It strikes me, listening to Souls, that Redfish dream large. Not in terms of world domination commercially I imagine, but perhaps at least in terms of realising their artistic potential. Though probably the quintet from the environs of Carlisle and Dumfries think about it in quite those terms.
The bedrock of their sound is John Mayall-esque British blues (sans harmonica), with hints of Born Under A Bad Sign thrown in for good measure. They certainly do a bang-up job on straight-up bluesiness, as on the strutting boogie of ‘One More Fight’ for example, and thefunky ‘For The Love Of The Wrong Woman’, which is well served by both the piano and guitar solos, and is one of several songs on which they employ guest horns to good effect. Their feel for the essentials extends to the moody slow-ish blues of ‘It’s A Very Lonely Life’
|Redfish - walking in the shadows of the blues|
But they also manage to throw some twists into this kind of material, such as the throbbing and swirling clavinet-type sound on the opener ‘There’s Nothing Else’, matched by a fitting guitar tone from Martin McDonald on his solo. Or the stop-start vocals from Brian ‘Stumblin’’ Harris on the funky ‘(Kick Up) Hell’s Delight’, with its effects-treated guitar break and shift to a snappy, Squeeze-like closing refrain. And Harris clearly makes an effort to produce smart lyrics too, as on the wittily acerbic ‘Don’t Waste The Good Stuff’, which has organ and jagged slide guitar getting into competition towards the end.
But it’s the fact that they stretch their range beyond these mainstream stylings that really deserves applause. They’re brave enough to keep it simple, for example, on the finger-snapping ‘Rakehells’, with its earworm of a stride piano figure and shuffling, swinging rhythm from drummer Sandy Sweetman and bassist Rod Mackay. Clark adds a rippling piano solo, and McDonald some slide, but they don’t clutter up the tune en route to its oddly abrupt ending. More dramatically, ‘Hate The Song But Not The Singer’ kicks off with a quietly crooned, hesitant vocal from Harris over the most spartan guitar, and when the band crank it up the vocals become more angsty and pleading, with suitably rough guitar giving way to some jazzy Rhodes piano.
‘Shadow On My Soul’ has an original sound too, its feel apparently inspired by Nina Simone. Sweetman lays down a novel rhythm on percussion, augmented by handclaps, while McDonald and Clark contribute a sparse guitar/piano motif that puts me in mind of ‘Sloop John B’ of all things, and Harris delivers a patient, keening vocal about wanting to “scream like Roky Erickson”. There’s some fitting piano embroidery from Clark, and a trombone solo courtesy of Chris Riley, and the upbeat coda is nicely done even if it might have been better kept for another song.
I could probably mention some other quibbles, but to hell with that. Redfish are a bunch who have paid their dues, musicianship wise, and it shows. More to the point, they haven’t plodded along a familiar blues rut from one end of Souls to the other. Instead they’ve shown a spirit of adventure, set out to explore some fresh angles, and done it with conviction – and good on ‘em for that.