Saturday, October 24, 2020

Mike Ross - The Clovis Limit Pt.2

Incongruities – there’s a good word.  A couple of examples spring to mind when considering Mike Ross’s album The Clovis Limit Pt.2.  For one thing, the cover features a space helmet, and the contents include intermittent snippets of bleeping and droning, but the music is far from other worldly, being an earthy soup of Skynyrd, and the Black Crowes, and Creedence, and Joe Walsh, and – well, you get the picture.  And for another thing, Mike Ross lives in Brighton, on the South coast of England, but his voice sounds like he hails from Jacksonville, Florida.  Verily, the guy inhabits the vibe he’s exploring.
Mike Ross auditions for a remake of Easy Rider
And that vibe is well represented by opening track ‘Thanks A Lot’.  A sci-fi electronica intro is interrupted by crunching chords, heralding a sturdy riff of layered, or one might say Lynyrd, rhythm guitars.  A couple of verses later it suddenly changes gear and turns into a hurtling rock’n’roller, before downshifting again into a languid solo.  There’s a passage of falsetto-voiced, slide infused honky tonk, then it drifts away with a steely, pin-pricking solo outro over that robust riff.  It’s a five and a half minutes mini-suite of what Mike Ross is all about.
If that hard rockin’ segment in ‘Thanks A Lot’ suggests that Ross is prepared to get heavy, he confirms it on ‘None Of Your Business’, on which he transports a ‘Stormbringer’-like juddering riff to Dixie, takes things down into a dreamy guitar solo over cooing backing vocals and subtle organ, then hits the throttle again.
Joe Walsh echoes are evident on the witty and swinging ‘The Only Place You Ever Take Me Is Down’, and later on ‘Don’t Say A Word’, both tracks featuring crackling, abrasive slide playing.  The former also benefits from an expressively contemptuous vocal, and some swaggering slide/organ interplay en route to its amusing vibraslap finish, while ‘Don’t Say A Word’ kicks ass with a stomping beat and fuzzy rhythm guitar.
Ross has more clubs in his bag though.  ‘Hammer’ belies its title in wistful, plaintive style, with soaring harmonies and glittering guitar picking, a shimmering bridge and an airy solo.  ‘The Loser’ combines acoustic guitar and Rhodes piano in a simple, understated and rootsy way.  ‘Leviathan’ is something else again, evolving from an Electric Ladyland psychedelic intro until it acquires more shape with a slithering electric guitar reading of the melody from ‘The Loser’, before Ross comes in with an echoing vocal to evoke an eerie blues vibe – the song is delightfully off-kilter.
A couple of instrumentals are more straightforward.  Fizzing guitar opens ‘Tell Jerry’, which shifts shapes between two guitar motifs over carefree, bopping bass from Ricky Kinrade.  ‘Unforgiven’, meanwhile, is an Allmans-like shuffling affair on which Darren Lee’s swinging drums are essential to the lightness of mood, while Ross’s guitar switches effortlessly between its catchy theme and sparkling soloing, and Stevie Watts weighs in with a typically groovy organ solo.  And the latter is dreamily reprised on the closing ‘Unforgiven (Ramport Transition)’, its elements of acoustic guitar, cosmic synth lines, and ethereal harmonies repeating the title played off against fuzzed up guitar.
But before that there’s the nine minutes’ worth of ‘Shoot You If You Run’, which is a game of two halves.  Upfront there’s serrated slide over fuzzed up rhythm guitar, creating an edgy tense atmosphere reinforced by the stumbling rhythm, pushy, competing voices, and a squealing solo.  Then it all dissolves into an arresting, if decidedly oddball, second segment, comprising spooky, unaccompanied guitar over barely discernible radio voices and Sputnik signals.
It’s easy to find late Sixties/early Seventies American rock points of references across The Clovis Limit Pt.2.  But Mike Ross draws them all together with his own personality, and makes them sound fresh and contemporary.  And aside from the rhythm section and organ, it’s just him deploying a swathe of instruments to deliver this many-sided, hugely enjoyable, fun album.
I just have one question.  What the hell is the Clovis Limit?
The Clovis Limit Pt.2 is released by Taller Records on 30 October.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Connor Bracken and the Mother Leeds Band - Nightbird Motel

Right, let’s get the obvious bit out of the way first.  Who the hell is Mother Leeds, and what’s she got to do with the price of fish?
Well, legend has it that Mother Leeds was the mother of twelve children in the backwoods of Noo Joisey, way back sometime.  Child number thirteen was the last straw for mother dear, who cursed it – and it metamorphosed into a creepy creature with wings and hooves known as the Jersey Devil.  And Connor Bracken and the gang come from New Jersey, see?
And what Connor and co seem to have been getting up to in the land of the Sopranos is cooking up their own brew of Gaslight Anthem-esque, post-punk, scratchy Strokes-like pseudo-Iggy garage rock.  Or something of that ilk.  I bet they like to get all sweaty into the small hours on the cramped stages of NJ clubs.
Connor Bracken and the Mother Leeds Band - no wings, no hooves
As a singer, front man Connor Bracken makes for an energetically spiky guitarist.  His vocal style is of the throw it out there and see if it locates the melody variety – not bad, but a bit shaky, and now and then prone to wander.  Which, to be fair, kinda fits with the shouty backing vox his pals chuck in here and there.  That barbed wire guitar playing is engaging though, bringing a likeable edge to proceedings.
The opener, ‘When The World Stops Turning’, combines jagged riffing from Bracken and his guitar sidekick Jeff Linden, the aforementioned teetering vocals, a propulsive bass line from Chris Dubrow, and a spiky guitar solo.  It’s also said all it’s got to say about a minute before it ends.  But all in all, it’s pretty good fun.  And that pretty much sums up these rock’n’roll Jersey Devils.
They do like to incorporate some light and shade now and then though, in the form of prickling, intros like the ones on ‘Read On You’ and ‘Nightbird’, before they burst into exuberant life.  Actually, ‘Read On You’ sounds a bit like the less sophisticated little brother of 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Up’, but in a good way.  On ‘Nightbird’ though – well, did I mention that they hail from Asbury Park, New Jersey?  No?  Well I didn’t want you making assumptions.  On ‘Nightbird’ though, the twinkling intro ultimately leans into some distinctly ‘Darkness On Edge Of Town’ chords, and a Springbean-like plaintive Sixties-ish vibe, and they dial things down quite nicely too, notwithstanding Bracken’s sometimes caterwauling vocal.
On ‘Blame On Me’ they make good use of nearly six minutes, emerging from a droning intro into a reflective verse before getting all angsty and fiery to the strains of a somersaulting guitar line. They follow that up with the simple fun of the jingle-jangling ‘Liquorstore’, a slice of punky pop with a bridge decorated by jostling, ringing guitars that would suggest The Undertones if only they valued brevity a bit more.
That last comment sums up the key learning point for the Mother Leeds boys’ – when the song’s done, move on.  They don’t always overdo it though – on both the aforementioned ‘Blame On Me’ and ‘Voice On The Radio’, with its pulsing bass and drums overlaid with scraping, ghostly guitar, they extend themselves to imaginative effect.
Anyway, you know what?  I like ‘em despite their flaws.  So what if they’re not the finished article?  There are some decent hooks kicking around, Bracken’s guitar work has a ragged charm, and it’s kinda hard to sneer at their naïve enthusiasm.
Connor Bracken and the Mother Leeds Band are still a bit immature, still learning their trade, but Nightbird Motel shows promise.  I expect better things to follow.

Nightbird Motel was released on 25 September, and can be ordered from Bandcamp here.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

King King - Maverick

Family, love, brotherhood, bereavement, togetherness in the face of the storm, defiance in response to music biz frustrations.  These are themes that King King main man Alan Nimmo sings about with heart-on-sleeve conviction.  Really, this album should be called Manifesto, rather than Maverick.  But maybe someone had already taken that one.
It’s been three long years since King King’s last release, Exile & Grace, and three-quarters of the line-up at work here didn’t feature then.  But when Maverick kicks off with ‘Never Give In’, it’s right in the Bad Company/Whitesnakey kinda territory they’ve made their own over the last decade, with big ringing chords, surging organ, and the new rhythm section of Andrew Scott and
Alan Nimmo delivering his manifesto
Pic by Jon Theobald

Zander Greenshields giving the bottom end a big fat sound, while Nimmo expresses his determination to overcome obstacles put in his way.  And later, on ‘I Will Not Fall’, a lyrically biting reaction to the sourness of business relationships, the rhythm boys are at it again, with a thumping backbeat from Scott and throbbing bass from Greenshields laying down a funky foundation, augmented by tidal waves of organ and bubbling clavinet from Jonny Dyke.
Verily, the foursome sound like a band.  But it’s impossible to ignore the contribution made by keys man Dyke.  He’s had to wait a while to make a record on which he could emerge from the shadow of his predecessor Bob Fridzema, but boy what an impact he has here.  And it’s not just the power of his organ playing on the upbeat stuff, or his work on the arrangements with Nimmo, it’s what he brings to the more reflective material – and these are the songs that really raise Maverick to another level.
The absolute standout among these, the cream of the crop, is ‘When My Winter Comes’, a ballad for piano and voice alone, co-written by Nimmo and Dyke, which is so much more than its minimal parts.  With Nimmo’s delivery of an inescapable melody intertwining with Dyke’s subtle piano chords and embroidery, and some perfectly pitched harmonies, it’s a meditation on roots and the ageing process that will have the hairs on the back of your neck prickling.  Guaranteed.
Not far behind that highlight comes ‘Whatever It Takes To Survive’, a song about loss graced by subtle and soulful verses that take me back to the smouldering tunes on Standing In The Shadows.  It toughens up for the assertive chorus though, with Dyke’s organ again swirling purposefully in the mix.  And there’s a harmonised guitar segment - which will just beg for new recruit Stevie Nimmo to get stage front with his brother for a twin guitar moment - as a prelude to a scorching Nimmo solo and a big climax.
Being honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced by ‘By Your Side’ at first.  Which goes to show that sometimes I can be a schmuck.  With another piano-led intro, this is a grower with what feels like a deeply personal lyric about relationships and observing a loved one’s suffering, and a lovely melody enhanced by wonderful harmonies.  It builds gradually, until Nimmo carves out another spine-tingling solo.
Upbeat songs like ‘Fire In My Soul’ and ‘End Of The Line’ may not carry the same emotional heft
Cheer up guys - the album's a winner!
as the slowies, but there’s still depth to the lyrics amid the radio-friendly swell of the sound.  On the former, keyboard flourishes from Dyke combine with gritty riffing from Nimmo, while Andrew Scott gives his kit a fair old walloping.  Album closer ‘End Of The Line’, meanwhile, may not mention Nimmo’s brother Stevie by name, but it more or less anticipates his recent recruitment to the band as it contemplates past adventures and future possibilities.  It’s an easy-going, lightly funky tune, with a great little guitar solo, but it’s still earnest in expressing the belief that “Together we can face this world, and never be alone.”
Along the way ‘One World’ harks back to societal themes previously explored on Exile & Grace, against the backdrop of a vibrant sound built on stuttering bass, bubbling keyboards and stabbing chords, and ‘Everything Will Be Alright’ is similarly bright and confident, ranging from swelling organ and backing vocals to warm electric piano and a stinging guitar solo as Nimmo sings about faith and trust.  And ‘Dance Together’ is a kilt-swingin’ party tune with an underlying metaphor about community, its pumping bass and propulsive drums driving a big sound, embellished by prickling chords and a spot-on Nimmo solo squeezed out like toothpaste.
Was this album a moment of truth for Alan Nimmo, after all the vocal problems, the line-up changes, and whatever else over the last three years?  If so, he and the new look King King have hit back with a bang.  Maverick is a big-hearted, uplifting record – a musical and emotional antidote to these trying times.

Maverick is released on Channel 9 Music on 6 November, and can be pre-ordered here.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Louisiana's LeRoux - One Of Those Days

Gotta be honest with you, I’d never heard of Louisiana’s LeRoux till this album turned up, despite the fact that they’ve been kicking around for 42 years - off and on, with one line-up or another.  Little wonder perhaps, given their peak success was way back in the day, since when it’s largely been confined to their home turf around America’s Gulf Coast.  But whatever their profile, seems to me these guys are good.
Not just good, in fact, but very much at ease with a sound of their own.  Now, an eight-piece band from the Deep South featuring two lead guitarists, two ivory tinklers, and a dude on percussion in addition to yer standard rhythm section, is likely to invite certain comparisons.  And yeah, Jim Odom and Tony Haseldon offer up a few stretches of guitar playing of a vaguely Allmans-like bent.  But that’s about as far as that particular comparison goes.
Louisiana's LeRoux - harmonies at the ready!
Figure this, for one thing.  In addition to lead vocalist Jeff McCarty – who has a strong, crystal clear set of pipes on him – four of these guys contribute backing vocals.  And another five fellas seem to have lined up to add their voices to the fray. (Including Bobby Kimball, original singer with Toto.  Hold that thought.)  So it’s no surprise that songs on One Of Those Days often come drenched in lush harmonies.  On ‘No One’s Gonna Love Me (Like The Way You Do)’, which is easy like the Commodores on a Sunday morning, the layered vocals are the primary focus, even if Rod Roddy chips in with a Rhodes piano solo and Messrs Odom and Haselden conjure up a harmonised guitar segment as a prelude to one of the many sharp guitar solos scattered across the album.  And on the punningly-titled ‘Lucy Anna’ (geddit?), with its strong hook the harmonies take on an Eagles-like hue over the shuffling rhythm.
These guys clearly know what they’re doing in the vocal department, and those voices are given an extra shine by the pristine, high gloss sound – which is no surprise when Jeff Glixman, sometime producer of choice for Kansas, is at the controls.  And in fact that kind of AOR-style polish might invoke comparisons with the likes of the aforementioned Toto at times, such as on ‘Lifeline (Redux)’ – 'redux' because it’s a reworking of a LeRoux toon from 1983 – which has a cracking melody to which McCarty adds interesting vocal twists and turns, while all concerned make the most of seven minutes to explore the possibilities to good effect while continuing to serve the song to good effect.
But if you’re thinking all this sounds a bit too sweet to be wholesome, they can toughen things up too.  Both ‘Don’t Rescue Me’ and ‘Nothing Left To Lose’ have a swagger that I reckon Ronnie Van Zandt would smile down on.  The former gives more space to punchy rhythm guitar, matched by a penetrating mid-range solo with plenty of tension and release, while the latter has a stuttering Southern funkiness, slide guitar injections, and a distorted, quavering guitar solo with a slick, modern feel.
They have a handy way with words at times too.  ‘Nothing Left To Lose’ offers the observation that “Love is blind, but it deaf and dumb”, while ‘One Of Those Days’ itself shakes up the old Eagles image of a girl, dear Lord, with a flat-bed Ford into the rather more lubricious “I saw an angel standing on the Interstate, jeans cut off clear up to heaven’s gate” – both tracks penned by Odom and Haselden.  The title track also benefits from some quasi-Latin rhythm courtesy of Mark Duthu’s percussion and Randy Carpenter’s drums, as well as plenty of fluttering licks from one of those guitars.
Fellow Louisianan Tab Benoit pops up to add lead guitar to the closing ‘New Orleans Ladies’, another retake from their early repertoire, which has something of a ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ vibe to it – NOLA style – but with more of those smooth harmonies adding to a soulful vocal from McCarty.
My other half loves great harmonies, and she gave this album a distinct thumbs up right from the off.  I have to agree with her – well, when don’t I?  Louisiana’s LeRoux are a bunch of greybeards who know what a good song sounds like, and what to do with it.  With One Of Those Days they really shouldn't be the Gulf Coast's big secret.

One Of Those Days ia available now, on Gulf Coast Records.