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 Leo 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 Wilson 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.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Robben Ford - Purple House

When I was looking up this album on Amazon in readiness to buy it – yes folks, I do actually shell out my own shekels on some of this stuff – I noticed that the reviews were mixed. One complains that the album’s disjointed and doesn’t flow, amongst other things, while another says it’s Ford’s weakest outing of all, and someone else moans about it consisting of just 9 tracks spread over 35 minutes.  To all of which I can only say this: phooey!
I can’t tell you I’ve got all of Robben Ford’s stuff.  But I can tell you that his 2015 album, Into The Sun, has had regular airplay in this house. Why?  Because it showed that Ford is someone prepared to think outside the same old box and explore fresh angles, which he does with cool assurance rather than any kind of show-offery.
Cool dude Robben Ford captured in a warm light
The same is true of Purple House.  If you were to tell me, for example, that Ford had spent some time listening to Fleet Foxes in the run-up to making this album, I wouldn’t be surprised.  Not that you’ll hear anything that sounds like ‘White Winter Hymnal’, all folky acoustic arrangements and soaring harmonies.  But songs like ‘Empty Handed’, ‘Bound For Glory (Underdog Rises)’ and ‘Willing To Wait’ respectively feature ambient, reverb-drenched vocals, a halting guitar motif, and ringing chords under a verse that suggest ‘Rain Song’ as much as indie-folk.  And with some evocative images thrown into the lyrics, a pastoral quality can be glimpsed in some of these songs.
But that’s not the whole story.  ‘Tangle With Ya’ kicks things off with clattering, syncopated drums from Derek Phillips, ahead of a surging, ascending riff and bursts of sax that create an air of just-contained urgency – before Ford tops things off with a sumptuous, Steely Dan-like guitar solo.  Contrastingly, ‘What I Haven’t Done’, written by Kyle Swan, has a lazy feel, with a drawling, dragging vocal and woozy horns, before a bridge that quotes ‘Soul Man’ as it triggers Ford’s solo.
What you also get are some dreamily catchy choruses, as on ‘Bound For Glory’, where it’s attached to a sparkling guitar line, and the earworm-hook of ‘Break In The Chain’.  The latter sets sail with acoustic strumming including rippling chords, and an assertive vocal from Ford, before progressing after a minute and a half to some tough guitar that heralds guest vocals from Shemekia Copeland, and then an intriguing, semi-scrabbling middle eight that carries hints of Hendrix.  On the brief ‘Wild Honey’, meanwhile, there’s a creeping, guitar line at the outset, leading to a luscious chorus, while a prickling guitar theme comes and goes.
Ford takes a step back at the start of ‘Cotton Candy’, letting it lean on a snapping snare drum, bass and vocals as it develops an implicitly funky vibe that’s reinforced by Tyler Summers’ sax.  Then the guitar weighs in with Prince-like pinging notes that counterpoint a top notch solo.  Then going down another avenue, ‘Somebody’s Fool’ is a crunching, modern day blues – nothing original about the tune, but the delivery is stonkingly good, with a gritty, swaggering vocal courtesy of Travis McCready, and squelching guitar accompaniment.
The aforementioned ‘Willing To Wait’ features a crystalline guitar intro, and a piercing, brittle solo from Drew Smithers that twists into a shimmering, psychedelic bridge, and ultimately a brief, hooky vocal outro that’s rounded out – not for the first time – by lush female backing vocals.
There’s an inventiveness at work throughout these songs that picks up where Into The Sun left off.  It only lasts 35 minutes - so what?  Robben Ford packs more content into that space than many artists would manage in an hour.  If Jeff Beck is someone who gets plaudits for pushing the boundaries, then so should Ford – and he writes good songs too, songs that aren’t run of the mill.  If it’s supersonic shredding from a guitar slinger that floats your boat then look elsewhere.  But if you’re up for some less-is-more imagination then look no further.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Walkin' The Blues - Ian Siegal's Swagger Revisited

Why take the time to have a look back at Swagger, you ask?  It’s not an anniversary, is it?  Well, from some of the PR bumf I’ve seen over the years, Swagger was apparently hailed as something of a shot in the arm for the British blues scene when it came out in 2007.  But that’s not why.  It’s actually that Ian Siegal seems to pay it scant attention, so I feel like someone else should.
Ian Siegal unwraps a throat-shredding squeal
The thing is, I found this album for myself, back when I was just starting to delve into blues stuff back in 2011.  Didn’t know Ian Siegal from shit, but listened to some snippets on eMusic, downloaded it – and was hooked.  I’ve been following him ever since, and you know what?  In all the times I’ve seen him live, I think the bastard has only ever played one song from Swagger – namely the philosophical meditation on death that is ‘Mortal Coil Shuffle’, which here features harp from Big Pete Van Der Pluym.
Anyway, first track out of the gate is the title offering, and it lives up to its premise, strutting along on a cool beat and jangling chords, while Siegal unwraps the most Howlin’ Wolf-like vocal ever likely to be delivered by a guy from Portsmouth.  It’s also the first example of Siegal’s characteristic wordsmithery, its lyric peppered with sharp imagery conjuring up the swagger in question.
Siegal’s work often displays a fondness for paradox, here most clearly in the form of ‘Catch 22’, the entertaining résumé of a woman who will “shower you with compliments, then spray you with Mace”, played out over Siegal’s fizzing slide guitar. Just as eloquent is the penultimate track ‘Curses’. Here Siegal mulls over, at wonderful, withering length, the failings of a man whose “mind is like a soup dish, wide and shallow”, and whose wife “has the hostess skills of Lady Macbeth”, before wishing a range of creatively unpleasant fates to be visited on him. It’s all set to a patient arrangement that takes in banjo and clanking percussion and is, as they say, a hoot.
If the humour is dark, the music can be too, as on ‘God Don’t Like Ugly’, which starts off with murmured vocals over little more than ticking drums and plonking bass, before Siegal gets his dander up and adds his own backing vocals.
All of the above is also indicative of the variety Siegal brings to the pursuit of roots music, not ploughing the same furrow over and over, but still managing to produce stuff that sounds . . . elemental.
Swagger - an album that shines like a diamond
Take, for example, his twin-barrelled readings of ‘Horse Dream’, written by his mysterious chum Ripoff Raskolnikov.  For me, this striking monologue of a youngster expressing anxiety to his father about the maltreatment of a horse echoes the burning angst of a similar scene in Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent.  Siegal gives it two different treatments, firstly the brief, acoustically strummed ‘Horse Dream (Western)’, and secondly the deeper, brooding ‘Horse Dream (Swamp)’.  On the latter reading prickly guitar notes are picked out over doomy drumbeats and rolling bass, while nagging, minimalist organ chords hover in the background.  Against this backdrop Siegal mounts a vocal crescendo that shifts from the abuse of the horse to “an entire people being led to the slaughter on a single man’s whim”, as a precursor to a subtle, glittering guitar solo that I’m guessing is down to producer Matt Schofield.  It all adds up to 6 minutes of sheer class, and if Raskolnikov is responsible for the raw material, probably only Siegal could bring it to such devastating fruition.
A selection of covers bring other colours to the palette. There’s the twitchy groove of the second track, John Lee Hooker’s ‘Groundhog Blues’, which features the first outing for Siegal’s trademark throat-shredding squeal.  Then there’s the Little-Richard-channelling-Fats-Domino N’Awlins R’n’B of ‘I Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave’.  And from the pen of Don Covay, who also wrote ‘Chain Of Fools’, there’s ‘I Don’t Know what You Got (But It’s Got Me)’, on which Siegal cooks up a Sam Cooke-like soul vibe, doing justice and then some to the aching original by Little Richard.
Elsewhere there’s the urgent Chicago sound of Siegal’s own ‘Stranger Than A Green Dog’, and his shuffling ‘High Horse’, with its added 'kitchen utensil' percussion.  And closing the album is his rendition of ‘Let My Love’, by the now late and lamented Glasgow icon Big George Watt.  And though I actually prefer Siegal’s take on one of Watt’s other classics, ‘Take A Walk In The Wilderness’ this still makes for a top drawer conclusion.
Thirteen great tracks in all, exploring different roots music avenues, and all tied together into a coherent whole, with due credit for their contributions to his then rhythm section of Andy Graham on bass and Nik Bjerre on drums, plus guest ivories bod Jonny Henderson.  If you’re a blues fan, and you’ve never heard Swagger, then you need to get your shit together and go unearth a copy.  Like, right now!
Meantime, regular Siegal watchers will probably get my drift if I say that the next time I see him live I might shout at the start of the set, “Don’t play anything from Swagger!”  Perversely, that might do the trick.  But I’m not holding my breath.  Bastard.