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 inDixie, 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,
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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.