Thursday, September 24, 2020

Listened To Lately - Jimmy Regal And The Royals, and Crawlback Featuring Johnny Bird

We’re going harp-tastic today here at Blues Enthused, with reviews of two albums of different blues flavours, but both with harmonica well to the fore.

Jimmy Regal And The Royals – Late Night Chicken


That ol’ Thames Delta is still producing R’n’B, evidently, as demonstrated by this ten track collection of originals and covers from South London’s Jimmy Regal And The Royals – who do not, in fact, include anyone by the name of Jimmy Regal.

What we have here is an itchy and scratchy vibe that’s part North Mississippi Hill Country, and part Seventies post-punk R’n’B’n’rock’n’roll, the latter evident right from the off in the title track, a spartan, urgent, devil-may-care affair, with blasts of harp from singer Joff Watkins over CJ Williams’ barbed-wire guitar and Sammy Samuels’ rushing drums.

Jimmy Regal And The Royals - gimme gimme gimme fried chicken!
Williams is responsible for six of the seven originals on offer, and is evidently a student of the North Mississippi sound.  ‘Sun’s Gonna Rise’ is a brooding, grooving outing that’s primitive and prickly, with a digression in which the guitar and harp go a-duellin’.  But ‘Going To The Fair’ has a different complexion – languid, swinging and simple in a way that would have fitted right into the North Mississippi Allstars latest album Up And Rolling, with another good groove and some meandering harp from Watkins that suggests he’s been at the mushroom tea recommended by the NMA gang.  And these two tracks set things up nicely for the later cover of Junior Kimbrough’s ‘All Night Long’, with Williams trying on a fuzzy guitar sound reminiscent of early Black Keys, and Watkins delivering a quavering, Gene Vincent-like vocal.
‘Regal Alley’ is an instrumental that kicks off with a spooky, midnight-in-the-graveyard intro, before deferring to a jabbing riff and some spiky lead guitar explorations from Williams, underpinned by a bass line that here and there sounds like – a tuba?  (There ain’t no bass player in the Royals.)  Meanwhile ‘That’s All It Took’ is another original, with a ringing ‘Girl Can’t Help It’ style riff and a brisk, punkish verve that makes the early Stray Cats sound smooth.

The other covers are well-served too, with a crashing version of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Commit A Crime’ that’s suitably attired in gusts of harp, and sounds like it belongs in some dirt floor juke joint.  And Dr John’s ‘Lights Out’ is a flash-fried reading that’s in and out, over and done inside two minutes – flat-out rock’n’roll built for a sweat-strewn club.

But the most imaginative choon here is the marvellous ‘Can’t Cry No More’, a spangly, pretty, coruscating affair from the pen of Williams that runs to over six minutes, with additional percussion from Alan Hughes and kora – a 21-string African instrument - courtesy of Diabel Cissokho adding an extra dimension to Watkins’ sweet, Mark Feltham style harp playing.

Gotta say, this Late Night Chicken is pretty juicy, notwithstanding its gnarly, garage rock aesthetic.  Jimmy Regal And The Royals are a combo who sound like they’ve written a manifesto for jagged, bed-of-nails R’n’B, and are intent on delivering it.


Late Night Chicken is released on 25 September by Lunaria Records.

 

 

Crawlback, featuring Johnny Bird – Crawlback


Hailing from South Wales, Crawlback (the title of a track by Mississippi bluesman Frank Frost, btw) pursue a vintage R’n’B approach on this debut album populated predominantly by covers – though they do throw in a couple of curve balls along the way.

Led by harp player and singer Johnny Bird, Crawlback are in the “little big band” vein, as illustrated by jump blues opener ‘I Got No Reason’, with Bird’s harmonica occupying the space that would often be taken by a sax man, and some rocking piano with an appealing bumpity-bump left-hand rhythm, as I’m sure no piano teacher ever called it.  Jimmy Reed’s ‘Found Love’

Johnny Bird - blow that harp, boy!
follows, taking a more languid R’n’B tack that this time features sweet harp from Bird – including a literally breathtaking long note.
There are cracking renditions too, of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Forty Four’ and Junior Wells’ ‘Little By Little’.  Bird rips into the classic harp riff on the former, and if it’s ultimately in vain to compete with the Wolf vocally, Bird stands up for himself all the same, his gutsy voice pushed through a bullet mic by the sound of it.  ‘Little By Little’ grooves along nicely on Colin Griffin’s simple drums and Paul Hurley’s swinging bass, while Mark Phillips gets down to some stinging business on guitar with both the stuttering riff and his solo.

One of the curve balls comes with the self-penned ‘Cash Flow Problem’, which on one level is traditional R’n’B, but gets funky with it and features Bird rapping the verses about modern-day privations.  At the other extreme comes ‘Caravan’, the Duke Ellington instrumental which they deliver in style, tapping into its tripping, nimble rhythms neatly while Bird serves up both the snake-charmer-like theme and some bird-like high pitched soloing.

They also have the option to call on Bella Collins to deliver female lead vocals, and duly do so on a jazzy, swinging reading of Etta James’ ‘Good Rockin’ Daddy’, on which Phillips deploys a more liquid guitar tone than the brittle, pinging style evident on some other tracks. Collins also adds tasteful backing vocals to the effervescent rockabilly of ‘Blues Stop Knockin’’ (once recorded by Lazy Lester and Jimmie Vaughan, methinks), with Bird getting jaunty on harmonica.  But she really shines on the slow blues of ‘More Than One’, with a fluid, soulful vocal underpinned by Bird’s tooting harp, while Phillips adds some squeaking slide guitar.

‘Wild Man’ brings proceedings to a relaxed close, belying its title with a strolling tempo, warm guitar chords, and rinky dink piano fills to go with Bird’s woozy harp.  You can almost see the tendrils of smoke from the weed mentioned in the lyrics.

Crawlback may feature Johnny Bird, but this is an ensemble effort for which all concerned deserve credit.  It may be old-fashioned, it may be mostly covers, but it’s done with both quality and heart.


Crawlback is available for £5 here.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Wily Bo Walker & Danny Flam - Ain't No Man A Good Man

Wily Bo Walker may be a London-based Scot, and his horn collaborator Danny Flam from New York, but it’s often N’Awlins that springs to mind listening to Ain’t No Man A Good Man.  And while Flam’s horn arrangements are a key ingredient in the sound, Walker’s trademark gravelly drawl is to the fore.
Take ‘Did I Forget’, for example, on which Walker makes like Louis Armstrong vocally, on a tune steeped in Fats Domino.  The Armstrong reference is underlined by squawking, muted trumpet, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts as a typically fluid arrangement takes in a woozy groove, singalong chorus, and swingalong horns.  Swelling female backing vocals from
Wily Bo gets his mojo workin'
Pic courtesy of John Bull
Chicago’s Brown Sisters provide a counterpoint to Walker’s basement voice, and there’s some nimble, understated playing from one of the cadre of guitarists contributing to the album.
‘Time To Forget You’ injects some Tom Waits jazziness and romance into a similar Fats Domino vibe, and adds some nifty, bluesy guitar soloing.  ‘St James Infirmary Blues’ meanwhile, is an uptempo take on the very, very old blues made famous by Louis Armstrong, propelled by racing double bass and deep-tooting sax, and with personalised lyrics by Walker and a zinging rock’n’roll guitar solo, plus call and response horns on an accelerated outro.  Me, I reckon I still prefer the downbeat feel of the Armstrong version, but the song stands up to reinterpretation.
Walker being Walker, there’s a tendency towards evocative, cinematic lyrics, typified by ‘Night Of The Hunter’, which shares its title with a very Noir-ish Robert Mitchum movie.  There’s piercing guitar and punchy horns, subtle keys, and an appealingly wonky guitar solo, while Walker sings of “Going to California with a suitcase full of sin”.  But regardless of the lyrics, Walker and Flam show the ability to evoke a mood, as with the languid ‘Walking With The Devil (Blood On My Hands).  Here the verse suggests cruising along the blacktop on a sultry, humid night, before reaching a neon-lit chorus.  And the closing ‘Build My Gallows . . . (Ain’t No Return)’, a slowed-down reprise of the title track, is a similarly brooding and down-low in the verses, part of an interesting arrangement for a tale of the impact of a femme fatale who’s enough to make a good dog break its leash.
‘Fool For You (2020 Hindsight)’ is a well assembled modern take on old-fashioned jazziness, with slide guitar played off against stabbing horns, fuzzy rhythm guitar and dabs of organ, as it evolves into a bluesy mid-paced strut.  And ‘Ain’t Hungry No More’ even manages to get reggae-fied, with ticking guitar in back and bobbing, guttural bass to the fore, before folding in bright horn injections and organ breaks as it switches into upbeat funkiness of a Big Easy “second-line” flavour.
The Deluxe edition of the album includes a second CD of songs previously recorded by Walker, now given a horn-inflected reworking courtesy of Flam, and re-mastered – Walker being the kind of studio-tanned honcho who seems never to be happier than when he’s taking material for a ride down roads not previously taken.  As ever, too, the album is glossily packaged in a sleeve redolent of the kinds of lurid B-Movies that seem to provide Walker with much of his inspiration.
In an era when blues is often taken to equate to blues-rock, Walker continues – in tandem with his horn-swoggling buddy Flam on this occasion - to provide something refreshingly different.  Ain’t No Good Man is another helping of his house-special-gumbo of blues, jazz and voodoo, and very tasty it is too.

Ain't No Good Man is available from Mescal Canyon Records, at www.wilybo.com.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Jim Kirkpatrick - Ballad Of A Prodigal Son

Air guitars at the ready?  Good, ‘cause you’re gonna want to strap ‘em on for this solo album by Jim Kirkpatrick, sometime wingman to Bernie Marsden, and guitarist with both melodic rockers FM and big band bluesers the Chris Bevington Organisation.
This isn’t to suggest that Ballad Of A Prodigal Son is a flat-out guitar extravaganza – Kirkpatrick is too interested in producing good songs for that.  But he sure leaves you in no doubt that he’s a fully qualified plank-spanker.
Take ‘Be Hard With It’ for example, a song that lives up to its title and then some, combining a rollercoaster riff, stomping drums, ripping chords, urgent vocals, and – oh yes, a wailing, wah-wah infused solo like a meteor whizzing past Space Station No.5.  And if you like that, axe fans,
Jim Kirkpatrick - he's got a guitar, and he's gonna play it
then you’re going to just lurve the penultimate track, ‘Brave New World’.  The album’s bona fide epic, it kicks off with a twinkling guitar motif and a sultry vibe as our Jim sings about being “bound for California”, before flexing its muscles and getting all big and dramatic en route to Kirkpatrick unleashing a veritable beast of a solo.  But brace yourself, because it turns out that’s him just warming up for his closing effort, which evolves into a howling monster that sounds like it’s escaped from Jurassic Park.  Or something like that.
Guitar hero is not Kirkpatrick’s default mode however, as the material on Ballad Of A Prodigal Son demonstrates.  ‘No Such Thing As A Sure Thing’ is a blues-infused rocker co-written with FM main man Steve Overland, with a rootsy intro of acoustic strumming and toots of harp that then gets sideswiped by a slamming riff.  It’s gritty, catchy, and well-constructed, and yes, you’ll want that air guitar handy for it too.  Meanwhile ‘Ain’t Going Down Alone’ is a mid-paced and moody affair that makes like something out of an early 80s Whitesnake songbook, and ‘Blue Heron Boulevard’ is an instrumental that sets Allman-like slide playing against sunshine-infused backing with a sheen reminiscent of Steely Dan.  The closing ‘All You Need Is All You Have’ also offers something different, a patient chill-out tune that swells and rolls likes the tide starting to come in on a sunset beach, before mustering a dramatic interlude, and another epic solo from Kirkpatrick over a ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’-like vocal refrain.
The one dud song on offer, relatively speaking, is the rather thin and predictable ‘Skin & Bone’.  But order is restored with the different blues facets evident in the following run of tracks.  ‘Always On The Road’, a co-write with Bernie Marsden, is good time, singalonga rock’n’roll replete with horns, honky tonk piano and Neil Murray on bass, that nods heavily towards Chris Bevington Organisation territory.  The following ’61 And 49’ is a tough and gutsy tale of the Clarksdale crossroads that’s appropriately stuffed with gritty slide, as well as some excellent, full-on backing vocals from Sarah Miller.  Then ‘Talk To Me’ is a blues ballad, kept simple but sprinkled with tasteful blues licks and a fluid solo, before ‘Gravy Train’, written by Rick Parfitt and John ‘Rhino’ Edwards, is a neck-snapping boogie express with a stinging guitar refrain to counterpoint the crunching riff.
But really you could guess at the quality of all this from the opening title track.  ‘Ballad Of A Prodigal Son’ features a snapping groove, a driving, stabbing riff, and strong vocals and harmonies typical of what follows.  It also features a simple little turnaround that doesn’t half remind me of Rainbow’s ‘Sensitive To Light’ – not that the two songs are really alike, but that gives you a clue to what the album is all about.  Call it blues rock, hard rock, or classic rock, call it what you will, Jim Kirkpatrick’s solo outing is a direct descendant of good stuff from days gone by, and it stands up pretty well in comparison.
So if you’re sitting there waiting with bated breath for the new Joe Bonamassa album, then stop it.  Breathe.  Relax.  And get your order in for Ballad Of A Prodigal Son.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Ballad Of A Prodigal Son is released on 4 September, and can be ordered here: http://www.jimkirkpatrick.com/merch.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Allman Betts Band - Bless Your Heart

Devon Allman has taken, I gather, to suggesting that the Allman Betts Band hail from “the United States of Americana”.  And that turns out to be more than just a neat line, because Bless Your Heart benefits from the variety that comes from venturing into some different, and modern-sounding, Americana territory now and then.  Which is just as well, because with an album weighing in at 72 minutes, ploughing a stereotypical Southern rock furrow from end to end could have been fatiguing.
So while the opener ‘Pale Horse Rider’ features some excellent guitar interplay, by turns harmonising and counterpointing, and Allman’s vocal is still yer typical Southern drawl, the overall effect is ruminative and shimmering in a way that hints at those indie folkies Fleet Foxes, who are scarcely anyone’s idea of good ol’ boys.
The Allman Betts Band show off their new Mod image
They’re closer to home on the likes of ‘Ashes Of My Lovers’ and ‘Rivers Run’ though, recalling different facets of the Drive-By Truckers.  The former marries twangy guitar chords to a loping rhythm redolent of Ennio Morricone, but with Duane Betts’ slightly nasal vocal and wails of harp from guest Jimmy Hall it has a ragged charm as it layers different textures on top of each other.  And the latter, with its acoustic strumming, is akin to the DBTs in “pretty” mode.  It may be overlong, and the lyrics a bit sappy, but the acoustic guitar solo is appealing, and there’s also a pleasing touch of slowed-down ‘Jessica’ about the climbing guitar line that appears halfway through.
If that stirs comparisons with the Allman Brothers though, it’s got nothing on ‘Savannah’s Dream’, which is likely to have Allmans fans drooling with pleasure.  Now, if you’d told me in advance that the album featured a 12-minute instrumental with some jazzy pretensions, I might have run for the hills.  But fair play to 'em, they make it work in style.  After some initial messing about a stuttering electric piano line triggers jazzy, tripping drums from John Lum, and then they’re off on an adventure that features some stylish guitar motifs, the three guitars working in concert very nicely, thank you very much.  There’s a damn fine, sonically interesting piano solo from John Ginty, bracketed by a couple of guitar solos, the second of which – from Betts, I’m guessing – takes them through the gears as it reaches for the skies, with Lum’s drums reinforced by R Scott Bryan’s percussion.  And if that’s not enough for you, then the later ‘Should We Ever Part’ could be its second cousin, with added vocals, some more propulsive drumming, plenty of urgency, and a catchy harmonised guitar riff.
Other highlights include ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’, a simple, sometimes Beatle-is ballad that leans heavily on Ginty’s elegant piano and atmospheric weeping guitar as the backing for Oakley’s sparing vocal, and is stretched out to good effect by a steely, Hispanic-tinged acoustic guitar solo.  Merit badges all round for that one.  Meantime ‘Southern Rain’ may start off with a rather prosaic verse, but it then grabs the attention with its falsetto refrain of ‘I believe in you’ and echoing guitar theme, before the guitars really go to work, playing off each other, off Ginty’s washes of organ, and Allman’s vocal riffing.  And I’ve also got a soft spot for the slide-and-sax-fired uptempo boogie of ‘King Crawler’, a good time tune that jangles along nicely.  It’s inconsequential but fun, and closes with a sax solo by guest Art Edmaiston that should have been higher in the mix.
They can’t keep up the standard across thirteen tracks though.  ‘Magnolia Road’ is an okay tune, but ultimately same-old-same-old sentimental Southern stuff despite another injection of quality piano from Ginty.  And things tail off in pretty tame fashion with ‘Much Obliged’ – on which Allman goes for a Johnny Cash vocal vibe, for reasons passing understanding – and ‘Congratulations’.
There is also, of course, a lot of slide guitar on offer.  Now, I love great slide playing, but there is a style of squeaking, slithering Southern slide guitar that’s too sweet for my tastes at times, and which duly becomes wearing after a while here.  Some more grit from time to time would be welcome.
But for all that, Bless Your Heart finds the Allman Betts Band broadening and deepening their sound, the whole being more than just the sum of their parts – and if they continue to explore new horizons, a serious proposition in their own right rather than keepers of an ancestral flame.

Bless Your Heart is released by BMG on 28 August.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Fantastic Negrito - Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?

Well, he’s back, and looking as out-of-the-box as ever.  Yes, it’s Fantastic Negrito, with his new album Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?  And on the cover he's wearing a fur-collared jacket that would suit Rasputin going for tea at the Winter Palace.
The Negrito formula remains much the same as on previous outings such as Please Don’t Be Dead – which is to say, he rejigs elements of black music genres like he’s fiddling compulsively with a Rubik cube.  “All kinds of things can happen in the world”, he sings repeatedly on the 55 second, syncopated-handclapping vignette ‘Shigamabu Blues’, and across the 11 tracks here goes about proving the truth of that statement.
Fantastic Negrito - zig-zagging his way through black music
Opening track ‘Chocolate Samurai’ is about as straight up as it gets, if that’s a valid description for what sounds like James Brown grabbing the core of Stevie Wonder’s groove on ‘Higher Ground’, shaking it upside down, and chucking in curve balls like a descending trill reminiscent of ‘Sir Duke’, a wonky guitar solo, a fabulously daft turnaround, and some jazzy piano.
  And while the lyrics include the album title, you may well recall more readily his admonition to “Eat less sugar, have more sex.”  Which sounds like a pretty good prescription to me.
Or there’s ‘Searching For Captain Save A Hoe’ – he does good titles, does Negrito – which is a staccato narrative delivered with punch à la Macy Gray.  Except the recipe also includes a doomy riff that now and then squelches and honks its way in from the margins, plus some sweet harmonies, a flurry of controlled rapping, and some groovy lead guitar.  And out of all that I come away with the thought that Negrito may well have spent as much time listening to Frank Zappa as the more obvious pathfinder Prince.
He can keep things relatively simple too, mind you.  Over the years his go-to schtick has often been a Moby-like transfiguration of a work song vibe, and you get that here with ‘I’m So Happy I Cry’, albeit with the core elements colliding with slithering organ and some wacky rapping from guest Tarriona "Tank" Ball, of Tank and the Bangas (nope, me neither).  And ‘How Long’ allies a dreamily vocalised verse to a chorus featuring a thudding ‘Mistreated’-style riff reinforced by clipped blasts of organ, to which yer man then adds a fluid, pinging guitar solo for further embellishment.
‘Your Sex Is Overrated’ is founded on vocals that are equal parts Sixties soul rasp and Prince-like head voice, over restrained, spacy backing that rouses itself as Negrito reaches a blissed-out peak.  And the guitar solo is mellow too, over perfectly melded bass, drums and keys, before it takes off to herald the conclusion.
A couple of tracks cut less mustard.  ‘These Are My Friends’ may have a punchy and snarling verse, and a swelling chorus that winks at the Fab Four, but it lacks any kind of killer twist, while the slower rumination of ‘All Up In My Space’, with its mantra-like chorus, is simply overlong, despite being enlivened by a funky, soulful organ break.
Speaking of funk though, the album closes with two corking examples.  First there’s ‘King Frustration’, which emerges from a mellow organ intro into a twitching, jerking funk groove like a puppet on a string, and throws in a trippy, hurdy gurdy bridge ahead of a squealing guitar solo and a suitably warped-classical slice of organ.  Then for afters there’s the throbbing, thrusting, grinding groove of ‘Platypus Dipster’, its brief guitar break sounding like it’s being squeezed out of a toothpaste tube.
Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? confirms that Fantastic Negrito is a non-conformist stirrer of rock/funk/soul and whatever else may be a distantly bleeping, clanking, rapping descendant of the blues – an evangelist for the musical misfits.  Dig it, people!

Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? was released on Cooking Vinyl/Blackball Universe on 14 August.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Walter Trout - Ordinary Madness

Sometimes an album just grabs you, right from the git-go.  So it is with Ordinary Madness, the latest offering from Walter Trout.  Right from the opening title track, the old blues-rocking warhorse is on the top of his game – and I’m not just talking about guitar-wrangling people.  No, Trout is in cracking form here on several fronts.

‘Ordinary Madness’ is an atmospheric piece of songwriting about everyday troubles, emerging out of a warbling electronic intro.  It’s brooding and claustrophobic, set to a loose beat like a wolf stalking you in the dark of the night.  It’s got clever lyrics, and a tense, strung-out guitar solo that eventually takes flight before sliding back into the metaphorical murk.  It’s really good – and it’s just the start.

In fact, the front half of this 11-track album is stacked with goodies.  ‘Wanna Dance’ is an

Walter Trout - just your everyday guitar madness
Pic by Christophe Losberger
uptempo counterpart to the title track, all ringing chords, urgency, and a need for release, sung with conviction by Trout and backed up by a wiry solo, over a stomping beat and crashing cymbals.  But it’s the following ‘My Foolish Pride’ that really elevates proceedings to a whole other level.  A reflective ballad that floats somewhere in the continuum between Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen, it makes the very most of picked guitar, occasional swells of organ, and a heartfelt vocal, to create something that’s simple and lovely.  Oh yeah, and there’s some guitar playing that’s perfectly judged in how it serves the song.
Interested yet?  How about ‘Heartland’, a third person narrative about a young woman’s dreams of something better, with a Tom Petty vibe full of retro Sixties leanings, vocal harmonies, and even some mournful accordion to counterpoint Trout’s razor-sharp soloing.

What you should have noticed by now is that I’m emphasising Trout’s imaginative song-writing and arrangements, and thoughtful lyrics with vocal performances to match, as much as his guitar playing.  But for anyone who's worried that there’s not enough mention of out-and-out blues, ‘All Out Of Tears’ will provide reassurance, and then some.  A straight-up slow blues, with some tasteful piano and organ in the mix, it rubs along very nicely, until the shift into the second segment of Trout’s first solo promotes it to another league, with some nice interplay from Johnny Griparic’s bass towards the end too.  Would it be pushing it to say that it could be to Trout what ‘Still Got The Blues’ was to Gary Moore?  Give it a whirl, and decide for yourself.

I’d be kidding if I said that the back end of the album consistently scales the same heights, but it’s still darned good.  In particular, ‘Final Curtain Call’ is a tough, mid-paced rocker with a trilling riff akin to The Guess Who’s ‘American Woman’, to which Trout adds some interesting twists with harp accompaniment – his own, I’m guessing – and vocal harmonising on the outro.  ‘The Sun Is Going Down’ is an unsentimental reflection on the ageing process, leading off with psychedelic-era harmonies and a reined-in guitar theme, more toots of harp for colour, clear-eyed lyrics – “Time, it’s brutally honest, and it’s so unfair” – and then a rocked-up coda shaken’n’stirred by some wang-dang guitar.  And ‘Make It Right’ is a rock-solid blues-rock song, with a bouncing rhythm and a downbeat mid-section with weeping guitar notes.

And you have to smile at the closing ‘OK Boomer’, a typically Trout-ish piece of social commentary, a raucous rock song that’s a tongue-in-cheek flipping of the bird to millenials’ criticism of the baby boomer generation.  “I like my music loud,” sings Trout, “I’m geriatric, and I’m proud!”

And so he should be.  Trout has delivered an album that shows off an impressive song-writing palette, equally impressively executed.  In a year that has seen the release of a remarkable pack of top drawer albums jostling for attention, Ordinary Madness is about to come hurtling up on the rails. Walter Trout is one Boomer who is definitely okay.


Ordinary Madness is released by Provogue Records on 28 August. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Kirk Fletcher - My Blues Pathway

Given that Kirk Fletcher is known first and foremost as a standout blues guitarist, it may seem odd to kick off a review of his latest album by talking about lyrics.  But hey, stick with me a minute here, huh?

Seems to me there’s a theme that emerges from a few songs on My Blues Pathway.  ‘Struggle For Grace’ is about the challenge of pushing troubles aside to make the best of yourself.  The Sonny Boy Williamson cover ‘Fattening Frogs For Snakes’ is about no longer doing the hard graft only for others to reap the benefit.  And in selecting Chris Cain’s ‘Place In This World Somewhere’, Fletcher also makes an assertive statement about the day-to-day trials of trying to

You're holding that guitar all wrong you know, Kirk.
Pic by Rick Gould
carve out a space for yourself.  It sounds to me like our Kirk is expressing a determination to make his musical efforts count, to be seen not just as a guy who “coulda bin somebody”, but as an artist whose work really does get attention.
Well, I reckon that with My Blues Pathway Fletcher shows that at his best he’s not just an outstanding blues guitarist, he’s an out of this world blues guitarist.  The first time I saw him live he blew me away, and several tracks here attain that same rarefied level.  This is a guy who can play within the constraints of the blues framework, but also come at you from fresh angles – and without resorting to raw speed.

Take ‘Struggle For Grace’.  On a fluid intro Fletcher effortlessly evokes BB King, all sweetness.  He gets his lyrical point across with a strong vocal, and then moaning horns create a floating backdrop for a fluttering solo of terrific control and lightness.  The outro shows his mastery of tension and release too, but that’s just a warm-up for what he does on the later ‘Heart So Heavy’.  Another self-penned song, it’s a classic slow blues in a minor key, featuring lots of interaction between his soulful vocal and responsive guitar licks.  Then Fletcher produces a couple of solos that go from teasing restraint, hanging back and hanging back, into sudden shifts of gear into higher revolutions, while he adds in twists and turns to wrongfoot you in the most beguiling way.

He can do this on more upbeat stuff too, like the funky cover of sax player AC Reed’s ‘Rather Fight Than Switch’, on which fun guitar breaks abound as he grabs your ear with an unusual wobbly guitar tone, and horns come in to fatten up the song for a bright ending.  Or the way he plays around with a discordant riff on the Texas blues-styled ‘D Is For Denny’, a tribute to his friend Denny Freeman on which some combinations of notes are enough to make me wonder if Fletcher is playing two guitars at once.  Meantime, on the light and breezy funk of ‘Place In This World Somewhere’, his solo plays around with the melody in a way that serves the song beautifully, before he conjures up some jazzy handbrake turns en route to a brief, bleeping fade-out.

‘Place In This World Somewhere’ is, however, one of the occasions when Fletcher sounds out of his comfort zone vocally, as is also the case on the single ‘No Place To Go’.  But he's more at home on the smoothly funky Robert Cray-style blues of the opening ‘Ain’t No Cure For Downhearted’ – also featuring a zippily neat and precise solo – and the gospel-tinged soulfulness of ‘Love Is More Than A Word’, and elsewhere he produces the most confident vocals I’ve heard from him to date, not least on the aforementioned ‘Heart So Heavy’.  And he relaxes nicely into the closing ‘Life Gave Me A Dirty Deal’, a simple old-style blues based on just guitars and harp, on which he’s content to yield the instrumental foreground to Josh Smith on resonator guitar and Charlie Musselwhite on harp – the latter stealing the show.

My Blues Pathway isn’t end-to-end brilliant - it takes a few songs to get up a head of steam, and there are those dips vocally.  But when it’s good it’s bloody marvellous, with strong songs and arrangements - and get ready to prick up your ears for some truly great guitar playing.


My Blues Pathway is released by Cleopatra Records on 25 September

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Chris Bevington Organisation - Sand & Stone

Sand & Stone, the fourth album by the Chris Bevington Organisation (including the first pair under the monicker of Chris Bevington & Friends), picks up where its excellent 2018 predecessor Cut And Run left off.  Opening track ‘It’s True’ is ushered in by a horn riff and stinging guitar chords, over a thumping beat.  It’s catchy, Scott Ralph’s singing is complemented by silky backing vocals from Kate Robertson and Sarah Miller, and it’s rounded out by a squawking sax solo from guest Chris Aldridge, and some ripping lead guitar courtesy of Jim Kirkpatrick.

Cool bassist Chris Bevington declines to go for the legs akimbo look
But the seamless handover of the baton from the signature exuberance of Cut And Run doesn’t tell the whole story.  Sand & Stone is a more varied affair, at times cooler in tone.  And that’s – well, cool.  It’s cool because it shows that CBO are still progressing from the collective who Chris Bevington recruited to record some favourite blues covers on their first album.  It’s cool because the songwriting duo of Ralph and Kirkpatrick are exploring different avenues rather than ploughing the same furrow.
So on this outing we get the soulful slowie ‘Already Got The Blues’, Ralph’s vocal winding around Neil McCallum’s terrific drum sound and guitar from Kirkpatrick that shifts from restrained to squealing as it competes with more emotive sax breaks.  The following ‘Blues Is Everywhere I Go’ is swinging soul on which the lead vocals are taken by Miller and Robertson, with a melody that offers some interesting twists and turns, an organ solo from Dave Edwards that kicks off by quoting Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, and a selection of horn breaks.  And ‘It Was Over’ is an epic-style moody slow number built on a rippling guitar motif and distant swirls of organ, anchored by Bevington’s bass.

Meanwhile acoustic guitar, and harp from Ralph, kick off the tipsy old-fashioned blues of ‘What Did I Drink Last Night’ against a backdrop of bar-room chatter, with Kirkpatrick adding a suitably woozy slide solo to go with chasers of sax.  The closing 'Sand And Stone' takes another different tack, exploring a work song vibe but applies it to the coal mines of Britain rather than the cotton fields of the South.  Moaning harp and anthemic vocal harmonies lead the way into the song, joined by simple chiming guitar and a drumbeat like a pickaxe, before Kirkpatrick applies the coup de grace with subtle slide guitar.

But if these tunes broaden the Organisation’s range, the spine of the 11-track album is still swinging, rocking blues, whether it’s the strutting funkiness of ‘Bad Bad Bad’, with stuttering horns from Ben Oakes on sax and Lewis Topping on trombone, ‘Deep River’ shifting from gutsy riff to a reliance on simple vocals and drums, or the funky R’n’B of the all-too-brief ‘I Got Time’.  This last, with its rolling horns, swinging rhythm section, squealing guitar break, and echoes of Etta James’ ‘Blues Is My Business’ as resurrected by Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul, is a track they could, and really should, have taken further.  And ‘Heaven Above’ is grindingly funky, with more harp to the fore from Ralph over a mid-paced swagger driven by McCallum’s tub-thumping drums, and Kirkpatrick contributing a wailing solo.

I don’t imagine Chris Bevington regards himself in any way as the leader of the Organisation that bears his name.  But he deserves credit for being the catalyst for a band that brings a distinctively big sound to the British blues table, and is now mining a rich seam of original songs from Jim Kirkpatrick and Scott Ralph, who have combined to become an impressive writing and production team.  Sand & Stone succeeds once again in taking a swinging blues style and giving it a modern freshness.  Which is, y'know, kinda cool.


Sand & Stone is available on all the usual digital platforms and on the band’s own websitewhere it can be purchased in digital, CD and vinyl formats: www.chrisbevingtonorganisation.com.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Savoy Brown - Ain't Done Yet

CAUTION!  HARD HAT AREA!

Why?  Because you’re gonna need protective clothing to enjoy ‘All Gone Wrong’, the opening track on Savoy Brown’s latest album Ain’t Done Yet, that’s why.  Think sledgehammers.  Think steamrollers.  Think freight trains rumbling through the pitch-black night on hot rails to hell.  On ‘All Gone Wrong’ Savoy Brown lay down the meanest, dirtiest, heaviest riff this side of ZZ Top at their most badass.  It’s the foundation for a dystopian lyric about contemporary life, delivered by main man Kim Simmonds in a Deep South blues groan that’s entirely convincing despite him being a chirpy little fella from Caerphilly.  Oh yeah, and he also knocks out some squealing guitar licks by way of icing on the cake.  Talk about heavy blues – tie yourself onto something immovable, and turn this beast all the way up!

Savoy Brown - smile, and carry a lead-heavy riff
They repeat the earth-moving groove trick late in the album, on ‘Soho Girl’, with its heavy duty, fuzzin’n’buzzin’ riff underpinning the tale of the said female, who “Drives a ’67 Mustang, Sleeps with a gun”.  Which kind of begs the question about which Soho Simmonds is referring to, because this doesn’t sound like behaviour typical of Denmark Street in London.  But I digress.  It’s worth noting too, that Simmonds uncoils a swooping and stinging solo to celebrate the Soho girl.
They approach some other big grooves from different angles.  ‘Devil’s Highway’ feels cooler, with a precision-tooled rhythm from drummer Garnet Grimm over which Pat DeSalvo’s bass bubbles steadily, while Simmonds sprinkles glittering, fluid licks around like seeds in a breeze.  ‘Jaguar Car’ is taken more briskly, but still feels like it’s been handed down personally by John Lee Hooker even as it scoots down the highway at a fair old clip, with Simmonds contributes subtle harp embellishment, and adds racing stripes with his slide playing.  And the title track, an ode to the road, is an irresistible slide of good time boogie worthy of Quo in their prime, with a call and response chorus and Simmonds delivering lead guitar variations on a theme from start to finish.

Two of my favourite moments though, come when they ease off a bit from the hard stuff.  Both ‘River On The Rise’ and ‘Rocking In Louisiana’ have a laid-back vibe, laid over a semi-acoustic framework.  The former, with swooning slide guitar from Simmonds, belies the gloomy alarms and excursions of a lyric concerning flooding, and the latter, with its steely acoustic acoustic guitar and bursts of slide, is also a jangling jalopy of summertime blues that’s a damn sight breezier than any sweaty August day in the bayou.

But Savoy Brown can go downbeat too, as they prove on ‘Feel Like A Gypsy’, which has the hypnotic feel of latter-day Tony Joe White (RIP), with Simmonds dabbling in a Peter Green-ish guitar tone over rippling guitar picking and a rolling rhythm from Grimm and DeSalvo that’s like the sea lapping gently on a beach.  And the closing instrumental ‘Crying Guitar’ does exactly what it says on the box, Simmonds going on a journey around the pentatonic scale with a bravura display of crystal-clear tone, the Welsh wizard casting some powerful six-string spells.

With Garnet Grimm and Pat DeSalvo in tow, this is a well-honed edition of Savoy Brown that Kim Simmonds has on the road.  On this evidence, Ain’t Done Yet is damn right.

 

Ain’t Done Yet is released on Quarto Valley Records on 28 August.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Shirley King - Blues For A King

As the daughter of BB King, Shirley King may have the blues in her blood, but her first career was as a nightclub dancer, and it wasn’t until 1990, when she’d reached her forties, that she took up singing.  And here she is on this latest release, predominantly comprised of covers, still showing some impressive vocal power as she’s backed up by a range of featured guest guitarists.

King’s preferred vocal setting seems to be the kind of R’n’B raunch she heard in her youth from Etta James, which is certainly in evidence on a reading of ‘That’s Alright Mama’, replete with high-revving guitar from Pat Travers.  But the songs on offer here range more widely than that.

The album opens with the retro soul sound of ‘All Of My Lovin’’, on which she captures the vibe

Shirley King - feeling' alright at the mic
Shirley King - feelin' alright at the mic
well against a backdrop of chiming rhythm guitar chords, a bumping bass line reminiscent of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, and pinging guitar licks from Joe Louis Walker.  And highlights include the languid blues of ‘I Did You Wrong’, delivered with superb control by King and subtle guitar elaborations from Elvin Bishop that show off his terrific blues feel, and the Steve Winwood song ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’, on which King ventures into soulful Shemekia Copeland territory to the accompaniment of fluid, deliciously-toned pinpoint embroidery from Martin Barre.
There are Latin undertones to another Traffic song, ‘Feelin’ Alright’, on which a stuttering piano motif also manages to swing with the assistance of the rhythm section, while Duke Robillard adds economical injections of guitar to complement King’s muscular vocal.  Meanwhile ‘Give It All Up’ brings strings and subtle horns to bear on a Motown-ish vibe that hangs on a poppy descending riff, augmented by some suitably neat guitar from Kirk Fletcher.  And ‘Johnny Porter’, a Temptations hit that comes over like an ersatz ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, is put across stridently with some effective call and response vocals between King and Arthur Adams.

Some choices seem over-ambitious though.  A straight reading of Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ benefits from some tasteful guitar courtesy of Robben Ford, but while King’s singing is gutsy it doesn’t carry the assertive clarity of Simone.  The treatment of the old classic ‘Gallows Pole’ lacks the urgency and imagination of the Zeppelin version, despite some Ennio Morricone-esque guitar soloing from Harvey Mandel, while King’s vocal has a tendency to wobble at the bottom end of her range – and in truth there are several points across the album where she hits some wonky notes that should really have been fixed with overdubs.  She’s better though on ‘Hoodoo Man Blues’, inhabiting a suitably bluesy space while Joe Louis Walker delivers another crackling demonstration of electric blues guitar.  The oddity here though, is that Junior Wells also contributes vocally, notwithstanding his death in 1998.  Presumably his vocal track from way back when was exhumed for the purpose, though there’s no trumpeting of that approach.

The album closes with King’s take on Etta James’ ‘At Last’, another bold choice which she delivers adequately, though the sweet strings and simple piano chords aren’t quite matched by King, who remains more comfortable in rasping-Etta rather than yearning-Etta mode.

Blues For A King is an enjoyable album, if somewhat patchy.  Shirley King has been well served by the various guest artists, but I can’t help thinking that a little more care could have been taken over the production of her vocals, in order to show her at her best.  The blues feeling is there, but it could have been captured more effectively.


Blues For A King was released by Cleopatra Blues on 19 June.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Joe Louis Walker - Blues Comin' On

All the rage these days aren’t they, these guest artist album collaborations?  Sometimes I wonder whether there’s much purpose to them, or much clarity of direction.  But it has to be said that recent examples from Mike Zito – in tribute to Chuck Berry – and Dion have certainly cut the mustard.  And now this outing from Joe Louis Walker can be added to that list.

To my mind, Walker is one of the leading bluesmen of our times, an inventive guitarist and songwriter, and with a distinctive, engaging vocal style.  With Blues Comin' On he also demonstrates that he’s an excellent ringmaster, making a satisfyingly coherent album out of a range of different guests and songs from a variety of writers.

Joe Louis Walker - sho' got the blues!
Pic by Arnie Goodman
The title track is a good example of the blend of cool and muscle that’s on offer.  A first verse that combines steely acoustic guitar strumming with a top drawer drawling vocal from Dion – who co-wrote the tune with Mike Acqualina – lulls you into a false sense of security, before electric guitar, piano, drums and guttural bass kick in to generate a big fat groove.  And then further down the line Eric Gales weighs in with a razor-wire solo, while JLW gets down to some whoopin’ an’ hollerin’.  By the time they’re done, after nearly six minutes, it’s a pummelling world away from its beguiling beginning.
Soulful sounds also play a big part in the album though.  Carla Cooke, daughter of Sam, guests on two tracks to marvellous effect.  ‘Someday, Someway’ is a sweet soul duet, on which Cooke makes like Minnie Riperton with some beautiful, pure falsetto singing, echoed by some lovely harp playing from Lee Oskar (once upon a time of War, in cahoots with Eric Burdon).  ‘Awake Me, Shake Me’ is a different kind of soulful, with a sparkling piano intro before La Cooke dips in, this time in a lower, cooler pitch.  Walker shows off his way with a soulful vocal, and the pair turn out some excellent harmonising, while Walker evokes the Commodores with some jazzy guitar. The song drifts from an idyllic, dream-like awakening into some intense guitar and moaning vocals that suggest a couple having woken up and, er, shaken’n’stirred each other.  And just to show that Walker doesn’t need Cooke in order to do soulful, Mitch Ryder turns up on ‘Come Back Home’, which bears little resemblance to the bar-room rock’n’roll of ‘Devil With The Blue Dress’, and a whole lot more like a slice of Southern soul-blues that breezed out Memphis in the mid-Sixties.

But there’s funkiness abroad too, most energetically on ‘The Thang’, a self-penned dance track that promotes “wiggling where you stand”, and is as good an invitation to shake yer booty as I’ve heard in a while.  More than that though, it side-slips into Hendrix-land, with some wacko guitar duelling between Walker and Jesse Johnson of The Time, before giving a deep bow in the direction of ‘Still Raining Still Dreaming’.  And Bobby Rush’s ‘Bowlegged Woman’ is given a loosely funky blues treatment, as Walker asserts that “We go hand in hand, like a bowlegged woman and a knock-kneed man”, while piercing guitar work comes courtesy of Waddy Wachtel – a denizen of the West Coast who's played with everyone under the sun, co-writing ‘Werewolves Of London’ along the way.

And there’s still room for plenty more. There’s the opener ‘Feed The Poor’ for a start, a co-write with Mick Jagger’s son Gabriel that’s soulful but gritty, with a fuzzy riff that gets more assertive as the song progresses.  There’s the semi-acoustic bar-room blues of ‘Old Time Used To Be’, a dance tune for warm summer nights with your baby, with plenty of tootling harp from John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful and stinging slide guitar from the ubiquitous Keb’ Mo’.  There’s the simple gospel fun of ‘Lonely Weekends’, and the catchy pop of ‘Seven More Years’, which evokes The Pretenders in their heyday, and features delightful, shimmering lead guitar from Albert Lee, as well as great drumming from Byron Cage.

Walker even gets into garage rock mode with the closing cover of Love’s ‘7 & 7 Is’, all urgency over scattergun drum rhythms, with surf guitar-like injections from Arlen Roth, before downshifting sharply into a blast of harmonica from Charlie Harper of the UK Subs (of all people), and a crunching mid-paced guitar solo.

With 12 tracks that all do more than stand up to scrutiny, Blues Comin' On is sure as hell good value for money.  More than that, it reinforces my view that while there may be bigger blues names out there, Joe Louis Walker is one of the very best around.  And if you aren’t familiar with him, you need to put that right - now.


Blues Comin' On was released on Cleopatra Blues on 26 June.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Bad Touch - Kiss The Sky

Better guys.  Much, much better.
See, I’m on record as having found the last couple of albums from Bad Touch decidedly uneven.  So when I tell you that Kiss The Sky represents a marked improvement, I ain’t kidding.
Bad Touch are a party band at heart.  When you see them live, you know that they pour themselves into everyone having a good time.  I’m pleased to be able to say that this time around the Norfolk rockers have managed to channel that energy into a much more consistent collection of songs.  And hey, you can’t really dislike a band who throw
Bad Touch - Do they share the same wardrobe?
Pic by Will Ireland
themselves into a cover of Kiki Dee’s ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me’ with rock'n'roll abandon, can you?  Five tracks in, it’s a belter of a track, a happy go lucky affair delivered with a big, full sound – hats off to co-producer Nick Brine – and buffed up with the female backing vocals that add some extra gloss to several songs here.
There’s plenty of raucous rifferama of course, kicking off with the opener ‘Come A Little Closer’, which is propelled along by pumping bass from Michael Bailey and big drums from George Drewry, while huge, gritty guitar chords crash around like falling masonry, with a catchy chorus and a scudding slide solo to boot.  And there’s lots more where that came from, not least on the meaty, beaty, big and bouncy title track, where between them the guitars of Rob Glendinning and Daniel Seekings crank out rock solid chords studded with a rolling lead refrain, and the guitar solo is a howling beast built on an ascending theme. Or on ‘Before I Die’, which opens with a nagging, spiky guitar riff over a thudding bass drum, and displays some rapid-fire lyrical delivery by Stevie Westwood, as well as a sharp, stinging solo that fits the bill nicely.  Or there’s ‘Too Much Of A Good Thing’, which belies its title by being brief and to the point, with more slide guitar skating over the top of a smart, twiddly guitar riff, while its appealing hook is again given an extra sheen by well-arranged female backing vocals.
But they also show a good grasp of dynamics on the likes of ‘Strut’, where their Black Crowes influences also show through.  It may originate in a fuzzy, staccato riff like a bumble bee repeatedly banging its head off a window, but the pre-chorus slows things down nicely, while some competing vocal lines add another level of interest, and a brief but tasty guitar solo looks out at wider horizons.  ‘See You Again’ shows even more maturity on the writing front, eases in with mellow acoustic guitar and dappled by piano, to embark on a sensitive elegy to a lost friend.  It’s a good tune all round, elevated by an excellent bridge that even makes good use of string sounds, ahead of a tasteful, fitting guitar solo.  ‘Can You Save Me’ also conjures up light and shade in a manner that hints at Bad Company, with rippling guitar lines, some waves of organ in the background methinks, and a middle eight and guitar solo that introduce some subtle, clever shifts in direction.
Best of all perhaps, is the way they close out with ‘Something About Your Kiss’, which nods deeply in the direction of Fleetwood Mac a la ‘The Chain’, with spangly guitar floating around while Westwood uncoils an attractive melody, before they change gear into a big epic finish with lead guitar work weaving around the vocal to good effect.
This is the album that finds Bad Touch starting to fulfil their potential.  Their Southern rockisms may not yet show the originality of The Temperance Movement, but then that’s setting the bar pretty high.  And I could wish that Stevie Westwood were allowed the room to breathe a little more, rather than having to force his vocals up to 11 so often.  But hey, on Kiss The Sky they still get it on from start to finish, baby.  As the Faces put it, I had me a real good time.

Kiss The Sky is released by Marshall Records on 19 June, and can be ordered from www.badtouchkissthesky.com

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Milk Men - Deliverance

Riffs!  Lots of ‘em!  That’s one of the key attractions that emerges from Deliverance, the third album from The Milk Men.  Guitarist Adam Norsworthy seems to have a knack for coming up with interesting riffs that create an immediate point of interest in many of the songs here.  And I’m not really talking about big beefy slabs of powerchord here.  There are some meaty instances of rhythm guitar to be sure, but often what Norsworthy conjures up are byzantine affairs that certainly pique my interest.
The riffs aren’t the long and the short of Deliverance though. The brisk opener may feature a winding staircase of a guitar line, but it also introduces us to the husky voice of singer Jamie Smy, which has a hint of Family’s Roger Chapman but without the Larry the Lamb vibrato.  Then there’s the snapping snare drum of Mike Roberts, whose drum sound is excellent throughout and a bass solo delivered by Lloyd Green.  Yep, you read that right, a bass solo – and marvel of marvels, it’s good too!
The Milk Men - "So you reckon you parked the float along here?"
They’ve got some good hooks too, on the following ‘When The Blues Come Callin’’ and especially ‘Little Miss Attention’, which is really just a piece of rock’n’roll but is still just dandy, ta very much.  Kicking off with kicking drums and thrumming bass, it’s got another zig-zagging guitar line, a twangeroonie solo, and an “ooh la la la” chorus redolent of Cockney Rebel’s ‘Make Me Smile’.
In fact one of the defining characteristics of the album is just how many ideas The Milk Men manage to pack into a three and a half minute song, without overloading it.  ‘Make You A Liar’ combines a spooky, bendy guitar line with a Psycho Killer-ish bass line to create a moody tone, but later on bright chords lend variation, along with a shift in Smy’s vocal, and an anthemic, doubled up guitar solo.  ‘Sail Away’ blends another twister of a riff with elastic band bass, some Beatle-ish harmonies, and then crunching chords and thumping drums, before getting all epic with a sharp guitar solo over a Zep-like descending theme and hushed vocal ooh-ing.
‘Taking Her Time’ is takes a tense, taut riff that’s got a glimmer of the Stones about it.  (You see what I did there?  Glimmer, Stones – no?).  It also has the humour to add a dollop of cowbell to its mix of equal parts gritty soulfulness and melodic rock.  ‘Why Can’t You Stay’, meanwhile, has a gentle and dreamy vibe, with another touch of the Fab Four about it, and shows off Smy’s ability to bring a different style to the mic, as well as a sun-dappled, Clapton-toned guitar solo from Norsworthy.  And they even nudge into Blondie-style New York new wave territory with the punk-ish riff on the brief ‘Bad Girl’.
They get a bit bluesier on the closing brace of tracks, ‘Alive’ and ‘One More Day’, on both of which Gareth Huggett guests on harmonica.  The former comes with a funky, twirling riff, a fun bass part and a dentist drill guitar solo, while the latter is slower, more old-fashioned R’n’B with slide guitar interjections – though they still give it a bit of a modern polish.  Funnily enough, I found these closing tracks a tad less interesting – but only a tad.  On the whole though, gotta say the material kept me pretty well entertained and intrigued throughout.
The sound is crisp and clear throughout, with space for everyone to shine – which is credit to the ubiquitous Wayne Proctor, who took care of the mixing, and as previously indicated has done a damn good job of projecting Mike Roberts’ snapping drums.  Mind you, here and there I might have liked things dirtied up a touch more, a bit more full-fat than semi-skimmed if you like.  (I hope you appreciate the effort that’s going into this, by the way.)  But really that’s just a quibble.
Deliverance is the work of professionals – well put together songs, well arranged, well played, and well produced by Adam Norsworthy.  I enjoyed it.  If you’ve a hankering for British blues-rock that leans towards the melodic end of the spectrum, then get yourself a delivery from The Milk Men.

Deliverance was released on 29 May 2020, and you can get it here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Birdmens - Lockdown Loaded

Lockdown Loaded is an album for these strange times.  Here are eleven tracks, conceived and executed by eight musos in isolation from each other, in less than two months, from bang to bullets.  It’s often a raw, edgy, affair, lacking finesse here and feeling under-developed there – but it will grab you by the short and curlies so that your hearts and minds follow.  In other words, it works and then some.  
Ian Siegal - groanin'n'growlin'
Birdmens set out their stall with the opener ‘Cat Drugged Up’, where an acoustic riff gets booted in the butt by a thudding beat which one can only assume is the work of Dave Doherty, as he – a guitarist by trade - is the only person pleading guilty to percussion misdemeanours in this crew.  Howls of harp arrive courtesy of Giles King, and they’re off on a primitive Delta Blues stomp with Ian Siegal serving up a vocal about how “the situation’s all fucked up” in his best blues groan, while they layer on the instrumentation to create a suitably cacophonous racket.  It’s the real deal.
The following ‘Hipbone’ is in a similar vein, with Jon Amor on lead vocal duties and harmonising from Siegal, over simple, booming drums amidst more wailing harp, and squealing guitar and tinkling piano in the background.  But it also edges towards the funkier terrain where they lay their hats on several tracks.  ‘It’s Inconvenient’ has a nimble, twitching vibe, driven by a rolling wave of organ from Bob Fridzema, with injections of wah-wah as Amor recounts a tale of everything going to shit in a manner which renders the title an understatement.  The real monster funk groove though, is reserved for ‘Diggin’ That Rut’, with its nagging rhythm and booming bass from Rob Barry, while Siegal goes full-on James Brown growl, replete with his trademark rasping squeals, and one of the several available guitar slingers cranks out squalling guitar breaks.
They’re prepared to shake things up though, as evidenced by the late Sixties vibe of ‘Sheriff’
Jon Amor - Here's lookin' at you, kid
Pic by Dan Watkiss
and the phantasmagorical gospel-funk of ‘Heal Thyself’.  The former, from the pens and pencils of Amor, Doherty, and Lavendore Rogue guitarist Joel Fisk, takes a Stonesy piano riff and blends it with acoustic guitar, harmonised vocals and a swirling organ break in edgy, psychedelic-leaning mode.  Meanwhile the latter makes like Fantastic Negrito on a Transatlantic crossing, combining tripping drums, swirling organ, funky clavinet and spiky guitar, while Siegal essays a Prince-like falsetto about how “We ain’t doin’ this for our health, Heal the nation and heal thyself”.  Self-serving politicians in the cross-hairs there, methinks.
‘What’s The Name’ is a bluesier funk workout though, with a busy bass line from Barry driving things along over scuttling drums, while squawks of harp complete with rolling, jangling guitar and a slithering guitar solo.  But ‘Holler’ is straight ahead blues fare, with a wonderfully lazy, ambling-in-the-midday-sun groove, over which Siegal delivers more falsetto to accompaniment that includes moaning harp from King and some rinky-dink piano from either Fridzema or fellow ivory-tinkler Jonny Henderson.
The album closes with the eponymous ‘Birdmens’, a quintessentially Siegal slice of Americana co-written with Amor, all steely acoustic guitar and subtle gospel organ, with lap steel shadings.  “This ain’t Alcatraz baby,” he sings, “We’re the last of the last Birdmen.”  It’s a suitably elegiac tone, and image of confinement, for the situation that gave rise to this project.
To pinch a phrase from Neil Young, Lockdown Loaded is ragged glory.  It’s a ballsy, unrefined “fuck you” to circumstance.  It sure ain’t perfect - hell, even their name feels like a typo that escaped from a drunken Zoom conference.  But hey, it’s rock’n’roll baby!

Birdmens are: Jon Amor, Rob Barry, Dave Doherty, Joel Fisk, Bob Fridzema, Jonny Henderson, Giles King, Ian Siegal.

Lockdown Loaded is available from www.birdmens.com, on download now, on CD from 1 June, and on vinyl from 31 July.  (If you order a CD or vinyl, you’ll get a free download now.)

Friday, May 22, 2020

Dion - Blues With Friends

Dion Dimucci is 80.  Let me say that again.  Dion, of ‘The Wanderer’ fame, is 80 years old.  But you wouldn’t know it, listening to Blues With Friends.  He is never betrayed by the quavering pipes of an old codger, but instead owns the songs with the delivery and phrasing of a guy who has kept his primary instrument in full working order.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this album.  But like Topsy, Blues With Friends has growed and growed on me, and I suspect I’ll be returning to its charms on a regular basis.  The tone is set well by the opening ‘Blues Comin’ On’, which shuffles along in easy-going fashion with Dion communicating the vibe perfectly.  Meanwhile Joe Bonamassa does a sterling job as the first guest start turn, adding subtle moanin’ an’ groanin’ slide guitar that fits the character of the song.  Then the following ‘Kickin’ Child’ is a bright but laid back affair that rolls along effortlessly like something from JJ Cale, with twinkling guitar embroidery from Joe Menza.
Dion Dimucci - the smile that comes with a job well done
Pic by David Godlis
These tracks set the tone for the guest guitar contributions that follow on the bluesy tracks that form the spine of the album.  These range from the restrained but effective sparkle-and-twang Brian Setzer adds to the skipping ‘Uptown Number 7’, to the clear-toned Joe Louis Walker breaks that flit around the tune on the Van Morrison duet ‘I Got Nothin’’, the biting and gnawing Sonny Landreth slide on the swaggering ‘I Got The Cure’, and the hand-in-glove conversation between Dion and Samantha Fish’s wiry, expressive playing on ‘What If I Told You’.  This last, in particular, is a blues tune that offers more than your common-or-garden melody, enhanced by Dimucci’s excellent phrasing.
But the departures from the soulful blues core hit the mark too.  ‘Can’t Start Over Again’ may be adorned with some exquisite guitar filigrees from Jeff Beck, but it’s the song that really catches the ear, a simple slice of Americana that Dion interprets beautifully.  ‘Stumbling Blues’, regardless of its title and reliance on a blues progression, sounds like Great American Songbook fare, as Dion croons his way through the lilting, woozy closing time vibe to the hazy accompaniment of Jerry Vivino’s sax.  ‘Song For Sam Cooke (Here In America)’ is an acoustic-led singer-songwriter style duet with Paul Simon on which their voices combine delightfully, complemented by graceful violin breaks from a party I’m not able to credit right now.  And ‘Told You Once In August’ is an absorbing, stripped down folk blues on which John Hammond and Rory Block interweave chiming and moaning acoustic slide over a simple beat, and Block adds some minimalist but spot-on backing vocals.
Not everything is perfect.  ‘Bam Bang Boom’, on which Billy Gibbons guests, feels like it needs a kick in the ass in order to get going, though the groove does generate some toe-tapping in the end.  And the Christian folk leanings of ‘Hymn To Him’ leave me cold, regardless of its pretty tune and the involvement of Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen.
But hey, the strike rate of the material on Blues With Friends is mightily impressive.  Producer Wayne Hood deserves credit too, for the simple, uncluttered sound of the album, and for drawing all those guest contributions into a coherent whole.  The end result is the kind of relaxed but polished affair that’s perfect for kicking back with a beer and chilling out.
I think Bob Dylan puts it best though.  He doesn’t appear on the album, but he does contribute to the liner notes.  "Dion knows how to sing, and he knows just the right way to craft these songs,” says Bob.  “He’s got some friends here to help him out, some true luminaries. But in the end, it’s Dion by himself alone, and that masterful voice of his that will keep you returning to share these Blues songs with him."  Yeah, what he said.

Blues With Friends is released by KTBA Records on 5 June, and is available for pre-order at KTBArecords.com.