Friday, April 24, 2020

The Stevie Watts Organ Trio feat Alice Armstrong - Mission To The Moon

Been to a few blues and soul type gigs in the last few years?  Then it’s odds on you’ve encountered Stevie Watts, the Hammond B3 organ-driver who I've seen playing with Jo Harman, Joe Louis Walker and Ben Poole just for starters.  But whoever he’s been accompanying, you can bet that Watts, with his Modder-than-Bradley-Wiggins appearance (he’s also been known to play with Mod revivalists The Secret Affair), has added some expertly soul-infused va-va-voom to their sound.
Well now here he is releasing his own album, with The Stevie Watts Organ Trio.  Except that  when Alice Armstrong joins in on vocals, they should strictly be a quartet, shouldn’t they? 
The Stevie Watts Organ Trio - yup, there's four of 'em!
Well, however you count ‘em, on Mission To The Moon they’ve done a most satisfactory job of producing something a bit different, thank you very much.
What we have here is soul music that’s tinged with jazziness, a warm sound that’s often infused with a cool vibe.  Opening track ‘Camden Starling’ sets out their stall in pleasing fashion, with Watts trading neat little call and response riffs with guitarist Nat Martin, while Armstrong delivers a soulful, immaculately phrased vocal.
The peak moment – all 11 minutes of it – is the penultimate track ‘No Good’, an almost tearfully sad slowie about loneliness.  Watts lays down low end washes of organ, over which Armstrong intones a bravura vocal, full of feeling and summed up by the lines “People say that the best ones are taken, but I just can’t stay took”.  Martin matches up to this with a spare, pinpricking guitar solo that contrives some jazzy angles along the way, but still fits the emotional template of the song.
They come pretty close to those heights now and then though.  There’s the melancholy late night jazz lounge intimacy of ‘Just Go’, for example, on which Martin produces another halting, less-is-more solo before he and Watts rouse themselves for some lively organ-guitar interplay, and Armstrong shifts her tone from reflective to assertive.  And contrastingly there’s ‘Honey Baby’, on which Armstrong gets all slinky and sultry over mellow backing eased along by Vinnie Lammi’s laid back, gently swinging drums.
When they get uptempo and funky on ‘In My Stride’ Watts doesn’t half cook up some bubbling bass to go along with Lammi’s tripping drums – a prime example of his contribution in the absence of a bass guitar - and even if he keeps his solo foray brief it’s the kind of Sixties soul sound that’s his trademark from many a gig.
There’s a trio of instrumentals, ranging from the twitchy ‘Tronjevity’ with its declining organ motif and funky rhythm guitar fills, to the hazy and relaxed ‘Memphis Sky’, and the more spiky and agitated jazziness of ‘Dave’ with its nagging, skipping drums.
But they close with the bright and fresh soul-pop of the catchy title track, with Lammi swinging again, Armstrong riding the rhythm with spot on urgent phrasing before Martin cuts in with a stuttering, switchback ride of a guitar solo, and Watts plays around with the melody on a squelchy organ solo.  And when Armstrong concludes matters with a chirpy “See ya!”, you just have to smile.
Maybe a couple of songs are a bit samey, and it could have done with a track packing a bit more punch.  But still, the considerable muso chops of Watts, Martin and Lammi combine stylishly to make Mission To The Moon a refreshing and easy-going treat to go with the spring sunshine – and in the soulful singer stakes Alice Armstrong, I have to say, is a real find.

You can buy Mission To The Moon from Stevie Watts' website, here.

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