kind he’s shown a talent for before with the likes of ‘Break A Leg’.
From a musical perspective ‘The World We Live In’ is a delightful slow blues, though lyrically its passive outlook on life’s travails, and referencing of the afterlife as a comfort, don’t do it for me.  ‘Mama Don’t Like No Wah-Wah’, a co-write with guest guitarist Bernard Allison about the latter’s experience playing with Big Mama Thornton, is a bit of innocent fun – riddled with wah-wah, of course – even though it verges on the corny.  No such qualms about the closing ‘Trying To Make A Living’ though, on which Zito dons his blues suede shoes to knock out some sparkling rock’n’roll.
First Class Life didn’t grab me in the same way as Keep Coming Back, but it’s a grower – and I’m looking forward to seeing Mike Zito and his infectious grin onstage again.

Have to admit I’ve never actually listened to Bernard Allison before collaring his latest album Let It Go, though I’ve been aware of him, and of the fact that he’s the son of Luther Allison – two of whose songs, ‘You’re Gonna Need Me’ and ‘Castle’, close out the album.
The immediate impression on the opening ‘Cruisin For A Bluesin’ is of a Howlin’ Wolf-ish riff mashed up with a Robert Cray vocal.  Allison’s rich, buttery voice has a few more rough edges than Smooth Bob though, which is fine by me, with additional character in the form of
Bernard Allison gets spiritual
an intermittent lisp.  The following ‘Same Old Feeling’, with its descending guitar and bass figure, gravitates even further towards laid-back, grooving Cray territory.
Elsewhere there’s a large dollop of funk in the Allison cookbook, from the loose-limbed bump’n’grind of ‘Backdoor Man’, with occasional injections of groaning voicebox by the sound of it, to the oh-so AWB-like ‘Night Train’ with its ticking rhythm guitar, neck-snapping riff, tripping drums from Mario Dawson, and piercing guitar breaks.
The rendition of Brooks Benton’s ‘Kiddeo’ is finger-snappingly cool and immaculately phrased, with brittle-toned jazzy guitar, and completely blows away Mike Vernon’s recent version.  There’s a crunching quality to the riff on ‘Leave Your Ego’, a mid-tempo co-write with fellow Chicagoan soul-blues brother Ronnie Baker Brooks, underscored by a howling solo.
‘Blues Party’ is a straightforward chug-along based on the rather cheesy premise of all the deceased blues greats jamming in Club Heaven, but goofy fun for all that.  Much more interesting is the reading of Luther Allison’s ‘You’re Gonna Need Me’, which evokes BB King in both the resonant quality of the vocal and the restrained, pinpoint guitar playing, and would have made a stronger closing track than the rather middle-of-the-road acoustic fare of ‘Castle’.  Let It Go could be more consistent, but overall it's an impressive affair, with a sound as good as you might expect from top-flight producer Jim Gaines.

Young Croation guitarist and singer Vanja Sky is very much the junior partner in this company, but she gives a good account of herself on her debut album Bad Penny – boldly opening the proceedings by borrowing the title track from Rory Gallagher.  And while you’d have to be a bloody genius to stand comparison with Rory, it has to be said that she gives it a good shot.
As a vocalist Sky isn’t in the Sam Fish league, but her voice does have a throaty appeal, and her delivery has personality, whether on the likeable if clichéd straight up boogie of
Vanja Sky gets her guitar in a twist
‘Hard Working Woman’, or the mellow and lovelorn ‘Inside Pain’ with its tastefully note-bending guitar work.  She does waver a bit on ‘Hit Me With The Blues’ though, one of several songs where, once she’s found a hook, producer Mike Zito (yes, him again) allows her to hang on to it like it’s a comfort blanket.
Bernard Allison’s ‘Low Down And Dirty’ is a high-energy good-time blues romp though, with both Zito and Allison (uncredited) contributing on vocals.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Zito is also at least partly responsible for the bonanza of slide playing on the track, but if it’s all down to Ms Sky then full marks for that.  I certainly expect that it’s a popular party piece when the three of them play together live on Blues Caravan duty.
‘Give Me Back My Soul’ may not be very imaginative, but it’s still a well-delivered slice of strutting ‘I know it’s only rock’n’roll but I like it’ stuff.  ‘Do You Wanna’ essays a promising bit of offbeat funkiness, and confirms that Sky knows more than one way around the fretboard. Lyrically it might be primary school stuff but hey, I’ll cut her some slack this time around.
The quality control department should really have kicked the likes of the Girlschool-ish ‘Don’t Forget To Rock N Roll’ and the plodding ‘Crossroads Of Life’ into touch.  Still and all, with quality backing from the likes of Terry Dry (yes, him again too) and Dave Smith on bass, Matthew Johnson and Yonrico Scott on drums, and Lewis Stephens on keys, there are enough positives in Bad Penny to suggest that Vanja Sky has the potential to develop further.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Labour Of Love - Blues Enthused speaks to Chris Bevington about his dream blues project

That line “If you build it they will come,” from the movie Field Of Dreams, may not quite hit the mark, but it’ll do.
Seven years ago, at the age of 50, semi-professional bassist Chris Bevington had an idea, and now he’s on the phone to tell me the story.  After years of gigging with blues bands across the north-west of England, there was a bundle of favourite blues songs he’d love to record with a big band, just for his own pleasure.  But, as he puts it, “I knew that the bands I was in at the time, or I’d been in, probably wouldn’t get it.”
The Chris Bevington Organisation - this ain't no power trio
Pics courtesy of Netty G
There were some other musicians he knew though, or at least knew of, who would at least understand the idea. People like Jim Kirkpatrick from the band FM, and producer and multi-instrumentalist Scott Ralph, among others.  Would they maybe agree to contribute?  No harm in asking, he thought.
“But to be honest,” he laughs, “I was expecting people to say, ‘Nah, I’m alright thanks!’  Nicely, you know.  Or, ‘I’m a but busy, but if you get stuck . . . .’  But they didn’t – it was bizarre.  All these people said,  ‘Yeah I’ll come and do it with you.  Tell me when you want me, and send me the tracks.’  So I booked us in to do three songs in a local studio, with the idea that it would either work or it wouldn’t, and even if it worked people might not stay with it after, and then after a few months those three songs became eleven!”
At this stage the recordings were still just intended to be for the ears of Bevington and his pals. But then someone persuaded him that the end product was good enough for public consumption.
“So I packaged it up and that was the first album.  Then it went out and I was reallynervous,” he recalls.  And lo and behold, the self-titled Chris Bevington & Friends was well received. “Which was really good - I was really taken aback by all the lovely comments.  Then we started gigging, and it went from there, playing different venues and festivals.  It’s been really quite incredible.  And the band has stuck pretty much together, all the major players.”
A second album from Chris Bevington & Friends followed, and then – from the re-christened Chris Bevington Organisation – one of the most enjoyable blues albums of this year, in the form of Cut And Run.
“The third album is obviously all our own stuff,” says Bevington, “which I was delighted about. The first album was pretty much covers of blues tracks, but the third album’s our own, which is a different game, and I’ve really enjoyed that, we all have.”
As they should, because Cut And Run is a fresh and vibrant slab of rocking blues, delivered by a nine-piece band, that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Chris Bevington may have his name on the tin, but he’s open about the fact that Scott Ralph and Jim Kirkpatrick have been increasingly at the helm.  All 12 songs on Cut And Run were written by the pair, and Ralph produced it with some additional input from Kirkpatrick.  So
how did they get going down that road, I ask.
“Well to begin with,” he says, “they only knew of one another.  But it was only when we did the first album, and then the second album, that they hit it off.  They never met one another when they did the first album, because they went in the studio at different times.  Then when they did actually meet they got on like a house on fire – and not only did they do the project we’ve got, but they’re helping one another with other projects.  Scott does FM recording, and all manner of stuff, and they became good friends.  And that’s really cemented it, because then they became a driving force for the third album.
Jim Kirkpatrick and Scott Ralph give it some welly
“Both of them came to me,” he goes on, “and they said let’s go for it.  ‘We’ll get to Christmas,’ – this was Christmas 2016 – ‘and then we’ll start writing.’  And then they went in the studio for three months I think, wrote the twelve tracks, and then brought us all in, and said ‘What do you think?’ and What can we do with this?’ and changed things around.  But they basically are a real powerhouse together – they’re good friends, very professional, they work well together because of the styles of the singing, and the guitar playing.  Having them at the helm has been brilliant.”
But even if Ralph and Kirkpatrick are in the pilots’ seats, the Chris Bevington Organisation is still very much an ensemble affair, as the man himself makes clear when I ask him how he’d describe their sound.
“I think we dip into the different styles of blues, but the emphasis is really on the big sound, to bring in all the brass and all the vocals.  So it’s got that big band sound, but what we try to do is keep an element of that raw slide guitar, so some numbers are more raw.  But in saying that we try to put some technique in there with the shuffles or the drum solos.
“So it does flick across the different styles, but the emphasis was really the big sound, and giving every musician the chance to shine – it’s the first album that every musician got the chance to really playon, if you know what I mean, wrote their own parts and all that, whether it was the horns or the backing vocals.  So everybody was given their space, and then Scott would be there to give advice.  But it was real teamwork, proper teamwork, nobody really demanding anything.  So I think that’s why I was pleased with the album, because I think every member of the band picks it up and thinks, ‘I really contributed to that.’”
I ask if it’s been particularly interesting for Bevington to see this whole process up close, and how Ralph and Kirkpatrick have pulled it all together.  I’m guessing that until he started this project, he’d never really had an insight into how real pros would do it.
“You know, that’s such a good question,” he reflects.  “Because it’s dead true.  When I started the project, I had no experience at all in the studio to speak of, apart from putting bass guitar down on a few recordings with other people. And it’s been a real eye opener, and I’ve really enjoyed watching the process – all kinds of things.  A fascinating thing for me is layering the tracks – which come in first, how to bring in the sounds – and where they bring in a lot of percussion to build up the vibe, and all these different types of instruments.  And they work so well together – because sometimes, honestly, I was probably a little bit lost, I was out of my depth listening to what they were talking about. But you could tell they were that in tune with one another, and Jim’s got such an ear for it as well.  But yeah, we spent many hours, I did, just sat there listening and trying to learn a bit.  And you could see the technique - and you know, they’re clever people. Scott’s clever with all the technology as well.”
Beyond all the technique though, Scott Ralph evidently had a creative vision.
“Scott said one of his objectives for the album was that he wanted to get a very live, 70s sound. And he was on a bit of a mission, to get the drum sound he got, and he did all kinds of things with my bass sound – it was through a valve rig and we did all kinds of things – but he had a vision in his mind of what he wanted it to sound like.  And he’d explained it to me the Christmas before, and he stuck by it all the way through.  Him and Jim had this view, that it’d got to be a little bit of a Seventies sound, with the big drum feel and all that sort of stuff.  And that’s a producer really, isn’t it?  He knew what he was aiming for, and all the way through the album he was making sure it was what he wanted.”
And credit where it’s due, Ralph has created a sound that unifies the whole album.  As I observe to Chris, it’s got an old-fashioned, bluesy, earthy feeling, but manages to be bright at the same time.  Skinsman Neil McCallum must be delighted with the thumping drum sound, the horns from Mike Yorke and Adrian Gibson are given plenty of room to shine, and the backing vocals by Sarah Miller and Kate Robertson slot in perfectly to add another dimension to several songs.  If you’re looking for a comparison, something like Paice Ashton Lord’s track ‘Dance With Me Baby’ springs to mind – which also happened to feature Jim Kirkpatrick’s chum Bernie Marsden.
Not your average 'geezer with a guitar' album cover
On a different creative note, Cut And Run also has an attractive and distinctive album cover.  Unlike your typical blues cover photo of a bloke posing with a guitar, it features a photograph of an old building, just as its two Chris Bevington & Friends predecessors did.  So how did that come about?  Bevington laughs.
“Well, on the first album, I went for a bit of a decrepit building look – it was in New York, and a photographer in New York, and I bought the photos off him.  One was a very derelict building.  And that came about from me with no real plan in mind. Number two was when Scott Ralph was producing, with Jim, some guy in Neary, in Ireland, and the second album cover was actually a picture of a house there.  It looked so authentic, and we got a bit of a feel for it, so I said yeah that’s fine, we’ll go for that.  And then for this latest one, Scott’s got a property in Portugal which he’s doing up, and he just so happened to walk past the house that’s on the cover.  And I gave it to a graphic designer, Michelle Lyons, who was super, and I said, ‘What would you do with that?’  And that’s the design she came back with.”
The new album also involved a rebranding of the band as the Chris Bevington Organisation.  So what brought that about, I wonder? Turns out it was Jim Kirkpatrick’s idea.
“Because Jim’s got quite a few contacts in the business,” Bevington explains, “people had said to him, ‘Don’t mind the name, but the “and Friends” sounds like a get together of musicians who are not necessarily a band,’ you know?  So Jim came along and said, why don’t we change the name and make it sound a bit more business-like?  And to be honest, I was saying to them, I felt they were the musicians, so did they want to keep the name the same, or come up with a band name? Because I’m not precious about it in any way.  But they wouldn’t change the name, with me in it.”
Which is a real compliment, I suggest.
“I know.  But I felt a bit awkward at the start, because I didn’t want it to seem like I was the
Chris Bevington - plenty to smile about
Pic courtesy of Netty G
big name, when there’s Jim and Scott and the rest of them.  But they said no, so we changed it to the Organisation, and changed the website and all that, and they just thought it would sound a bit more like we were a band, and not some jazz collaboration.”
The strong impression I have from speaking with Chris Bevington is of a very humble guy when it comes to his musical contribution.  But he does admit that in other respects it’s been a labour of love on his part.
“Over the time, I suppose I’ve put a lot of my heart and soul into it,” he says, “and money as well, and I’ve always tried to make it as good as I could, in a nice way.  So when we’ve gone in the studio, we’ve spent the right amount of time.  We haven’t skimped it.  And everybody’s been like that.  So we’re all out to do the very best we can do.  Scott’s recorded it and produced it with Jim, and everybody’s got involved, but I was desperately trying to make it something that we would be proud of.”
He may not be the front man of the Chris Bevington Organisation in a traditional sense, but in my book Bevington has every reason to be proud of bring into existence the band that bears his monicker.  He built it, they came, and the results are mightily impressive.  I’m counting the days till I see them live.

You can find an interview with Scott Ralph by a fellow blogger here.

The Chris Bevington Organisation are appearing at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival on Friday 28 September.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Ben Poole - Anytime You Need Me

Well, I’m impressed.
Reviewing Ben Poole’s previous album Time Has Come back in 2016 for The Blues Magazine, I suggested that while it had strong points, some of the songs were slight, the boyishness of his voice could become wearing, and the time had come for him to find more of his dark side.  So it’s encouraging to find that on Anytime You Need Me he’s taken a big step towards addressing those issues.

Ben Poole - the boy done good
A tough, choppy guitar riff sets the tone on the opening title track, and as the song progresses Poole’s voice leaves behind his more winsome tendencies and gets into grittier territory, which he underlines with a couple of satisfying guitar solos, the first brief but edgy, and the second squealing.  And already, it has to be noted, the sound delivered by producer Wayne Proctor and his House Of Tone buddies is excellent, especially in relation to Proctor’s drums.
Poole uses fuzzed up guitar tones to good effect on several tracks, kicking off with the interesting riff on ‘Take It No More’.  It’s followed up mid-album by ‘Further On Down The Line’, on which squelchy guitar riffery crunches along over a twitching rhythm and a deep bass groove from Beau Barnard. And then on ‘Let Me Be’, the fuzzy guitar gradually pulls Barnard’s resonant bass foundation to the fore, and along with a few filigrees in the arrangement enlivens what might otherwise be a somewhat tame song.
At the centre of the album all concerned do a sterling job on a cover of Don Henley’s ‘Dirty Laundry’. Poole is again in a key that allows him to produce a bit more dig vocally, and he adds a suitably dirty guitar sound on his solo.  It’s a song with plenty of punch all round, and which could point the way for Poole in the future, with a caustic lyric that goes beyond the personal and engages with the wider world.  They follow that up nicely with Jude Cole’s 80s hit ‘Start The Car’, getting funky with throbbing bass, organ fills from Ross Stanley, guitar licks flickering between the lines of the second verse to add variety, and ultimately a stinging, wah-wah-fied solo from Poole.
‘You Could Say’ is a confection with a lot going for it, in the form of a sweetly jangling riff that recalls Stevie Nimmo’s ‘Lovin’ Might Do Us Good’, some cleverly shuffling rhythms from Proctor, and a catchy pop melody.  But it does find Poole back reverting to lightweight vocal mode, and it’s as well that he thickens it by adding his own harmonies.
He comes up trumps with a couple of ballads though, with ‘Found Out The Hard Way’ and ‘Don’t Cry For Me’ representing twin highlights.  The former is patient and expansive, with a pleasing melody and subtle guitar work. In fact it’s subtle all round, in a very Aynsley Lister-ish way, and Poole serves up a rousing solo on the outro. The latter, penned by Proctor’s compadre Steve Wright, is a soulful slowie of beguiling simplicity, and becomes a platform for Poole to confirm the kind of guitar playing promise that he showed on his Live At The Albert Hall live album.  Giving Poole the room to breathe on these tracks proves well worth it.
The album closes with ‘Holding On’, which with its rumbling, ominous intro aspires to something more epic. It would benefit from Poole offering a stronger, more emphatic vocal, but it does go through the gears a bit halfway through, and develops an impressive head of steam as a finale.
Ben Poole may not have struck gold with Anytime You Need Me, but it is a big stride forward from him, in terms of songwriting, vocals, and all round performance.  It speaks of lots of hard work with his co-writers Wayne Proctor and Steve Wright, and shows that he does have the capability to fulfil the potential shown on his live album.  The boy done manned up a bit, and it suits him.

Anytime You Need Me is released on Manhaton Records on 14 September.
King King drummer Wayne Proctor talks about producing Anytime You Need Me here.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Little Boys Blue with Kid Memphis - Hard Blue Space

For an R’n’B band led by a harp player, Little Boys Blue have a remarkably mellow sound – don’t expect to hear JD Taylor start blowing up a typhoon anywhere on this album.  From Jackson, Tennessee, they have a soulful, understated style, at times lightly funky in the manner of Albert King’s ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’, and on early listens I wondered if they would ever find top gear.  But with repeated spins I began to appreciate that there’s some subtlety at work here.
These ten tracks, all originals, begin to resonate for their unhurried musicality, for Taylor’s
I know that bar - Little Boys Blue groovin' in Beale St
rich voice and phrasing, and especially for the guitar playing on display throughout.  Sometimes playful, sometimes Peter-Green-fluid, I’m guessing the fretwork is largely the work of special guest John Holiday, aka Kid Memphis, though there are also guitar credits for Alex Taylor and Andrew White.
Right from the start, on ‘Six Foot Down’, the control is evident in the steady back beat, Taylor’s soulful singing, and the way they slowly build a mounting pressure.  There’s a hint of ‘Green Onions’ in the B3 of Dave Thomas on ‘Loving Kind’, and they show the ability to deliver something slower and more contemplative on ‘Blues Bug’, then a cool, measured strut on the edgier title track, with its neat, rolling guitar riff and warm piano.
They get more uptempo on ‘Morning Train’, with its subliminal air of ‘It’s Your Voodoo Working’, before toughening up on ‘Cold Inside’, with Dave Mallard’s swinging bass bumping along to good effect.  ‘Might As Well’ serves up a jump blues vibe – and I do like a bit of decent jump blues - with barrelhouse piano from Thomas and a call and response chorus from Taylor and the band, while ‘Got A Mind Of Your Own’ dials up the funk.  ‘If The Blues Start Calling’ is a slow shuffling groove, with gritty harp from Taylor and some tasty slide into the bargain, and the closing ‘Going Back To Memphis’ is a more rootsy, chugging affair.
Hard Blue Space may not give you an adrenaline rush, but if you fancy the idea of an R’n’B band laying back and leaving each other lots of space to participate in bluesy musical conversation, then Little Boys Blue may be your bag.  Personally I’d like a pint of Mississippi moonshine added to the mix, mind you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Too Slim And The Taildraggers - High Desert Heat

Too Slim And The Taildraggers may be based in Nashville, but they sure as hell don’t sound like no country music.  High Desert Heat is gritty blues rock with an occasional southern twist - no frills stuff that deserves to be played loud while cruising along in a pick up truck, down an arrow-straight highway that’s shimmering in the high noon sun.
Tim 'Too Slim' Langford - psychedelic, maan!
Opening track 'Time Has Come Today' sets out their stall with a meaty riff and jangly turnaround from Tim ‘Too Slim’ Langford, to go with his gravelly vocal.  Here and there the vibe drifts towards Texas, as on ‘One Step At A Time’ and ‘Run Away’, with their ZZ Top-like riffs and Langford’s voice channelling Billy Gibbons.  The former has a moody, downbeat opening, though it would benefit from more drive, while the latter builds some satisfying tension between the guitar and Jeff ‘Shakey’ Fowlkes’ drums, ahead of a heavyweight crescendo in the middle and a closing wah-wah solo from Langford.  Both songs feel overlong, but not as a result of indulgent noodling, so the lack of pruning is forgivable.
Elsewhere the material ranges from traditional R’n’B on the loping ‘Trouble’, with its rock steady rhythm and chugging harp from guest Sheldon Ziro, to the more modern ‘Lay Down The Gun’, where the melody tugs at the rhythm and the semi-rapped vocal recalls the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Sonically they’re in the sweet spot throughout, typified by the chunky rhythm guitar sound on the beefy ‘Broken White Line’.  ‘A Little More Time’ has Skynyrd-ish undertones, and the closing title track is an atmospheric instrumental with twanging guitar spaced out over rattlesnake-shaking percussion.
But they’re probably at their best on songs like the straight-up ‘What You Said’.  Locked into a crisp, pounding beat, it would surely have Angus Young at least nodding his head to the simple, ringing riff as Langford bounces licks off it.  High Desert Heat is the thirteenth studio album from Too Slim and the Taildraggers, would you believe, and the experience shows in a well-honed, blue-collar sound worthy of a roadhouse jukebox.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Mike Vernon & The Mighty Combo - Beyond The Blue Horizon

Legendary blues producer Mike Vernon styles his Mighty Combo as an R’n’B outfit, but don’t stick this album on expecting something down and dirty of the Chicago variety.  To begin with at least, the vibe is more “small big band”, jump blues and early rock’n’roll – Louis Jordan and Fats Domino are declared influences.  Which is fine in principle, but on the first few songs here the results aren’t especially convincing, for a couple of reasons.
The energy levels aren’t high enough for one thing – they can declare on the opening track that ‘We’re Gonna Rock The Joint’, but they really don’t.  And for another thing, Vernon may have been a vocalist with the likes of Rocky Sharpe & The Replays back in the day, but for
Mike Vernon gets his groove on
Pic courtesy of Tommy Slack
several songs here his limited range and power are evident.  His phrasing is good though, so that he at least invests the material with some personality.
Which is just as well, because in the wrong hands this kind of urban blues-derived material could easily end up sounding like twee music hall.  As it is, Clarence Henry’s early Sixties hit ‘(I Don’t Why I Love You) But I Do’ comes across as something from a guest on a comfy BBC light entertainment show of yesteryear, while the arrangement on ‘I Can Fix It’ sounds corny with its repeated musical stings.  It’s all competent enough, but I get the feeling that someone like Georgie Fame would elevate material like this to a whole other level.
And then suddenly, about halfway in, things start to click.  Mose Allison’s ‘Your Mind Is On Vacation’ could easily be a candidate for yet more jazzy quirkiness, but against all odds it does actually sound like R’n’B.  Laid back and mellow R’n’B to be sure, but tasteful, with smoky sax from Paul Tasker and satisfying guitar licks from Kid Carlos.
They follow that with the even more impressive slow blues of ‘Old Man Dreams’, on which Carlos really shows his mettle, while Vernon sounds more relaxed and at home.  Maybe he’s in a more comfortable key, maybe the material comes more naturally, but throughout the second half of the album his delivery is much more effective.
‘Red Letter Day’ swings along pleasingly to Mike Hellier’s shuffling rhythm, and Carlos produces another nifty, twanging, varied solo – though the song, like some others, goes on longer than necessary.  ‘A Love Affair With The Blues’ is a dreamy Fats Domino derivative, delivered with feeling and some tasteful harp to augment more twinkling guitar from Carlos, before ‘Hate To Leave (Hate To Say Goodbye)’ rounds things off with some bouncing rock’n’roll.
I caught Vernon and the Combo playing live a couple of weeks back, and the main man certainly seemed to be enjoying himself, which I rather suspect is more than half the point of this venture.  Fair enough. But I’d have thought that someone with Mike Vernon’s track record would have managed to deliver a bit more a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop than is the case on Beyond The Blue Horizon.