Monday, April 22, 2019

Savoy Brown - Stramash, Edinburgh, 16 April 2019

Watching Savoy Brown play live provides multi-faceted blues experience.  For chunks of their show you can just lay back and let them transfix you with entrancing grooves that you can sink deep, deep inside.  But there are times when you need to buckle up for some butt-shaking boogie.  And there are also connections to blues originals like Memphis Slim and Muddy Waters, as well as the weight of early blues-rock.
Kim Simmonds lights up the blues
They open their set in the groove mode, with ‘Why Did You Hoodoo Me’, from their last album Witchy Feelin’, which is all hypnotic, steady-as-she-goes grittiness, underpinned by metronomic drums from Garnet Grimm and supple, muscular bass from Pat DeSalvo.  They follow up in a similar but tougher vein, with ‘Walking On Hot Stones’, from their imminent new album City Night.  It features a dirty great slab of a riff, with DeSalvo swaying backwards and forwards like a slave to the rhythm, while Simmonds cuts loose with slide guitar, conjuring up a huge, fuzzy sound.
They vary things with ‘Payback Time’, also from the new album, which mixes chiming chords and a descending bass line to produce a semi-reggae feel, before getting back to the mesmeric groove on ‘Livin’ On The Bayou’.  As atmospheric as its title suggests, it features subtle little flourishes like a slowed down ‘Sultans Of Swing’.
From there they head back in time to 1970, and the staccato riff of ‘Poor Girl’, with Simmonds taking his customary couple of steps away from the microphone to centre stage, to deliver a classy extended solo, eyes closed as ever, full of variation and with a particularly neat Allmans-like segment.  It’s a good warm-up for the ensuing instrumental of ‘Cobra’, on which they hit the gas pedal and cut loose with the boogie.
Simmonds demonstrates his understanding of the blues roots with Memphis Slim’s ‘I’ll Keep On Playing The Blues’, a slowie on which his solo demonstrates superb feel, and excellent use of tension and release.  He also fishes around in his jacket to produce a harmonica, on which he adds extra garnish with a sweet little solo, to considerable acclaim from the crowd, who are lapping up this direct line to the British Blues boom.  On which note, ‘Needle And Spoon’ sounds like a very Sixties British product, even if it was released in 1970.  Written by Simmonds’ then compadre Chris Youlden, it adds more variety to the set, with a jazzy solo over a swinging rhythm.
The rocked-up Muddy Waters affair ‘Louisiana Blues’ takes a ‘Rollin’ An’ Tumblin’ vibe and
Savoy Brown create a blues stramash
runs away with it, accelerating until Simmonds starts sawing the neck of his guitar against his amp, to herald an extended rhythm section workout during which he parks himself on a stool at the side of the stage and takes the load off. DeSalvo’s bass solo is varied and stylishly delivered, if you like that sort of thing, while Grimm lets loose with a kit-thrashing that’s accompanied by a blaze of flashing lights.  Their version dates back to 1969, and it has the distinct feel of emanating from the birth pangs of the blues-rock genre.
They close the set with the rollicking, slide-infused boogie of ‘Tell Mama’.  Simmonds dials it down for a few minutes to deliver a monologue about how he acquired his first guitar, in his typically amiable gent fashion, before they crank it up to a big finish.  It goes down a storm, and leads inevitably to an encore.  ‘Savoy Brown Boogie’ picks up the baton admirably, dedicated to Simmonds’ brother and also to former SB member Paul Raymond, who sadly had died just a few days earlier.  It’s a big rocker of a tune, and when they interpolate ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, they ain’t kidding.
Over 50 years of Savoy Brown Kim Simmonds has had enough band-mates to compete with Mark E. Smith and The Fall.  But this three-piece incarnation has been together for 10 years now, and it shows in their easy, flowing tightness. If you want to immerse yourself in a master class of the blues-rock genre, they’re the real deal.

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

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.