Saturday, November 21, 2020

Listened to lately - Kat Riggins, Malaya Blue, and Hurricane Ruth

Kat Riggins – Cry Out
If you’re a fan of Sari Schorr’s brand of gutsy blues delivery, then you may well find things to like in this album from Kat Riggins, who has a similarly resonant voice, if without Schorr’s operatic undertones.
Have a listen to ‘Wicked Tongue’ for example, all strut and swagger and enlivened by some grizzly, spiky guitar from Mike Zito, and a rollercoaster turnaround.  Or better still the defiant ‘Burn It All Down’ with its jabbing beat and rolling riff, on which Riggins delivers the vocal with 

Kat Riggins gets slinky
real conviction.  Opener ‘Son Of A Gun’ is in a similar vein, with spangly guitar breaks from Zito and some funky bass from Doug Byrkit, but is let down by its hackneyed lyric.
If there’s a samey-ness to some of these tracks, then there’s pleasing variety to be found elsewhere. ‘Cry Out’ itself, for example, is a slice of swinging, shuffling blues on which Riggins redeems herself lyrically, knocking out reflections on social justice with urgency, accompanied by flashes of harp, and an appealing riff and spot-on solo from Mike Zito.
Zito is in the producer’s chair, co-writes most of the material, and supplies the necessary guitar-twanging throughout, and considering the number of projects he’s worked on in the last eighteen months he keeps things creditably fresh for Riggins’ benefit.  Horns expand the sound on the funky and swinging ‘Meet Your Maker’, while Zito deploys a Morse Code guitar riff and Riggins demonstrates the depth of her register.  And more horns give a Southern soul dimension to the brisk and bubbling ‘On It’s Way’, a good tune with a fun arrangement, with Riggins varying her delivery and phrasing to good effect.  Meantime ‘Catching Up’ is one of the rockiest, and best, things on offer, with fuzzed-up guitar and buzzing bass while Riggins gets all sassy and punchy in a tale of mama getting home and wanting some action from her man.
I could live without the schmaltzy children’s choir on ‘Heavy’, a gospel soul number on which Riggins wears her heart on her sleeve on the subject of faith, while the backing largely gets out of her way.  But they close the album strongly with ‘The Storm’, a slow blues with a simple but haunting arrangement and subtle, quivering guitar and slide from Zito, and if the lyric isn’t exactly freshly minted Riggins still invests it with some drama.  All in all Cry Out is an enjoyable debut outing from Ms Riggins, hopefully a foretaste of more to come.
Cry Out is available now on Gulf Coast Records.

Malaya Blue – Still
When I was a kid, gravitating from glam rock to Status Quo and then the broader horizons of hard rock, there were still songs of a different hue could make a lasting impression.  I recall, for example, ‘Lovin’ You’ by the stratospherically-voiced Minnie Riperton, and Roberta Flack with the remarkable ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’.
Now, I don’t mention this in order to suggest that Malaya Blue could stand shoulder to shoulder
Malaya Blue - late-night, softly-lit
with these ladies.  But if Blue has a sweet spot, I think it’s in a similar realm of intimate soul ballads, as indicated by the opening title track ‘Still’, with its late-night, softly-lit feel, and subtle guitar work from Nat Martin.  Penultimate song ‘I Can’t Be Loved’ dials things down even further, a spare ballad with piano accompaniment from co-writer Sammi Ashforth that’s bordering on musical theatre – which isn’t, y’know, the end of the world when done well.  Best of all perhaps, is ‘Love Of Your Life’, a breathy ballad on which Blue takes her time and dovetails beautifully with Stevie Watts’ delicate piano.
But Blue sounds rather less at home when things get funky.  She makes a decent fist of ‘Kiss My Troubles Away’, on which she sounds like she’s having fun over Watts’ jazzy piano and Eddie Masters’ bubbling bass.  But elsewhere, as on ‘Down To The Bone’ and ‘Love Can Tell’, she lacks the oomph to inhabit the groove.
She captures the gospel-tinted soul of ‘Why Is Peace So Hard?’ effectively though, matching up to Watts’ church-flavoured organ playing.  And she’s on good form for the smooth soul of ‘Down To The Bottom’, adding interesting variations in her phrasing, and even her own backing vocals, to another catchy bass line from Masters and sweet organ.  ‘These Four Walls’ is one of her better stabs at going uptempo, a well-constructed bundle of bouncing soul punctuated by some gutsy chords.  But as a statement of female assertiveness the closing ‘Hot Love’ sounds uncomfortable and unconvincing – edgy it is not.
With honchos like Nat Martin and Stevie Watts on board, and an impressive rhythm section in Eddie Masters and Mike Horne, Still never falls flat.  But Malaya Blue really needs to discover what kind of singer she really is, and commit to that style, if she wants to give of her best.

 is out now on Blue Heart Records.
Hurricane Ruth – Good Life
Hurricane Ruth LaMaster hails from Illinois – and I use the word “hails” advisedly, because the lady hasn’t acquired that Hurricane moniker for nuthin’.  What we have here is an old-fashioned R’n’B belter, and when she cuts loose on Good Life it ain’t half fun.
Opening track ‘Like Wildfire’ is one of the best cuts here, with LaMaster strutting and hollering like Ike-era Tina Turner over a locomotive riff and the booming, lock-step rhythm section of
Hurricane Ruth - not so sugar and sweet
Calvin Johnson on bass and Tony Braunagel on drums.  They tone it down a mite for the following ‘Dirty Blues’, but it still lives up to its title, with our Ruth delivering vocals with full-on commitment and guitarist Scott Holt adding buzzing rhythm guitar, piercing slide licks, and an enjoyable solo with plenty of tension and release.  Oh yeah, and they chuck in some shouted backing vocals worthy of a Suzi Quatro hit from the Seventies, just to give LaMaster some full-throated company.
Later they re-launch the R’n’B raunch with ‘Black Sheep’, a chunk of heads-down no-nonsense boogie that’s far from adventurous but should do the business in a sweaty live show, with throbbing guitars and a buzzing, echoing solo from Holt, while the Hurricane herself bawls “I was a tough little badass, not so sugar and sweet!” to all and sundry, in a manner fit to whack Joan Jett for a home run.  And just in case you haven’t got the idea, they later add ‘Late Night Red Wine’, with more Nutbush-like guitar chugging fleshed out by organ flourishes from Bruce Katz.
When they depart from this tempestuous template the results are less convincing.  ‘Good Life’ is a painted-by-numbers slow blues tune, and though it’s well delivered the lyrics are too maudlin for me.  The lyrics on the closing piano-led ballad ‘I’ve Got Your Back’ get similarly mushy, undercutting Katz’s tastefully jazzy ivory-tinkling.
The laid back and swinging ‘What You Never Had’ is lightweight but still fun, benefitting from some more fine flurries of organ from Katz.  And LaMaster does well on the reflective but warm and positive ‘She’s Golden’, catching the right tone for a tale of a woman achieving liberation from hard times, while ‘Who I Am’ is an assertive chunk of mid-tempo funk.
Good Life may be inconsistent, but it still contains the ingredients to fire up a rock’n’roll party.  “Can I get a ‘Hell yeah’?” the Hurricane enquires at one point.  Yes Ruth, I believe you can. 

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