Happily, the first thing to be said about this latest selection of tunes from a range of Scottish blues artists is that they all pass muster - no duds, and with a pleasing degree of variety on display. Several of the acts featured have been covered at Blues Enthused before as well, so watch out for the links below to learn more.
But to begin at the very end, the least blues-like and most astonishing offering here comes in the form of Neil Warden’s album closer ‘The Alchemist’. With his Weissenborn lap steel guitar to the fore, over dreamy soundscapes courtesy of Stuart Mitchell, the veteran Edinburgh guitarist delivers an instrumental that comes over like a cross between an Arabic
|Neil Warden - prepare to be astonished|
The opening track is an entirely different kettle of fish, in the form of ‘Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now’, the title track from the latest album by Andy Gunn. A slice of good-time boogie infused with the spirit of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, it references Gunn’s youthful discovery of “Jerry Lee, Little Richard, Fats Domino” as it barrels along with handclaps, rocking piano, and a fizzing solo from Gunn. Its closest relation here, stylistically, is the rockabilly-leaning ‘Pebble By Pebble’ from Used Blues, an energetic romp garnished with shots of blues harp from front man Andy ‘Honeyboy’ Smith to complement the guitar of Jim Gardner.
Of a trio of R’n’B tracks scattered across the album, Five Grain Whisky’s ‘Sidewinder Blues’ is the pick of the bunch to these ears. The rasping voice of Alex More is to the fore, sounding like he’s woken up from a long session on the aforementioned hooch as he snarls that “You’re lower than a snake’s belly-oh”. It’s likeably simple, swinging and well-constructed, with a pleasing organ solo from Marty Wade. ‘Temporary Man’ from Chasin’ The Train doesn’t have quite the same vim, but it sets off imaginatively with an intro of crackling vinyl grooves and slide twangery of ‘In My Time Of Dying Man’ proportions, before settling into a lively chug-a-boogie topped off by a biting guitar solo from Rory Nelson and wailing harp from Bob Clements. Redfish add a convincing Stax soul twist to the formula
|Redfish - not immaterial men|
There’s a different brand of soul in evidence on ‘I’m The Boss’, by Melissa Kelly & The Smokin Crows, one of a clutch of songs from outfits led by female singers. Think ‘Think’ - in the sense that Kelly manages to produce a convincing Sixties sound in the vein of Aretha Franklin, full of parping horns and funky riffing as a foundation for Kelly’s energetic vocals – including a fresh-out-of-the-box whoop near the end. The Lynsey Dolan Band offer an alternative proposition on ‘I Won’t Bring You Bring Down’. With the light vibrato of Dolan’s vocal, a lush sound with piercing guitar from Gavin Bussey, and a yearning chorus laden with harmonies, it would do a good job as the closing theme to a movie romance.
Broken Windows, featuring singer-songwriter Liz Jones, produce something more personal with the song from which they take their name. Is it blues? No. Does it matter? Same answer. Across seven minutes ‘Broken Windows’ is a captivating affair, with Jones communicating intriguing imagery with sensitivity against a backdrop of subtle shadings from the rest of the band. It’s a rich rhythm section, with Marc Marnie’s drums augmented by
|Broken Windows' Liz Jones gives it big licks|
Glasgow-based Aussie Charlie Marshall is a firecracker of a singer and frontwoman, and with the 45s serves up an animated, sassy performance that conjures up the ambience of an old-time N’Awlins speakeasy, drawing on the horns of Gordon Dickson and Fenwick Lawson, jungle drum rhythms from Michael Harrison, and jazzy piano from Tim Brough. The thing is, this is just a vignette of what Charlotte Marshall & The 45s can deliver – see them live to get the full effect.
Also in a New Orleans vein is ‘Velvet Windows (Treme Trippin’), from London-based Wily Bo Walker. A rich gumbo of a tune, it features Walker’s gravel-voiced storytelling over funky bass from Tommy Rhodes, tripping drums from Max Saidi, a battery of horns, keys colourings from the ubiquitous Stevie Watts, and some neat guitar from Mike Ross. All told a minor work from Walker perhaps, but still a satisfying one.
Strolling a less rumbustious path are the Simon Kennedy Band, and Al Brown & The Blue Lighters. Kennedy’s ‘All Or Nothing’ ambles in on a ripple of piano and bursts of organ, and builds to an anthemic chorus given a gospel swell by some uncredited female backing vocals, while Kennedy adds some understated guitar licks wherever it takes his
|Firecracker chanteuse Charlotte Marshall|
Mike Bowden and the A917 Band offer a different form of subtlety with the semi-acoustic sounding ‘Poor Man’. It’s plaintive and beguiling, understated but resonant, with an earworm of a chorus and a subtly Latin rhythm courtesy of the wonderfully named Big Vern on percussion. In it’s simplicity, ‘Poor Man’ is another of the standouts of the album. Stoney Broke, alias multi-instrumentalist Jake Scott, is still more acoustic, a warm and dreamy affair with a nice melody and a well-judged electric guitar solo that complements the song.
Also stripped-back, but in a different fashion, is the Delta stomp of Andrew Robert Eustace’s ‘Broken Down And Beat’. With a hypnotic groove, Eustace’s growling voice, a brittle guitar solo and a catchy chorus, it's one of the highlights of his album Stories. And as old-style Mississippi as it may sound, the steady grind of it provides a curious link to the alt.blues of Black Cat Bone and Full Fat. The former capture their lead-heavy, grungy blues rumble well on ‘Morning Light’, with groaning vocals and howling harp from Ross Craig over a dirty, fuzzy bottom end. Full Fat don’t demonstrate quite the same raw conviction, but the trio’s ‘Temper Temper’ still has an offbeat, discordant energy that shows promise.
So there we have it – 18 tracks that show off a variety of contemporary sounds from artists with a Scottish connection, tracing their roots to the blues to a greater or lesser degree. Get yourself along to Jock's Juke Joint, find your own favourites, and go explore!