Friday, October 11, 2019

Redfish - Souls

It strikes me, listening to Souls, that Redfish dream large.  Not in terms of world domination commercially I imagine, but perhaps at least in terms of realising their artistic potential.  Though probably the quintet from the environs of Carlisle and Dumfries think about it in quite those terms.
The bedrock of their sound is John Mayall-esque British blues (sans harmonica), with hints of Born Under A Bad Sign thrown in for good measure.  They certainly do a bang-up job on straight-up bluesiness, as on the strutting boogie of ‘One More Fight’ for example, and the
funky ‘For The Love Of The Wrong Woman’, which is well served by both the piano and guitar solos, and is one of several songs on which they employ guest horns to good effect.  Their feel for the essentials extends to the moody slow-ish blues of ‘It’s A Very Lonely Life’
Redfish - walking in the shadows of the blues
too, with its smatterings of guitar over a steady bass groove, and a spot on organ solo from Fraser Clark, and I’m taken with the happy-go-lucky, Georgie Fame-like feel of the closing ‘Hallelujah Road’ too.

But they also manage to throw some twists into this kind of material, such as the throbbing and swirling clavinet-type sound on the opener ‘There’s Nothing Else’, matched by a fitting guitar tone from Martin McDonald on his solo.  Or the stop-start vocals from Brian ‘Stumblin’’ Harris on the funky ‘(Kick Up) Hell’s Delight’, with its effects-treated guitar break and shift to a snappy, Squeeze-like closing refrain.  And Harris clearly makes an effort to produce smart lyrics too, as on the wittily acerbic ‘Don’t Waste The Good Stuff’, which has organ and jagged slide guitar getting into competition towards the end.
But it’s the fact that they stretch their range beyond these mainstream stylings that really deserves applause.  They’re brave enough to keep it simple, for example, on the finger-snapping ‘Rakehells’, with its earworm of a stride piano figure and shuffling, swinging rhythm from drummer Sandy Sweetman and bassist Rod Mackay.  Clark adds a rippling piano solo, and McDonald some slide, but they don’t clutter up the tune en route to its oddly abrupt ending.  More dramatically, ‘Hate The Song But Not The Singer’ kicks off with a quietly crooned, hesitant vocal from Harris over the most spartan guitar, and when the band crank it up the vocals become more angsty and pleading, with suitably rough guitar giving way to some jazzy Rhodes piano.
‘Shadow On My Soul’ has an original sound too, its feel apparently inspired by Nina Simone.  Sweetman lays down a novel rhythm on percussion, augmented by handclaps, while McDonald and Clark contribute a sparse guitar/piano motif that puts me in mind of ‘Sloop John B’ of all things, and Harris delivers a patient, keening vocal about wanting to “scream like Roky Erickson”.  There’s some fitting piano embroidery from Clark, and a trombone solo courtesy of Chris Riley, and the upbeat coda is nicely done even if it might have been better kept for another song.
I could probably mention some other quibbles, but to hell with that.  Redfish are a bunch who have paid their dues, musicianship wise, and it shows.  More to the point, they haven’t plodded along a familiar blues rut from one end of Souls to the other.  Instead they’ve shown a spirit of adventure, set out to explore some fresh angles, and done it with conviction – and good on ‘em for that.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

North Mississippi Allstars - Up And Rolling

The North Mississippi Allstars hold a special place in my affections.  When I started getting into this blues thing a bit, they were one of the first bands I discovered for myself.  At the time I knew diddly squat about the North Mississippi hill country, or the singular mysteries of the blues emanating from the area.  But when I got hold of their album Shake Hands With Shorty my jaw dropped.  These Dickinson guys could groove like gravy (I’ve just made that up, but you get the alliterative idea) with nagging rhythms, and then next thing they’d explode all over the place.
Some of the NMA collective
And I'm pleased to say they’ve come up with the goods again.  Up And Rolling is inspired by the rediscovery of collection of photographs harking back to Luther and Cody Dickinson's formative experiences of the musical heritage of the North Mississippi hill country, and includes reworkings of old songs from their mentors and influences, as well as originals from the Dickinsons and their pals.  But it’s also a celebration of the community and lifestyle from which it springs. And the emergence of NMA from the hill country and its music is well captured by Luther Dickinson in the booklet accompanying the CD – including his inimitable description of his own guitar playing:  “I forged my style of psychedelic open tuned fingerpicked bottle neck country blues guitar by combining the horizontal melody of Fred’s [Mississippi Fred McDowell] and Otha’s [Otha Turner] bamboo can fife with rock’n’roll tube amp power and thumb picked rhythmic boogie as marching drums in the distance.”  You said it Luther.
So they open up with ‘Call That Gone’, tripping along on a paradiddle rhythm from Cody Dickinson and rumbling bass from Carl Dufrene, while Luther trades call and response vocals with Sharisse Norman.  At first there are just intermittent injections of ragged slide guitar and flute-like fife from Sharde Thomas, but later they’re ramped up until they and the drums are in fiery, but controlled, competition.  You won’t get stuff like this on your bog standard blues-rock album.
And to underline that point, they follow that with ‘Up And Rolling’, a deliciously dreamy affair, and little wonder when it’s evoking hazy Mississippi days drifting along on a stream of weed, LSD and mushroom tea.  Built around a lovely descending melody, it hangs together beautifully, with those silky female vocals to the fore.  Not to be done, Luther comes up with some delightful, delicate guitar work, that in combination with Wurly piano from brother Cody that brings to mind Hendrix in hypnotic mode.
They venture into a more traditional blues format on Little Walter’s ‘Mean Old World’, with a circular, pinging guitar figure, and Jason Isbell guesting on vocals, but they’re still adventurous with it, as a slide solo eventually takes off into an extended uptempo passage that’s very Allmans in style – making full use of the presence of Duane Betts on guitar.  (Apparently the song was once recorded by their father, muso and producer Jim Dickinson, with Duane Allman and Eric Clapton during the Layla sessions.)
The Dickinson brothers make World Boogie
But they also dig down into the hill country roots, with a couple of RL Burnside songs in the form of ‘Peaches’ and ‘Out On The Road’, the former improvising around the patient groove, and the latter brief and to the point.  Junior Kimbrough’s ‘Lonesome In My Home’, meanwhile, is a largely downbeat affair with ticking drums and distorted, haunting vocals that begin collide with modern guitar sounds until at times it sounds like it’s on the cusp of falling apart.
But other influences are reflected too, as on the ‘Pops’ Staples song ‘What You Gonna Do?’, which with Mavis Staples guesting is gospel reframed as simple and repetitive soulfulness.  And there’s also the vintage gospel of Tom Dorsey’s ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’, a great tune on which Luther Dickinson trades vocal and guitar licks with Cedric Burnside.
And there are socially conscious original songs too, with ‘Bump That Mother’ and ‘Living Free’ both featuring lyrics that cleverly make the political personal. The former is again tripped out, with a tense riff playing off more great female vocals, and some more spaced out Dickinson guitar, the latter laid back and soulful, with a catchy guitar riff and guest vocals from Tierini and Tikyra Jackson of the rather wonderful Southern Avenue.
North Mississippi Allstars are more a collective than a band, with Luther and Cody Dickinson at the helm.  Up And Rolling is the latest phase in their mission to bring the North Mississippi hill country to the world, and new generations, and make good on the last words of their father, Jim Dickinson - “World Boogie is coming!”

Up And Rolling is out now on New West Records.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Stevie Nimmo - Oran Mor, Glasgow, 5 October 2019

Reasons to be cheerful, part 57.  For Stevie Nimmo, it’s a hometown gig in Glasgow, in front of a busy crowd that are well and truly up for it.  For me, it’s seeing Stevie Nimmo in such good form, after what must have been a really frustrating spell since breaking his right arm a couple of years ago.  Now he’s all healed up, and it’s all smiles as he and his trio lay on a belter of a show.
Stevie Nimmo binds some spells
There’s no new material, unfortunately – part of the fallout from his injury – but with a rejigged set, a new bassist since I last saw him in the form of Kelpie McKenzie, and a less
than surprising guest making an appearance, there’s a palpable energy and freshness to this performance.
They open with ‘Chains Of Hope’, crunching opening chords leading into its churning, thudding riff to pin everyone’s ears back, before downshifting into the breezy ‘Loving Might Do Us Good’.  Moved forward in the set from the home stretch, where it’s been for the last couple of years, it’s still bright and appealing, with Craig Bacon laying down a supple foundation for Nimmo to knock out a terrific, free flowing solo, as usual including a snippet of the Allmans’ ‘Jessica’.
The Allman Brothers’ ‘Gamblers Roll’ isn’t a song that particularly lights my fire, but Nimmo still demonstrates great control and tone on his solo, while on ‘Change’, with its chiming chords and steady backbeat, Kelpie McKenzie’s backing vocals are almost inaudible.  But
Kelpie McKenzie - he's having' a larf
he finds the groove effortlessly as his boss rips out some big chords.
‘Good Day For The Blues’ reinforces the light touch evident on ‘Loving Might Do Us Good’, drifting easily as the lyric suggests, but with direction and dynamics.  Conversely ‘Still Hungry’ is a muscular statement of intent, with Nimmo giving it large on wah wah and then a wailing solo over the gutsy undertow.
‘Running On Back To You’ is one of my favourite Nimmo songs, with its subtle and restrained guitar motif paving the way for a soaring, David Gilmour-like solo, itself a mere appetiser for Nimmo to serve up a second, fierce solo at the end, sweating bullets as he does so.
The guest appearance is of course by brother Alan, and together they firstly dredge up Walter Trout’s ‘On The Rise’ from their past repertoire together, a funky but tough affair on which Alan Nimmo tosses out a very Brian Robertson-esque solo.  In the midst of this Kelpie McKenzie may not have the geezer-ish affability of his bassist predecessor Mat Beable, but Alan Nimmo’s natural exuberance coaxes a big grin out of him.  Then on ‘Pray For You’, another dynamic tune with a great hook, big brother Stevie takes the first solo before
Craig 'Crispy' Bacon - it's smiles all round!
deferring to Alan for another wild solo, before they conjure up some guitar harmonies for the finale, before Nimmo the Younger takes his leave.
‘Roll The Dice Again’ builds tension with its surging riff, before Stevie cranks up a teasing intro to Freddie King’s ‘Going Down, on which McKenzie bubbles away furiously on bass before Nimmo leads the traditional singalong.
Which only leaves the encore of Big George Watt’s epic tune ‘The Storm’, reverb-laden and atmospheric, and featuring a solo from Nimmo that’s an object lesson in tension and release, ‘playing every other lick’ as the saying goes, making terrific use of sustain as he builds themes and produces something that blazes with feeling.
Stevie Nimmo is such a down to earth and humble guy that sometimes he may not get enough credit for just how good he is.  I’ve said before that his Sky Won’t Fall was my favourite studio album of 2016, as much for the variety and quality of his songwriting as the playing.  And tonight is further evidence that his guitar playing can be spellbinding. Reasons to be cheerful – absolutely.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Sayer & Joyce - Makes You Stronger

The growing roster of artists on Mike Zito and Guy Hale’s Texas- based Gulf Coast Records includes people from St Louis, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Miami – and now husband and wife Ron Sayer and Charlotte Joyce, from Norwich.  That’s Norwich in England, not Massachusetts.
Having seen them live a few years ago, I know how good Sayer and Joyce can be – he’s a top flight guitar wrangler, and she’s a captivating singer and keyboard player.  But now and then, listening to Makes You Stronger, I’m not sure it gives full expression to their talents.
From right to left, Sayer and Joyce - Mr and Mrs Blues
There are a couple of songs about which I have no doubts, most obviously ‘We’d Both Be Wrong’ – as in the saying “I could agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong”.  It has a catchy melody and sparky lyrics, which Joyce delivers convincingly.  But it also benefits from a toe-tapping funky groove, with a cheeky ascending riff that Sayer extemporises over effectively from the outset, before he puts the cherry on the cake with an entertaining solo over flaring horns from Dave Land and Clive Hitchcock – horns that then compete with him to further good effect.
Of similar quality, in a different vein, is the closing ‘Needful Things’.  An intriguing affair with a haunting tune, Joyce nails the expressive vocal, over little more than sparse double bass (also courtesy of Sayer) and the merest speckles of guitar.  Simplicity like this can be tricky to pull off, but they do it brilliantly, abandoning soul-blues stylings to contrive something more distinctive and European in tone.
On early listens though, I found the mix too thin to harness the different elements fully on some songs.  It was only when I stuck in some bloody good earphones and cranked things up that the sound began to hang together on tracks like the opener ‘Backbone’ and the later ‘My Life Alive’.  The former kicks off with a smart, intricate up-and-down riff, and once Charlotte Joyce’s assertively soulful vocal feels properly connected to everything else that’s going on, it comes across as a quality bit of funk-rock, topped off by a scattergun solo from Sayer, even though the horns are pushed too far down.  And on the blues-rocking ‘My Life Alive’, with it’s chunky, winding riff, Joyce’s strong vocal is further enhanced by some double-tracking on the chorus, while Sayer comes up with an adventurous solo, making use of some twangy low notes before darting off in various directions while always staying on point.
Joyce shows off her ability to get slinky on ‘Hard Love', on which a restrained arrangement swells for the chorus and bridge, while Sayer adds a tasteful, jazzy solo.  And ‘Broken’ provides an Aynsley Lister-like slice of soulfulness decorated by some precise and patient guitar.
Somehow though, the likes of ‘I Get Up Again’ and ‘The Things We Used to Do’ have an air of the whole not quite being the sum of its parts.  The former offers some neo-Hendrix links at the start and choppy funkiness, while the latter takes too long to muscle up to a rousing finish.  ‘No Galahad’, meanwhile, lands some punches with a strong Blackmore-esque riff, and Sayer putting his foot on the gas for his solo, but it’s as if there’s a missing ingredient somewhere - perhaps a bigger drum sound to really drive things along and provide more depth.  
There are lots of things to admire in Make You Stronger, as you’d expect from talents like Ron Sayer and Charlotte Joyce.  Sayer has plenty of clubs in his guitaring bag, and puts them to good use, while Joyce has terrific vocal control and soulfulness to boot.  But I can’t escape the feeling that there’s an even better album left in there that somehow hasn’t been fully revealed.

Makes You Stronger is out now on Gulf Coast Records

Monday, September 30, 2019

Chantel McGregor - Bury'd Alive

Here are three things I know about Chantel McGregor.  First, she won a couple of British Blues Awards back in 2013.  Second, she's not really a blues artist.  And third – that’s fine.
It’s fine, because in the course of over an hour on Bury’d Alive (so titled because this live album was recorded in Bury St. Edmunds - ouch!), McGregor and her show mark out their real territory with total conviction.   Some hard rocking, some progginess, and some hints of jam band – these are the essential ingredients they whip together to damn good effect.
Finding windswept and interesting angles
The hard rocking is evident from the start, as the opening ‘Take The Power’ features a winding guitar riff, leading into a staccato rhythm and punchy vocal on the verses, a first bout of guitar and bass harmonising, and a sweeping chorus amid ringing guitar chords, before McGregor gets into a brooding, semi-distorted solo.  There’s an even more aggressive, crunching riff on the following ‘Killing Time’, underpinned by driving bass and rock solid drums, en route to a stuttering bridge.
There’s lots of tension too, for example in ‘Caught Out’, with its buzzing riff and choppy drums giving way to surging guitar and bass over a steady rhythm.  McGregor tops that one off with a flickering, wah-wah solo ahead of a sprint to the finishing line.  And the closing ‘Freefalling’ is another gutsy, energetic affair, with its appropriately twisting and plunging riff, strident chorus, and yet more surging guitar chords and bubbling bass.
These tracks do a good job of maintaining the momentum and energy levels, with ‘Caught Out’ in particular carrying echoes for me of latter day guitar-driven Rush, circa Vapor Trails perhaps.  But McGregor is even more effective when she gets into more expansive realms.
‘Like No Other’ lays down a marker for this more reflective sound, with its delicate guitar opening counterpointed by patient bass notes, before taking off into heavier realms, with an ascending bass line from Colin Sutton, over subtle guitar textures from McGregor, reinforcing its appeal.  But they really hit paydirt with the excellent ‘Eternal Dream’, its mellow strummed and picked opening recalling Wishbone Ash for this old git, while McGregor’s singing is clear, pure and feminine, underlining the song’s distinctiveness.  It’s suspenseful and dream-like, and indeed borderline ethereal as it approaches the halfway mark of its nine minutes and sets off on a sparkling instrumental exploration.
Happiness is a damn good live album
Is that the standout track on the album?  Difficult to say, what with similar treats being offered up by ‘Inconsolable’, a cover of a song by American folk-rocker Jonatha Brooke with a shimmering, acoustic sounding opening, and some lovely, lilting vocals from McGregor.  Sutton weighs in with dipping and darting bass notes over sparse, controlled drums from Thom Gardner, before McGregor gets into some dynamic, sustain-heavy guitar work, and they play around with various themes, but without descending into the dreaded aimless noodling.  This is prog with a sense of purpose.
And one can’t ignore ‘April’ either, a previously unreleased instrumental heralded by weeping guitar notes over rumbling drums and tinkling cymbals, leading into piercing guitar lines over a click-clack rhythm and pulsing bass and then picking up pace as they apparently jump off into jam band territory, the three of them bouncing off each other beautifully, even if its does get a bit manic towards the end.
I could go on, as there are other pleasures to be appreciated on Bury’d Alive – and with the crystal clear production and mixing by Wayne Proctor, giving the instrumentation well-nigh perfect space and balance, you won’t have to listen too hard to catch them.
Eschewing keyboards, Chantel McGregor and co deliver a singular style of guitar-led proggish rock that’s imaginative but focused.  Methinks the lady knows very much what she’s doing, and she stands apart doing it.  There’s a Scottish poet who wrote about the need “To be yersel’ and mak’ that worth bein’”.  With Bury’d Alive, Chantel McGregor is living up to that maxim.

Bury'd Alive is out now.  For details of Chantel McGregor's tour dates, look here.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Billy Price - Dog Eat Dog

Billy Price covers a few bases on Dog Eat Dog, its twelve tracks encompassing soulful blues, some different shades of funk, and ultimately Philly soul – all of which are delivered with top drawer musicianship, and channelled into an excellent sound by producer Kid Anderson, of Rick Estrin & The Nightcats fame.  And Price, a 2016 Blues Music Award winner, consistently delivers the goods vocally too.
The quality of his vocals is apparent right from the off on ‘Working On Your Chain Gang’ – relaxed and showing off characterful phrasing in a manner that recalls Delbert McLinton, underlined by some snazzy backing vox from the ‘Sons of Soul Revivers’.  With some
Billy Price - his voice is better than his jacket
Pic by Mark Simpson
rubber band bass twanging from Jerry Jemmott, a great rhythm, funky horns, and a zippy guitar solo from Anderson, it’s all enough to induce a soft shoe shuffle.
There’s a darker brand of funk on the title track, a Rick Estrin song that’s been given new lyrics to set out some despairing social commentary.  Estrin guests on harp, and the horns are restricted to some tenor sax remarks, as the patient delivery has the effect of slowly touring a decaying city.  ‘All Night Long Café’ is a slinkier affair, with a shout-it-out chorus from whoever happened to be around I guess, and a Mike Zito wah-wah solo.  It may seem simple and repetitive in form, but it works.
The pick of the soul blues bunch - and in fact of the album - is ‘Lose My Number’, on which Price and co pretty much out-Cray Robert Cray on a clever reflection about a femme fatale.  It’s laid back and measured, with a proverbially smoky sax solo and a neat descending Wurly piano motif courtesy of Jim Pugh, and Price captures the vibe perfectly with his vocal.  ‘Remnants’ is similarly blues-hued, with another witty lyric, this time about the tell-tale signs giving away a cheating partner, and shivering guitar backing.
There’s a different strain of blues on ‘My Love Will Never Die’, a Willie Dixon affair that’s given a reverb-heavy treatment, with twangy guitar from Anderson, dainty organ notes, and an aching vocal from Price, ultimately sounding like a replay of a lovelorn nightmare.
There’s a different kind of treat too, in the form of the finger-snapping ‘We’re In Love’, a cool but happy-go-lucky affair with sharp horn punctuation and an irresistible walking bass line to set toes tapping.
The back end of the album features some more Philly soul orientated songs, in the form of ‘Walk Back In’, ‘Same Old Heartaches’ and ‘More Than I Needed’, which aren’t really my bag, though it has to be acknowledged they’re well done.  More to my liking though is the closing ‘You Gotta Leave’, with its assertive lyric, stuttering offbeat rhythm, a jazzy Fender Rhodes piano solo from Pugh, and a jagged solo from Anderson that injects an edge the melody never quite acquires.
Dog Eat Dog shows off Billy Price’s mastery of soulful blues and funk, and if it tails off a bit towards the end – admittedly a matter of personal taste, in large measure – there are still a good half dozen tracks of real quality that are well worth getting your ears around.

Dog Eat Dog is out now on Gulf Coast Records.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Geoff Achison & The UK Souldiggers, and Redfish - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 21 September 2019

I’m late, I’m late, for a date with a more than interesting support act.
As it turns out though, Redfish are only a song and a half into their set when I arrive at the Voodoo Rooms, in time to hear Martin McDonald serving up a fiery guitar solo and Sandy Sweetman giving the drums a fair old skelping.  And the Carlisle/Dumfries combo maintain that momentum from there till they vacate the stage.
I’ve seen Redfish a couple of times before, and a singular ingredient of their live performances is the fidgety capering of beardy, bunneted keyboard player Fraser Clark, who often looks like he’s delivering tic-tac-toe signals for a racecourse bookie.  I’m bound to say
Redfish keys man Fraser Clark listens closely for the lost chord
Pic by Stuart Stott
that in the past I've found his antics distracting.  But now, well really it seems like an endearingly daft display of enthusiasm.  And more to the point, it doesn’t detract from some entertaining piano prestidigitation on his part, rocking away on ‘Rakehells’, for example, while McDonald contributes some mean slide guitar.
‘For The Love Of A Good Woman’ is a good example of the Sixties British blues angle to their sound, underlined by the John Mayall-like stylings of Brian Harris’s vocals, and with more good guitar/piano interplay into the bargain.
They close their set with Charlie Rich’s ‘Feel Like Going Home’, a pleasingly different and soulful choice of cover, with hints of ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ in Clark’s organ playing.  Awarded an encore, they get funky with ‘Phone Booth’, Sweetman and bassist Rod Mackay laying down a solid groove while Clark goes nuts to the point where his head ends up underneath his keyboard, and McDonald adds a ruff’n’tuff guitar solo to put the lid on proceedings.
Redfish have become an impressively robust outfit over time, showing energy, a real feel for what they’re doing, and some good taste in material.  Watch out for a forthcoming review of their album, Souls.
Geoff Achison finds fresh angles of funk on guitar
Pic by Stuart Stott
If Redfish are rooted in Sixties blues stylings, Geoff Achison pursues a rather more distinctive path.  As the Australian and his UK Souldiggers band kick off their set with ‘Working My Way Back Home’, the vibe is funky and free-flying, with Achison adding a husky vocal and unwrapping great tones on his pretty-as-you-please PRS guitar. They also work in some clever turnarounds, and keyboard player Paul Jobson announces his presence with some jazzy piano, adding up to a sophisticated funk-blues sound.  Their “theme tune” ‘Souldigger’ follows, with lots of witty asides from Achison on guitar, a flurry of bass from Andy Hodge, and a distinctively voiced organ solo from Jobson, en route to a characteristic Achison solo combining slide and wah-wah.
‘Walking Blues’ is a good example of what they do, with Hodge and drummer Sam Kelly laying down a swaggering groove with plenty of swing, a nimble fingered solo from Achison, and then some top notch guitar/organ interplay building up to a major funk workout.  It may be a Robert Johnson song, but as Achison observes with a grin, “We changed it a little!”  Instrumentally they’re a band who join the dots with consummate ease – upfront Achison and Jobson are each constantly alert to the other’s moves, while Hodge’s bass both counterpoints Achison’s guitar and ties it into Kelly’s rhythms.
But it’s far from being all serioso muso stuff – Jobson shakes everything but his tush as he underpins the rolling groove of the catchy ‘High Wire’, while Kelly is often to be seen and
Achison and co get down to some soul digging
Pic by Stuart Stott
heard hooting with pleasure at proceedings.  Meanwhile, with just a wah-wah pedal at his feet, Achison continues to combine it with slide playing, but on ‘Crazy Horse’ also gets into some cooler knob-twiddling and whammy bar flicking to conjure up different sounds.
A second set opens with Achison on acoustic guitar for the rootsy ‘Skeleton Kiss’, with its intriguing lyrics, and the more folkie, fingerpicking ‘Sovereign Town’.  Then with Achison back on his electric horse, ‘I’m Gonna Ride’ is a blues shuffle highlight, with a big open chorus adding a twist, and Jobson delivering a blisteringly good honky tonk piano solo, including some neat improvisations around the chorus melody.  In fact, if Fraser Clark’s keys playing demands acknowledgement, above and beyond his freaky shenanigans, I’d venture to say that Jobson is in another league, bearing in mind the jazzy, discordant and hugely impressive solo he contributes to the Average White Band-like ‘Voodoo’.
They close with a big fat groove on ‘Baby Come Back’, a fun song with a good hook and some tongue twisting vocals from Achison, who also adds some tips of the hat to ‘Alright Now’ and ‘Uptight’ on guitar.  There’s no time for an encore, but they’re coaxed back for one anyway, coming up with Muddy Waters’ ‘Sugar Sweet’ – but not, I’m sure, as Muddy would know it.  Nevertheless, with a brief guitar/bass face-off between Achison and Hodge, it’s a suitable dessert course to end an entertaining night.

Geoff Achison is touring Britain until Sunday 29 September - details available here.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Nine Below Zero - Avalanche

The other week on a long drive I gave a spin to Nine Below Zero’s Live At The Marquee, their first album dating back to 1980 and a ferocious blast of mod and soul inflected R’n’B, and very much of its time – 21 songs, most of them under three minutes, and you can practically feel the sweat in the room.
Nine Below Zero are bit more mature now, a bit more laid back, though they’re still a corking live band who will get you moving.  But Avalanche, building on the excellent 13 Shades Of Blue, shows how they’ve broadened their range over the years – and to good effect too.
The double diamond duo - Greaves and Feltham
The presence nowadays of Charlie Austen’s female voice extends their options, whether she’s taking a lead vocal or providing a foil for Dennis Greaves, particularly in exploring their soul influences.  The pick of the soulful bunch here is ‘Ter Wit Ter Woo’, a co-write between Greaves and Glenn Tilbrook – handy to have a mate like that, eh? – on which Austen’s clear, sweet voice makes the most of a great melody and hook, and some neat wordsmithing from (I assume) Greaves, while Mark Feltham contributes a typically mellifluous, songbird-like harp solo.  Almost as good though, is ‘One Of Sour, Two Of Sweet’, a neo-Motown soufflé that’s as catchy as hell, with Greaves and Austen duetting marvellously and the former adding a slithery guitar solo.  And Austen gets another turn at an aching vocal on ‘Recycle Me’, which also deploys some smoky sax from Chris Rand and gospelly backing vocals – and ache seems appropriate on a song about, literally it seems, organ donation.
They get funky too, on the instrumental ‘Hey Siri (Go **** Yourself)’ with its James Brown-like horn riff and some squealing harp from Feltham, and do even better on ‘Picture No Sound’.  The latter sounds to me like a chunk of second-line funk originating in N’Awlins, leaning on an electric piano riff from Will Barry, over a snappy beat and throbbing bass line from Sonny Greaves and Benjamin Wills respectively, and scorning yer usual verse-chorus-verse structure in pursuit of the groove.
But there’s some more direct stuff too, with the opener ‘I Wanna Be A Wannabe’ and
Charlie Austen and Dennis Greaves - like Sonny and Cher, not
‘Breadhead’ well to the fore.  The former is a bright, Jam-like affair that takes aim at the modern yearning for easy celebrity – though Greaves is too nice a bloke to really twist the knife, and the same is true on ‘Breadhead’, where the lyrics are sharp but not lethal.  Still, it’s got a driving, chunky riff and a Chuck Berry-like guitar solo, and is set fair to be a floor-shaking live stomper.
NBZ still sing for the ordinary Joe too.  ‘Race To The Bottom’ is another duet, with a lyric about the impact of economic change, while ‘Austerity Blues’ is an old-fashioned, simple blues with injections of harp from Feltham, and some nifty, stinging guitar from Greaves, which I reckon adapts an old rugby song in the lines “It’s the rich that gets the gravy, The poor that gets the blame, It’s the same the world over”.
There’s even room for some ‘Tequila’-style mambo backing on the closing ‘I Drink But I Don’t Get Drunk’, a party tune with twangy guitar, jangling piano and another sweet harp solo.  With some woozy trumpet, sax, and a suitably blurred ending, it sounds like the title is wishful thinking.
Nine Below Zero are a national treasure, still producing fresh and sparkling R’n’B sounds after 40 years.  Get yourself Avalanche, press Play, and be good and ready to enjoy a damned good night out on their forthcoming UK tour.

Avalanche is released by Zed Records on 4 October, and can be pre-ordered here.
Nine Below Zero are touring the UK from 5 October.  Check the tour dates here.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Beth Hart - War In My Mind

Okay Beth, you got me. I surrender.  Ain’t no denying that War In My Mind is a winner.
Y’see, since I’ve been doing this malarkey over the last few years, I’ve largely resisted Beth Hart's charms. Never been entirely convinced. Oh, there’s been some stuff I’ve liked, particularly on Fire On The Floor.  But I’ve found the persistent banging on about her personal demons tiresome at times. And more significantly, I’ve often found her vocal style irritating – too much of that vibrato, and letting her power reach foghorn proportions.  Though I daresay that at times her singing hasn’t gone down either of those roads, but I’ve been bracing myself for one or the other to kick in.
"You talking' to me?  Well, there ain't nobody else here."
Well, maybe Beth has learned to control these tendencies better, or maybe I’ve just become more attuned to her style.  Either way, there’s no war going on in my mind – this album is the best thing I’ve heard from her yet.
And it’s a singular affair too, because while a few tracks offer shifts in tone, the album leans primarily on Hart’s piano and vocals, delivering ballads of various hues.  ‘War In My Mind’ itself, the second track in, is not only typical, it may be the best thing here – though it does have some competition.  It rests on the kind of classical piano motif you might find Muse deploying, but gives their pomp and circumstance a body swerve in favour of something dark and reflective – but not negative – played out via an excellent melody delivered with gripping dynamics.
And if that’s top dollar stuff, so is the closing ‘I Need A Hero’, on which a rippling piano line ebbs and flows, mirrored by the vocal melody, and if it’s a bit Steinman-esque then it’s more in the vein of ‘I Would Do Anything For You’ than ‘Holding Out For A Hero’, but self-effacing and personal rather than theatrical, and with a striking ending.
Meanwhile ‘Sister Dear’ is tender and dreamy, underpinning Hart’s vocal, and some great melodic moments, with little more than a rolling piano line and cello, and ‘Let It Grow’ is indeed a song that swells assertively before a dying ending, with some typically impressive backing vocal arrangements along the way as Hart sings about being “Just a penny in the stream, working on a dream”.
If all this sounds very deep, the album is set on its way by the funky R’n’B and stop-time riff of ‘Bad Woman Blues’, with its big, glossy sound featuring some real heavy bass and piano chords echoing Toto’s ‘Hold The Line’, and Hart declaring that “Got the lips, Got the legs, I was born to drive a man insane” like a veritable fatal attraction.  ‘Spanish Lullabies’ brings further variety with a controlled Latin vibe over a salsified rhythm, and a Hispanic-style classical guitar solo, and ‘Sugar Shack’ makes use of a throbbing motorik synth and stomping beat in pursuit of some dance floor action.
But there’s also a haunted European vibe at work at times, as on ‘Rub Me For Luck’ (really, Beth?), which edges out of the shadows like Radiohead without electric instrumentation, with Hart singing about “waves of ee-mo-shunn” before surging into a Bond-theme chorus courtesy of a soaring melody and dramatic piano riff.  ‘Woman Down’ is one of the less remarkable outings in evidence, but Hart still manages to make like Edith Piaf as she delivers the bitter lyric.
Who knows, maybe credit is due to producer Rob Cavallo for bringing out the best in Beth Hart on this record.  But however all the pieces have fallen into place, War In My Mind is a collection of fine songs from a highly individual artist, that justifies her reputation as something special. To quote ‘Bad Woman Blues’, Beth Hart just stuck the cherry on the chocolate cake.

War In my Mind is released by Provogue Records on 27 September.
Beth Hart is touring Europe in November/December, and Britain and Ireland in January/February.  Check tour dates here.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Geraint Watkins - Rush Of Blood

So this Geraint Watkins fella.  How come I’ve never heard of him till now?  Who forgot to send me the memo?
First I’ve heard of him is when this guy I know who does some PR work sends me this Rush Of Blood CD, with a geezer even older than me on the cover wearing a buttoned up white shirt and a baggy jacket, looking like he’s forgotten where he put his car keys. Given that said PR chap has a penchant for stuff in, shall we say, the more outlying post codes of blues’n’roots music, I’m asking myself how oddball this album is going to be.
Geraint Watkins - he plays piano and accordion
So it kicks off with ‘Rush Of Blood’ itself, and first impressions from its loping rhythm and country stylings are, well, the theme from Rawhide maybe – you know, that thing the Blues Brothers do for a few hours solid in a redneck bar?  A bit off the wall maybe, but only a bit.  And then a sizzling rockabilly-esque guitar break kicks in, and I sit up and start paying attention.
Which is good, because what follows is no kinda weirdo shit.  This is cool and mellow roots music, worldly wise and matured by musical experience in the best of company.  It sounds like, it sounds like . . .
Ry Cooder doing some authentic stuff, like Ry Cooder does, while keeping an eye on Dylan who’s looking into the distance hearing the rumble of distant thunder in the mountains and pondering what Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’ would sound like if it were accompanied by a Fender Rhodes piano, and wishing that Van Morrison would stop rehearsing that cool thing with a sax in the room next door so he could think straight, ‘cause he’s also trying to remember that dream he had last night when Frank turned up in this bar next to him – yeah, Frank, with the fuckin’ trilby hat an’ everything – and started doing that whole schtick about one more for my baby yadda yadda yadda, ‘cept next time Bob turned round in his dream it wasn’t Frank at all it was that Tom Waits bastard who’s too good for his own good, grinning at him like a loon and getting all romantic about a new coat of paint. Like, Lord knows I can write a lyric about any old shit, thinks Bob, but paint, fer chrissakes?  And not even sounding like Tom Waits, but like that limey, whatsisname, Nick Lowe, that did that song about the folks who live on the hill – shit no, that was Frank too – sump’n about shakin’ on the hill – and hey, didn’t he write that ‘Beast In Me’ choon Johnny Cash did, how’d that go?  Well if you gotta have country then Cash is your man, ‘n’ some a’that Def Jam stuff was cool, like when he did sump’n with just some piece o’shit acoustic guitar.   Whatever, there goes Van doing some Leadbelly thing now, well what’s new?  But hey if it ain’t broke don’t fix it – and why is Cooder staring at me like that, and what’s he playing now, some zydeco mixed in there?  Sounds pretty darned good, hafta say, with that accordion, maybe some harp too.  An’ I know what you’re thinkin’ Cooder, you’re thinkin’ how about some violin here and there, an’ keep them drums just whisperin’ along, and stand-up bass, an’ – shit, wish I could sing like that dude Van’s got in with him now, sounds like that Springbean kid doing his beautiful reward thing.  Ah, fuck it – “Hey Ry, wanna jam for a while?  Kinda dig that stuff you’re working on, by the way.  You know that Neil thing ‘Harvest Moon’?  Let's play that - you do the vocals, huh?  I'll get on this Fender Rhodes over here.” 
And little wonder that Rush Of Blood sounds like the above.  Geraint Watkins, it turns out when I get round to reading the PR bumf, has been a sideman to some of the names mentioned above, like Van Morrison and Nick Lowe, and others big names besides. Multi-instrumentalist too, I’m surmising.  And Welsh, by the way.  And what he's done with Rush Of Blood is bloody marvellous.
Don’t hang around waiting for some track-by-track analysis from yours truly.  Check out the wacky Youtoob video of the title track, and see what you reckon.  And here’s a live version of the excellent ‘Hold Back’ – pick the bones out of that.  And I’ll be generous and point you towards ‘Heaven Only Knows’ for good measure.  And these aren't necessarily the best tracks!
Now excuse me, I need to go and do some more homework on this Watkins fella.  Did you know he played with Dave Edmunds?

Geraint Watkins’ album Rush Of Blood is released by The Last Music Co on 13 September.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Diana Rein - Queen Of My Castle

One of the side-effects of 2019 having been a stonkingly good year so far for new albums of a blues/roots rock complexion – and it really has been – is that when you come across an album that doesn’t really cut the mustard, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Which I’m afraid is the case with this third album by Southern California based singer/guitarist Diana Rein. Another time, and it might have slid by with me saying, “Well, it’s okay, y’know.”  But it’s not another time, and I'm not going to.
Diana Rein - nice flares
The other week the YouTube video of the title track from Queen Of My Castle was posted in a Facebook group, and someone commented “Nice voice”.  Hmm, nice.  Sounds like a compliment I suppose.  But “nice” doesn’t really fit the bill when you’re singing the blues.  Doesn’t really suggest passion, grit, despair or sex, does it? Being honest, I’d describe Diana Rein’s voice as “ordinary”, or maybe “pedestrian”.  Oh, she hits all the notes, but she spends most of this album singing in the same register, without much variation on the melody, or in her phrasing – or at least not enough to seriously get my attention.  Then I take a glance at her website, which refers to “her sultry and powerful vocals reminiscent of Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt”.  And I gotta tell you folks, that comparing Diana Rein’s vocals to those two ladies is downright blasphemous.
Her website then goes on to talk about “a guitar style that has been compared to the likes of BB King with the tone of Stevie Ray Vaughan”.  And I think to myself, “What the actual fuck?!”
Alright, an SRV influence is discernible here and there on this album.  But that’s as far as it goes.  Let me tell you, I listened to Queen Of My Castle the other day, and then as I sat down at the keyboard I stuck on In Step, and any comparison between those two albums is distant in the extreme.  I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s peanuts compared to the distance between Diana Rein and Stevie Ray Vaughan.  (And yes, discerning readers will spot that I nicked that line.  But I wouldn’t have the gall to compare my writing to the guy who originated it.)
But hey, what about the songs?  Well yeah, most of ‘em are okay.  A few are even quite good.  But there are fifteen of ‘em.  Did Diana Rein and her producer Michael Leasure – yes, Walter Trout’s drummer – really believe that they all deserved to be trotted out here?  A key competence for any recording artist, I reckon, is being able to kill their babies – to recognise when that song they’ve laboured over really isn’t up to snuff and needs to be binned.  So yeah, ‘The Midnight Line’ is an okay chunk of 12-bar chug-a-boogie, apparently inspired by Magic Sam, and with some Stevie Ray chordings in the intro, while ‘One Foot In’ has a decent revolving riff.  But there’s an awful lot of filler across the first half of the album that should have been trimmed.
Thankfully Rein finds some other clubs in her bag thereafter, peaking with the swinging, ringing retro-bop of ‘Get Down’, on which she employs a lower, huskier vocal pitch and discovers her wah-wah pedal to good effect.  The heavier groove and layered guitar licks of ‘Heat’ also deserve mention, and the closing instrumental ‘Zoe’ is a seriously good affair, reflective and chiming and evocative.
Queen Of My Castle isn’t actually a bad album.  It’s just not really a good album.  And that needs to be said, even if one takes no pleasure in doing it.

Queen Of My Castle is available now from Gulf Coast Records.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Laurence Jones Band - Laurence Jones Band

So it’s goodbye to Laurence Jones, solo artist, and hello to the Laurence Jones Band.  And there they are, on the cover of their eponymous new album, looking moody and meaningful, with LJ himself out front with a new layer of face fuzz, arms folded and staring straight at the camera.  It’s all very assertive - looks like it should mean something.
I’ll tell you what it means. It means that after his last album The Truth, a soul-pop kinda thing that was okay in its own terms but felt constrained and emasculated, young Laurence and his band of brothers have decided to have some goddamned fun, that’s what it means!
I could be talking bollocks – what’s new about that, says you – but I reckon Laurence has found some inspiration by going back to the Sixties for some of this stuff, be it Swinging Sixties R’n’B or soulful funky business.
Laurence Jones Band - three parts facial hair, one part quiff
Pic by Rob Blackham
Take the opening track ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’, fr’instance – which itself sounds like a statement of intent.  You know how the Dandy Warhols’ ‘Bohemian Like You’ sounds like a Stones out-take? Well, this kicks off with a piano riff from Bennett Holland that’s straight out of ‘Bohemian Like You’, underlined by some ringing chords from Jones.  Do I care if they’ve lifted it?  Nah, the main thing is that it’s loose-limbed and rocking, and it’s got a chorus that’s a rush of energy, plus some “wooh-oohing” female backing vocals courtesy of Di Reed, a nifty little guitar solo, and some more rinky-dinky piano on the outro.
In similar fashion ‘I’m Waiting’ has driving guitar and surging organ competing for attention like a modern-day ‘Hush’, over racing drums and bass from Phil Wilson and Greg Smith, to which Jones adds a wig-out wah-wah solo.  The following ‘Stay’ emerges from some blues guitar twangery to encompass more boogie woogie from Holland, and more Di Reed backing for Jones as he hollers lines like “Gimme Some Lovin”.  (Ms Reed, in fact, does sterling work across most of the album.)  There’s some organ chucked into the mix too, and even a few Sgt Peppery twiddles in quieter moments, and by the end I can visualise Phil Wilson doing some Ringo-like head-tossing as it swings along.  Oh yeah, and they do a decent cover of ‘Day Tripper’ too, which on one level seems pointless, but hey – it fits.
Does all this represent a new musical frontier?  Nope. And I’ll tell you this too – the lyrics are mostly pretty banal.  But I don’t care – ‘cause it’s fun!
The same goes for the soulful and funky ‘Wipe Those Tears Dry’.  It’s a decent little tune that captures the desired mood nicely, with understated licks and riffs hither and yon from Jones, and an appealing arrangement epitomised by the middle eight.  In a similar vein, ‘Quite Like You’ is a bit of relaxed funkiness with a lazy rhythm, bluesy little licks and soulful organ.  At times it hints at Royal Studios in Memphis in the Sixties – doesn’t hint that hard, to be honest, but you get my drift.
Even better is the utterly simple soulfulness of the mellow ‘Beautiful Place’, which is a salient reminder that Bennett Holland also played keys on King King’s Standing In The Shadows album.  So here we have a somewhere-down-the-lazy-river rhythm, spot on vocal harmonies, and even a cheeky little bass turnaround from Greg Smith.
There are some bluesier moments too, as on ‘Mistreated’, for example – no, not that one, Purple fans. Restrained blues guitar picking over deep, deep down bass, leads into a tasty, tumbling guitar riff, and if Jones’ solo starts off measured, it shifts into overdrive as Phil Wilson’s shuffling drums gain intensity.  Meanwhile ‘Long, Long Lonely Ride’ is based on even more back-porch style guitar picking over a simple beat, with a suitably bluesy vocal and solo to boot.
There’s other good stuff too, and only one instance of real filler in the humdrum ‘Low Down’. Producer Gregory Elias brings a modern polish to the sound without stifling the energy, and he continues to get better vocal performances out of Jones than in days of old.
Look, I’m not gonna tell you that Laurence Jones Band is some consciousness-expanding classic. But as I sat on a warm afternoon giving it a proper listen, I found myself being seduced by its good vibrations – and yes, even excitations.

Laurence Jones Band is released on 27 September by Top Stop Music.
For tour dates in Europe and Britain from 14 September check the band's website.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Give Me The Truth - Blues Enthused looks for answers from Sean Webster

Notalotta people know this, as Michael Caine imitators like to say, but Sean Webster has followed in my footsteps.  See, although he’s now based in the Netherlands, the soulful singer and guitarist grew up in a Nottinghamshire mining village called Elkesley.  He probably went to school in nearby Retford, as I did myself for a couple of years back in the late Seventies.  He may even, like me, have enjoyed gigs at semi-legendary local music venue the Retford Porterhouse, which at one time or another hosted bands like Def Leppard, Saxon, Dr Feelgood, and even Robert Plant’s Honeydrippers.  Or maybe he didn’t, because he’s younger than I am and may have missed its heyday.

But that’s where the resemblances end.  Because Sean Webster grew up to be a very gifted guitarist and singer of soulful blues, whereas I – didn’t.

Sean Webster - cool or what?
So with his band's new live album Three Nights Live coming out on 2 September, I swapped some questions and answers with Sean, to find out about his musical journey.

How did you get started in music, Sean?  Who were your early influences?

Music was always a feature in the house as I was growing up. My Grandma bought me my very first guitar at the age of 3 I think. Sadly she died when I was about 8 yrs old so she never saw me even take much interest in it. I actually got started at school at the age of 14. My early influences were Eric Clapton, Gary Moore, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits. The usual I guess.

And how did things begin to develop for you as a professional musician?

I think they are still developing!!! I’m not quite sure when things got better, but I do remember filling in for a band on the main stage at Burnley Blues Festival back in maybe 2002 or so, and that jumped me ahead quite a bit.

You’re based in the Netherlands nowadays.  How did that come about?

I was touring The Netherlands back in 2008 for the first time, and I played a few festivals. One happened to be in Giethoorn where I met my wonderful wife. After a shaky start between us, I finally moved to Holland in 2010. After a short stint in Australia in 2012, my wife and I moved back to Holland and now live in the village we met in.

Being based on the Continent, how widely do you tour in Europe?

I’m always looking to broaden my touring and pushing to get into more countries etc, but so far I’ve played in France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Poland, Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg.
Next year I already have a 3-week tour of Czech republic booked and will hopefully tour Spain and possibly parts of Russia too.

The new album includes a cover of John Mayer’s ‘Slow Dancing In A Burning Room’, and I’ve also heard you perform his song ‘Gravity’ live. What attracts you to his work?

John Mayer just has it. He is one of the world’s best guitarists, he writes great songs, has a cool vibe, and is one of the very few crossover artists that attract all ages. If he wants to, he will be around for a very long time. 

Which may all very well be true, but let me say this, dear reader. John Mayer isn’t half the singer that Sean Webster is.  So if you want to hear an imaginative John Mayer song like ‘Slow Dancing In A Burning Room’ delivered with real emotion, go listen to Sean Webster singing it.

And speaking of emotion, I’m reminded that Steve Van Zandt likes to introduce his song ‘Some Things Just Don’t Change’ by saying that he wrote it for David Ruffin of The Temptations, who he says was “the King of Despair – your girlfriend left you, David Ruffin was your man.”  Well, due respect an’ all Stevie, but if you’re looking for the King of Despair, then Sean Webster is my man.  

So what’s it all about Sean?  I’ve joked in previous reviews, about so many of your
Dwelling at the dark end of the street
songs being about relationship pain and misery.  But I don’t imagine that’s entirely representative of your life, so how does it come about?

Actually it is quite representative. Perhaps not any more as I’ve finally found true happiness, but still I sometimes think how my life would be if it all turned black. 

To quote Billy Crystal's character in When Harry Met Sally, "That, my friend, is a dark side."  Okay Sean, but do you ever start off writing a cheerful song, only for it to take a left turn into something dark?

Erm . . . . No. My wife always says why can’t you write a happy song. I joke saying, when I find happiness I will. But like I said, I am happy . . . .  Maybe I’ll try . . . . I doubt it - but maybe.

What’s the song by someone else you really wish you’d written, and why?

I think Etta James's ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, because it’s such a great song that speaks to me every night I play it. I don’t believe in faking it, so if I stop enjoying playing it I’ll just stop. But each time I play ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, it speaks to me. I guess I think about what it would be like if my wife left and some nights I’m on the verge of tears. I guess that’s why every night someone in the audience is in tears. They feel it.

Conversely, what’s the song you’re most proud of having written yourself, and why?

Tough question. I think if I’m allowed two, they would be ‘The Dream’, which I wrote directly for my wife quite a few years ago, and ‘Leave Your Heart At The Door’ the title track of my last album. I don’t tell many people but it’s a song for my daughter about growing up. She’ll understand when she gets a bit older.  She’s only 4 now.

Are you going to be touring in Britain and Europe to promote the new album?

Definitely!!!! We have a 2-week tour planned in September for the UK finishing up at Carlisle Blues festival, and then we’ll be touring the album into next year in Europe. 
I start a 9-date theatre tour in The Netherlands with some high profile Dutch guys the day after Carlisle, so I’m pretty tied up for a while but I am writing a new studio album and will keep popping up with my band.

As I wrote in my review of Three Sides Live, more people should be listening to Sean Webster. More people should be going to see him. It’s as simple as that.  So now’s your chance – get hold of the live album, and catch him on tour wherever you can.

Go to the Sean Webster Band website to order Three Nights Live and check their tour dates.
Read the Blues Enthused review of Three Nights Live here.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Odds Lane - Lost & Found

So here we have a guitar’n’drums duo in the form of Doug Byrkit and Brian Zielie respectively, and we all know what that kind of line-up sounds like, don’t we?  It’s right there in the primitive boom-thump of opening track ‘Don’t Give It Away’, with its spiky guitar licks – the latest manifestation of that back to basics blues sound style that gave us The White Stripes and The Black Keys.  ‘Nuff said.
Actually, no.  Odds Lane are a rather more eclectic outfit than that two-man band stereotype.  Sure, there are various shades of blues offered up on Lost & Found, but this St
Odds Lane - "Shit, I've dropped a contact lens!"
Louis pairing have got more than just that going on.  They may have started out as Mike Zito’s rhythm section back in the Nineties, but they played jazz in college and over the intervening years their songwriting partnership has absorbed a broader range of influences.
But let’s begin with the bluesier sounds.  ‘Seven States’ is Feelgood-ish, scratchy, rhythm’n’boogie and if Byrkit’s clear-toned vocals don’t come near to conveying the same kind of grit as Lee Brilleaux, it’s still a good tune with a neat little rollercoaster of a riff.  And there is more of an edgy vibe to ‘Blood On The Van’, which on one level seems like a straight-up twelve-bar blues, with a chugging riff a la ZZ Top.  But with its growling rhythm section and a intriguing lyric suggesting a violent event, as well as a strong slide break courtesy of the aforementioned Zito – who also produced the album – it’s more than the sum of its apparently simple parts.
‘Spare Change’ is bright, good old-fashioned R’n’B too, cantering along with a snappy rhythm and more scratchy guitar, garnished by more of Zito’s slide licks, and the closing ‘White Castle Blues’ sounds like the kind of British blues that emerged out of the Sixties Beat Boom, fashioned into a paean to the vintage Mid-West fast food chain White Castle, and its idiosyncratic square burgers.
There are more edges and corners on the likes of ‘Moth To A Flame’ and ‘Hard Rain’ though, the first a jolting shuffle pushed along by bobbling bass, and featuring more of Zito’s slide fills – rather begging the question of how they deliver this stuff when he’s not around – while the latter is a staccato mid-tempo affair, downbeat and mellow on the verses and punchier on the chorus, that perhaps outstays its welcome a bit.
But elsewhere they draw on a broader palette.  'Lost & Found' itself is best described as a catchy slice of bluesy jangle-pop, very nicely done. ‘What’s Your Name’, meanwhile, has a twitchy flavour, courtesy of a most Police-like deedle-eedly-dee guitar riff (pardon the technical terminology) over funky bass and an offbeat rhythm, added to interesting wah-wah like guitar tones and appealing key change leading into the guitar solo.  The mellow funkiness of ‘A Little Too Late’, on the other hand, contrives a Latin tinge in its rhythms to go with hints of Santana in its guitar sound.
Lost & Found is a refreshing album, like an inventively mixed blues cocktail – reassuringly familiar but infused with enough spice to give it a bit of extra zing.  Odds Lane may not have the heft to embed themselves permanently in your brain, but they’re sophisticated enough to make a positive impression.

Lost & Found is available now from Gulf Coast Records.