Saturday, December 28, 2019

Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking 2019 - Part 2

So this is Twixtmas, that twilight zone between Christmas and New Year when we all struggle to remember which day of the week it is.  Peace has possibly descended for a couple of days until the next round of celebrations, so it’s a chance to catch up with Part 2 of the Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking!
Steve Van Zandt preaches soul to the faithful
Part 1 of this review of 2019 focused on album releases, and there’s a little more to be said on that front, but let’s kick off by talking about some of the best live shows seen this year.  And for the third year in a row, one of the very best gigs I saw was courtesy of Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul.  This time it was in Milan, while I was in Italy for a lengthy holiday this summer, and once again Steve Van Zandt and his gang delivered the kind of life-affirming rock’n’roll celebration that’s a joy to behold.  Loved it, basically, and it set the bar very high for anyone else.  Here’s an example from elsewhere this year, with‘Trapped Again’.
Samantha Fish gave it a very good go though, on a run of incendiary dates in Britain and Europe.  I caught four of ‘em, greedy man that I am, and though all of them were great, the two on my home turf in Scotland were in the jaw-dropping category.  Fish’s band, sans horns on this European trip, have a terrific chemistry, while she of course adds blazing guitar, unique vocals, and knock-em-dead performance levels to the mix.  Here they are with the dreamy ‘Fair-weather’, at the Troubadour in L.A. a couple of months ago.
Both Stevie and Samantha also delivered new albums this year of course, and very impressive they were too.  Van Zandt and his soul train’s Summer Of Sorcery may have been a little uneven, but tracks like ‘Love Again’ and ‘Superfly Terraplane’ were irresistible, Kill Or Be Kind could have been a contender for my favourite album of the year, if it had had a more impactful closing track, an explosive rocker perhaps, to bookend the album with opener ‘Bulletproof’.  As it is though, with its gathering together of soul, blues, punkish rock’n’roll and down and out pop elements, it was the outstanding crossover album of the year.  And I managed to collar the lady for a pretty good interview too!
Situation normal - Samantha Fish tearing it up
and it was undeniably fun.  Meanwhile Fish’s
Getting back to the live stuff, the early months of the year produced some other corking shows.  In January, Sugaray Rayford provided a bonkers evening of entertainment, an out and out party to complement the more disciplined delivery of his subsequent album Somebody Save Me.  Here's Sugaray feeling good on, er, 'Don't It Feel Good'.
The following month King King created a communal, even congregational atmosphere at their Boiler Shop show in Newcastle, which was sadly the penultimate show to feature bassist Lindsay Coulson and, less expectedly, drummer Wayne Proctor in the fold.  I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to see their new line-up for the first time, due to other commitments, but it’ll be interesting to see for myself what the new rhythm section of Zander Greenshields and Andrew Scott bring to the party, both live and on their upcoming album.  In the meantime, here’s the new line-up performing ‘Old Love’, on this summer’s Keeping The Blues Alive Mediterranean cruise.
February also brought the tremendous double act of Blue Oyster Cult and The Temperance Movement to Glasgow.  In my view BOC are one of the most underrated hard rock acts of yesteryear out there, and this performance confirmed me in that conviction.  And while Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser may not indulge in much posturing or posing, as a guitar hero his playing speaks for itself – eloquently.  Check out this run through their old classic ‘Harvester Of Eyes’.   The Temperance Movement, meanwhile, underlined their credentials as one of Britain’s leading rock’n’roll outfits, like a modern, edgy incarnation of The Faces.  Here they are with ‘Take It Back’, from a show in July this year.
A month later my first live exposure to Wille And The Bandits was another example of a current band in a classic rock vein who manage to produce something fresh, blending both world music influences and post-grunge punch into their blues-rock core, and doing so with smiles on their faces and a very distinct lyrical manifesto.  As with King King, Wille And The Bandits enter the new year with a couple of line-up changes, but it would be good to see them continue on an upward trajectory.  Check out the new line-up on this ‘live in the studio’ rendition of‘Make Love’.
The late Wee Willie Walker
Later in the year, another live introduction was to London-based Jawbone, who impressed me hugely last year with their self-titled debut album.  And they did it again onstage, injecting rock’n’roll energy and a good-time vibe into the delivery of their top drawer, rootsy but pigeonhole-defying material.  I wanna see ‘em again, and I wanna see a bigger audience getting into their distinctive sound.  Here they are performing ‘Leave No Traces’ earlier in the year.
My summer sojourn in Italy also allowed me to pay visits to a couple of Italian outdoor music festivals, in Pistoia and Porretta Terme.  The former may have been a straightahead show featuring guitar hotshots Eric Gales and Robben Ford, albeit in the shadow of Pistoia’s cathedral, but the latter is a remarkable small town affair, which every year showcases some legendary soul names.  This time around the bill included the likes of Don Bryant, Pee Wee Ellis, and Wee Willie Walker, the last of whom sadly passed away just a few weeks ago.  Seeing performances like these, in the purpose-built amphitheatre of Rufus Thomas Park, was a singular experience.
These were just some of the highlights of 2019, but there were plenty of other artists keeping music live in terrific fashion in the course of the year.  Even if they weren’t listed here, more power to their collective elbow, and here’s to more of the same in 2020.

You can read Part 1 of the 2019 Christmas Stocking here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking 2019 - Part 1

Santa’s checking his list by now I reckon – probably checking it twice.  Been naughty or nice, people?  Okay, I’ll believe you.  And to prove it here’s the Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking, a selection of treats to whet your musical appetite.
The first thing I’d say about 2019 is that it’s been an absolutely stellar year for blues and roots music, judging by the albums I’ve been able to lay my hands on, and some of the gigs I’ve seen.  Seriously, I think it’s the strongest year I’ve witnessed since I started on this caper.  You’ll no doubt have your own highlights, but here are some of mine.
Albert Castiglia gets heavy
My favourite album of 2019 has been Masterpiece, by Albert Castiglia.  I’ll be honest, although I knew the guy’s name this was the first time I’d actually been confronted by any of his work.  And right from the off the album grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and demanded my attention, with its combination of stomping, visceral ruff’n’tuff blues, and more thoughtful songs like the title track, ‘Love Will Win The War’, and this one - the rippling slow blues of‘Heavy’.  As someone perceptively put it, “Masterpiece is raw and primitive, down to earth and defiant, emotional and honest.”  Oh wait – that was me!
Also coming out of the States were a number of albums showcasing different blues styles in bloody marvellous fashion.  Late in the year Toronzo Cannon came up with a belting example of up-to-the-minute, forward looking Chicago Blues, in the form of The Preacher, The Politician And The Pimp – lyrically intelligent and witty, and with great arrangements, guitar and vocals.  Cop an earful of the title track.
The North Mississippi Allstars came up with a wonderful celebration of their Hill Country musical upbringing in the form of Up And Rolling.  But in the last couple of days I’ve also been listening to the recently released album Cypress Grove by Bentonia bluesman Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes, and I can tell you it’s the real deal when it comes to deep Mississippi blues.  I’ll be reviewing Cypress Grove soon, but in the meantime here’s Jimmy performing ‘Catfish Blues’ in his own Blues Front Café juke joint.
The soul-blues album that had the biggest impact on me was Sugaray Rayford’s Somebody Save Me.  Sugaray, a hugely entertaining live performer, collaborated with writer/producer Eric Corne to come up with a Grammy-nominated outing that knows its roots but still sounds modern, as on ‘I’d Kill For You, Honey’.
Going way down south, for me the rootlingest, tootlingest collection of original Texas blues came not from Jimmie Vaughan, much as other people praised his Baby Please Come Home, but from Rosie Flores, with her marvellously engaging Simple Case Of The Blues.  Honestly, if you liked Jimmie’s effort you should give Rosie a listen – and you can start with this performance of ‘Drive Drive Drive’.
Nine Below Zero - the boys are back in town!
Then heading back up north, like waaay up north and out of the US, Canada’s Matt Andersen came up with a stunning example of laid back, semi-acoustic roots music.  Call it soul, call it blues, call it what you will, Halfway Home By Morning is a gorgeous album, just about the best backing vocals you could dream of, courtesy of the McCrary Sisters.  And here he is with his pal Amy Helm, on the delightful with'Something To Lose'.
Meanwhile, back here in Britain, the year started with an adventurous album from Wille And The Bandits, Paths.  Are they blues?  Possibly not.  But with their album Paths they served up modern blues-inflected rock, with an inclination towards world music which sets them apart from the pack.  They’ve just gone through a major line-up change, and here are the new outfit performing ‘Make Love’.
We also had a new album from those R’n’B/soul veterans Nine Below Zero, with Avalanche.  The suitably updated NBZ band are a fun proposition to be sure, but they’re also capable of covering a number of bases to great effect.  Here they are with 'One Of Sour, Two Of Sweet'.
And, lastly for now, this year had a some kinda wonderful excursion into rootsy Americana territory by Geraint Watkins.  Being honest once again, like what I like to be, I’d never heard of the guy before his album Rush Of Blood came my way, and knocked me out with its rootsiness, its musical charm, and its romance.  Here’s our Geraint playing live in London last month, with a rather different take on ‘Johnny B. Goode’.
Merry Christmas folks.  Keep on rockin’, and Blues Enthused will be back with the second part of the festive package before New Year!

You can read Part 2 of the Christmas Stocking here.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

DeWolff - The Tascam Tapes

Check out what it says on the album cover for The Tascam Tapes.  “This is Dewolff’s new album.  It was recorded on the road for less than $50.  But it sounds like a million bucks!”  What’s that all about then?
Well, the genesis of The Tascam Tapes is more than a little unusual.  For the uninitiated – like me, fr’instance - DeWolff are a guitar/drums/keys trio from the Netherlands, formed in 2007, with a penchant for psychedelia and Southern rock and soul.  This is their seventh ‘studio’ album, but it was recorded on the road in Europe, using a 1980s-vintage Tascam four-track cassette machine.  And while Pablo van de Poel played guitar as per usual, his 
DeWolff - Groovy gear, guys!
brother Luka eschewed his regular drums in favour of loading a bundle of rare soul and funk beats into a sampler, and Robin Piso made do with a battery-powered synth in place of his Hammond organ.
So much for the back story.  Is it any good?  Yes, I have to report that in its singular way it damn well is.  The Tascam Tapes comprises 12 tracks spread across just 33 minutes.  But it has a healthy quota of good songs and ideas, and an undeniable freshness.
If The Black Keys were to make an album inspired by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, it would probably sound like ‘It Ain’t Easy’ or ‘Made It To 27’.  The former is a soulful tune with a handy hook, plinking synth piano and funky bass sounds, falsetto vocals, and a sweet guitar line that Pablo repeats several times in lieu of a traditional solo.  The latter has a fingersnapping Motown-ish soul sound, another catchy melody and appealing vocal harmonies, and a neat guitar solo over lazy bass and beats – and is a meditation on the crappier aspects of the touring life, recorded by the actual roadside, near Carcassone in France.  ‘Rain’ slows things down in a similar vein, with a delicate melody and instrumentation.  And while ‘Love Is Such A Waste’ features some off the wall vocal screeches, at heart it’s a simple, sweet soul tune, with more falsetto vocals and piercing guitar work, even if it’s a bit wordy.
But they explore some other angles too.  The opening ‘Northpole Blues’ kicks off with a
Nice boys - when they're dressed up
belting North Mississippi Hill Country-like groove, all fuzzy guitar and rickety drum sounds, with a bluesy ‘Trouble, trouble, trouble’ vocal, before breaking down into a rather messy stomp with bleeping guitar.  At the other end of the album ‘Life Is A Fish Tank’ is an ear-catchingly great slice of funky soul, with bendy bass sounds, a sparkling guitar break, and some well-suited harp playing courtesy of their pal Arthur Akkermans.  And in between there’s ‘Let It Fly’, a jaunty dance track played out over twitching bass and drum sounds, and the Beck-like ‘Awesomeness Of Love’, which features an outro on which a bassy riff seems to tip the hat to a Robert Plant vocal passage from ‘The Ocean’.
Oh yeah, and there are ‘Blood Meridian I’ and ‘Blood Meridian II’.  How many bands would be inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s blood-soaked tale of a nineteenth century trail of massacres in a baked southern America landscape?  And then set it to a bass heavy groove over an intricate drum pattern, with shooting star synth sounds punctuating the chorus, as on ‘Blood Meridian I’?  
On one level The Tascam Tapes is an interesting experiment.  But it’s also a showcase for DeWolff’s impressive songwriting abilities.  Now I’m off to explore their back catalogue, and find out what these guys can do when they’re fully equipped.

The Tascam Tapes is released by Mascot Records on 10 January 2020.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Eddie Martin - Thirst

I do like it when a really good album suddenly drops into my lap.  Thirst is one of those pleasant surprises.  It probably shouldn’t be a surprise, given that it’s Eddie Martin’s twelfth studio album, but – well, sorry Eddie, I’m afraid we haven’t been introduced before.
How to describe Thirst?  Well, here’s a checklist.
If the idea of Sixties British blues stylings given a twenty-first century sound appeals to you, Thirst should float your boat.
If you like well-crafted songwriting in a variety of blues-related styles, I think you’ll find it
Eddie Martin - pleased to meet you, squire!
here.
If damn good slide guitar playing does it for you, this is an album that’s peppered with it – but always serving the song.
Do you appreciate lyrics that are sharp and imaginative?  Eddie Martin has that base covered too.
Fancy a side-order of organ and piano, with harmonica relish?  Check.
If you’re in the mood for – tell you what, let’s talk about some of the songs, shall we?

Several of the eleven tracks on Thirst are corking uptempo affairs, with the opener ‘One Man Band’ leading the way, teasing with a fuzzy riff and hoots of harp, both courtesy of Martin himself, before bursting into rocking life life over thumping drums from Tom Gilkes.  It’s a simple song that hits the bullseye right away.  ‘Sewn Up’ is rootsier, with Martin’s slide guitar coming to the fore over a lurching beat and ringing piano from Yuki Yoshizu.
Towards the end of the album, ‘Silver Spoon’ is a relaxed, upbeat shuffle with a real Blues explosion feel, the rhythm section swinging with ease, while Martin knocks out piquant wah-wah licks and delivers witty lyrics.  And the following ‘Fix It’ rattles along on a shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits kinda rhythm, with injections of squawking harp and a crackling, fizzingly bluesy guitar line, adding up to a great, toe-tappingly fun song.
But Martin has other strings to his bow too.  Notably the slower ‘Free Man Blues’, which features moaning, echoing slide, and distant washes of organ from Jonny Henderson over a nagging groove, while the lyrics explore the meaning of freedom.  ‘Like Water’ is another slowie, opening with acoustic 12-string guitar as a preface for a sweeter, weeping slide sound, and spells of both organ and Dan Moore’s Fender Rhodes over a tripping beat.  There’s evocative imagery, a guitar solo that majors on feeling and space, and a closing crescendo propped up by a big bass line from Jerry Soffe.
Lose that frown fella, we like it!
‘Imagine Us From The Sky’ has an epic quality, without ever being grandiose, with Martin displaying fresh phrase-making on lines like “Does the nightingale tell the peacock ‘Your song is like a squeaky door’?  Does the peacock reply, ‘Your feathers are such a bore?’”  But best of the big moments is the closing ‘Frozen Lake’, an atmospheric affair that’s all rumbling bass, pattering percussion, and wonky, Chris Isaak-esque twanging guitar – and even the chiming of some tubular bells, methinks.  All told it’s like being drawn into a dreamscape spooky enough to make Mike Zito’s ‘Old Black Graveyard’ sound like ‘You Are My Sunshine’.
Martin rings other changes too, from the funky ‘Searching For Home’ to the Freddie King-like intro of the shuffling ‘Run River’, with its stinging slide solo, and the Allmans-styled ‘Louisiana Woman’.
Martin may not be BB King in the vocal stakes, but he does have a strong, engaging voice, and across the piece he gets sterling support from the slick backing vocals of Audra Nishita and Nadine Gingell.
Maybe a couple of tracks could have been judiciously trimmed – Martin does like to spread himself a bit.  Maybe a couple of songs don’t reach the slam-dunk standards of the rest.  But these are quibbles, and don’t take the gloss off the overall product.  Nice to meet you Eddie Martin – Thirst is a damn fine album to warm up a cold winter’s night.

Thirst was released on 6 December by Blueblood Records, and can be bought from https://eddiemartin.com/music/.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Listened to lately - Sloe Train, and Highway 491

It's not quite planes, trains and automobiles, but there's a bit of a transport theme to this instalment of Listened to lately, with albums from Oxford-based Sloe Train, and Glasgow's Highway 491.

Sloe Train – Eclectic Blues

Sloe Train say on their Facebook page that “Live performance is our passion, we love to entertain”, and I can well believe that if I caught them doing their thing in the corner of the pub then I’d have a pretty good time.  Besides, I’d fit in seamlessly with this bunch of greybeards, appearance wise, so obviously I’m simpatico, right?
Well, yeah.  Getting your sound down on an album is a rather less forgiving environment of course, where limitations are liable to be exposed.  But still – in their better moments on Eclectic Blues Sloe Train really aren’t bad, if you know what I mean.
As on the opening ‘Up And Down’ for example, an energetic blast of R’n’B with a good riff
Sloe Train - Blues. Booze. Snooze. In that order.
propelled along by driving bass, and with a pretty on-the-money solo from guitarist Jerome Brand.  And Pete Carlisle goes at it with gusto on vocals, not least with some daring long notes here – while there’s sometimes a shakiness to his delivery, his enthusiasm and phrasing just about carry him through.
Their best stuff tends to chuck something of the Stones into the mix.  ‘Misty Autumn Rain’ is a highlight, as Chris McCormack’s drums and Tony Ecclestone’s bass carve out a deep, gutsy groove, allied to a Keef-like riff, while Carlisle gets his tonsils round a decent chorus in a ‘Wild Side Of Life’ vein, and Brand solos with some rock’n’roll conviction.  There’s a spoonful of ‘Brown Sugar’ in the riff to ‘Could Have Been The One’, and some pleasing Knopflerisms in Brand’s soloing.  There’s some decent swing to ‘Nobody’s Business’ too, with Chris Burrows’ piano motif paraphrasing the melody of ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’.
Elsewhere the eclecticism of the album title is evidenced by the ska-influenced organ line in ‘Feel Like Going Home’, wedded to semi-reggae beat and rhythm guitar, while ‘Family Man’ cracks open some funky riffing, underlined by a pleasing offbeat rhythm and grooving bass.  There’s also a 'Whiter Shade-ish' aspect to the organ on ‘Here To Stay’, a plaintive song about emotional commitment until they start tripping the light fandango on the chorus.  Sort of.
But their best pivot in another direction is ‘Gone Too Soon’, which brings to mind The Searchers as they comfortably occupy a laid back beat with a doo wop bass line, with Carlisle’s crooning vocal beefed up by some decent harmonies, all topped off by a tasteful guitar solo.
Other songs could do with more spark to hit the mark, though they’re delivered well enough and show some nice touches here and there.  But I imagine a band whose interests are listed as “Blues, Booze, and the Occasional Snooze” had fun assembling the album regardless.

Highway 491 – These Places, In This City

If you take a gander at the track listing for this debut album by Highway 491, and see ‘Boom Boom’ and ‘Smokestack Lightnin’’, you may well anticipate that you’re going to be served up a full slate of vintage-style electric blues.  In this you would be wrong.
Sure, their take on the Howlin’ Wolf classic, recorded as a duo by main men Cameron Arndt on harp and vocals and Leo Barrie on guitar, is a fairly traditional if haunted reading, with squeaking guitar and gruff vocals, although Arndt is no match for the Wolf in the latter department.  And John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boom Boom’ is also also delivered in a pretty straight and energetic fashion, especially when they rock things up on the instrumental breaks.  But there’s a hint of punkish vibrancy around it, and Arndt’s vocals, apparently making use of a bullet mic, hint at something more edgy.
Highway 491 - Blues with an edge
Pic courtesy of John McIntyre
And indeed the rest of the album does explore a more off kilter vibe in which the band’s blues foundations are less apparent.  Opener ‘The Record’ is all jungle drums, hoots of harp, ominous bass and bleeping guitar, which taken together with more distorted, discordant vocals amounts to something dark and slightly twisted.  The following ‘In The Loop’ has a doomy riff supplemented by scratchy guitar licks, although Arndt’s angsty voice also combines encouragingly on some harmonies with Barrie and drummer Derek Whiteford, and there’s a neat drop into a quieter, ruminative bridge.  And ‘Feet To The Fire’ thrives on some driving, punkish energy, with snarling vocals from Arndt, distant ‘woah-oh-backing vocals’ and a squall of guitar from Barrie, but is undermined by some rather naff downbeat passages.
‘Third Time Lucky’ goes for something different, opening with off-key chords that draw in a stalking bass line from Jack Oliver to create a macabre vibe that’s enhanced by subtle organ and piano colourings from guest keyboard whizz Bob Fridzema, and a bendy guitar solo.  All in all it sounds like The Doors summoning up the ghost of Muddy Waters, though at seven and a half minutes it overstays its welcome.
‘Crime And Punishment’ is more R’n’B-like, and has a bit of swagger conveyed by the guitar riff and the guest harp of Chris Small, and also some well-suited slide guitar.  But the simplest pleasure is probably ‘A Lie Agreed Upon’, on which Arndt and Barrie serve up appealingly counterpointed guitar riffs, and decent harmonies create something of a retro feel, though again it’s overlong.
I have the sense that Highway 491 are still trying to find their voice.  Blues may be their roots, but it feels like they’re being pulled towards something more outside the box.  There are interesting things on These Places, In This City, but they’ll need more focus all round to define their sound.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Raelyn Nelson Band - Don't

The Raelyn Nelson Band get billed here and there as ‘country garage’, and the cover of Don’t recalls the iconic art of The Clash’s London Calling and also its inspiration, the self-titled debut from Elvis Presley.  And with Raelyn Nelson herself being the grand-daughter of Willie Nelson, if you’re in the market for the kind of cowgirl punk made by Maria McKee and Lone Justice, this seems like a likely port of call doesn’t it?
Well yeah, Raelyn and her gang do have a certain raucous, rockabilly-ish charm, combining
Raelyn Nelson plays heads down, no nonsense, mindless mandolin
rattling drums, bouncing bass, undercurrents of mandolin, twanging guitar and surges of punkish chords on songs like the opening ‘Weed And Whiskey’ and ‘Hating You’.
Nelson doesn’t have the kind of intense vocal authority displayed by Maria McKee, mind you.  Instead she has a rather winsome voice that makes some of these songs sound like a roughed-up version of The Bangles’ jangle-pop as much as the Dixie Chicks in rambunctious mode.  Or maybe Foo Fighters doing ‘Big Me’.  No, really!
Which, I should say right away, is absolutely fine by me.  However you want to describe it, Don’t is a thirty minute, ten track album on which Nelson and co take an “in - shake it all about - out” approach that’s irreverent, well put together, and quite simply great fun.
‘Pieces’ brings together a slamming riff, shouts of “hey”, some razor-like guitar, and lyrics about “Bloody Mary mornings and nights on the town” – and a key change to boot - to produce a head-shaking, bopping delight.  ‘Mama Cry’ combines crunching chords worthy of The Undertones, spot-on harmonies and a neat melody.  ‘Everything Falls’ drops down into third gear, with sweeter, spangly guitars and a yearning vocal.  The closing ‘Rebel Girl’ opens up as a pounding stomp, with a whiny vocal that’s as discordant as Nelson gets, then adds some scrabbling guitar to conjure up a bit of rock’n’roll that just about justifies the mandolin-smashing cover pic.
If you’re expecting me to tell you about the other tracks, don’t hold your breath.  I’ve told you all you need to know already.  I like it.  The more I listen to it, the more I like it.  Don’t may be slight, but it's still a frothing, bubbling adrenaline rush of – hell, call it whatever turns you on, I don't care.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Seth Rosenbloom - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 8 December 2019

After this opening show of Bostonian Seth Rosenbloom’s first ever trip to Britain, I bet he’s counting his blessings that he’s avoided the pitfall of the unsympathetic pick-up band.  Lancashire-based trio the Midnite Johnny Band know their stuff and then some, have clearly done their homework on Rosenbloom’s material, and provide more than just a solid platform for him to do his stuff.
Seth Rosenbloom gets down to business
Right from the opening ‘Keep On Turning’ the foursome produce a big, full sound, giving full rein to the first of some imaginative riffs, while Rosenbloom offers a clean and tuneful Bonamassa-like vocal, and turns out an all action solo that emerges as his frequent modus operandi.
The following ‘I Can’t Help It’ is equally chunky, a ‘Dust My Broom’-like 12 bar with an SRV feel, which is good rhythmically from all concerned, and confirms how tight they are.  Then the slow blues ‘Broke And Lonely’ finds Midnite Johnny contributing some shimmering backing on guitar while Rosenbloom produces an interestingly quiet and brittle-toned solo before progressing towards a howling closing segment.
And there’s enough going on in more upbeat songs to maintain the interest levels too.  A mid-tempo blues is underpinned by a twitching rhythm from drummer Paul Burgess (who has played with the likes of 10cc, Jethro Tull, and Chris Farlowe) and stuttering bass from Norm Helm, underlining the suppleness of their playing, to which Midnite Johnny adds an equally interesting solo before Rosenbloom gets his wail on in characteristic fashion.  He then throws some nice curve balls into his second solo on the “break-up song” ‘Right About Now’, over more subtle colourings from yer Midnight fella, before building to a well-worked strident finish.
Rosenbloom follows up on an appetising Johnny solo on Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s ‘I Don’t Believe’ with a tastefully bluesy offering of his own, capping off another SRV-like slice of straight ahead good time fun.  Then Rosenbloom steps back to let Midnite Johnny lead on his own song ‘Long Road Home’, a rollin’ an’ tumbling Mississipi stomp based on Johnny’s
Midnite Jonny slithers around on slide
slithering slide guitar, given variety dynamics and changes of pace, with Seth entering into the spirit of things on his own solo.
A rendition of Elmore James’ ‘Look Over Yonder Wall’ provides an opportunity for a subtle, varied Rosenbloom solo, going from quiet to full on over racing bass lines, en route to a nicely wonky ending.  Then he closes the set with a decent exploration of ‘Little Wing’, before they encore with an enjoyable gallop through Elmore James’ ‘Wild About You baby’, with crunking solos from both guitars.
Rosenbloom is a clean cut, affable young guy, with an equally clean cut voice that he could do with developing into more of a tool, to give focus to his songs.  His set is a bit guitar-centric for my taste, with a lot of high speed, accurate work at the bottom of the neck, but it has to be said that it was enjoyable fare, and a large chunk of the audience lapped it up.
Support band The Blind Lemon Gators are a more old-fashioned R&B proposition, led by
guitarist Ian Donald and singer Greig Taylor.  Opening with a cover of ‘She Talks To Angels’, they combat a rather intrusive snare drum sound with a growling vocal from Taylor and delicate slide from Donald to capture the song’s mood.
Greig Taylor insists he's keeping his coat on, right?
They’re good on lively material like ‘Seven Questions’ and the tightly energetic Mississipi groove of ‘City Of Gold’, on both of which Dave Ivans provides additional colour with injections of harp, though at times they could swing more.  But they also get slow and reflective on ‘A Little Death Around The Eyes’, a song about Taylor observing his children going through problems, with a suitably delicate melody.
Muddy Waters’ ‘Champagne And Reefer’ is a bit of a slow grind though, and I didn’t really go for their take on ‘Goodnight Irene’, which to these ears wandered too far from the haunting melody captured by Leadbelly.  But they get back on track with the bouncing shuffle of ‘Gravy Train’, and if their set close ‘Better Land’ doesn’t quite hit its gospel song target, it does feature some brooding, warped guitar from Donald.

Seth Rosenbloom plays the second of his UK dates at the Wrotham Arms in Broadstairs on 10 December.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Christone Ingram - Kingfish

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram has been on my radar for a while of course.  The kid – he’s just 20 – has been touted all over the place as “the future of the Blues”, so his name would be hard to miss.  It’s just taken me some time to get round to his debut album Kingfish.  And having done so, I can belatedly confirm young Christone is pretty darn good.
His quality is summed up by one song, ‘Been Here Before’.  One of several co-writes with producer Tom Hambridge, it’s a simple acoustic blues with a lyric based on his grandma’s perception of Ingram’s uncanny maturity – “that boy’s been here before”.  And the sentiment is borne out by the delivery, with a neat guitar motif, minimalist backing, and a
Christone "Kingfish" Ingram - "Get in there!"
“less is more” Kingfish solo.  And in large measure that’s the story of the album.  We have here a 20 year old with a rich, molasses-like voice, who prefers varied, subtle guitar playing to wanton shredding.  A grown-up, in other words.
Hailing from Clarksdale, a legendary stop on the Mississippi blues trail, Ingram nevertheless has a curiosity about the wider world, outlined on the opening ‘Outside Of This Town’.  A chunky riff is the entrée for his warm voice and quality phrasing, garnished with stiletto-like guitar licks that are precise not wasteful, and with tension and release in his solo.  As a piece of songwriting it’s not rocket science, but it is well constructed.  And in a similar vein ‘It Ain’t Right’ may be a fairly perfunctory 12 bar, but it’s well put across, with a sparkling solo combining quick trills and long sustained notes.
There’s well handled social commentary on ‘Believe These Blues’ and ‘Hard Times’, both penned by Hambridge with Richard Fleming.  The first is a slow to mid-tempo blues with a lyrical, varied first solo, that displays real feeling, while the second is another acoustic blues, on which Keb’ Mo’ contributes resonator guitar.
More uptempo variety comes by way of the crisply tripping ‘If You Love Me’, with Ingram showing off some pitter-patter vocal delivery simple drums from Hambridge, embroidered with some squawks of harp from Billy Branch.  And ‘Trouble’ is similarly upbeat, but with a Latin beat provided by congas, some subtle piano colourings from Marty Sammon, and effective guitar/vocal call-and-response work from Ingram.
In contrast the closing slowie ‘That’s Fine By Me’ is all languid resignation about the end of a relationship, with a sparse guitar opening accompanied by jazzy drums, a piano solo that catches the mood, and a fitting guitar solo that grows out of the melody, demonstrating that Ingram is capable of covering all the bases.
I do have a couple of questions mind you.  Like why bother to include ‘Fresh Out’, a song Hambridge and Fleming wrote for Buddy Guy?  Okay, it provides an excuse for Guy to add a verse of vocals and a solo.  But really it’s little more than an amped up version of ‘Come Back Muddy’, from Guy’s album Born To Play Guitar, and anyway I don’t think Ingram needs the leg up.
What’s more, Guy’s presence means that ‘Fresh Out’ features four guitarists.  And  Keb’ Mo’ may have come along to join the party for one song and stuck around to strum on a few more, but with the additional presence of Rob McNelley, several songs feature three guitarists.  There’s not exactly a ‘Born To Run’ wall of sound going on here, and Ingram copes fine as the lone guitarist on songs like ‘Trouble’ and ‘That’s Fine By Me’, so what are the others adding to the equation?
Whatever.  Those gripes aside, Christone Ingram is by no means one of those fly-by-night, over-hyped guitar “prodigies”.  On the evidence of Kingfish I wouldn’t saddle with him that “future of the blues” tag, but I’ve no doubt that he’s an artist with a very bright future.

Kingfish was released by Alligator Records on 17 May.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Laurence Jones Band/Matt Pearce & The Mutiny - Oran Mor, Glasgow, 1 December 2019

It’s three years since I last saw Laurence Jones play live.  And a lot has happened in the world of Laurence Jones since then.  He’s changed from a three-piece to a four-piece, bringing in Bennett Holland on keys.  He’s grown his hair and grown a beard.  He’s changed record labels.  And he’s released two albums, last year’s The Truth, and the most recent Laurence Jones Band.  He’s still smiling though, in the same rather endearing way as always.
Tonight’s set leans heavily on those two most recent albums, kicking off with ‘I’m Waiting’ from Laurence Jones Band.  With Bennett Holland giving it some welly on organ, and new bassist Jack Alexander Timmis supplying bubbling bass, it conjures up a surging late 60s
The guitar may gently weep, but Laurence Jones smiles 
rock sound that’s one of the strengths of the new album, and which continues through the following ‘Stay’.  ‘Wipe Those Tears Dry’ is funkier, with loose-limbed bass from Timmis providing a great groove, and its also apparent that Jones’ voice has developed further over the years, especially backed up by Holland and additional backing vocalist Abbie Adi.
By the time they get to the soulful, retro ‘Quite Like You’ it’s apparent that the new songs have that bit more oomph than on the album.  In sub-zero Glasgow, drummer Phil Wilson had come onstage swathed in a scarf, but by now he’s getting warmed up on the song’s bouncing rhythm, while Holland supplies some funky organ.  And on ‘Mistreated’, propelled by a great bass line, Jones delivers a big wah-wah solo which is the focus for them to collectively whip things up.
Jones reverts to a trio for Stevie Ray Vaughan’s slow blues ‘Lenny’, on which he does a good turn, with delicate use of his whammy bar contributing to interesting bendy segments.  Then he sits down with an acoustic for an appealing run through ‘Long Long Lonely Ride’, with bluesy piano tinkling from Holland and a tasteful, twanging guitar solo.
If I had to choose a song from The Truth for them to play live, the romantic ‘Take Me’ probably wouldn’t be it, and although Jones’ solo kicks off a rousing crescendo the ensuing singalong doesn’t seem a good fit.  ‘What Would You Do’ is more interesting though, a twitchily funky, danceable affair that grows from choppy riffing, through an organ solo to a call and response guitar and keys passage.
Personally I’m more interested in seeing what Jones can do with his satisfying guitar showcase on his slow blues ‘Thunder In The Sky’ than the admittedly decent stab at ‘All Along The Watchtower’ that precedes it, great song though it is.  And another cover in the form of CCR’s ‘Before You Accuse Me’ chugs along rather stiffly at first, but starts to swing nicely after a boogie-ing piano turn from Holland leads into a Jones’ solo, with Wilson playing nicely behind the beat.
They close with the Stonesy, good-time handclapping vibe of ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’, before returning to encore with ‘Live It Up’, a bit of a throwaway enlivened by Wilson
Phil Collins lookalike Matt Pearce gets stuck in
standing as he whacks out the drum intro, and some “Hey Hey” audience participation initiated by Holland.  Jones and co are a tight band, and they warmed up a freezing night, but I can’t help thinking Jones really needs to comb his repertoire for a couple of more powerful songs to create a set that really takes off.
Support band Matt Pearce & The Mutiny are no slouches, and make their own sizeable contribution to the evening’s entertainment.  Pearce, the guitarist with hard rockers Voodoo Six, is a dapper specimen in jacket, waistcoat and feather-adorned titfer, and a confident performer on both guitar and vocals.
‘Scarecrowing’ opens their forty minute set with tight-but-loose funkiness, Pearce pitching in some controlled wah-wah playing alongside a clavinet-style solo from Joe Mac on keys.  ‘Like A Hammer’ is all slinky verse and crunching chorus, with Pearce getting into some busy guitar/bass harmonising with Kelpie McKenzie.  There’s a ballsy fuzziness to his guitar sound on ‘Ordinary Blues’, which as he hints in his introduction has a decidedly Rush-like riff going on under the verse.
He switches from Les Paul Gold Top to a hollow body to contribute slide guitar on the bluesy riff of ‘Gotta Get Home’, the title track from their first album, which also features some gutsy vocal harmonies on its Beatle-ish anthemic chorus.  New song ‘Got A Thing Going On’ is muscular and bright but also jazzy, and ‘Set Me Free’ is another well-constructed track, slower and with Pearce’s solo built around some strong themes.
They close with a medley of Prince’s ‘Strange Relationship’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’, giving it some serious biff on the latter, with fuzzed up guitar on the riff and some blazing organ, before going off to a big cheer.  Matt Pearce & The Mutiny are a serious proposition with their brand of rocked-up funk, and I fully expect them to be out there drawing their own audiences before long.