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
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.