Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Whisky Road - The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, 7 August 2019

Now and then it’s a pleasure to hear the blues stripped back.  It gives a different perspective on the songs, shorn of volume and effects. And this acoustic blues show on the Edinburgh Fringe by Whisky Road, a trio armed with two acoustic guitars and harmonica, does the job very nicely, thank you very much.
Their hour long set ranges draws on classics across the generations, with the addition of a few originals, kicking off with an uptempo, good-time reading of Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Eyesight To The Blind’, with a funkily rhythmic undercurrent, with Jim Harcus providing chugging harp accents along the way, and a pinging guitar solo from Pete Caban.  And they
Whisky Road - unplugged blues in the Jazz Bar
follow that up with ‘Key To The Highway’, demonstrating just why it’s a classic, with a plaintive harp solo from Harcus and a tasteful guitar solo from Derek Smith, which then neatly interleaves with Caban’s guitar again at the end.
There’s some amusing banter about them changing the set list from show to show, and whether anyone actually comes back for a second helping to check, but they evidently have an extensive repertoire at the their disposal with which to deliver on that promise.
Highlights include the dreamy and soulful Clapton/Cray song ‘Old Love’, and in a similar vein ‘The Thrill Is Gone’.  Smith conjures up a Layla-ish bass line on his acoustic for the former, in addition to a neat solo, before Harcus plays around with the melody in subtle fashion on harp, on the way to a piercing solo from Caban as they bring the song to a crescendo.  Their take on ‘The Thrill Is Gone’, meanwhile, is loose-limbed and exquisite, a quiet opening leading to the understated introduction of that classic blues riff.  There’s well-balanced tension and release in Smith’s solo, while Caban demonstrates similarly good tone and phrasing in his outing.
But there’s variety too, ranging from the simple, chugging R’n’B of Jimmy Rogers’ ‘That’s Alright’, with nicely interwoven guitar lines, to the nagging, harp-reinforced riff of something I think called ‘You Don’t Love Me’, which is ever so British Blues Boom.  And Derek Smith delivers a suitably smoky vocal on Memphis Minnie's 'Ain't Nothin' In Ramblin'', a downbeat depiction of pain and misery on which you can practically feel the Louisiana heat.
Smith’s self-penned ‘Nobody Knows Like Me Like I Do’ is a lightly swinging affair, with a jazzy solo from Caban, that has a cool air of 50s rock’n’roll inspired pop, matched later on by the old-time vibe of the blues standard ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out)’.
They close with BB King’s ‘Let The Good Times Roll’, with rattling solos from both guitarists and a mid-song switch of harps from Jim Harcus as they change key, and a bit of singalonga-BB for good measure.
If you’re in Edinburgh for the Festival, and in the market for a bit of unplugged blues as a warm-up for your afternoon, the Whisky Road show is a damn good shout.

Whisky Road play six more shows at the Edinburgh Fringe from 9-24 August.  Tickets available here.

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