Thursday, April 11, 2019

Savoy Brown - City Night

That, folks, is the sound of the Savoy Brown rhythm section getting to work on the opening track of their new album, City Night.  Well, kinda.  I know, sounds a bit rubbish like that, doesn't it?  Still, I’d say it’s symptomatic of one element in the approach taken by veteran bluesman Kim Simmonds and his band.  It’s a simple formula, one that Simmonds has had ample opportunity to refine over a career in which this will be the fortieth album the band have notched up.  I reckon it probably goes something like this
Step 1 – Find The Groove.  That chunga-chunga thing on ‘Walking On Hot Stones’ – a King Kong-proportioned decendant of ‘The Red Rooster’ by way of ‘The Jean Genie’, perhaps - is just one example of bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm laying rock solid foundations for
Let Kim Simmonds Do What Kim Simmonds Does
a track.  As a rule, Grimm provides the anchor, with a metronomically consistent rhythm, and DeSalvo gives it flex and movement.  On some songs Simmonds may augment the riff by adding a layer of rhythm guitar, often fuzzed up, as on the voodoo boogie of ‘Conjure Rhythm’, or perhaps something more spiky to point up the cod-ska beat of ‘Payback Time’.  But the essentials of the groove are stoked up in the boiler room. And more often than not they will make you slaves, as they say, to the rhythm.
Step 2 – Words And Melody.  Conjure up some time-worn blues themes for Kim Simmonds to put his heart into, and let him groan his way through them in his inimitable style. His range is limited, and he couldn’t perform vocal pyrotechnics if his life depended on it, but the Tony Joe White matter-of-factness of his delivery develops a mantra-like quality.
Step 3 – Let Kim Simmonds Do What Kim Simmonds Does.  Which is to say, weave glittering threads of guitar lines out of the pentatonic scale.  Savoy Brown’s arrangements leave Simmonds the room to inject patient bluesy licks between the lines.  The word “shred” does not belong in this environment.  Does Kim Simmonds leave you salivating, astonished, over some staggering switchback of a guitar solo?  No, I don’t think he does.  Does he uncover new horizons in the way that his contemporary Peter Green did? No, but then does Peter Green do that nowadays?  Does he deliver a succession of licks, fills, breaks and solos that tickle your blues consciousness?  That, I think, is what Kim Simmonds does.
City Night is a different kind of album from its predecessor. The 2017 release Witchy Feeling had a haunting sensibility about it, that groove really plunging into Zen-like Tony Joe White territory.  This latest effort has more upbeat moments.  More invitations to shake your butt.  More energy.  This doesn’t make it better, you understand, just different.  While the likes of ‘Selfish World’ offer a classic, reflective slow blues, you also get something like ‘Hang In Tough’, which bends, twists, and pumps up a Bo Diddley riff to create something fresh.
Kim Simmonds has been carrying the Savoy Brown banner for 50 years.  Fifty feckin’ years!  The sound he and his band create continues to celebrate and recreate the spirit of the British Blues Explosion.  It may not be earth-shattering, it may not be innovative.  But City Night sure as hell deserves you giving it a listen.

City Night is released by Quarto Valley Records on 7 June.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Erja Lyytinen - Another World

I’m on record as having been less than impressed by Erja Lyytinen’s last album, Stolen Hearts - unconvinced by the vocals, and by the quality of some of the songs.  So I didn’t exactly approach her latest album with a gleeful disposition.  Then the PR bumf talks about Lyytinen explaining that “The album title is the idea of stepping into a new territory, musically and spiritually.  Walking towards a new land of musical ideas, not being afraid to express myself.”  And I think to myself, really?
But you know what?  I do believe the lady may have a point.
On Another World Erja Lyytinen largely eschews her blues background, and instead explores a more prog-rock oeuvre, with some folk song underpinnings.  The end result may not be entirely consistent, but boy does she sound more comfortable.
A worldly wise shift in direction from Erja Lyytinen
The sense of something different is apparent right from the first track ‘Snake In The Grass’, with an intro on which competing guitar lines from Lyytinen and former Michael Jackson collaborator Jennifer Batten trill like bagpipes on helium over some meaty chords, leading to Lyytinen delivering a polished melody with vocals stronger than I’ve heard from her previously.  The overall effect is a kind of glittering proggy pop, in the manner of  Steve Morse’s “other” outfit Flying Colors, perhaps.
I dunno what a ‘Cherry Overdrive’ is, but the track progresses nicely from a subdued, tense opening to a tougher chorus, and offers neat flourishes of instrumentation and back vocals en route to a moody and shimmering middle segment.  The title track sounds like it has folk song roots, but with major electrification and the injection of some big chords, and while the song isn’t hugely original – and suffers from some adolescent lyrics – Lyytinen adds a solo that fits the bill, ahead of a funky closing section and some further pleasingly twiddly guitarwork.
At which point it’s clear that credit is due to the production, by Lyytinen herself, and to the mixing by Austin’s Chris Bell, which give a satisfying depth and modern sheen to the sound throughout.
The first half of the album concludes with ‘Hard As Stone’, which again appears to have folk song roots – we’re talking European folk song roots here, in case you’re in any doubt, not Dylan – with a stuttering verse and a simple melody on the chorus.  Lyytinen’s solo is a slow burn, demonstrating good control, topped off with some double-tracked lead guitar as it develops into a quicker section.
The latter half of this eight track outing is less robust, but there are still things worthy of attention. ‘Wedding Dress’ is a bluesy shuffle that may be a bit inconsequential, and with some corny lyrics to boot, but it’s approached with gusto, and between Lyytinen and guest Sonny Landreth there are some tasty slide guitar tones to the fore.  ‘Miracle’ has a subtle, restrained arrangement with some interesting rhythms from Ipe Laitinen on drums – but never clever-clever – and nice interplay between Lyytinen’s guitar and Tatu Back’s bass, before a well-structured guitar built out around some intriguing motifs.
Lyytinen brings some violin playing to ‘Torn’, another folky-prog outing that brings to mind the likes of Renaissance – a bit weedy for my tastes, but well executed if you like that sort of thing.  Meanwhile the closing ‘Break My Heart Gently’ is a reflective ballad, simply constructed – a bit repetitive, if one wanted to be harsh – but with its weeping slide guitar tones courtesy of Lyytinen and Landreth once again, it offers a satisfying enough dying fall.
Have I become an Erja Lyytinen convert then?  No, I haven’t.  But that’s not the point.  I think that with Another World Erja Lyytinen has found herself, and taken a big step in a direction that suits her.  What she does next could be interesting.

Another World is released by Tuohi Records and Bluesland Productions on 26 April.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Black Cat Bone, and Logan's Close - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 5 April 2019

I’ve seen Black Cat Bone live before, but it’s still a punch to the gut when they kick off their set. Opener ‘Lost’ is an ample reminder of a sound that’s darker’n a moonless midnight in an abandoned graveyard.  It’s a sound that’s big and heavy, as the following ‘Love My Baby’ confirms – heavy like a big artic rumbling down the motorway, with lashings of slide guitar from Luis Del Castillo, and howling harp and broken-glass gargling vocals from Ross Craig.  Yes, it’s a sound that invites you to conjure up exotic similes.
Black Cat Bone - "How-how-howlin', baby"
The pretext for this latest live show is the launch of their latest single ‘Coming For You’, which they knock out early on, with Craig strapping on a Strat to add some extra guitar chords, and bassist Ewan McKenna chucking in some high harmonies when he’s not too busy stirring up the bottom end.
You’d be hard pushed to say that Black Cat Bone swing, but the rolling thunder of their rhythm section, with lots of floor tom from drummer Kai Wallace, makes them curiously danceable considering their tough-as-teak approach.  This phenomenon reaches its peak with ‘Hip Shake’, their rabble-rousing take on Slim Harpo’s ‘Shake Your Hips’, which even has a passing waitress dancing and grinning on her way to the Voodoo Rooms kitchen.  ‘Freak Machine’ is mellow by comparison – well, a bit – but with a frantic guitar conclusion in the wake of a rather corny singalong.
The stomping rhythm of ‘Move On’ segues into ‘Morning Light’, from their Get Your Kicks Sessions EP.  Another highlight of their show, that floor tom boom underpins a juggernaut riff, and the anthemic “How-how-howlin’, baby” chorus.
New song ‘Wash Away’ is more upbeat, until its fierce, discordant ending, while ‘Punks And Pushers’ manages to meld old fashioned R’n’B style harp tootling from Craig with a Beck-like hip-hop rhythm to the vocals.
They wrap up with ‘Get Your Kicks’, with bowed bass from McKenna setting the tone for a doomy opening, and indeed it’s pretty doomy throughout until a turbocharged finish. It wouldn’t be my choice for a set closer to be honest, but hey, the crowd were happy enough.
Their pals Logan’s Close provide support, and are an entirely different proposition.  Where BCB are all about a big dirty groove, Logan’s Close have their roots the Swinging Sixties, when R’n’B made for hit 45s (remember them?) in Britain.  But if the opening ‘Can’t Let You
Logan's Close get more-than-nifty
Go’ is very Mop Top, with clever harmonies, tonight they take the opportunity to try out a few new songs that explore some slightly different pop territories, and also to introduce a new keyboard player called, apparently, Sean Keys.
An as yet untitled effort, noted on their set list as ‘James Bond Yin’, does indeed have jagged vibe of a Sixties film theme song, while ‘Paralysed’ gets into ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’-type Arabic stylings.  ‘The Vandal’ is a hard riffing thing that sounds like power pop of a punkier vintage, while ‘Never Bloom’ harks back to a more shagadelic Sixties phase, with crazed guitar from Carl Marah.
They do have a perfect ear for that Beat Boom sound though, as old favourites like ‘Work No More’ demonstrate, its British rock’n’roll vibe evoking simpler times.  ‘Girl’ provides an opportunity for a Keys keys wig-out, as it were, while ‘In The Morning’ features twin lead vocals from Marah and his reliably daft co-front man Scott Rough.  And ‘Listen To Your Mother’, with which they close, still stands out as a more-than-nifty bit of jangle-pop songwriting. 
The Logan’s Close boys may capture the spirit of some different power pop vibes in the future, but hopefully they’ll retain the appealing, knowing sense of fun they’ve shown to date – and get some smart threads on again, for god’s sake.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Tony Campanella - Taking It To The Street

There’s a bit of an old pals’ act going on here, as Mike Zito produces the debut album from fellow St. Louis bluesman Tony Campanella, released by Zito’s own Gulf Coast Records. It’s a debut that’s been a long time coming, given that Campanella has been paying his dues for 25 years, but happily the end result is up to snuff.
It’s very much a guitar-driven affair, but Campanella also has a more than decent, flexible voice, and through a selection of covers, Campanella originals, and a few contributions from Zito and fellow label boss Guy Hale, there’s plenty of variety on offer.
Personal favourites for me are the swinging-est outings on the album, such as Sonny Boy
Tony Campanella - shake that tush, folks.
Williamson’s ‘Checking On My Baby’, a tush-shaking cracker of a tune delivered in convincingly breezy fashion.  In a similar vein is the Zito/Hale composition ‘My Motor’s Running’, an easygoing shuffle with bobbing bass from Terry Dry.  On both tracks Campanella’s playing displays a good feel for the material, pinging licks decorating the former, and a suitably light touch at work on the latter.  Campanella’s own ‘Pack It Up’ features quivering, squeaking guitar tones over a loose, old-fashioned R’n’B feel.
There are shades of Gary Moore in the heavy blues of the opening ‘Taking It To The Street’, and the slowie ‘One Foot In The Blues’, though I’d wager that Stevie Ray Vaughan is a likelier influence.  Whatever, the title track comes with a pneumatic drill of a riff, and licks sprayed around liberally, while ‘One Foot In The Blues’ has an alluring melody, and in its early stages patient soloing that’s worthy of applause, before it revs up into a big showcase.  At which point TC gets a bit too attached to one particular high-speed descending flurry around the scale, and plays around with it several times with minimal variation, and to no great effect.  As Albert King is reputed to have said to Gary Moore, “You know what?  Play every other lick.”  Or words to that effect.
The closing ‘Those Are The Times’ is a more complete slow blues, sensitive and warm in its ‘Need Your Love So Bad’ stylings, and Eddie Vinson’s ‘Mr Cleanhead’ is a funny piece of self-deprecation on the part of the balding Campanella, with a relaxed ‘Catfish Blues’ air about it.  ‘Texas Chainsaw’, meanwhile, is a brooding number that could be an alternative version of ‘Old Black Graveyard’, from Zito’s own most recent album First Class Life, and comes similarly drenched in his slide guitar as a counterpoint to Campanella’s soloing.  Quite why a song about finally finding a place that finally offers a sense of identity and validation should be given such a macabre setting, I’m not sure, but it still passes muster.
There’s more besides, but the main thing is that Taking It To The Street is a likeable affair, on which Zito does a good job of bringing out Tony Campanella’s personality, and not just as a guitarist.  His motor is indeed running, and on his debut album he shows he can go through the gears.

Taking It To The Street is released by Gulf Coast Records on 19 April.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Elles Bailey - Road I Call Home

In case you hadn’t noticed, there are a host of excellent female roots-orientated artists kicking around just now.  And among them, Elles Bailey has made her own mark in the last couple of years.  Melding soul, blues and country stylings, she has a terrific voice, and across her debut album Wildfire and this follow-up also demonstrates real talent as a songwriter.
Both those strengths are apparent in three of the slower offerings here. ‘What’s The Matter With You’ is a bluesy, deceptively simple-sounding highlight, on which Bailey’s husky, Elkie Brooks-ish voice is paired with flutters of conversational organ and guitar to create the kind of intimate, emotional atmosphere that's done so well by Sean Webster.  (And by the way, I’d
Elles Bailey - hat's the way to do it!
love to hear Elles revive Elkie’s old hit ‘Pearl’s A Singer’ – it would fit her like a glove.) The trick is repeated on ‘Foolish Hearts’, which couples a soulful verse that echoes ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ with a more country-orientated chorus to good effect.  And the album is topped off by ‘A Light In The Distance’, a heartfelt piano and voice ballad that benefits from the decision to eschew further instrumentation as it conveys real emotional truthfulness.
But it’s not all downbeat contemplation.  At the centre of the album, the title track is a brisk, exciting affair driven by a rocking, ringing riff and walloping riff, with briefly duelling guitars and an appealing descending hook on the chorus, as Bailey tells the tale of the touring musician.  And she demonstrates a healthy streak of soul on the likes of ‘Deeper’ and ‘Help Somebody’. The former has a light touch, reminiscent of Deacon Blue, with an enjoyable melody, swirls of organ and horn interventions.  The latter is a slice of robust, upbeat soul, with thudding drums, neat horn riffs, well-judged organ and piano fills, bursts of slide and moans of harp – and a strong harp solo – combining in a well-constructed song that also benefits from some evocative imagery.
To me though, one of the risks of writing and recording in Nashville, as Bailey has largely done here, is the potential for material to become homogenised.  So while opener ‘Hell Or High Water’ is an effective, brooding affair, with twinkling and squiggly notes heralding a bluesy vocal from Bailey that builds patiently with asides from slide guitar, until eventually the band blends in to raise the temperature, ‘Wild Wild West’ and ‘Medicine Man’ are essentially more of the same.
But there are some other avenues explored to maintain enough variety, notably the jangly, Pretenders-like pop of ‘Little Piece Of Heaven’, which has a catchy chorus even if the descending turnaround that brackets it is a bit corny.  And ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’, even of not a standout, is a well put together melding of soul and country, though I could do without the slurred note that Bailey deploys a couple of times.
When Elles Bailey is good, she’s really good.  And she’s never bad – just a bit samey and so-so here and there. But Road I Call Home absolutely deserves attention for those classy moments of emotional depth, and more besides.  Get on the bus and join her on the road. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Wille And The Bandits, Rainbreakers - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 21 March 2019

Wille And The Bandits are a chameleon-like bunch.  They can shift musical colours to take on different guises, but ultimately they’re still themselves.  What am I on about, you’re asking?  Let me explain.
WATB open and close the night with a couple of songs that are pretty much straight out of the classic rock mould.  Opener ‘Victim Of The Night’ is a snappy, melodic affair, given a distinctive twist by Wille Edwards’ picked guitar solo.  At the other end of the show, encore ‘1970’ is a big, bright tribute to the music of those heady days, with a stomping riff and a jubilant singalong.
In between though, the Bandits mix it up a fair bit, and to good effect.  For example, there’s a lot of miles between Cornwall and South Africa, but like Dan Patlansky they have a handy way with a twitching groove - as on ‘Make Love’, which Matt Brooks throws himself into with abandon on his 6-string bass, and also on the twisted funk of the excellent ‘Keep It On The Downlow’, both from latest album Paths.
Wille And The Bandits - Three's Company
But they can also get post-grunge anthemic, firstly on ‘Find My Way’, which motors along on a wave of guttural slide from Edwards, and later on the similar-but-better ’One Way’, on which Edwards’ slide hurtles along, and the audience are easily roped into the shoutalong chorus.  There’s also a well done guitar/bass duel between Edwards and Brooks, comically introduced in a demonic voice by drummer Andrew Naumann – which is great fun in itself, though for me it kinda interrupted the momentum of one of their most immediate songs.
But if all that sounds just like different variations of rocktastic, Wille and the gang have the imagination to range across broader pastures.  On ‘Watch You Grow’ Arabic-styled lap steel conjures up a reflective mood, to which Naumann adds a further twist with African percussion using a Tongue drum, while Brooks contributes washes of pedal keyboards. The overall effect is sensitive, and indeed lovely.  Meanwhile a cover of ‘Black Magic Woman’ weighs in with lap steel and some more interesting percussion to create a very different sounding intro, before they settle into a cantering rhythm, with dazzling bass from Brooks that has Edwards dancing happily on the other side of the stage.
Then on ‘Mammon’ they combine electric double bass, djembe drumming, and classical-sounding acoustic guitar to shift from a gentle intro to a relaxed, jazzy, European sound, with the addition of vocal harmonies.  Then Brooks sticks with the double bass, this time with a bow in hand, to deliver an eerie, filmic solo that sounds like something from the netherworld, as a preamble to ‘Four Million Days’.
Got to admit, ‘Virgin Eyes’ seems like a bit of an untidy affair compared to the above offerings, but it does build to a scorching instrumental section, with Edwards letting rip on lap steel.  But they punch their way home by getting very heavy on ‘Jack The Lad’ and ‘Bad News’ to close their main set, with some slithering Delta slide en route – just one way Edwards finds to contribute properly satisfying guitar work, to go with the lightness of touch in his fuzzy plucking on ‘Judgement Day’, and the way his acoustic playing serves the song on the likes of ‘Keep Your Head Up’.
Wille And The Bandits have been at this game for a while.  They aren’t a bunch of young
guns naively playing at being a rock band.  There’s no posturing, just affable engagement with the audience.  They’re grown-ups, producing material that reflects their spirit of adventure, and some cracking musicianship to boot.  Should they be commanding bigger audiences?  I think the time may have come.
Rainbreakers get soulful and summery
Tour support Rainbreakers may be a less innovative outfit, but they still combine some interesting elements in a well-defined sound.  Somehow I never did quite get round to reviewing their debut album after grabbing a copy following their set at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival, but this was another encouraging performance that appreciative applause from the audience.
Opener ‘Heavy Soul’ grabs the attention with a pummelling riff, while ‘Lay It On Me’ features funky bass and rhythm guitar, and pleasing interplay between the two guitars.  ‘Lost With You’ is a chilled love song, with a summery solo from Sam Edwards and a typically soulful vocal from Ben Edwards, while ‘Waiting On You’ shows a different kind of subtlety with the ‘Rain Song’ style strummings of its intro.  There’s another crunching riff on closer ‘When My Train’, which may not be anything wildly original but is still well executed, with Sam Edwards going to town on lead guitar during a rousing crescendo.  There are acts of a similar ilk out there with bigger reputations.  I reckon Rainbreakers only need a bit more experience and live craft to give them a run for their money.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Sugaray Rayford - Somebody Save Me

Ontage, Sugaray Rayford puts on a bonkers live show, befitting his status as a Blues Award nominee for BB King Entertainer of the Year.  His latest album Somebody Save Me though, is a different proposition.  It’s entertaining, sure, but in a different way. This is an album that takes classic blues and soul stylings, and shapes them into something teasingly modern.  In short, Somebody Save Me is cool.
If Sugaray Rayford’s vocal talents are the substantial hook on which the album is hung, much of the credit must also go to Eric Corne, who not only produced it, but also wrote all the material.  On the writing front, Corne taps into the roots, but with the arrangements and the sound he conjures up an adventurous undercurrent, akin to the modern vibe that fellow
Sugaray Rayford - Big man, big voice, big personality
Pic by Eric Sassaman
knob-twiddler Dangermouse brought to The Black Keys.
It’s there on opening track ‘The Revelator’, a hefty chunk of blues-soul with a hint of hip-hop around the margins.  There’s a rolling, low-end riff, and splashes of keyboards from Sasha Smith, over a nagging, restrained beat, while Sugaray gets down to business with a tough vocal, proclaiming that “I’m a freak of nature, I ain’t no honey bee-ah!”  And it’s all topped off with horns – which feature on 7 out of 10 tracks – and some choral backing vocals.
The edginess is there too on the likes of ‘Angels And Devils’ and the closing ‘Dark Night Of The Soul’.  On the former there’s eerily discordant Hammond organ creating atmosphere, with more classic guitar promptings from Rob Holmstrom, who deploys some extra twang to add to the ambience.  On the latter, Rayford sings it straight to a classic soul-blues sound that’s twisted a moody fraction out of shape by a blend of deep bass and sax, plinking piano, scratchy guitar fills from Eamon Ryland, and flashes of harp from Corne.
‘I’d Kill For You, Honey’ also has that vague sense of something lurking in the shadows, courtesy of a rumbling riff from Ryland’s slide guitar, Corne’s injections of harp, and Wurly piano from Smith.  And if Rayford is singing a classic tale of a man driven to distraction by his woman, and the melody also has echoes of songs gone by, he’s Wolfishly urgent in his delivery of lyrics that don’t rely on well-worn clichés.
But let’s not get carried away by all this critic-pleasing modernity, eh?  ‘Time To Get Movin’’ is a simple but hugely effective traditional R’n’B outing, with a classic blues guitar riff from Holmstrom over a shuffling rhythm, while the sonorous, BB King quality of Rayford’s voice is underlined as he gets stuck into take-no-prisoners lyrics demanding to “Call things by their name – racism, bigotry”.  The following ‘You And I’ is a big, fat slice of horn-laden Stax soul, with a nice weeping guitar tone from Holmstrom, and smart, sharp lyrics.  If I say there’s no more to be said about it, that’s a compliment.
‘Sometimes You Get The Bear (And Sometimes The Bear Gets You)’ is another bright affair, with straight-up guitar work including a relaxed solo, and little fills here and there, juxtaposed with the horns and organ.  And ‘Is It Just Me’ could be a Smokey Robinson Motown offering, complete with “Shal-la-la-la” female backing vocals, except Rayford makes Robinson’s singing sound like a little girl on a tale of a woman capable of working miracles.
There are a couple of slower efforts too, in the soul ballad ‘My Cards Are On The Table’ and the title track, which features violins and cello, and spare sprinklings of guitar. It’s traditional but imaginative, with Rayford delivering an emotional but restrained vocal – think Ben E. King, maybe.
Somebody Save Me may not be a stone cold classic, but it’s still a no filler, all killer winner.  It’ll be getting plenty of airplay in this household, and it should do in yours too.  Time to get movin’, and tune into the Revelator!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Kris Barras Band - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 15 March 2019

For a guy who gets a lot of support from the blues community, Kris Barras isn’t really the bluesiest of rockers – he’d probably tell you that himself.  But he does have a tinge of southern rock to his style, with a fondness for a bit of slide playing, which naturally appeals to a lot of blues rock fans.  And bluesy or not, this show at the Edinburgh Blues Club is a sell-out, indicative of the fan base Barras is developing.
Kris Barras hails Mary
Sure enough, the opener of his band’s set, ‘Rock’n’Roll Runnin’ Thru My Veins’, starts with a Skynyrd-like feel, and Barras essays a vocal that seems to come from somewhere down in
Dixie, rather than his native Torquay.  A slowed down slide segment leads into his solo – and then, interestingly, by the time the song is done I’m thinking they sound rather more like Bon Jovi.
This, in fact, is pretty much the signature sound of the Kris Barras Band – a blend of southern rock and 80s AOR.  They deliver it with conviction – and volume - and the overall effect is invigorating. ‘Kick Me Down’ is in a slower, moody mode, with a strong melody, and confirms the strength of Barras’s vocals. It then segues into the boogie of ‘Stitch Me Up’, which features a gutsy riff and a stinging solo, and is decorated by some rollicking bar-room piano from Josiah J. Manning.
I reckon Manning’s keyboards, and in particular his piano playing, are actually Barras’s secret weapon. Which is not to put down Barras or his rhythm section at all, but as committed fans bounce along to ‘Lucky 13’ Manning's rock’n’roll piano brings a fresh ingredient to their sound, ultimately leading to a winning guitar/piano face-off.  And later, on ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’, he injects a witty, jazzy piano solo as a prelude to an exchange of guitar and organ with Barras.  And he provides good vocal harmonies to dovetail with Barras into the bargain.
Bassist Elliott Blackler generally contents himself with being a steady Eddie, aside from a brief bass solo on ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’, but drummer Will Beavis brings the swing,
Down down, deeper and down
watchfully knitting things together whether on ‘Lucky 13’ or the earlier offbeat stomp of ‘I Don’t Owe Nobody Nothin’’, with its anthemic chorus (and, like a couple of other songs, an all too sudden ending).
They drop their fun cover of Zep’s ‘Rock’n’Roll’ into the middle of the set, which duly cranks up the audience’s energy level, with Barras putting his stamp on it with bursts of slide and a squealing solo.  Sometimes, mind you, the blues fan in me wonders about the emotional content of his playing.  On the cursory new song ‘What You Get’, which again has southern flavourings, his guitar work is fizzing but a bit short on feeling.  And on set closer ‘Hail Mary’ with more good slide playing and an appealing AOR melody, I enjoy his soloing up to the point where it all goes a bit Usain Bolt for my tastes.
Which is a shame, because he’s not incapable of investing his playing with soul.  ‘Watching Over Me’ is dedicated to his late Dad, who taught him guitar and played bass for him for years, and it’s a well-executed rock ballad on which Barras’s solo wears his heart on his fretboard.
Kris Barras is a man on the up.  His material is fresh, his band is sharp, and he has a relaxed way with him.  I don’t think I’m risking my money by betting he’ll have a lot more fans by the end of the year.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Kyla Brox - Pain & Glory

Well, wow.  Before you even get to the music, Pain & Glory makes an impression courtesy of the artwork by Daren Newman and the glossy packaging.  On the front cover drawings of Kyla Brox are embellished with stylish calligraphy that forms the locks of her hair out of song titles, while her name and the album title are in embossed lettering.
So does the music live up to the expectations created by the cover?  Broadly speaking, yes it does.  With 16 songs lasting just over an hour there’s plenty to get your teeth into, mostly leaning in a soul-funk direction but with some welcome variations along the way.
It’s an impressive team affair from her regular band and the additional musicians, including the excellent Haggis Horns.  But of course it’s Kyla Brox whose name is on the cover, and the quality of her vocals certainly justifies the billing.  Her voice is versatile enough to bring different flavours to her preferred bluesy, soulful domain.  On the likes of ‘Sensitive Soul’ she
Sensitive soul Kyla Brox
can take on a modern soul guise, á la Lisa Stansfield perhaps, adding shots of falsetto to its steady beat and slight but still appealing chorus.  In a similar vein are the slight ‘Manchester Milan’ and the stronger ‘Don’t Let Me Fall’, a good un’ that develops from a subdued opening into a strong melody, with extra bonus points for a precision-tooled guitar solo from Paul Farr.  But in a gutsy middle eight she veers towards Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings territory, which really hits the spot.  And indeed on the earlier ‘Bloodshot Sky’ Brox really channels Sharon’s urgency, on a slice of forceful funky soul with a push-and-pull riff and tasteful undercurrents of harp from Clive Mellor.  The opening ‘For The Many’ is also in the tough funk zone, a clarion call to “Believe the youth, they know the truth” with some Stevie Wonder-style clavinet from John Ellis, that nails Brox’s colours firmly to the mast.  ‘Let You Go’ is also a strutting affair, with a bit of urgency and Brox in a lower register, nicely done but ultimately less significant.
Kyla and the gang can also reach for a slinkier feel though.  Tracks like ‘Compromise’ and ‘Lovers Lake’ would fit neatly into Ana Popovic’s latest album Like It On Top.  The former recounts the challenges of motherhood, while the latter is a particularly tasty number, relaxed and breezy with a convincingly smooch vocal.
But there’s also room for the infectious, horn-parping jump blues of ‘Bluesman’s Child’.  With a catchy arrangement that recalls ‘Good Rockin’ At Midnight’, Brox sounds like she’s having fun as she relays her experience of growing up with the dad of the title.
The title track fashions a soul ballad from a simple, satisfying melody.  But better still are the likes of  ‘Choose Life’ and ‘Away From Yesterday’, both of which are sweetly reflective in tone.  ‘Choose Life’ hints at the closing cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, with fittingly tasteful piano from Ellis and spot on vocals once again from Brox, some big open notes perfectly selected.
The album feels padded out by a few songs.  Somebody should have been ready to wield a scalpel, and strip out the less weighty numbers in the service of more focus and sharpness.  But even with that reservation, Pain & Glory is a more convincing body of work than its predecessor, Throw Away Your Blues, producer Sam Brox deserving credit for a big, rich sound.  Kyla forms a convincing songwriting team with guitarist Farr and bassist husband Danny Blomeley, and together with drummer Mark Warburton and their other collaborators they clearly know their green onions when it comes to putting the songs across.  If funky soul is your kinda thing, then go get this brand new bag of it. 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Wily Bo Walker & E D Brayshaw - The Roads We Ride

The Roads We Rideis a curious affair, in a way.  It’s a repackaging as a double-cd set of two albums previously released individually –Stone Cold Beautiful and Running Wild– which together form the intertwined narrative of three characters trying to make their way in the expanse of America.  On one level I ask myself why the double album is necessary, but hey – it’s a beautifully packaged affair, so let’s just go with the flow eh?
Billed as a film noir script, a concept album, a dime-store novel, this collaboration between Wily Bo Walker and E D Brayshaw tells the story of a femme fatale called Louise; Harry, the dirt farmer she runs out on; and Johnny, the ageing small-time singer she falls in with.  Think of a mash-up between some Dust Bowl flick, Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, and Bonnie And Clyde, and you’ll get the idea.  Maybe the storyline is a bit thin, but we’ll let that pass – never mind the rock opera, listen to the music.
Wily Bo Walker, with the elusive E D Brayshaw nowhere to be seen
Pic by Sally Newhouse
What you get are thirteen tracks, weaving covers of Loudon Wainwright III’s ‘Motel Blues’ and Fenton Robinson’s ‘Loan Me A Dime’ in amongst originals variously from the pens of Walker and/or Brayshaw.  Walker is responsible for the lead vocals, with his gravelly bass voice, and along with assorted ladies also provides backing vox.  The enigmatic Brayshaw, meanwhile, provides “Guitars, Instrumentation & Backing Vocals”.  Why enigmatic?  Well, you try finding anything out about him, other than that he’s a compadre of Wily Bo. Go on, Google him.  I tell you what you’ll discover – nada, niente, nowt. But I can tell you one thing – whoever he is, the guy is a real serious guitar picker.
He sets the tone right from the intro to the opening ‘Storm Warning’, with characteristic stiletto sharp notes stabbing out the suitably stormy theme that will recur throughout the song, before Walker rumbles his way into the apocalyptic lyrics, leading up to a strong chorus underpinned by female backing vocals.  It’s typical of a mood reminiscent of Dire Straits in epic, ‘Telegraph Road’ mode – except more fevered.
They cool things off effectively after that, with the faintly Latin, rumba-like swing of ‘I Want To Know’, and the well evoked seediness of ‘Motel Blues’, bringing to mind the down-at-heel road existence of Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake, somehow seducing Maggie Gyllenhall in Crazy Heart.  Then after a decent reading of ‘Loan Me A Dime’, with Walker groaning away bluesily in very Tom Waits fashion, they get down to serious business with ‘September Red’.
Here, people, is an object lesson in how much you can get out of one good hook and an imaginative guitarist. The verse is pleasant enough, but what it mostly does is set up the captivating melody of the chorus, rounded out deliciously by swelling, almost choral female voices.  After a couple of patient turns around that, Brayshaw then sets off on an extended
exploration of the melody, deconstructing it and reassembling it over bendy bass playing, and adding chorus effects to a repeated motif.  It’s seven and a half minutes worth of widescreen quality.
Technicolor visuals for a cinematic soundtrack concept
This though, is just a warm-up for the even larger canvas of ‘Killers On The Run’, a more intense affair that builds to the tag line “Stone cold beautiful” halfway through, before clearing the way for Brayshaw to set off on a searing, sweeping solo reminiscent of what Buck Dharma has often delivered for Blue Oyster Cult – and then downshifting into a ‘Samba Pati’ like closing segment.  Epic is what Walker and Brayshaw often aim for, and epic it certainly is.
Highlights of the second CD include the Doors-like ‘Night Of The Hunter’, peppered with turbulent guitar, which gives way to the more laid back ‘Tennessee Blues’.  Here a sweet, Knopfler-ish guitar riff is given added country twang by a pedal steel, creating an airy mood as a soundtrack for Harry’s reflections as he rides a train north.  A Celtic-sounding riff is then the mainstay of ‘After The Storm’, helping to conjure up New York City.
If ‘The Ballad Of Johnny & Louise’ and ‘The Roads We Ride’ are both attempts at something summative, the latter is probably the more successful, its acoustic guitar underpinnings creating more sense of variety than the former, which is essentially more of epic same, though both feature typically imaginative lyrics from Walker.
The Roads We Ride is an ambitious affair, and Walker and Brayshaw should be applauded for it.  Maybe they bite off a bit more than they can chew, but it’s an album buzzing with ideas, and it achieves the cinematic sweep to which they evidently aspired.  Walker is a characterful singer, with a strong vision, while Brayshaw – whoever he is – delivers some excellent arrangements, topped off with fiery guitar. Two guys on a musical journey together – they make quite a combo.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

John Mayall - Nobody Told Me

For a bloke in his mid-eighties, John Mayall’s voice is very much in fine fettle.  We’re not talking about skyscraping singing of course, but for singing Chicago-type R’n’B, in the vein of Muddy, Wolf and B.B. King, he’s doing darned well.  Not in their league, to be fair, but still able to hit all the right notes, and deliver them with character.
Of course Nobody Told Me is being sold partly on the basis of the impressive parade of guest guitarists that Mayall has assembled, and we’ll get to them in due course.  But focusing on the guitar solos alone would short-change this collection, because it has some
other stuff going for it.  For one thing, although the aforementioned R’n’B can be a pretty restrictive form, Mayall has managed to come up with enough subtle variations across ten tracks to keep the listener interested.  For another, his own harp and keyboard playing deserve attention. And it’s all well-captured by producer Eric Corne, well known as Walter Trout’s producer of choice.
There's a harmonica in there somewhere, John!
The seven covers, of varying vintages, range from Magic Sam’s warm and relaxed ‘What Have I Done Wrong’ and Little Milton’s swinging ‘That’s What Love Will Make You Do’, both punctuated by horns, to the more deliberate ‘Evil Here To Stay’ and reflective ‘The Hurt Inside’.  Meanwhile the three Mayall originals close out the album, including the jump blues-like ‘Like It Like You Do’ and the concluding slowie ‘Nobody Told Me’, the former a wry and sparky tribute to the archetypal woman of a bluesman’s dreams, the latter its world-weary and resigned my-baby-done-left-me counterpoint.
These two closing tracks are impressively decorated by the guitar work of Carolyn Wonderland, who I must confess is a new name to me.  But she makes an even more distinctive contribution to the cover of Joe Bonamassa’s ‘Distant Lonesome Train’, adding slithering, slicing slide guitar to its tugging, slow train rhythm, ahead of a ringing ending.  The result is a track that decisively shakes up the middle of the album.
Bonamassa himself features twice.  First there’s the opener ‘What Have I Done Wrong’, with a strolling guitar lick over bubbling bass from Greg Rzab, and a restrained solo adding to subdued organ. Then later he adds a stinging, well-constructed solo to the jaunty ‘Delta Hurricane’, penned by the Uptown Horns and once recorded by Larry McCray, with a probing bass line and organ solo from Mayall.
McCray, in turn, also gets a couple of outings.  ‘The Moon Is Full’, written by modern day artist Gwendolyn Collins, has a bright sound and a tumbling bass riff in the background.  McCray litters it with tasty fills, and on his second, closing solo goes into high-speed mode – though I’d question whether it adds much to the equation as Mayall’s lush organ solo.  And the same is true of Gary Moore’s ‘The Hurt Inside’, on which there’s a more-ish ascending lick at the heart of his first solo and pleasing bursts of conversational playing, but then a closing wah-wah solo that ultimately feels overcooked.
The other three guest appearances come courtesy of Alex Lifeson, Todd Rundgren, and Steve Van Zandt – none of them what you might regard as the usual suspects.
Lifeson, a veteran of 40 years in Rush, the master practitioners of proggy hard rock, seems like the least likely candidate.  But he does have a bit of form, bearing in mind their Feedback EP of covers, including ‘Crossroads’.  And here he adds a suitably spiky, lower register solo to the brooding ‘Evil Here To Stay’, twinned with a moody piano solo from Mayall – who also adds sporadic bursts of harp – over deep, fuzzy guitar chords. Might an Alex Lifeson Blues Band make for an intriguing post-Rush project?
On the easy-going ‘That’s What Love Will Make You Do’ a jangling, jagged guitar riff is juxtaposed with mellow organ from Mayall, supplemented by vibrant horns and a funky rhythm section courtesy of Rzab’s bass and Jay Davenport’s drums. And in the midst of it all Todd Rundgren’s solo transitions naturally from the riff to a variation on the melody and back again.
Van Zandt features on the first of the Mayall originals, ‘It’s So Tough’, a song that I’d guess he’d identify with lyrically.  Observing that we live in a time when “a crazy guy’s in charge,” Mayall uses a gently appealing melody to urge the listener to “Think more about your neighbour, ‘Cause now it’s up to you and me”, while Little Steven adds patient, shivering guitar to electric piano colouring.
Nobody Told Me is a grower of an album, coaxing you in bit by bit, and revealing more of itself on repeated listens.  It may not be wall to wall genius, but it still carries the torch with style.  Never mind all the guest stars, just lay back and enjoy the ride.

John Mayall is touring Europe in March and April 2019 - details here.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Blue Öyster Cult and The Temperance Movement - O2 Academy, Glasgow, 24 February 2019

Ah, days of my youth. It’s over 40 years since I first saw Blue Öyster Cult, at the old Odeon Cinema in Edinburgh. There’s no Patti Smith howling the introduction tonight, like she did on their first live album.  There’s no laser extravaganza either.  But I tell you what, BÖC still put on a damn good live show.
These days this is less a matter of spectacle, and more because of the awesome repertoire they’re able to draw on.  And that repertoire is delightfully schizoid, ranging from stuff that’s constructed on lead-heavy, bone-crunching riffs, through elements of blues boogie, to songs that grab you with vocal harmonies and sublime, surprisingly pop-rock hooks. And the fact that they walk onstage to the theme from Game Of Thrones is emblematic of lyrics that can be cryptic, gothic, cinematic, and often downright funny.
Glasgow O2 Academy goes up in flames with rock'n'roll 
The twin founding members Eric Bloom and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser are still the spearhead of the operation – as Buck says, they’ve been compadres for 50 years now, and there are some signs of the ageing process.  Bloom’s gruff voice strains for some of the notes nowadays, on ‘Unknown Tongue’ for example, and he doesn’t so much prowl the stage as potter around it. But he can still rock shades and a leather jacket the same as in days of old.  Roeser is a little greyer, a little portlier maybe, but it has to be said his lighter, airier singing voice sounds just the same as ever.  And he continues to be one helluva guitarist.
So it is that on something like ‘The Golden Age Of Leather’ you get an a capella intro, then three guitars grinding away – Bloom’s, Buck’s and that of new sideman Richie Castellano – plus four part harmonies, and typically intricate little licks being scattered around by Dharma.  And I wouldn’t even classify this as one of the highlights.
‘Burning For You’ however, is a classic of their melodic side, with a truly great hook that has plenty punters near me happily singing the chorus to themselves, and wonderfully fluid guitar from buck.  On the other hand ‘Harvester Of Eyes’ is a trademark heavy affair, with a seismic rumble of a riff, and Roeser and Castellano getting together on guitar harmonies.
‘Shooting Shark’ isn’t really from my preferred vintage, but they still manage to elevate it from catchy-but-a-bit-wet status to something gripping – Buck decorates the intro with a stunning throwaway solo, Castellano gets his own chance to shine, and then Dharma comes to the fore again with a display of dazzling playing, full of inventiveness and musicality, delivered from his trademark pose, slightly crouched and with one foot forward on an effects pedal.
‘E.T.I.’ gets a big, deserved cheer, with a ringing riff duet revving up its latter segment while current drummer Jules Radino flays his kit big time.  Then it’s time for ‘Buck’s Boogie’, on which Dharma demonstrates that aimless noodling is not his thing.  From a guitar and keys (also Castellano) call and response section if progresses like a miniature suite of signature guitar motifs, and into a spell of harmonic exchanges with bassist Danny Miranda.  By which time they’ve made an hour simply fly past.
‘Last Days Of May’ lets Richie Castellano off the leash again, for an impressively twiddly, echoed solo.  He’s a good fit, and in many another band he’d be the full-on axe hero.  But in this outfit he can only be junior to the dapper little gent at centre stage, as Buck illustrates with a fierce solo.
They head for the home stretch with the supermonster riff of the epic ‘Godzilla’, before closing the set proper by unfurling ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’, on which Bloom mischievously mimes a bit of cowbell playing, and by the time they’ve finished the guitar wig-out ending I’m thinking ‘Hotel California’ is a bit tame by comparison.
‘Dancing In The Ruins’ seems like a strangely poppy choice for the first encore, though it evidently makes some folk happy.  More to my liking is ‘Hot Rails To Hell’, on which Castellano gets to run wild in addition to taking the lead vocal.  It’s poundingly anthemic – but not half as much as the concluding ‘Cities On Flame With Rock’n’Roll’, on which there’s a pregnant pause while Buck grins and cracks his knuckles in readiness for the explosive ending, on which the three guitars and bass line up at the front of the stage in time honoured fashion.
There’s no guitar-clashing ‘Born To Be Wild’ finale, and no room for ‘The Marshall Plan’, or ‘Joan Crawford’ or ‘Astronymy’ . . . or . . . I could go on.  Which is a shame, but as someone once said, you can’t always get what you want.  But even without all of those classics, Blue Öyster Cult can still produce two hours worth of what you need.
And as an added bonus, they have The Temperance Movement opening for them, which
Lights, cameras, and Phil Campbell action
makes this a dynamite two-for-one offering.  TTM stroll onstage to the strains of ‘The Stripper’, which may not be entirely original, but still fits the sense of fun that comes courtesy of singer Phil Campbell.
And they’re off, with a stomping bass drum triggering ‘Only Friend’.  By the time they’re done with ‘Caught In The Middle’ with its chopping riff, Campbell is taking his shoes off, and as they get wired into ‘The Way It Was And The Way It Is Now’ he’s in full flight – a kinetic, madcap, Iggy-spindly, apparently double-jointed presence.
Campbell may be the focal point, but he’s the focal point of a forceful rock’n’roll band. ‘Ain’t No Telling’ features interleaved licks from guitarists Paul Sayer and Matt White, over groove drumming from Simon Lea, ahead of wailing solos from both guitarists.
And so they go on, piling on the winners.  There’s a rock’n’rolling intro to ‘Take It Back’, with its “Woah-oh-oh-oh” pub singalong, southern rock guitar strains on the intro to ‘Another Spiral’, and a strung out blend of guitars on ‘A Deeper Cut’, with Lea hunched over, deep in the pocket, and Paul Sayer adding a chiming solo.
The Temperance Movement are one of Britain’s best contemporary rock bands.  Phil Campbell is absolutely one of British rock’s most captivating front men.  They take some old-style rock’n’roll vibes and yank them into the 21stCentury. They’re the business, and hopefully this support slot has recruited another battalion to their fan base.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Kyla Brox - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 22 February 2019

The lady can sing, no two ways about it.  We often talk about vocals being powerful, but what Kyla Brox has, it seems to me is vocal strength– range, control and richness all coming together with soulfulness and clarity.  She’s got a box of tricks at her disposal too, in the form of songbird falsetto and a capacity for swooping, somersaulting vocal twists and turns, though she’s sensibly measured in their use.  She’s also got a warm and winning personality, and is evidently very comfortable as a performer – maybe too comfortable at times, but we’ll get to that later.
Kyla Brox - lady sings the blues
Her skills are evident in bluesy fashion on ‘Change Your Mind’, on which she also contributes some flute playing – and it’s a big grown up flute, by the by, with a warm sound that contrasts with the piercing, roaming guitar solo from Paul Farr that follows, as a precursor to a huge vocal finish.
The heart of their sound is soul-funk, ranging across the Latin feel of the brief ‘Devil’s Bridge’, the funky ‘Little Of Your Love’, on which hubby Danny Blomeley contributes a well bendy bass solo, and new single ‘Don’t Let Me Fall’, which opens in minimalist, ballad-like fashion before picking up into sweet soul.  ‘Choose Me’ adds a further variation with an Atlantic soul feel driven by a snapping backbeat from Mark Warburton, while Farr adds a fizzing, rock’n’rolling solo.
Now this kind of stuff, while very good in its own terms, doesn’t necessarily stretch Brox, while now and then Farr treads a mite too close to slick jazziness for my palate. In other words it can all get a bit comfy.  But there’s a welcome shift of gears after the interval, in the form of ‘If You See Him’. Starting off as stripped back blues, with Brox getting into a real old-fashioned Delta mood, it takes off into a gutsy, walloping instrumental section, with coruscating wah-wah guitar from Farr, before Brox gives it large to close the song out.
Their second set ranges from the rollicking, near jump blues of ‘Bluesman’s Child’, on which Kyla tells us what it was like to grow up with bluesman Victor Brox as her dad, to the slowie ‘Honestly Blues’, on which she delivers bursts of falsetto while Farr offers a varied, emotionally charged solo.  Meanwhile ‘For The Many’, which has a political dimension to its lyrics, is strident funk with lots of stonking bass work from Blomeley, and ‘Pain & Glory’, the title track from the forthcoming new album, is a soul ballad on which Brox demonstrates outstanding vocal control, peaking in another jetstream of a sustained note.
At the end of the night the only covers in their set offer twin treats.  Firstly there’s the set closer ‘Wang Dang Doodle’, on which they make it clear that they know their way around raunchy R’n’B and then some.  Farr gives it a grinding, flashing bluesy solo and Blomeley adds a bass wigout, while Brox herself makes Koko Taylor seem one-dimensional and extemporises merrily over a singalong for good measure – stylistically it’s a great fit for her.  Then for an encore they choose an entirely different path with Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ – it’s a daring, dramatic choice, kicking off with just guitar and vocals, and they do it spellbinding justice, conjuring a rapt silence from the audience as they bring it to a close.
Blue Milk - rough as an entertaining badger's bahookey
Rapt silence is not the modus operandi of support band Blue Milk.  The Glasgow-based four-piece are down and dirty purveyors of raw electrified blues.  They may give Junior Kimbrough’s ‘All Night Long’ a sombre opening, but soon they crash headlong into it, and if drummer Taylor Whyte doesn’t emulate the style of a Cedric Burnside he still builds up an impressive head of steam, dovetailing with a strong bass groove from Ike Malinki.
They brew up a bluesy storm on a convincing reading of ‘In My Time Of Dying’, which singer and guitarist Jonny Mac attributes to Dylan, though he was almost as much a Johnny-come-lately to the song as Zeppelin.  Whatever, they know what they’re about, as their own ‘Take Me There’ confirms.  With an intricate little riff, lung-busting harp from Luo Glaister, and a convincingly picked slide solo from Mac, it’s rough as a badger’s bahookey – in a good way.
They’ve got a couple of other authentic originals in their locker too.  ‘Lord Knows I’m Trying’ has a scratchy vibe and generates impressive intensity towards its close, while ‘Moonshine’ is all rumble, wail and spikiness. The crowd are well up for a swinging blast through Elmore James’ ‘Dust My Broom’, with jangling, crunching slide from Mac, and they bring the right kind of edginess to the Black Keys’ ‘Couldn’t Tie Me Down’.
I know bugger all about Blue Milk, but they have an air of scratched vinyl, annoying the neighbours with loud music at two in the morning, and a determination to do something different. I liked ‘em.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

King King - Boiler Shop, Newcastle, 16 February 2019

What is it about Alan Nimmo?  Bit by bit, as King King have inched towards full-blooming success over 10 years, the man has forged an incredible rapport with their growing audience.  Tonight in Newcastle, before they’ve even played a note, he straps on his guitar to the strains of ‘Highway To Hell’, then cups his hand to his ear as the chorus arrives, and grins as the crowd roars out the words.
This is just the beginning, of course.  More and more, as the years have gone by, King King gigs have generated a sense of communion.  It’s de rigeur for rock bands to incorporate a bit of a singalong with the crowd in their show of course, typically a bit of call and response
Alan Nimmo in the pink
in a song towards the end of the set - job done.  But with King King, as with Springsteen, over time things have taken on a life of their own.
So on ‘Rush Hour’, just a few songs in, there’s no waiting till the end for the audience to get stuck in.  Jonny Dyke trills out a keyboard intro, Alan Nimmo offers a vague invitation, and the Boiler Shop Choir are off and running.  They still do the usual bit at the end, but evidently the crowd aren’t satisfied, because after the last note has died away they have another go at it, a capella.  Much the same happens towards the end of the set, on ‘You’ll Stop The Rain’, where Nimmo has the crowd singing the guitar refrain, and they like it so much they do it again off their own bat when the song is over.  “Splendid,” says Nimmo with a chuckle.
Nimmo can even elicit a roar of approval with just his trademark clenched fist salute at the end of a song, like a goalscorer celebrating a goal.  But if this is all starting to sound like the football terraces set to music, then let’s be clear that there’s a whole lot more to a King King show than that.
They’ve shaken up the set for this tenth anniversary tour, and there are now three servings of tough, dystopian funk early on, in the form of ‘Broken’, ‘Lose Control’ and ‘Heed The Warning’.  Jonny Dyke’s swelling keys bring an epic feel to ‘Broken’, while they simply kick ass on ‘Lose Control’, with those immense drum rolls from Wayne Proctor and a stonking little solo from Nimmo.  The meaty ‘Heed The Warning’, meanwhile, features jittery clavinet from Dyke, who seems increasingly at home in the KK brotherhood these days, and contributes some dreamy organ to the soulful ‘Coming Home’ – the inclusion of which underlines that they have plenty of untapped shots in their locker when it comes to material.
Lindsay Coulson and Alan Nimmo reach for the light
And let’s not ignore just how good a guitarist Alan Nimmo is. He and his gang conjure up excellent dynamics on ‘Stranger To Love’, as a basis for a masterly solo that brings grunts of “Go on Alan” from a couple of punters, and huge cheers when the last note expires.  In a different vein ‘You’ll Stop The Rain’ achieves escape velocity, as always, with his stunning second solo.
Their range is also apparent in the switch from the perfect, frivolous rock froth of ‘(She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’’ to the dramatic ‘Take A Look’. The latter has had few previous live outings, but if they’re of a mind to include an AOR power ballad then it strikes me as a stronger candidate than ‘Find Your Way Home’, which closes the set proper.  I’m all for the dads-and-daughters sentiments of ‘FYWH’, which show off another side of Nimmo’s readiness to explore real-life emotions, but for me the melody lacks a mysterious something.
Speaking of emotions, tonight is bassist Lindsay Coulson’s penultimate gig with the band.  So it seems appropriate that the encores go back to debut album Take My Hand, with the title track serving up some party funk before ‘Old Love’ sets a seal on the night.  Nimmo eschews the ‘silent running’ segment that’s traditionally decorated the Clapton/Cray cover (or alternatively ‘Stranger To Love’), but there’s still delicacy and feeling galore in his solo.
King King may not yet have absolutely hit the big time, but they have come a long, long way
Sari Schorr - vocal force of nature
over the last ten years.  The line-up may change, but the spirit abides, and continues to win hearts and minds.  Let’s see if a new album this year can bump them up another level.
It says something about King King that they can outshine opener Sari Schorr as easily as they do, because she and her band are far from being support act cannon fodder – very far indeed.  They deliver their set in brisk fashion, knocking out a strong and well chosen batch of songs that show off Schorr’s towering vocals to good effect, as well as the guitar work of Ash Wilson.  They make a good pairing, with Schorr getting down in old-fashioned rock chick fashion while he does his stuff.
‘Damn The Reason’ is the only offering from first album A Force Of Nature, and shows off Schorr’s ability to bring dramatic intent to a song, while their cover of Bad Company’s ‘Ready For Love’ hits the nail on the head.
‘King Of Rock’n’Roll’ neatly counterpoints tinkling piano ripples from Stevie Watts with rumbling guitar chords from Wilson, who whips out an array of impressive solos across the set on a variety of guitars, including startling, piercing tones on ‘Never Say Never’, the title track of Schorr's second album.
‘Maybe I’m Fooling’ cranks up the momentum, with gut-thumping drums from Roy Martin, before they rock out big time with the obvious set closer ‘Valentina’, with its infernally catchy hook.
She gigs a lot, does Sari Schorr.  Sometime soon she and her gang are bound to be playing near you.  Go see ‘em, and cop an earful of her vocal firepower.