Saturday, February 29, 2020

Samantha Fish - St Luke's, Glasgow, 28 February 2020

Samantha Fish is a stone-cold killer.  I’m a witness.  I saw her do it right in front of me, live on stage last night.
Let me explain.  It’s halfway through her show in Glasgow, and she straps on her mint green Fender Jaguar, saying they’re going to play a song that always makes people jump around, so “let’s start a bluesy mosh pit”.  Then she launches into a twangeroonie rendition of ‘Little Baby’, and the place goes nuts.  It’s such fun that in the midst of it she comes to the mic and makes a rather feeble attempt at a Jerry Lee Lewis-like shivering purr, then turns away to bassist Chris Alexander and laughs at herself.  Then Nicholas David, one of two keyboard players in the band for this tour, contributes a crunking
Sam Fish produces some vocal confections
organ workout.  But that’s nothing compared to the rollercoaster rock’n’roll guitar solo Fish delivers, en route to a wild, teasing duel with Scotty Graves’ thumping drums.  It's the moment a rockin' show definitively achieves escape velocity.
And then she does it.  She straps on her acoustic guitar, and announces they’re going to do a song from Nick David, whose recent album Yesterday’s Gone she produced.  So off they go, with David singing ‘Say Goodbye', from a 2013 EP of his – not even one of her own songs that the audience might know, fer chrissake!  I submit, your honour, that for most artists this would constitute a capital live performance crime, taking all the wild energy built up by ‘Little Baby’, and immediately diluting it with something gentle and unfamiliar.
But she gets away with it.  No cops invade the stage to slap the cuffs on her for killing the rock’n’roll buzz.  You know why?  For a start, because the song turns out to be a pleasure, building from a quiet opening into a delicious country-soul swinger, with Samantha adding sweet harmonies to David’s soulful vocal, and a pin-pricking acoustic solo for good measure.  But Samantha Fish also gets away with it because, frankly, she can.  She’s so good that no jury would convict.
This first night of Fish’s latest European tour began in dramatic fashion, with the apocalyptic strains of Richard Strauss’s ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ belting out into the converted church that's St Luke's, courtesy of Nick David and fellow keyboard honcho Phil Breen, as a wacky intro to David delivering his own ‘Hole In The Bottom’ in soulful fashion.  The main mademoiselle then makes her entrance, not too grandly, but all chiffon and leather and as tousle-haired as ever.  She grabs her cigar box guitar, and kicks off the foot-stomping ‘Bulletproof’.
It’s the cue for what feels like a sprint through several of the songs from her latest album Kill Or Be Kind, starting with the title track, initiated by loosely funky bass from Alexander and featuring dangerously girlish, femme fatale vocals, before she switches to her semi-acoustic guitar, heralding a spell of gritty low-end slide and a dirty groove from the band, embellished by piano frills and swirls of synth.  It segues into ‘Watch It Die’, all fist-pumping, arm-waving and vocal gymnastics from Fish as a preface to a singalong bridge and a ripping guitar solo on the stage apron.
Testifyin' her innocence
‘Love Letters’ is subtle, notwithstanding the heavy duty solo  that Fish grinds out, but the country-tinged ‘She Don’t Live Her Anymore’ trumps that with its dynamics, a big chorus, and a terrific organ solo in typical nose-to-the-grindstone fashion from Phil Breen, who’s become one of my favourite keyboard players in the last year or two.  ‘You Got It Bad’ has a pounding intro, and halfway through Samantha signals a solo by announcing that “I’m gonna go for it now!”  But she doesn’t really, not right away, saving herself for a more fulsome bluesy ending – and then for ‘Little Baby’.
After Nick David’s showcase a slinky intro develops into the bluesy, rocking ‘No Angels’, on which Breen contributes another cracking solo over crunching, guns-blazing Peter Gunn-style riffing from the others, and Fish adds further texture with some drunken-sounding slide.  That texturing is nothing compared to the near-psychedelic ‘Dream Girl’ though, on which they concoct squiggling sounds and keyboards making like lapping waves, while Fish slides her voice around confections of notes, and conjures up a soaring, ‘Albatross’-like slide break.
They hammer out the brooding rocker ‘Highway’s Holding Me Now’, which is good, though I'd prefer to hear 'Show Me' or 'Turn It Up' getting a run out.  Then they lay back again for the delight that is the aching ‘Fair-weather’, its hints of the Mop Tops surrendering to the simple, lovely melody, so that even the inevitable chatterers hush themselves.
And then there’s only time for a blast through ‘Bitch On The Run’ before the curfew slams down, with a hurtling keys duel between Breen and David that clearly entertain Fish herself, showcases for Alexander’s bass and Graves’ excellent drumming – this lot are a seriously damn good band now, by the way.  Then the crowd chuck themselves heartily into the usual call-and-response singalong, and that’s it, no encore as they have, as Fish puts it, “blown the whole show”.  But I don’t hear anyone complaining as they exit the hall to the strains of Frank Sinatra singing ‘Witchcraft’.
All the same, there are a couple of things I reckon Samantha Fish needs to do.  She’s gonna have to lengthen her set a bit, if her voice can take it, to do justice to her growing repertoire and give her room to stretch.  And next time she comes to Scotland, she should be booked into a much bigger room.  If the stone-cold killer is going to be convicted of anything, it should be for slaying bigger audiences than this.

You can find the set list for the show via here.
You can read a review of the London show on 5 March here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Rebecca Downes - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 22 February 2020

It’s a few years since I last saw Rebecca Downes and her band, supporting King King in Glenrothes.  Happily the strengths that were evident then are still at their disposal, in the form of some well-constructed tunes encompassing a pleasing balance of blues, rock, soul and funk, delivered with neat arrangements and satisfying musicianship, all topped off with Downes’ ability to hit a vocal bullseye at a hundred paces.
So it is that a song like ‘Fever In The Night’ is a sexy little slice of funkiness, with plenty of room in the arrangement for Downes to do her thing stylishly and without effort.  Similarly
Rebecca Downes gives it some welly
‘Night Train’ – apparently her dad’s favourite, and I’d say he has a point – is a well catchy affair, combining rippling keys from Nigel Darvill, skipping drums, moody slide from Steve Birkett, and atmospheric, dynamic vocals from Downes.
Birkett’s slide playing is actually something of a secret weapon, tastefully decorating a number of songs.  He uses it to play around with the melody to good effect on the choppy, clavinet-squelching, and enjoyable ‘Sweetness’.  And it also adorns the segueway of the upbeat ‘Big Sky’, with its surging riff, and set closer ‘Believe’, where his guitar line offers a Southern-sounding counterpoint to Downes’ vocal, en route to a racing conclusion.  I reckon though, that if Downes were to pull out an acoustic guitar for ‘Believe’, emulating the studio version, it would add a different texture that would give a good song an extra lift.
Inevitably though, the moment of “peak Downes” comes on ‘Sailing On A Pool Of Tears’, a top notch power ballad on which she soars upwards on the wings of a great hook.  Mind you, I’ll argue till I pop my clogs that it should be an alliterative “sea of tears” that Rebecca sets sail on.  Too late now, I guess.
I’m not convinced by her strapping on a Telecaster to augment Birkett’s lead guitar on some songs though.  For my money what their sound gains in muscle it loses in subtlety, reducing the room for the keyboards, and encouraging Downes to whack her voice into an unnecessary higher gear.  Maybe, being from the West Midlands home of heavy metal, they feel contractually obliged to give it some welly – which may also account for their crowd-pleasing blast through Zeppelin’s ‘Rock’N’Roll’.
Rebecca Downes and her band – her “babies”, as she flatteringly describes them – are never going to set the rock’n’roll world on fire.  But they’re a rock solid professional outfit, with a strong seam of original material courtesy of Downes and her songwriting partner Birkett.  With Downes’ chummy Brummie patter they’re also winningly approachable, and can be relied on to deliver
Cow Cow Boogie - twangin' an' swingin'
an entertaining evening.
As can support act Cow Cow Boogie, who rustle up a snappy set with their energetic amalgam of country, Western Swing and rockabilly.  Tonight is a valedictory performance for the band’s singer Nicole Smit, who is moving on to focus on other projects, and they certainly give her a good send-off.  Smit is always an assured performer, but it’s easy to be on your game when you’re fronting an outfit this well-grooved.
They’re home on the range, so to speak, whether they’re delivering twangy, drawling country in the form of ‘Cow Cow Boogie’ itself (recorded by Ella Fitzgerald once upon a time, much to my surprise), or the rocking ‘It Ain’t Fair’, with its floor-tom bashing finale.  ‘I Cry’ smoulders like Peggy Lee on ‘Fever’, embellished with quivering lap steel, while ‘Get Into Trouble’ motors along at a fair old clip, propelled by brisk drumming, before segueing into the Brenda Lee tune ‘Sweet Nothing’, on which Smit gets suitably sinuous and sultry.  ‘Gone Gone Gone’ swings like Rory McIlroy, and the closing ‘Candy Man’ makes the most of its ‘Girl Can’t Help It’ groove.  When all’s said and done, Cow Cow Boogie are an engagingly different proposition. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Listened to lately - Félix Rabin, and Jimi Get Your Funk On

It’s EP time at Blues Enthused today, with a couple of compact but bijou – and very different – new recordings.

Félix Rabin – Pogboy

It’s a funny old game.  A couple of years back Laurence Jones made an album that suggested his producer/manager was intent on treating him like a square guitar-wrangling peg who needed to be hammered into a round soul-pop hole.  Meanwhile when I listen to Ben Poole I often get the impression he’s puzzling away at finding a kind of glossy rock to
Félix Rabin - and a short neck SG?
Pic by Chiara Ceccaioni
suit his capabilities.  But now along comes this French whippersnapper Félix Rabin, knocking out an EP with a similar kind of pop-rock sound, but which seems to fit him like a second skin.
Rabin is billed as a blues-rocker, but he pretty much eschews the blues on this outing. Opening track ‘Walk’ may be a bit proto-proggy, with its effects-laden, synthy descending riff, but it’s not representative of what follows.  With his light, clear, and melodious voice Rabin sings confidently on the mellower, yearning style of ‘Moving On’, while also essaying some patient and fluid guitar lines, and a brief, clear-toned outro.
His modus operandi also encompassed some fuzzy, stuttering riffing on the modern-sounding ‘Say (You Won’t Leave Me)’, and some squelchy guitar lines on ‘Angels’, both perhaps reflecting his appetite for the Pog effects pedal that gives the EP its title.  But ‘Angels’ is also catchy and perhaps a little oddball, wedding his breathy vocal to some Hendrix-twiddly licks in the manner of John Mayer’s version of ‘Bold As Love’.  And Mayer-esque is certainly a term that springs to mind for the standout penultimate track, the cheerily titled ‘Death’.  It’s sparse and muted, with Rabin’s playing a model of restraint, focusing on long, sustained notes - and not merely as a preface to some frenzied scrabbling - while a plaintive trumpet passage underlines the mood.
Pogboy is an impressive introduction from Félix Rabin.  It may not be entirely my style, but it is stylish.

Félix Rabin is touring Europe as support to Samantha Fish from February 28.

Jimi Get Your Funk On – Thought

I will happily admit that jazz-funk isn’t really my cup of cappuccino.  But as Frank Zappa once observed, “The mind is like a parachute.  It won’t work unless it’s open.”  And speaking of Mr Z, I suspect that this new 9-piece Scottish combo may be rather more familiar with his work than I am.  Not that they’re really “out there”, maaan, but there is a certain quirkiness abroad at times on this debut EP.
Jimi Get Your Funk On - shoulda brought your shades, guys
On the bouncing, crisply delivered ‘2 AND 4’, for example, there are slithering horns over choppy guitar heralding while Honza Kourimsky rattles out a humorous lyric and some cod dialogue about a muso’s drink-addled attempts to join a bar jam session, with some neat slap bass from Ben Watt coming to the fore late on.  And on the last of the four tracks, ‘Not In The Mood’, the horns start, then stop, then start, then stop – and so on, like a series of combination punches from a snappy boxer.  There’s then a brief hint of AWB as things progress, as a prelude to a cool semi-rapped vocal leading up to an impatient chorus of “Not playing Miller ‘cause I’m not in the mood”.  Geddit?  And repeat, sorta, till they break out an effects-treated trumpet solo (I think) from Harry Marshall and some squealing sax from Gavin Mungersdorf, then drop down into a tripping rhythm from drummer David Burns before a discordant horn glissando leads the way to a brisk conclusion.
Opening track ‘Liberation’ is all insistent horn riffing over a twitchy rhythm and some twiddly wah-wah guitar, allied to an alternately easy-going then staccato vocal about a guy getting the dunt from his girlfriend for playing guitar all day, with Mellissa Jay Ross’s backing vocals providing additional colouring.  A dreamy bridge features some smouldering sax which then, complemented by Ross’s voice, climbs into a ‘Great Gig In The Sky’-like soaring passage.
‘Thought’ is a more romantic offering, a languid opening seasoned with some popping guitar licks and Kourimsky’s smooth vocal supplemented coo-ingly by Ross. The horns ease in alongside some glockenspiel-like keys from Ross Little, before a piercing guitar solo, all adding up to a pleasing change of pace.
As I said at the top, this kind of funky fusion thang ain’t really my thing.  But these fresh-faced youngsters certainly seem to know what they’re doing, and do it with a bit of flair.

Check out the Jimi Get Your Funk On website for more info.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Sari Schorr - Live In Europe

Live In Europe, eh?  There’s a title to conjure with.  It's perhaps not the best idea for any blues rocker to invite comparisons with one of Rory Gallagher’s stage-striking offerings.  But happily, while I’d never expect them to reach the heights of the check-shirted one, Sari Schorr and her gang do acquit themselves pretty well.
It helps of course, that Schorr enrolled some crack musos in the enterprise, and when they get a groove on they make a big, fat, punch-packing sound that’s captured with admirable clarity by the mix.   So when they get to grips with some quality songs, with Schorr’s powerful, dynamic vocals hitting the mark, the results are more than satisfying.
Take ‘Demolition Man’ and ‘Ain’t Got No Money’ for example, both from her first album A
Sari Schorr - powerful, dynamic, and suitably sassy
Force Of Nature
.  The first of these is a loose-limbed, swinging chunk of soulful bluesiness that suggests Whitesnake in their pre-1987 heyday, with Stevie Watts’ organ tootling away in his typical Sixties Booker T fashion, Ash Wilson getting down to some seriously bluesy guitar wailing, and La Schorr herself delivering a suitably sassy interpretation of the lyrics.  The latter is mildly funky, with Roy Martin’s drums slipping in perfectly behind the beat while Mat Beable’s bass bubbles away augmenting the groove, and Wilson scatters spiky guitar licks and accents around.  Schorr again captures the mood of the song perfectly with her vocal, and Wilson peels off another grabber of a solo for good measure, full of wiry tension.
This is the kind of the vibe that they excel at, and there’s a goodly proportion more of it that I’ll get to in a minute.  What does it for me rather less is the glossy Diane Warren/Desmond Childs AOR strand in her writing.  That kind of stuff was all well and good in its 80s/90s day, and Schorr’s songs ‘Turn Your Radio On’ and ‘Back To LA’ are serviceable enough, but to my mind they’re not on a par with the rest of the material served up here.
So let’s eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive, and say that their strutting, swaggering, ten-minute take on Muddy Waters’ ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ is a cracker, all the way up from its tush-shaking-beat-and-pulsing-bass roots.  Wilson’s fuzzy riffing builds the mood early on, and Schorr’s vocal is all-woman assertive until the band drops out for her to deliver the title line in breathy, slinky fashion.  Watts and Wilson get plenty of room to shine again, the former venturing hither and yon with great tone, and the latter getting imaginative in an outing that carries the odd whiff of Ritchie Blackmore before entering into squealing wah-wah mode.  All told it’s fresh and funky and lip-smackingly good.
They can rock plenty too, as on the brooding verses and fierce choruses of ‘Damn The Reason’, the intense chorus and tough riffing of ‘Thank You’, and the uptempo ‘Valentina’, on which Schorr whacks it out like Maggie Bell over drum-tight backing that includes spot-on harmonies and pounding bar-room piano.
And then there’s ‘Black Betty’.  A work song so old it pre-dates the twentieth century, never mind the frothy 70s Ram Jam version, it opens with Schorr crooning moodily over pinpricking guitar notes, before breaking out into snarling, raging vocals and crashing guitar chords, over mountainous foundations.  It’s Sari Schorr’s tour de force, and this rendition does it justice.
To help you come down after that, there are a couple of acoustic tracks recorded for the BBC tacked on at the end, bonus track fashion, in the form of ‘Ready For Love’ and ‘King Of Rock’N’Roll’.  Both are good, but the first is totally on the money, delivered by Schorr like she’s a female doppelganger of Paul Rodgers, over perfect, delicate piano and gently strummed acoustic guitar.
Live In Europe might have been better if Sari Schorr had another studio album under her belt on which to draw.  But it captures the live experience of a bloody good band and a powerhouse singer who know what they’re about.  It may not be a classic, but it’s vibrant and entertaining and it gets the job done, often with a bit of panache.  Can’t say fairer than that.

Live In Europe is released by Manhaton Records on 6 March.
Tour dates in Europe and Britain, starting on 6 March, can be found here.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Flashback #11 - Suzi Quatro

A few months back I collared a copy of The Very Best Of Suzi Quatro.  Why the hell am I telling you this, you ask?
Well, I was on a major Dr Feelgood kick at the time, and after listening to Lee Brilleaux growling his way through a heap of excellent stuff I found that in some idle moments I was hearing his voice rumbling through the chorus of Suzi’s number one hit ‘Devil Gate Drive’.  Bizarre I know, but true.
Anyway, this took me back to my school days, as I was eleven when Quatro first broke through with the stomping and wailing ‘Can The Can’ in June 1973, adding to the innocent pleasures
Suzi Quatro cans the can - whatever that means!
I found in the glam rock canon of the time.  And it’s maybe worth emphasising “innocent pleasures”, because even as an impressionable school kid I never really found Suzi all that sexy, regardless of her leather jumpsuit with low slung zipper.  Her readily apparent tomboy nature dispersed pretty much any sense of sultriness there might have been.
What she did seem to exhibit though, was an enjoyment of rock’n’roll that imbued her big hits.  She didn’t write them of course – they came off the assembly line of songwriting and producing duo Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who also came up with hit singles for Sweet and Mud among others.  But when the Chinnichap pair clicked with an artist they could really deliver the goods, and in Suzi Quatro’s case that meant three million-selling singles, culminating in the wonderful ‘Devil Gate Drive’.  It was corny to be sure, not least in the Top Of The Pops appearance linked above, where her band embarked on the dorkiest of dance routines in the bridge.  But to a kid starting to enjoy music it was three minutes and something of irresistible, ramshackle fun.
So with all of the above in mind I went out and got myself Suzi’s Very Best Of cd - or to be entirely accurate, double cd.  Hell, it only cost £5.99.
Unsuprisingly, imagining that Quatro’s best demands two cds was fanciful on someone's part.  Her run of hits peaked with ‘Devil Gate Drive’, and pretty much ground to a halt within the year, in Britain at least – and the one big success she subsequently managed in 1978, ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love’, was the most godawful country mush, foreshadowing some dreadful later recordings.  Maybe Chinn and Chapman were spread too thin, servicing other acts, but one way or another the collection tails off into quite a lot of dross.
Still, Suzi may have been groomed (as it were) by Mickie Most, the owner of her record label RAK, her hits may have been penned by others, and her vocals sometimes have a banshee tone to terrify the local dog population, but in her better moments she had an endearing commitment to the virtues of old-fashioned rock’n’roll.  Her so-called Very Best includes her belting out the likes of ‘All Shook Up’, ‘Shakin’ All Over’, Cliff’s ‘Move It’, and a rollicking live version of Little Richard’s ‘Keep A Knockin’’.  She even gives it some welly on a cover of Johnny Winter’s ‘Rock And Roll Hootchie Koo’.
So maybe it’s not really so bizarre to wonder what a Feelgood-like R’n’B band would make of ‘Devil Gate Drive’.  And whatever her evident limitations, Suzi Quatro will always be part of my pre-teen musical firmament, god bless her.  Happy days.

Coincidentally, I’m currently reading Stuart Maconie’s book Cider With Roadies, about the evolution of his musical fandom.  Maconie is of the same vintage as me, and writes a highly entertaining chapter about the glam rock era.  He preferred Marc Bolan to Slade though, the weirdo.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Rory Gallagher - Check Shirt Wizard - Live In '77

Where do you begin with this?  I mean, really, where in the world do you begin? Check Shirt Wizard – Live in ’77 comprises 20 tracks and lasts two hours, and it’s got my brain buzzing like a jar full of wasps.  Well, here goes . . .
First thing is, this is my favourite Rory Gallagher line-up – not that he ever had a bad band.  But here we have not only his long-standing right hand man Gerry McAvoy on bass, but also somewhat unsung piledriving drummer Rod De’Ath, and also Lou Martin’s keys, which add some flavours I like.  Others will prefer his power trio period, but for me this is the best of the best.
Rory Gallagher - a wizard, a true star
Such a great songwriter as well, who was so fresh lyrically - Rory is never a peddler of the usual clichés.  Here you get a great reading of the near-jazzy yet infernally catchy ‘Calling Card’.  ‘Tattoo’ed Lady’ is so evocative, but economical, with lines like “I spent my youth under canvas roof, as I roamed from town to town”, and set to such an original, swinging tune.  And of course ‘A Million Miles Away’ is incomparably atmospheric.  Hell, even when it’s just a matter of riffs the man is a magician - witness the high-tension-wire tautness of ‘Moonchild’ and the crackle-and-jab of the high octane ‘Secret Agent’.
Rory’s inventiveness and playfulness are a joy.  Take ‘Bought And Sold’ for example, a chunk of boogie that Quo might have chugged away at merrily in a straight line for several minutes.  But in Rory’s hands it takes off in fresh directions like a kite in a stiff breeze.  McAvoy and De’Ath put the hammer down at one point, but Rory’s playing remains relaxed, like a genius footballer who always seems to have more time than anyone else, before they take it down into a great ‘pizzicato’ passage and then one of his trademark guitar/voice harmonising segments.  Your jaw will drop at similar excursions on a regular basis.
Rory was doing ‘unplugged’ segments before the term had even been coined, and here he straps on his acoustic for ‘Out On The Western Plain’, which sounds like it must have been around forever.  I’d normally run for the hills in response to ragtime guitar, but Rory makes it work on ‘Barley & Grape Rag’ because he finds the earthiness and fun in it, whereas to my ears most exponents just sound twee. ‘Too Much Alcohol’ is a raucous slide affair, on a resonator methinks.  Then there’s long-standing favourite ‘Going To My Hometown’ on which the rest of the band gradually reappear.   I mean, where the hell did he get this from?  He barks away enthusiastically over rattling mandolin, while the audience claps along in anticipation of the stomping beat, and Lou Martin adds a fun piano solo, combining to create a classic that’s a one-off if ever there was one.
The energy levels are staggering, notably on ‘I Take What I Want’, a Sam and Dave soul hit that gets shaken’n’stirred and turned inside out and upside down, with chords flying around like shards of metal and needle sharp lead playing, some Celtic leanings, and a mind-boggling second solo.  I’m listening to it again as I type, and I’m breathless.
But they really get into the red zone when Rory lets rip with fiery slide playing, as on the unstoppable foot-to-the-floor rock’n’roll of ‘Souped-Up Ford’, where he whips up a veritable storm and Martin boogie woogies away on the Joanna.  Or of course on the climactic, surging ‘Bullfrog Blues’, with its iconic “Well did you evvaaah” opening.
But slide or not, Rory’s guitar is a joy to listen to, right from the glorious fuzzy warmth of both rhythm and lead playing on the opening ‘Do You Read Me’ to the encores ‘Used To Be’ and ‘Country Mile’, by which time I’m recalling the famous phrase describing the playing of the jazz cornettist Bix Beiderbecke - like “shooting bullets at a bell”.
Enough.  I’m worn out with enjoyment.  If there’s a better album than Check Shirt Wizard in 2020, I’ll be dumbfounded.  This is the work of a rock’n’roll genius, sitting on top of the world.

Check Shirt Wizard - Live In '77 is released on 6 March, and can be pre-ordered here.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Albert Cummings - Believe

This latest album by Massachusetts singer and guitarist Albert Cummings was recorded in Muscle Shoals, with the legendary Jim Gaines in the producer’s chair.  So there’s little surprise that when it kicks off with a horn-laden cover of the Sam and Dave hit ‘Hold On (I’m Coming)’ the resulting sound is big, rich and soulful, with Cummings doing a sterling job vocally.  It’s the first of several enjoyable songs of a soul-blues bent on Believe, and if someone were to pitch them as the soundtrack to a remake of The Commitments, I’d reckon that sounds like fun.  But at the same time I’d venture to say it’s indicative of how Believe plays it a bit safe at times.
Albert Cummings - a new rehearsal studio may be an idea!
On the one hand this collection of originals and covers features some cracking stuff.  For example there’s the catchy ‘Queen Of Mean’, which may lean on a familiar sounding ‘Take Me To The River’-like riff but benefits from stinging guitar from Cummings.  And there’s the bluesy dig of ‘Call Me Crazy’ - all big ringing chords and a scrabbling, feedback-howling solo, with snappy lines like “You think I was born yesterday, but I stayed up late last night”.  But on the other hand it includes a pretty redundant cover of Little Walter’s ‘My Babe’, and a bland country-soul reading of Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ that lacks any Van-like depth.  As covers go though, there’s nothing “little” about his take on ‘Red Rooster’, a slow-grinding chunk of R’n’B that nods towards the Howlin’ Wolf original rather than the sparse and reedy Stones’ version, with Cummings’ vocal booming in resonant fashion and his guitar kicking in with an impressive solo that’s full of tension, release and dynamics.
‘It’s All Good’ picks things up with a Delbert McClinton slice of chirpiness after ‘My Babe’, featuring some sprightly guitar, but Cummings really hits his stride in the home stretch.  ‘Going My Way’ is strong but subtle, reverb-heavy guitar cutting through over a strolling rhythm, while stuttering, twanging licks are strewn around casually.  It’s a good precursor to the wallop of the aforementioned ‘Call Me Crazy’, and then the album-closing rendition of Freddie King’s ‘Me And My Guitar’, which has plenty of punch, a funky groove to engage one’s butt, and a fleet-fingered, wah-wah inflected solo.
That closing trio of tracks would sit happily alongside any of Buddy Guy’s recent output, and demonstrates the impact Albert Cummings is capable of delivering.  Believe is an enjoyable album, but it could have been a standout if the drive and swagger of its best moments had been maintained across the piece.

Believe is released by Provogue Records on 14 February.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Scottish Blues Weekend - St Bride's Centre, Edinburgh, 7-9 February 2020

There are weekends, and there are long weekends.  The second Scottish Blues Weekend, organised by the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, is one of the latter, with 10 gigs taking place over four days from Thursday.  I managed to get along to three shows, and very good they were too.

Nicole Smit Band, with Delightful Squalor

Singer Nicole Smit and her band entertained a sold out crowd on the Friday night with a largely R’n’B centred set, grabbing the attention early on with a swinging take on Junior Wells’ ‘Little By Little’, and Koko Taylor’s swaggering ‘Wang Dang Doodle’.  And as anyone familiar with Smit’s voice would know, she has the range and power to bring a punch to both tunes without, it has to be said, resorting to Taylor’s throat-scrapingly guttural approach.
Taking a different turn, they belt through Wanda Jackson’s ‘Fujiyama Mama’, a country-rockabilly affair on which Smit bounces around with the same kind of glee that she gives to the yelps of the title line.
Charlie Wild and Nicole Smit do some wang dang doodle
The band depart while Smit is joined by Cera Impala from support act Delightful Squalor on acoustic guitar, for a duet on a subtle original – ‘Release’, I think – that they’ve recently co-penned, the pair of them blending their voices in sublime fashion.
There’s reflective emotion too in Smit and the band’s rendition of Billie Holliday/Nina Simone oldie ‘Tell Me More’, but also a ton of energy on uptempo numbers like Sugar Pie Desanto’s ‘Witch For A Night’ and Marie Knight’s rattling ‘I Thought I Told You Not To Tell Them’.  Guitarist Charlie Wild contributes rock’n’rolling guitar breaks to add extra spice, and on the latter Smit also shows off her diction with the rat-a-tat delivery of the lyrics.
One of Nicole Smit’s specialities is foraging for overlooked barn-burners by female artists, as evidenced by most of the songs listed above.  The result isn’t just a refreshing change from the standards that many blues artists would lean on, it’s the basis for a belter of a show.

Delightful Squalor are a duo comprising the aforementioned Cera Impala, who mostly employs banjo as her weapon of choice, and Texan singer-guitarist Lake Montgomery, who together offer a selection of old-fashioned roots tunes featuring exquisite, breathy harmonies.  They also produce a couple of ukuleles at one point, and to paraphrase Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, “I hate ukuleles, Jock – I hate ‘em!”  At times they’re a bit twee for my tastes, but to be fair, at their best they conjure up echoes varying from Steve Earle in his breezier moments to early Joan Armatrading.

Blues Afternoon – Dana Dixon Band, Liz Jones Trio, and Charlotte Marshall & The 45s

Storm Ciara is approaching Edinburgh on the Saturday afternoon, but there’s shelter from the storm as a full house welcomes a trio of female-led blues acts.
Dana Dixon - harp at the ready
First up are the Dana Dixon Band.  Ms Dixon is pretty much your archetypal blues belter of a vocalist, but she’s also something you don’t find every day – a female harp player.  She
duly gets her wail on when they crank out John Lee Hooker’s ‘Good Rocking Mama’ to good effect.
This kind of uptempo R'nB is their natural beat, as on a crackling version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Rock’n’Roller’, with Dave Dixon producing some nifty guitar picking along the way.  He’s a mite overfond of his trick of sticking his right hand at the top of the neck like a capo, while shredding away with his left below it.  But that takes nothing away from the vitality of their rakish, garage band-like closer ‘The Boy From New Orleans’.

The Liz Jones Trio are essentially half of Liz Jones’ band Broken Windows, in semi-acoustic form with Jones accompanied by John Bruce on guitar and Suzy Cargill on percussion.
John Bruce and Liz Jones search the floor for the lost chord
Their 45-minute sets deliver something rather more reflective, Jones’ songs lending themselves well to a stripped back format.  ‘Strum’ alternates between a hypnotic shuffle propelled by Cargill’s pattering djembe drum and the urgency of the chorus.  ‘No Classic Love Song’ is jazzier fare, swinging along effortlessly on its delicious melody with a lyric that’s an evocative tribute to a maverick couple of Jones’ acquaintance.
My favourite on this occasion though, is the 2018 single ‘Lover’, with its catchy, ringing guitar line over Suzy Cargill’s mandolin, its complementary ascending middle eight, and Jones’ thoughtful vocal floating patiently over the top.  A new album from Broken Windows is in the works, and I look forward to its arrival for another helping of something out of ordinary.

I have no idea whether Charlotte Marshall & The 45s are assembling a debut album, but if they aren’t then they damn well should be.
Charlotte Marshall marshals her troops
It’s probably a bit hackneyed to tag the diminutive Aussie chanteuse as the Divine Miss M, but her performance sass does bring to mind Bette Midler.  More to the point, she knocks out high quality original songs across a range of genres, from New Orleans moodiness on ‘Full Moon’ to fun country on ‘Baby Say You’ll Be My Valentine’; from a James Brown-style funk refrain on ‘Do You Remember’ to the no messing R’n’B raunch of ‘Mama’s Spring Cleaning (And You’re The First To Go)’.
The songs are the subject of clever arrangements, delivered with conviction by the 45s, who are clearly well, er, Marshalled.  Comprising sax, trombone, guitar and keys in addition to the rhythm section, they whack out a tasty miscellany of solos throughout the set, and turn on a dime at the wave of a hand from their boss.
Marshall, meanwhile, gets right into character to inhabit the songs, winding up the set with more stylistic variations in the form of the warm and soulful ‘Dig My Love’ and the NOLA jazz stomp of ‘Bootleg Liquor’.  Now let’s be having that album, Charlotte.

Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters

I’ve seen Jed Potts and his trio numerous times, and they never fail to impress.  But I have to say this Sunday night show was something special.  The boys have clearly been busy, because their two sets are dominated by original material, some of it well-seasoned to be sure, but much of it fresh out of the box to the point where I’m only guessing at some of the titles.
In fact one of my favourites of the whole night is supposedly a work in progress, to the point that it still goes under the working monicker of ‘Prototype Rory-ish Groove in F’.  And yeah,
Jed Potts - a man happy in his work
maybe the melody still needs a little work, but boy do they manage to channel a rattling, Gallagher-like energy, with ringing slide and a scudding solo from Potts going down a storm.
There’s a relaxed vibe from the outset though, with opener ‘Swashbucklin’’ the first of a clutch of new songs that culminate in the crunching ‘Where’s Your Man’.  They swing easily throughout, with Charlie Wild mostly content to be a steady Eddie holding down the groove on bass, while Jonny Christie has the freedom to add accents that underline the variation in Potts’ guitar work.
A trio of songs from their first album culminates in the frisky instrumental ‘Puttin’ It Aboot’, then the catchy, twirling guitar line of ‘How Am I Meant To’ precedes the Rory groove, and they close the first half by putting their foot down on what I believe is an old original, the Dick Dale-like garage rock of ‘Burn It’.
Their second set opens with a moody, bass’n’drums intro to a slow blues, on which Potts lays down more noteworthy slide playing en route to an uptempo passage which rocks big time.  And they must have been in the mood for slow blues epics lately, because a few songs later they get into something that may or may not be called ‘Hey Baby’, but builds to what can only be described as a guitar wig-out by Potts.
They slip in some favoured covers after that, including Elvis’s ‘Trying to Get To You’ and the set closing boogie of ‘Days Of Old’, wrapped around a new arrangement of Charles Brown’s aptly-titled ‘Drifting Blues’.  But they go out with a bang on the encore, a breakneck take on their own ‘Ain’t It Rough (When Your Baby’s In The Huff)’.
In the course of the evening Jed Potts assures us they’re intending to record all this new material soon for a new album.  Here’s hoping that his definition of “soon” means that it’ll see the light of day this year!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Listened to lately - The Jimmys, and Ruzz Guitar's Blues Revue

The Jimmys – Gotta Have It

Well this is fun.  The Jimmys, hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, evidently have a fondness for prime time blues and rock’n’roll, which they translate into original material with commitment and no small degree of panache.  A seven-piece featuring horns, led by keys man Jimmy Voegeli, this is an ensemble outfit designed to put a smile on your face.
The cast assemble for new movie Ocean's 7
Opening track ‘Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’ comes over like ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ pepped up by horns, which push matters along amid snappy guitar, simple tinkling piano, groaning vocals and booming drums.  It’s a swinging Chuck Berry vibe they explore further on the mid-tempo ‘Hotel Stebbins’, a tale of partying that includes “midget wrestling on a Saturday night” to the accompaniment of rinky-dink piano from Voegeli crowned by a boogie-woogie solo, alongside spot-on interjections and some great vocal harmonies.
In between they display a musical sense of humour on ‘Grim Reaper’, with its spooky, stalking groove, a tasty sax solo from Pete Ross, and trills of piano and guitar around the simple rhythm.  ‘Write A Hit’ is a catchy co-write with Marcia Ball, who also duets on this dialogue of domestic breakdown, which ironically carries musical echoes of the Glen Campbell and Rita Coolidge hit ‘Something ‘Bout You Baby (I Like)’.
They also show some different blues tendencies on ‘Started Up Again’, an apologia for failed sobriety that has a laid back vibe akin to Willie Dixon’s ‘Walkin’ The Blues’, albeit less sub-baked in feel and with more bells and whistles.  And ‘Words And Actions’ is in silkily soulful blues territory, à la Robert Cray, with a suitably smooth guitar solo from Perry Weber, replete with pinpoint notes.
Things tail off a bit in the second half of the album, though there are enjoyable nods towards Fats Domino in the woozy ‘Drinkin’’ and the slow blues of ‘Someday Baby’, while ‘Take You Back’ conjures a great groove around a strutting beat, to which Weber adds a piercing solo.
Gotta Have It is an infectious affair, full of humour and vibrant musicianship – the horn arrangements hit the mark every time – all stylishly captured by producer (and some time Bonnie Raitt drummer) Tony Braunhegel.  The Jimmys are well worth a spin to put you in a good mood.

Gotta Have It was released on 31 December 2019.

Ruzz Guitar’s Blues Revue – Live At The Louisiana

Is it a coincidence that the opening two tracks on Live At The Louisiana are covers that also featured on Jimmie Vaughan’s latest album, namely the instrumental ‘Hold It’ and Lloyd Price’s jaunty ‘Baby Please Come Home’?
Perhaps not, given that Vaughan is an avowed influence on Ruzz Guitar.  But either way, they provide a good indication of what Ruzz and co have to offer.  The former is a bright affair trading guitar and organ, and the latter is a swinging, jazzy bite of Texas blues that
Ruzz Guitar gives it some Gretsch
works a treat.  Call me a philistine, but I actually find the Ruzz fella’s zinging guitar tone on
his Gretsch more appealing than Vaughan’s too-oft tinny sound, and it’s backed up here by a strong sax solo from Michael Gavaghan.  On the other hand, it has to be said that across the album Ruzz’s vocals are regularly a smidgen flat – though as the timbre of his voice is pleasing, and he goes at it with feeling, that’s the last I’ll say about it.
In any event, there are numerous other plus points to enjoy.  A thudding beat from drummer Mike Hoddinott kicks off the rockabilly-ish ‘Back Home To Stay’, which then gallops along nicely, a racing bass line from Joe Allen and skipping drums underpinning another tasty sax solo before Ruzz hits top gear with a stinging guitar solo that also takes in some horn harmonising.  ‘ Under Your Spell’ is slow and smoky, featuring trumpet early on from Jack Jowers ahead of a mellow, understated organ outing from Paul Quinn, and then a big guitar solo as the tempo picks up.
Personally I don’t go much for the romantic 50s instrumental ‘Sleepwalk’, a slow and, up to a point, atmospheric thing featuring lots of weeping whammy bar action.  But given that it featured at the close of the movie La Bamba, and has also been performed by the likes of Jeff Beck and Brian Setzer, what do I know?
Whatever - they swing mightily on the energetic R’n’B of ‘Sweet As Honey’, with some chugging rhythm guitar and lively organ, before another damn fine RG guitar solo with impressive tone, incorporating a tasteful downbeat passage to create some dynamics before rocking to a conclusion.  And if anything Buddy Johnson’s ‘It’s Obdacious’ is even, er, swinginger, drawing the album to a good-time, rock’n’rolling conclusion with lots of fun soloing.
Live At The Louisiana may have a few imperfections, but they’re outnumbered by some spankingly good moments of floor-filling R’n’B and old-fashioned rock’n’roll.  On this evidence you’d be well satisfied with the fun quotient delivered by Ruzz Guitar and his gang if you caught them on a night out.

Live At The Louisiana is released on 10 February, and can be pre-ordered here.