Sunday, April 28, 2019

Matt Pearce & The Mutiny - Gotta Get Home

Well, here’s an unexpected pleasure.  Matt Pearce plays guitar with hard rock outfit Voodoo Six.  I did not know this.  I’ve heard of Voodoo Six, and maybe heard a couple of minutes of their music. That’s it.  It seems though, that about a year ago Matt Pearce had an epiphany. For whatever reason, he had a sudden urge to draw upon some of his listening habits, and “just knew I had to form a seriously funky blues band.”  And lo, Gotta Get Home is the result – and it’s pretty damn good, folks.
Matt Pearce plays that funky music, white boy!
Like the Chris Bevington Organisation’s Cut And Run, (one of the best albums of last year), Pearce and his buddies have managed to serve up an album of originals that’s imbued with appealing freshness and enthusiasm from start to finish.  But opening track ‘Scarecrowing’ immediately announces that Pearce’s vision involves a hefty dollop of funk being an ingredient in the rocking blues recipe, with a blend of shake yer ass riffing, Stevie Wonder-style clavinet, and a pleasingly twiddly, harmonised tumbling guitar line.
That funk element is in play to some degree across much of the album, but especially on ‘Dig Deeper’, with its infectious hand-clapping dance groove and climbing melody, and also on the closing ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, which is funk-blues with bite, melding a steady rhythm, a gritty guitar riff that throws in a nod to ‘The Wanton Song’, slide guitar undercurrents, and good use of vocal harmonies.
They dial the funk down a tad on the likes of ‘Ordinary Blues’ and ‘Like A Hammer’, but still swing. Both tracks are driven along by twisting and turning riffs of different kinds, and on both there’s clever use of effects to give an inventive dimension to the sound.  The former mellows in its middle eight, with languid slide ahead of a spot on solo, before a coda plays around with the rift again. The latter is a rockier affair with a tough chorus, softened with some female backing vocals but with a head-over-heels bridge.
There’s a bluesier feel to the mid-paced ‘Set Me Free’, which rolls along on an electric piano riff, while a contemplative opening guitar line sets the tone for Pearce’s subsequent soloing.  Bluesier still though, is ‘Worried’, which features Delta blues like guitar picking over a simple metronomic beat, with just some crooned female “oohs” as a sweetener.
On a more soulful level is ‘Some People’, a slower song that’s one of the highlights of a strong album, with a nagging melody that’s liable to become an earworm, a momentary snatch of which evokes the Staple Singers’ ‘Respect Yourself’.  Layering Pearce’s guitar with cascading piano runs and lush organ chords, it again makes good use of vocal harmonies, but in particular it showcases an expressive guitar solo.  And taking that soulfulness into gospellated territory is the title track, with a bullhorn vocal on the opening verse as a precursor to some excellent female backing vocals from Acantha Lang.  It’s got a good hook and another bout of impressive slide soloing, which carries on underneath more Lang vocal explorations to add to the atmospherics.
Gotta Get Home is a very good album – not a great album perhaps, but easily good enough to make me enjoy repeated plays over the last week.  Matt Pearce has done a bang up job of delivering original material with arrangements that make engaging use of funky rhythms, on the money slide playing, some handy vocal harmonies, and refreshing guitar effects to liven things up.  On extended listening I can recognise some of the influences he cites, such as the Black Crowes - but only fleetingly.  Mostly what I hear though, is a sound that is distinctively and effectively that of Matt Pearce & The Mutiny.

Gotta Get Home is released by Mutinear Records on 3 May.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Liz Jones & Broken Windows - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 18 April 2019

A pinch of this, a dash of that, and a soupcon of the other.  What you get from Liz Jones & Broken Windows is a smorgasbord of popular music stylings, tastefully drawn together to create an appetising whole. Which is probably quite enough of the food metaphor for one review.  But to put it slightly differently, their show encompasses some Laurel Canyon-ish singer-songwriter type stuff, some Latin vibes, some moments of jazziness and even chanson, and for good measure some rootsy rock redolent of the late Sixties and early
Seventies.  All of which are on the menu – sorry - in the course of this launch gig for their latest single, ‘Wendy’.
Liz Jones delivers some ooh la la with Broken Windows
Set opener ‘Strum’ typifies the richness of the sound and rhythms they conjure up, with a neatly descending, low-end guitar line, and Suzy Cargill’s percussion augmenting Gary Davidson’s drums and Rod Kennard’s bass.  The following ‘Lover’, meanwhile, sounds like something Ricky Ross might have cooked up on a thoughtful day, with Cargill supplying mandolin and a hooky ascending guitar line this time from John Bruce.
There’s subtlety aplenty in songs like ‘Wise’ and ‘Broken Windows’ itself.  The former is a dark and reflective affair, appealing in its simplicity, trusting a great deal to the depth of Liz Jones’ vocals over asubtle arrangement featuring nice touches of piano from Andy Barbour.  The latter, contrastingly, is an intricate but organic arrangement, on this occasion given added smokiness by guest sax from Jim Francey, with shimmering guitar chords giving way to a restrained but piercing solo from Bruce.  It is, it has to be said, an exceptionally well put together song.
They include a couple of judicious covers tonight. Midway they drop in JJ Cale’s ‘Funky Country Groove’, which was a new one on me but has an authentically laid back Cale feel, with Jones getting into a suitably “somewhere down the lazy river” Tupelo spirit, as Robbie Robertson might have put it.  Better still though, is their version of the Faces’ ‘Ooh La La’.  Not that there’s anything especially clever about their reading – it’s just a great fit for their set, delivered with energy, and a great solo from Bruce.
And they do different kinds of upbeat stuff well, ranging from the excellent ‘No Classic Love Song’, which is jazzy, witty and lively, with some European undertones, to ‘Wild’, which leans on an ‘All Along The Watchtower’-like chord sequence while Jones delivers a lyric about suppressed yearnings to be daring, with Bruce eventually letting rip on guitar.  Especially enjoyable though, are the straight-ahead ‘Angel’, a classy, joyful pop song driven along by fiery guitar and a great hook, and the encore ‘Wendy’, which if not as raucous as the Beatles' rooftop rock’n’roll flourishes is still great fun – as is the accompanying video.
Richard O'Donnell gives it gusto - and a big quiff
My guess is that Liz Jones has created these songs, and put together Broken Windows to play them with her, out of sheer love for making music.  As a front person she may make light of it, but you don't write stuff like this without having some awareness that you've got good musical ideas, and also a compulsion to bring them to life.  She and her gang are making fresh and interesting music for grown-ups, and good on 'em for recording it and playing it live to let others share in it. 
And if there wasn’t enough blues in all that for you, then Liz Jones had hauled in Richard O’Donnell as support to make up for it.  Aside from being an outstanding purveyor of R’n’B ivories, O’Donnell is a stonkingly good curator of old-style country blues.  Armed with a couple of resonator guitars in different tunings, he serves up an energetic solo selection of choons from the likes of John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters.  He delivers some beautifully controlled quiet picking on Muddy’s ‘I Feel Like Going Home’, and attacks Robert Johnson’s ‘Kind Hearted Woman’ with vocal gusto.  But best of all he closes with a bravura performance of ‘Boogie Chillen’, to warm up the audience for the rather different sounds of Liz Jones and friends.

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 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 solo 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.  Combining soul, blues and country stylings, she has a terrific voice, and across her debut album Wildfire and this follow-up she 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 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
Elles Bailey, taking "on the road" a bit too literally
Pic by Alex Berger
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 drums, 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 – all coming together 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 if not a standout, is a well assembled 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.