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
Cow Cow Boogie - twangin' an' swingin'
can be relied on to deliver 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. 

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