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 pose
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


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 - men who smile, and carry lead-heavy riffs
They repeat the earth-moving groove trick later 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, while 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 slice 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.