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
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.