Sunday, November 25, 2018

Andy Gunn - Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now

First impressions can be dangerous.  A few years ago I saw Scotsman Andy Gunn playing a support slot, and was left underwhelmed by a set that seemed lacking in direction.  In particular, guitarist Gunn took on only occasional vocal duties, and had a female singer at his side who seemed uncertain of her role.  So I had low expectations of Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now, and paid it little attention for months after its release in February this year.  This was a bad call on my part, because it’s a fine album that has a clear sense of purpose.
Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now is old school blues.  If you like, say, Eric Clapton’s
Andy Gunn does some interleaving with blues harp
reading of ‘Third Degree’ on
From The Cradle, then my guess is you’ll like this.  Or as Gunn himself has said in an interview, it started out as a guitar, keyboards and blues harp recording, partly inspired by the album Buddy And The Juniors, by Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and Junior Mance, to which Gunn subsequently decided to add a rhythm section on several tracks.  
The underlying tone of the twelve tracks on offer is caught by songs like ‘Sorry Mess Blues’ and ‘Battlefield Blues’. The former is contemplative, with restrained piano from Andy May, and minimalist brushed drums from Jim Walker – who is just the man for the subtleties of this album.  Gunn’s guitar, meanwhile, is of the less-is-more variety, in which the spaces in between are as significant as the notes themselves. The latter is back porch stuff, with rootsy-as-you-get slide playing superbly interleaved with harp playing from Spider MacKenzie.  And on both these tracks Gunn delivers just-the-job vocals in a crooning, moanin’ an’ groanin’ blues vein.  ‘Suffering Man’s Blues’ treads a similar downbeat path, with subdued guitar, a tasty organ solo from May, and the rhythm section of Walker and bassist Al James finding the pocket perfectly.
Straight ahead meditative blues like these aren’t the be all and end all of the album though.  ‘Back On Song’ may be low key, right from its murmured count in, but it’s a singular, boundary-melting offering, with backing vocals from Liz Jones of Broken Windows.  Leaning on warm piano playing from Mays, it has a lovely melody, beautifully sung by Gunn and Jones, that has a smidgen of ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’ about it, and
Groaning the blues
measured guitar playing that focuses on serving the song.  The final track ‘Going Home Again’ almost reaches the same heights, quoting ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ and bringing matters to a mellow but uplifting close.
Elsewhere, Gunn brings some sparkling, fuzzy guitar to the relaxed and swinging
‘Mississippi Ground’, with neat variations in rhythm from Walker, and wah-wah to ‘Eidyn Shuffle’, an instrumental with impressive, breezy harp from MacKenzie, flourishes of organ, and skipping drums.  The most upbeat moment though, comes in the form of the old-fashioned rough and tumble boogie of the title track, which recounts how Gunn got hooked on the blues, and where the musical addiction led.
For those who aren’t familiar with his story, it’s worth mentioning that Andy Gunn has good reason to feel an affinity with the blues.  Born with haemophilia, he contracted HIV and Hepatitis C from a contaminated blood transfusion, and went off the rails for a spell with addictions of a non-musical variety.  As a consequence of his illnesses he has also had to contend with two episodes of cancer and a related heart attack.  But for all these troubles, Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now presents a convincing case that the Gunndog, as Andy Gunn likes to style himself, is now in fine fettle.  He is, one might say, back on song.

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