Sunday, September 19, 2021

Joanne Shaw Taylor - The Blues Album

Another month, another album of covers by an established artist.
After the recent release of Bernie Marsden’s Kings I had a lively discussion with a reader about the value of outings such as these, and it’s certainly a discussion worth having.  How much intrinsic value is there in this kind of collection of modern takes on old songs?  Is The Blues Album possibly a gateway for some fans of Joanne Shaw Taylor to explore unfamiliar blues artists?
Joanne Shaw Taylor - happiness is a new album
Pic by Christie Goodwin
Whatever.  One thing to be said about The Blues Album is that it’s stylistically different from another Joe Bonamassa/Josh Smith-produced outing from earlier this year.  Joanna Connor’s 4801 South Indiana Avenue may also have leaned heavily on old tunes, but where it majored on
raunch, The Blues Album tends to head in a more subtle, more soulful direction.  And in that context, it has to be said that the JoJo production team have coaxed some convincingly soulful vocals out of Ms Taylor – which is a significant point, because while I’ve always liked the husky tone of her singing, I’ve sometimes found it wanting in other respects.
So among the highlights on the album are soul-blues ballads like ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’, ‘Let Me Down Easy’, and the absolute cream of the crop, ‘I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me)’.  Written by Don Covay and originally recorded by Little Richard in a far from wop-bop-a-loo-bop mode, it’s an old classic given an old classic treatment, and Taylor gives it her all with a soul-fuelled vocal, backed up by gospel-influenced guest Mike Farris in the supporting vocal role.  For me the gold medal winning rendition is still Ian Siegal’s on his album Swagger, but this isn’t far behind.
It’s not hard to guess that the horn-backed slowie ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’ was once recorded by Aretha Franklin, and though JST is no Aretha she still delivers an emotive vocal, and backs it up with a pinging guitar solo that edges into Gary Moore’s romantic blues terrain.  And she captures the emotional vibe on ‘Let Me Down Easy’ too, assisted by waves of organ from Reese Wynans, with horns flowing over the top and trills of piano in the margins, while the guitar stays in the background until a spiky solo scratches its way into earshot.
The frequent use of horns evokes a jazzy vibe here and there, so that ‘If That Ain’t A Reason’ manages to be both swinging and strident, Taylor’s rhythmic vocal delivery swollen by classy female backing vocals, the assertiveness underlined by the quivering but tough guitar tone on her solo.  She then gets sassy with her singing on ‘Keep On Lovin’ Me’, over some slinky bass from Steve Mackey, with sax punctuation from Mark Drouthit.  Taylor’s guitar then trills its way
Turbo-charged messing' round on stage
Pic by Christie Goodwin
into solo action, carrying a flavour of Sean Costello, ahead of some guitar/sax counterpunching to close.  There’s more horn and organ layering on ‘Can’t You See What You’re Doing Me’, but it’s the undulating bass line that really drives the groove, laying the foundations for some stinging, squealing guitar work, latterly turbo-charged by a key change.  Then there’s a rather weak fade-out – an option that has its place, but detracts from the power of a few tracks here.
There’s fun stuff too, with the opener ‘Stop Messin’ Round’, a 1968 Fleetwood Mac tune resuscitated by Gary Moore on Still Got The Blues and given a similar rambunctiously swingin’ treatment here, La Taylor having fun vocally and delivering some biting guitar breaks, while Wynans goes to town on a rocking piano solo.  The perky Memphis-style R’n’B of ‘Two Time My Lovin’ has a crisp backbeat counterpointed by lazily bobbing bass, and Taylor serves it well with a shimmering, sparkling and teasing solo.  And the album closes with the boogie of ‘Three Time Loser’, a strutting rhythm backing a chugging riff, while Wynans chucks in piano and organ licks from different angles before knocking out another barroom piano showcase.
Oddly, a couple of throwaway items sit in the middle of the album – the fun but slight ‘Don’t Go Away Mad’, on which for reasons passing understanding Bonamassa feels the need to saddle up for a duet, and the instrumental fragment ‘Scraps Vignette’.
Does The Blues Album add anything to the sum of blues knowledge?  Not really.  But with its top-flight cast list it’s still a satisfying production, full of strong arrangements – and it’s good to hear Joanne Shaw Taylor hit the mark with her vocal contribution as much as her guitar.

The Blues Album is released on 24 September by KTBA Records, and can be ordered here.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Tommy Castro Presents A Bluesman Came To Town - A Blues Odyssey

First of all, hats off to Tommy Castro for trying something a bit different.  “Concept album” isn’t a phrase one hears bandied about much in relation to roots music, but A Bluesman Came To Town fits the bill, with its tale of a young man from 'Somewhere' who gets hooked on the blues and hits the road with his guitar.
It’s a nice enough idea - an opening out of the Johnny B. Goode story, if you like, over 13 tracks.  I’ll let you discover the story for yourself, but for me, over the piece, the narrative feels a bit
prosaic as it relates the ups and downs of the anonymous hero’s life on his “blues odyssey”.  The melodies on a couple of songs feel somewhat predictable too.  These misgivings aside though, there’s still plenty to enjoy, not least because Castro makes use of a number of roots styles to good effect.
Tommy Castro crosses a black cat's path
Pic by Victoria Smith

Take the plenty satisfying brace of ‘You To Hold On To’ and ‘I Wanna Go Back Home’ for example.  The first is a slice of Springsteen-esque soul, Castro’s aching vocal depicting the kid’s reflections on the girl he’s leaving behind for the road, set to a slow and steady arrangement with some country-ish twang and a sweet guitar solo.  The latter is in a similar vein, with Castro making like Ben E. King over a Memphis soul sound of mellow organ and subtle rhythm guitar, enhanced by an emotive sax solo.  And reaching further back into the soul vibe, ‘Child Don’t Go’ is a gospel-driven duet by Castro and Terrie Odabi, offering parental advice about the big bad world over backing with pots of brio courtesy of Kevin McKendree’s boisterous honky tonk piano and Castro’s steely guitar solo.
Castro and co can rock too, whether it’s the upbeat rock’n’roll of ‘I Caught A Break’, with its  infectious chorus and overt musical and lyrical allusions to 'Johnny B. Goode', or the mid-paced post-Hendrixism of ‘Women, Drugs And Alcohol’, its sturdy riff punctuated by bright, offbeat chords and needle-sharp guitar licks as it gradually whips up energy.  The funky inflections of the latter get fuller expression too, on ‘Hustle’, which has a lot more to do with James Brown than Van McCoy, with jingling rhythm guitar and sassy horns, and Castro even indulging in a spot of rapping.  Well, kinda.
When it comes to slower stuff, the downbeat blues-rock of ‘Draw The Line’, with its shimmering keys, has more to offer than the slow-blues-by-numbers feel of ‘Blues Prisoner’, capturing the mood well as the lyric offers a response to the tribulations of ‘Women, Drugs And Alcohol’.  And still in straightforward blues territory, the insistent ‘I Got Burned’ has more personality than the rather pedestrian tune of ‘Bluesman Comes To Town’, even if both feature stinging guitar solos.  More ear-catching than either of those, though, is ‘Bring It One Back’ on which Castro’s buzzing slide guitar and Tommy MacDonald’s bass bring juddering urgency to the riff, played off against a tense drum rhythm from producer Tom Hambridge.
I like Tommy Castro.  As a songwriter he’s capable of evoking atmosphere and a sense of place, he has a convincing, soulful voice, and he wields his six string effectively in a number of styles.  It’s a shame that the over-arching story on the album isn’t more gripping, but at least Castro hasn’t overplayed his hand and tried to produce a “blues opera” of Wagnerian proportions.  Thanks to that self-discipline, A Bluesman Came To Town isn’t weighed down by filler, and Castro’s qualities are still able to come to the fore and shine.

Tommy Castro Presents A Bluesman Came To Call is released by Alligator Records on 17 September.
 

Friday, September 3, 2021

Samantha Fish - Faster

Here she comes again, dancin’ ‘neath the starry skies.  Yep, it’s the moving target that is Samantha Fish.
“You know, any time I feel like we’re closing to getting – um, figured out,” Ms Fish said to me when I interviewed her a couple of years ago, “when people think that this is exactly who you are, and this is what you’re gonna be, and it becomes an expectation - it makes me wanna change.”   And listening to Faster, you know she wasn’t kidding.
Let’s start with the album cover, with its vivid picture of Fish lasciviously running her tongue up
Samantha Fish, glossy sheen and all
Pic by Kevin King
the neck of an, er, upright guitar.  What’s that all about?  Well, it’s attention-grabbing for sure – anyone idly catching sight of it is going to do a double take.  But it’s also a world away from the vulnerable fairy tale heroine suggested on the cover of Wild Heart.  I’m thinking it’s a don't-give-a-shit visual statement, declaring that Samantha Fish will do whatever she goddamn pleases, thank you very much.  You know what else?  Intentionally or not, that picture references the artwork on the 1979 single ‘Picture This’ by Blondie, that bunch of New York punks who mutated into chartbusting power-poppers, turning their hands to disco and rap along the way.
Picture this indeed, in readiness for the aural rollercoaster ride of Faster, as Fish and her producer/collaborator Martin Kierszenbaum smash styles together like a rock’n’roll Hadron Collider.  Get ready, people, for crunching rock riffs, scrabbling post-punk guitar breaks, glistening keys, dance grooves, electro-pop bleeping – and more besides.
The title track kicks in with a buzzing, tough riff fit to rank with ‘Show Me’ from Wild Heart, but also introduces a thumping drum sound akin to the gated reverb variety that dominated the 80s.  There’s a tantalising frisson to the yada-yada-yada lyric of the chorus: “I wanna ooh-ooh-ooh, You’re gonna ooh-ooh-ooh, That’s how I’ll make your heart go faster.”  It's one of a number of songs about sexual attraction and - at the risk of sounding interleckshul - the power dynamics of relationships.  A screaming guitar break will hit the bullseye for long-standing Fish fans, but the sonic gloss and sheen is something different – and she’s just getting started.
‘All Ice, No Whiskey’ has plenty of sexy swagger, and buried within it a groove that’s on familiar terms with Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ gets its little socks rocked off.  Discordant keys sweep here and there, and the chorus is burnished by sleek, multi-tracked vocals, but what’s inescapable is a
Not Samantha Fish, not Faster
 dance floor rhythm track that’s enough to get even this old git practising his white man’s overbite (© Nora Ephron, Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal).  And if ‘Twisted Ambition’ has not one but two gritty guitar riffs getting sonically warped, they’re also jostling with throbbing, synthy bass lines, and bright pulsing keys that create tension before Fish lets loose on guitar.
By this time old school blues-rock fans may be feeling seasick as they lurch between loving some of the gutsy guitar, and dropping their jaws at some of the other sounds flying around.  And you ain’t heard anything yet.
‘Hypnotic’ slides seductively into earshot with a gasping vocal about “casting a spell that binds you”, over beeping like electronic raindrops.  It comes over like something from an 80s Brit synth-pop outfit - until Mademoiselle Fish lets rip with a grungy guitar interlude that would give electronica twiddlers heart failure.  On the other hand ‘Forever Together’ takes the “bomp-bomp-ba-bomp-bomp” vocal refrain of Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’ and bends it into the deformed riff for a punky pop song with the perkiest of catchy, where-have-I-heard-that-before choruses.
The opening verse of ‘Crowd Control’ reveals one of Fish’s few weaknesses, a tendency that’s cropped up in years gone by to waver a mite on notes at the bottom end of her register.  What follows is a slice of dreamy pop that at first blush seems serviceable rather than outstanding, but as she relaxes into the vocal and adds some neat guitar fills it begins to sound like Samantha on more familiar soulful ground.  ‘Imaginary War’ never really achieves escape velocity however, notwithstanding its fuzzy Morse Code backing and a typically spiky guitar solo.
But if that’s something of a lull in proceedings, ‘Loud’ gets things back on track.  A mellow verse with soulful crooning á la Kill Or Be Kind’s ‘Love Letters’ explodes into a chorus that’s all slamming chords, swelling organ and forceful vocals.  And then – steps back in amazement, supersonic Sam – a fella starts rapping!  Will this be a bridge too far for some guitar rock
"The future is this way!"
aficionados, or will they take the rapid-fire delivery of Tech N9ne in their stride?  Answers on a postcard, please.
And having dropped that stylistic bombshell, ‘Better Be Lonely’ switches tack with a repetitive, scratchy guitar line that’s taken up by Sam’s smoother vocal, over a cool, swinging bass groove and a thumping backbeat.  It’s a simple enough tune, but it’s also an insistent, infernal earworm, topped off with a trademark wiry guitar solo.  Then things get even wilder with the punk-pop guitar wig-out of ‘So-Called Lover’, which is more or less ‘Love Your Lies’ Mark II with a Blondie-esque stratospheric chorus and a buzzsaw guitar solo.
If you’re feeling breathless after all that, ‘Like A Classic’ cools things off, its wordless opening lines sliding into a swoonsome, coo-ing vocal, with a sweetly rising and falling chorus over squiggly background noises.  And then ‘All The Words’ is a classic Fish slowie, easing in with Beatle-ish softly softly guitar notes, then leaning on sparse electric piano below Samantha’s reflective, emotional vocal about how “the caged bird never flies”, ultimately bringing down the curtain with some sweetly soaring singing.
“That’s part of being an artist,” the lady said to me back in 2019.  “You’re going to do things that are either gonna incite happiness, or upset people.”  Some people may be upset by Faster.  Others may catch up with it.  Me?  I’m sold.  Faster isn’t perfect, but it’s radio-ready dynamite in a similar way to the Black Keys’ El Camino.  And Samantha Fish is a determined, ambitious young woman who’s carving out new possibilities for her music, and doing it with flair.
 
Faster is released by Rounder Records on 10 September, and is available for pre-order here.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Robert Jon & The Wreck - Shine A Light On Me Brother

Robert Jon & The Wreck are not entirely what they seem.  The easy peg to hang them on may be Southern rock, but there’s more to them than that rather lazy label suggests.  This was obvious from their previous album Last Light On The Highway, and there’s further evidence when they let loose here with ‘Shine A Light On Me Brother’, the title track that kicks off their new release.
Robert Jon & The Wreck - Otis Redding dance moves unlikely
Pic by Bryan Greenberg
Surging guitar chords, and some squealing slide courtesy of Henry James herald the entrance of Robert Jon Burrison’s strong, purposeful voice soaring over the top of the arrangement – as it does across the album’s ten tracks.  But then some rocking horns get cooking, and gospellated backing vocals enter the fray courtesy of Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins and Prinnie Stevens, and suddenly they’ve gone all Otis Redding, with barroom piano frills from Steve Maggiora.  This ain’t your common-or-garden Southern rock sound, not by any means, even if they don’t have the dance moves to go with the Memphis soul stew they whip up.
Thing is, Robert Jon & The Wreck aren’t really good ol’ boys from way down south, even if they may look like it, what with the hats and the beards.  They’re from California, albeit Orange County rather than some cool locale like Laurel Canyon, and listening to them you’ve gotta think the Eagles figure somewhere in their musical DNA, what with Robert Jon getting vocal harmony backing from all four of the other band members on a regular basis.
Whatever, what they really do best is nail you to the wall with stonking hooks.  Take ‘Ain’t No Young Love Song’, fr’instance.  It does have something of a Southern rock vibe, but delivered like an adrenaline rush, with drummer Andrew Espantman giving his kit a good spanking and more backing vox from the gals adding an extra whoosh, but all that energy is given focus by a killer chorus – a chorus so good they can bring it down for a breather and it loses nothing.
The harmony-drenched refrain on the following ‘Oh Chicago’ is irresistible too, with Burrison’s vocal well and truly airborne once again.  Okay, so the lyrics are maybe a bit trite, but I’ll forgive them that lapse towards Nashville-esque sentimentality when they add in some oomph from the horns and a tasty sax break from Jason Parfait.
They do melancholy well too, on the likes of ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Brother’.  The first is a tale of ill-
Robert Jon Burrison - achieving vocal lift-off
Pic by Maurice Moonen
starred fascination with a messed-up woman, all warm piano, waves of organ, acoustic strumming and keening slide guitar.  The second tackles the subject of mental illness with feeling, insisting on the importance of fraternal love to support a troubled mind, with James’ soaring guitar solo capturing the emotional essence of the song.  ‘Anna Maria’ has a countryish bent, but the bitter lyric spares it from the self-pitying tone that infects many a Southern rock ballad, and there’s no denying another top notch chorus and an impressive a cappella interlude.
Still, I like ‘em best in upbeat mode, as on ‘Everyday’, with its funky piano and shuffling drums to the fore, and squirrelling guitar breaks as it builds and builds, frenetic guitar competing with those female voices again, all the way to a clapping, cheering finale.  ‘Movin’’ is a chunkier vehicle, with a rumbling guitar intro reinforced by acoustic guitar and gutsy, dragging drums, with Maggiora’s piano sparkling in the margins.  It probes and prods its way forward, slowly gathering itself, then cools off into the bridge before coiling itself like a spring and then crashing back into motion.
Robert Jon & The Wreck are a quality outfit, too good to confine themselves to Southern rock stylings.  The songwriting and arrangements evident on Shine A Light On Me Brother may be their trump cards, but their all-round musicianship and Burrison’s voice aren’t far behind.  So forget the labels and give them a listen.

Shine A Light On Me Brother is released on 3 September, and can be pre-ordered here.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Quickies - Summer Singles from Sari Schorr, Dion, Elles Bailey and Davy Knowles

Sari Schorr – ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (In The Pines)’
 
It’s taken me a few weeks to get round to this one, for which the more fool me.
Although she normally follows a modern blues-rock road, Sari Schorr has some previous when it comes to raking through antique folk-blues tunes from the Lead Belly canon.  Witness her quaking, eyeballs-out take on ‘Black Betty’ on her most recent album Live In Europe.
This time around she’s chosen a different vibe, with the downbeat and mysterious ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’.  Lead Belly’s version was a stripped back affair involving just guitar and a simple vocal.  Schorr opts for a piano-led approach, drenched in reverb to accentuate the macabre atmosphere of the lyric, and with some haunted guitar colourings from Marc Copely and bass undertones from Livingston Brown to round out the sound.
In the end though, this is all about a bravura vocal performance from Schorr, restrained but at
Sari Schorr - not being macabre
Pic by Mat Robinson
the same time full of subtle variations.  Often the primary mode of her operatically-trained voice seems to be full force typhoon, but here Schorr demonstrates the variety and control she can bring to bear in a more understated setting.
 
 
Dion – ‘I Got To Get To You’
 
Something old, something new.  Which is to say that ‘I Got To Get To You’ may be Dion DiMucci’s new single, but it hasn’t just popped out of his head recently.  In fact he released it before back in 1989 – and a very 80s recording it was too, sounding like it was a contender for the soundtrack of Top Gun, or some such.
The 2021 version is different, and better – an altogether zippier reading that sounds like it’s just been laid down by Chuck Berry on a good day.  Boz Scaggs contributes some guest vocals – apparently a big deal for Dion even if I can only hear some sterling vocal support rather than anything transformative.
There are, however, some funky little rock’n’roll guitar breaks from the father-and-son guest pairing of Mike and Joe Menza to spice things up, including one particular yodel-like outing from dad Mike that ups the fun quotient – and Dion himself, still in fine vocal fettle, sounds like he’s having a good time.
It may not be knock-you-down original, but ‘I Got To Get To You’ still bodes well for the new Dion album coming later in the year.
 
 
Elles Bailey – Cheats & Liars
 
‘Cheats & Liars’ opens with a muscular rhythm as the foundation for its Americana sound, and for an acid lyric about political deceit.  As Bailey explains, “It's about the people in their ivory towers who told us arts don't really matter, and to go and retrain.
The song builds to a rousing chorus swollen by some immaculate vocal harmonies which I imagine are all Elles’ own work.  There’s some swooning slide guitar work too, which I guess is the work of her regular six-string sidekick Joe Wilkins, and which I’d have liked to hear a bit more of.
Gotta say though, as well-assembled as the song is, it seems to me that on the verses our Elles has been down a road kinda like this before, with a vibe that sounds familiar from earlier songs such as ‘Wild
Davy Knowles - rolling with it
Pic by Timothy Schmidt
Wild West’ and ‘Medicine Man’.  ‘Cheats & Liars’ is the first single from her third album, Shining In The Half Light, slated to come out next year, and I look forward to the album exploring some different angles.
 
 
Davy Knowles – ‘Roll Me’
 
This slow and soulful blues penned by producer Eric Corne has something of a Joe Cocker feel, though leaning on deeply twanging guitar and a sensitive vocal from Chicago-based Manxman Davy Knowles rather than Cocker’s gut-wrenching style.
‘Roll Me’ is a tasteful trailer for Knowles’ upcoming album What Happens Next.  There are, truth be told, one or two rather corny lyrical lapses – “sure as the church bells do chime”, anyone? – but there’s still plenty to like, as it’s embellished by some delicate organ playing from a party currently unidentified, in addition to Knowles’ on-point delivery.
 
What Happens Next
 is released by Provogue Records on 22 October, and can be pre-ordered here.
 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

No Stone Left Unturned - Revisiting the Stones' A Bigger Bang

In tribute to the late Charlie Watts, this piece written in 2010 is reproduced from a previous blog of mine.

In my last post I suggested that the debut album from Them Crooked Vultures was a bit inconsistent. But is this just the curse of the CD age - if indeed CDs and the concept of the album aren't dead anyway for a lot of listeners? When I were a lad your typical rock album lasted something like 35-40 minutes. In fact in an age when the equivalent of file sharing was taping a couple of albums for your mate on a C90 cassette, it was positively irritating for an album to run over the 45 minutes that could fit on one side of a tape!
Charlie Watts - making a bigger bang than most

Since the advent of the CD bands have the scope to put together anything up to about 80 minutes as a matter of course. But while that's technically feasible, it does raise another challenge - namely for a band to maintain a consistent level of quality when having to produce such a long set. Often enough they fail to meet that challenge. Once upon a time releasing, say, 70 minutes of music was a rarity that required a double LP - which of course broke down into four sides. But it's not just about quality control. Maintaining the listener's interest for over an hour requires some variety and sense of dynamics, and many bands seem incapable of that.  They repeat themselves, and leave in tracks which are no more than filler.
But the other day I renewed my acquaintance with what some might consider a surprising example of a band achieving just that, when I decided to give the Stones' most recent album a spin on my iPod. t Iook a punt on A Bigger Bang when it was released back in 2005, on the strength of a couple of reviews that more or less suggested it "wasn't that bad, actually, bearing in mind it's the Stones and let's face it we can't expect too much from them nowadays". Now, I'd call myself a Stones fan rather than a full-on fanatic, but listening to it the other day I have to say they sustained my interest a helluva lot better over 16 tracks than most bands manage nowadays.
Okay, so a lot of the time they're revisiting well worn turf, but you'd have to be a real curmudgeon to say that they don't do it well on this outing.  Let's face it, Jagger and Richards are top drawer songwriters, whether individually or together.  But A Bigger Bang also demonstrates their mastery of a wide range of musical styles, drawing on different strands of country, blues, and balls-out rock'n'roll just as it suits them.  And Jagger is probably so indifferent to criticism that he just says what he likes, whether it's unabashed cock-rock, plangent broken-hearted blues, or acerbic political observations such as 'Sweet Neocon'.
So what if the stuttering rhythm of something like 'Look What The Cat Dragged In' is basically a reprise of 'Under Cover', from 25 years previously? It's still better than a whole load of young supposed gunslingers might manage.  Hell, even the couple of tracks where Keef does a cracked vocal are good - in fact 'This Place Is Empty' is one of my favourite tracks on the album.
And through it all Charlie Watts lays down supple drum tracks suited to whatever style is in play.  In fact I'm inclined to think that Charlie's ability to flex effortlessly across different grooves is a key factor in how they manage to cover the bases so well.
So, old codgers who nowadays milk their live appearances for cash actually made a damn good album with only a scintilla of filler? Well, yeah, as it happens.

RIP Charlie Watts, 2 June 1941 - 24 August 2021.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Brian Setzer - Gotta Have The Rumble

“Can’t be humble, got to have the rumble,” goes the basso profundo tag line for Brian Setzer’s latest album, in opening track ‘Checkered Flag’.  The lyric is a hymn to his hot rod, and the need for it to stand out from the herd.  But just as relevant is the fact that Setzer is a guy with plenty to be humble about.
Never mind his past glories with the Stray Cats, Setzer is one of those “triple threat” geezers.  He can play rock’n’roll guitar to die for, he has a versatile, totally convincing voice, and when he
Brian Setzer - be-quiffed, be-leathered, be rockabilly
puts his mind to it he can – with a little help - write a damn good tune.  Also, he has a sense of humour.  All of these elements are evident on Gotta Have The Rumble.
I’d say there are five top tunes among the 11 on offer here.  Which is not to dismiss the rest, but just to give due credit to the real highlights.  The aforementioned ‘Checkered Flag’ sets a high bar, as rumbling bass notes combine with shivering guitar tones as Setzer rolls out a great riff, and later a great bridge.  And the following ‘Smash Up On Highway One’ is also right up there, with staccato chords set against rapido drum rolls, ahead of a cod-Arabic guitar line which forms the basis for a macabre tale of motor mortality.
‘The Wrong Side Of The Tracks’ is a cool slice of rock’n’roll embellished by some bijou bursts of strings, and swings fit to satisfy Thomas O’Malley – you know, the hip feline in The Aristocats.  (For any philistines questioning the relevance of that reference, I refer you to that other Stray Cat, Lee Rocker, who covered ‘Everybody Wants To Be A Cat’ on his recent album Gather Round.)  ‘The Cat With 9 Wives’, with its jungle drums intro, similarly swings like Tarzan on a creeper.  Okay, so the lyrics ain’t Shakespeare, but they’re still great fun, and the jazzy drumming from Victor Indrizzo and grooving bass from David Roe Rorick show a great feel for the material, just like that of Setzer himself.
‘Turn You On, Turn Me On’ is the other standout, a surging rock’n’roll rant over a Bo Diddley-ish rhythm, with a healthy quotient of wonky guitar notes and a “stick shift ready” inclination towards double-entendres.
Maybe I’m a bit mean excluding ‘Drip Drop’ from this hit list.  At first blush it sounds supremely silly, worthy of comparison with Bobby Darin’s ‘Splish Splash’ – but maybe sublimely tongue-in-cheek would be closer to the mark.  It takes a chord progression reminiscent of Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’, cranks it up to double time, and adds Latino percussion to create a vibe redolent of The Mavericks, while Setzer croons away merrily, aided and abetted by backing vocals from Julie Setzer and Jennifer Goforth.  Is it cheesy, or is it genius?  You choose.
Elsewhere there’s some pretty regulation rockabilly in the form of tracks like ‘Stack My Money’ and ‘One Bad Habit’, but even these are elevated by elements like the pizzazz-laden twanging guitar work on the former, and the combination of plonking bass, ringing chords and discordant guitar breaks on the latter.
The album closes with ‘Rockabilly Banjo’, a delightfully daft specimen weaving in banjo, fiddle, and the dreaded pedal steel guitar in a bluegrass-rockabilly mash-up that may – like ‘Drip Drop’ - stretch credibility, but also demonstrates Setzer’s devil-may-care attitude.
“The past is another country,” wrote L P Hartley, “they do things differently there.”  Gotta Have The Rumble, like most of Setzer’s oeuvre, is a journey to a lost, more innocent world.  It may not be genius, it may not be contemporary, but it’s still a blast.
 
Gotta Have The Rumble is released by Surfdog Records on 27 August, and can be ordered here.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

GA-20 - Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It . . . You Might Like It

Whooo-weee!  Itchy an’ scratchy!  Slippin’ an’ slidin’!  Buzzin’ with fuzz!  Movin’ an’ a-groovin’!
In a nutshell, my friends, that is GA-20’s Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It . . . You Might Like It!  Nuff said.
What?  You want freakin’ details?  Okay – listen up.
First the boring stuff.  GA-20 are a two guitars and drums combo who got together in Boston three years back.  Pat Faherty sings and plays a ton of slide guitar.  Matt Stubbs plays guitar too.  And Tim Carman just about holds them together on drums, in addition to wearing the odd cheesy sweater.  Oh yeah, and  they love old gear – guitars, amps, all that stuff.  On Try It You . . . Might Like It! they’ve bashed out ten tracks either written or once upon a time performed by
GA-20 - smile, dudes!
Sixties Chicago bluesman Hound Dog Taylor and his band the HouseRockers – also a two guitar and drums outfit.  You want some extra local colour?  Well, Hound Dog had six fingers on each hand, though the extras were just stubs, and one well-oiled night he cut one of them off with a razor.
All of which is great background, but you wanna know what this GA-20 crew sound like, right?
Picture the scene.  It’s the end of Pulp Fiction, Jules and Vincent are about to walk out of the diner in their t-shirts and shorts, and Tarantino has decided he doesn’t want that ‘Surf Rider’ shit for the soundtrack.  So what does he get instead?  ‘Phillips Goes Bananas’, that’s what – ‘Phillips’ being Brewer Phillips, Hound Dog’s sidekick guitarist.  It’s a cool as fuck, rattling little instrumental, all hip-shaking boogie based on clipping drums from Carman.
Or there’s ‘Give Me Back My Wig’.  Now, Hound Dog was a black dude of course, but let’s imagine The Beatles playing Hamburg’s Star Club in 1962.  It’s three in the morning, they’re off their heads on uppers, and they’re trying to make up Chuck Berry songs.  Macca’s broken too many strings on his bass, so he’s knocking out a revolving bass line on a spare guitar he found backstage.
Or get your shell-likes round ‘Let’s Get Funky’, which sounds like a bunch of drunken Morse Code operators having a bash at Thin Lizzy’s ‘Me And The Boys’, full of conversational guitar licks from Faherty.  Lyrics?  Forget it.  Faherty calls out a bunch of disjointed phrases, like “You
Hound Dog - having a real good time!
know what she told me?”  And what she told him, it seems, is “I don’t like it when you do it like that.  I want you to try it this way.  You might like it.”  Is it just me, or does that sound like it’s about sex?  It’s just me?  Okay.
Anyway, the opener ‘She’s Gone’ is a throbbing, buzzing thing that’s nine-tenths lockstep guitars knocking out an irresistible groove, with some incantatory lyrics and a sudden blast of a slide break for good measure.  ‘Sitting At Home Alone’ is a slower blues, with undulating rhythm guitar from Stubbs and Faherty playing scraping slide like he’s taking a cheese grater to his guitar.  And if I say that Faherty’s vocals, while fine, aren’t quite bad enough, I don’t mean bad as in good, I mean bad as in Hound Dog Taylor’s gleeful squawk.  (Alright, I’m being a bit unfair to ol’ Hound Dog, but give him a listen for yourself!) ‘Sadie’ is a slow-ish, swaying affair too with Stubbs bringing chiming, reverberating rhythm guitar to the table alongside some guitar-torturing slide from Faherty.  It feels like the dance floor of some sweaty joint several drinks too far into the night, shortly before the clientele peel off to, er, get funky.
Look, it’s not rocket science.  It’s not moral philosophy. Like Hound Dog himself said, "When I die they'll say, 'He couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good!'"   Listening to this, I had me, to quote The Faces, a real good time!  So you know, try it . . . yeah, you know the rest.  (And check out Hound Dog Taylor too!)

Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It . . . You Might Like It! is released on Colemine Records, in collaboration with Alligator Records, on 20 August.  Order the album here.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Quickies - Singles from Joanne Shaw Taylor, Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters, Misty Blues, Wily Bo Walker and E D Brayshaw, and the Curse Of KK Hammond

Today’s Quickies is a round-up of current singles in the blues and roots arena.
 
Joanne Shaw Taylor – ‘Let Me Down Easy’
 
Must confess, I wasn’t greatly taken with Joanne Shaw Taylor’s voice on first acquaintance
Joanne Shaw Taylor, not remotely grief-stricken
Pic by Christie Goodwin
several years back, and now and then I still find her enunciation problematic.  But on this version of Little Milton’s ‘Let Me Down Easy’ her husky, soulful vocal works a treat, right from the opening bars over restrained, twinkling guitar notes, soon augmented by low, moaning horns.  When a performance starts to evoke comparisons with James Carr’s ‘Dark End Of The Street’ – and it did for me - then you’re on to something.
Of course, there will be some JST fans more interested in what she’s doing with her guitar, and in this instance she delivers a ringing, wailing outro that suggests the grief of a failed relationship, let down easy or not.  It’s a bit of a dull “in the studio” video, but as far as the song goes – nicely done, Ms Taylor.
 
‘Let Me Down Easy’ is taken from The Blues Album, Joanne Shaw Taylor’s collection of blues covers produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, out on 24 September and available to pre-order here.
 
 
Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters – ‘The Fastest Outlaw’
 
Scottish singer, songwriter and guitarist Jed Potts has a penchant for a plaid shirt now and then, so it was only a matter of time before his blues mojo led him and his Hillmans to the influence of Rory Gallagher, the original Check Shirt Wizard.
And so here they come with ‘The Fastest Outlaw’, which has the stamp of Rory all over its stuttering, ringing guitar riff and ‘Out On The Western Plain’ lyrical theme.  More impressive still are the passages of slide guitar/vocal harmonising on display – a Gallagher speciality that Potts captures brilliantly.  There a scudding, darting slide solo too, to add icing to the cake on this impressive original tune.
Sure, you could call it imitation-Rory, but an hommage this good isn’t just the sincerest form of flattery, it’s also a testament to the talents of Potts and his rhythm section buddies Jonny Christie on drums and Charlie Wild on bass.
 
‘The Fastest Outlaw’ is the latest in a series of original singles from Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters, available now on Bandcamp and all the usual digital platforms.
 
 
Misty Blues – 'Take A Long Ride', featuring Joe Louis Walker
 
Gina Colman - in the red with Misty Blues
To say that Misty Blues lead singer Gina Coleman has a sonorous voice is putting it mildy.  There’s no ignoring her deep, round, gospel-schooled tones as ‘Take A Long Ride’ ships anchor, accompanied by a Free-like undulating riff and horn remarks that add another soulful angle.  Add in a spacey, psychedelic solo from top-flight guest guitar honcho Joe Louis Walker, ending in a squall of feedback, and later a screeching sax solo from Aaron Dean that I at first mistook for Walker having another shot at the title, and this is a pretty beguiling outing by the Massachusetts combo, suggesting they'll be deserving of further listening.
 
‘Take A Long Ride’ will feature on Misty Blues 11th studio album, One Louder, scheduled for release on Lunaria Records on 28 January 2022.
 
 
Wily Bo Walker and E D Brayshaw – ‘What You Gonna Do (Welcome To Voodooville)’
 
Wily Bo Walker has reunited with guitar-wrangling compadre E D Brayshaw for a new album to be released later this year, and this single is an early trailer.  This is Walker and Brayshaw at the most primitive I’ve heard them, as ‘What You Gonna Do’ opens with tense, nagging acoustic style strumming and foot-stomping, hand-clapping percussion.
There’s less of a narrative here than on much of Walker’s output, but the song still inhabits his favourite noir-ish terrain of sin and consequence, weaving in chain gang clanking and military paradiddles before a searing solo that’s pure Brayshaw.
 
‘What You Gonna Do (Welcome To Voodooville)’ is taken from the forthcoming album Some People Kill For Passion.
 
 
The Curse Of KK Hammond, featuring David And The Devil – 'The Ballad Of Lampshade Ed'
 
Now and then I trip over this arcane underworld in the British roots music scene, inhabited by folk apparently much taken with the idea of mashing up Edwardian music hall with a demi-monde of freaks, carnies and voodoo from the American South.
And so we have ‘The Ballad Of Lampshade Ed’, a Southern Gothic nursery rhyme penned by the Brothers Grimm after an undocumented tour of revivalist churches in the Appalachians in the 1850s, rediscovered by Tim Burton, and set to music by an English rose with a winsome voice, twanging a Resonator guitar and accompanied by a fella hiding his slide behind an alias.
Actually I made most of that up.  Except the bit about the Brothers Grimm.  But I think you’ll get the idea.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Daniel De Vita - Lost In Translation

Maybe it’s because they’re from Argentina, but guitar gaucho Daniel De Vita and his band come at things from a refreshing angle.  On the evidence of Lost In Translation these guys are shit hot musos, but at the same time not remotely “up themselves”, as we say in Britain.  That is to say, they may be up to their armpits in technical proficiency, but they wear their skills lightly.
Imagine, if you will, that a hip six-string honcho - like Robben Ford, say - has had a few too many beers with some mates, then stumbled into the studio and had a laugh applying their talents to some straight-up rootsy tunes.  That’s kinda the vibe I get listening to tracks like the
Daniel De Vita - a Latino twist
Pic by Vanina Falcone
opener here, ‘Every Time I’m Close To You’.  The song itself is a simple enough rock’n’roll type affair, akin to Elvis’s ‘Trying To Get To You’ maybe.  But De Vita and co give it a few contemporary twists and turns, with spiky guitar chords bumping into lazy drums from Gabrial Cabiaglia and ultra-busy bobbling bass from Mariano D’Andrea.  Harp and organ also pop up to the surface now and then to add colour, before De Vita adds a clever solo, dropping in tantalisingly unusual notes and chords.  And though De Vita’s voice is a tad whiny and squawky at times, it remains entirely likeable, communicating his own enjoyment.
A similar vibe is at play on the likes of ‘My Sweetest Regret’ and ‘California Rocket Fuel’ – essentially uncomplicated songs getting jazzed up a bit, but not to the hilt.  The effect is frolicsome fun rather than exhibitionism.  What I know about harmony and counterpoint wouldn’t take up much of anyone’s time, but I reckon these dudes are playing around with them to good effect on ‘My Sweetest Regret’, while on ‘California Rocket Fuel’ a measured, swaying N’Awlins groove is underpinned by parping, Sousaphone-like bass and decorated with barroom piano by Nicolás Raffetta, while De Vita’s simple vocal is rhythmic and characterful.
‘She Claps On The 1 & 3’ also evokes the Big Easy, in Fats Domino rock’n’roll fashion, fun and frothy with low-end twanging guitar and jauntily tooting harp from Nicolás Smoljan, and if music has to swing to mean a thing, then this means plenty.  The most conventional thing here though, is the excellent ‘6 Years Blues’, a slowie that’s still made distinctive by quivering guitar notes, cool jazzy bass and minimalist drums, topped off with a boozily conversational guitar solo and harmonica interjections.
But they venture into more exotic terrain too, with the likes of ‘Sand Between Your Fingers’, which may be blues Jim, but not as we know it.  A funereal beat clashes with discordant chords, moans of harp, and fuzzy, synthy bass notes that echo around like an asthmatic tuba.  As it develops, a slow, low descending riff gradually emerges under brittle picking from De Vita, before picking up speed like a steam locomotive getting clear of the city.  And on the dreamy opening of the instrumental ‘Breaking The Praise’, De Vita’s slide playing sounds less like a guitar than muted, distorted trombone or some such, as a prelude to a couple of breakneck gospel-like segments.
The album closes with the driving instrumental ‘DFW’, with more of De Vita’s off-kilter, wobbly guitar tones skating over the top of a funking groove that’s all chunky rhythm guitar and bass and rattling drums, accented by dashes of harp and organ – and a suitably enjoyable note on which to close proceedings.
Lost In Translation sure doesn’t groan under the weight of anybody’s ego.  With nine songs spread over a trim 33 minutes, Daniel De Vita and his buddies do their thang con brio, as I’m sure they’re always saying down Buenos Aires way.  Mixing up Texas blues, rock'n'roll, and New Orleans funkiness, they keep it short and sweet, throw in some modern curve balls, and then go on their merry way.  File under 'Unexpected Pleasures'!
 
Lost In Translation is available now on Lunaria Records, here.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Troy Redfern - The Fire Cosmic

“Get yer ya-yas out!”, as the Rolling Stones once demanded in typically dubious fashion.  Not that Troy Redfern’s new album The Fire Cosmic sounds like anything like the Stones.  But it still seems like the right sentiment in response to this tornado of an outing.
Never mind the interstellar squawking and bleeping on the intro to opening track ‘Scorpio’.  The riff that follows is down to earth to the max, like a rock’n’roll juggernaut thundering across the landscape.  And there’s plenty more where that came from.
Take ‘One Way Ticket’ for example, which sounds like Bob Jovi’s ‘Bad Medicine’ has been
Troy Redfern - blues-rock stürm und drang
Pic by Haluk Gurer
dragged to a scrapyard and whacked about with crowbars and sledgehammers by a gang of bad-tempered, musclebound Chechens, while Redfern’s slide guitar squeals painfully in response.  In a good way, I should add.
The primary modus operandi here is that Darby Todd’s drums pound, Dave Marks’ bass delivers combination punches below the belt, guitars grind, and Redfern whacks out a guttural, Alice Cooper-like vocal – albeit without Cooper’s often warped lyrical content.  So ‘Sanctify’ clatters along like an express train mutation of garage rock, while the hard rock slamming of ‘On Fire’ (featuring guest guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal) offers up some post-Eddie Van Halen soloing.
The tunes are decent beneath the stürm und drang though, as on the catchy ‘Waiting For Your Love’ and the slower, more restrained ‘Love And War’, where a pinch of funk is added to the recipe and Redfern adds a more melodic tone to his solo even as he steps on the throttle.
But Redfern isn’t a one-trick pony on the songwriting front.  ‘Saving Grace’ is a subtle ballad built on acoustic strumming with slide embellishments, with some neat layered vocals adding to the atmosphere.  The closing ‘Stone’ is solemn, with weeping slide, before rousing itself to some anthemic stylings and soaring guitar, then falling away at the end with a delicate piano outro from Marks.  And best of all perhaps, ‘Ghosts’ opens with a tripping rhythm and Redfern’s National Resonator slide guitar to the fore, like something from the cowboy trail, before revving up and cruising away as if on the arrow-straight two-lane blacktop of a desert highway.
If you like your blues-rock hard’n’heavy, then The Fire Cosmic is an album that could well fit the bill.  It’s hefty but disciplined, carrying precious little fat, and I approve of that.  There’s one thing missing though, if you ask me.  That lurid Marvel Comics-style cover art should really feature bolts of galactic lightning blasting out of the headstock of Redfern’s guitar.  Don’t mess about Troy, go the whole darned hog!
 
The Fire Cosmic is released on RED7 Records on 6 August, and can be ordered here.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Mike Zito - Resurrection

For me, when Mike Zito is on his game, what really makes him stand out from the herd is his songwriting.  And so it is with the best moments on his latest album Resurrection.  When he’s in the mood, Zito stretches out beyond the confines of straight-ahead blues into wider rock’n’roll terrain.
Such is the case on the opening track ‘I’ll Make Love to You’, with which I’m reminded, not for the first time with Mr Z, of Tom Petty.  Spangly acoustic guitar is juxtaposed with cello-like slide
Mike Zito - "Top o' the world, Ma!"
over a swaying rhythm, advertising Zito’s way with a good tune and arrangement, and adding in a snappy bridge, a slide solo with more of that distinctive woozy tone, and a sax solo that adds an extra dimension.
A couple of tentpole tracks in the middle of the album offer different variations.  ‘Presence Of The Lord’ contemplates the place of faith in Zito’s ongoing recovery from addiction, setting forth with an anthemic guitar line and a gutsy undertow from the drums and bass.  As it develops there’s a vibe that puts me in mind, for some less than obvious reason, of Derek & The Dominoes, en route to an ascending riff that provides the foundation for a wailing guitar solo before it stumbles to a close.  The following ‘When It Rains’ is a meditation on hopeless circumstances, grounded in stomping kick drum and metronomic bass, overlaid with a tense guitar line and brooding sax.  It’s an atmospheric outing, patiently delivered like an approaching thundercloud that refuses to break, and Zito gives it an extra twist with squeaking slide guitar that hints at another instrument altogether – violin in some gypsy jazz band, perhaps.
There’s more drama in ‘Damned If I Do’, a slowie about a blighted relationship that’s romantic and emotional, with horns flitting in and out and some impressive guitar work.  But while that may be downbeat, closing track ‘Resurrection’ is a ‘Purple Rain’-infused ballad that’s a hymn to the importance of loving relationships, with all their ups and downs, delivered with conviction and a heartfelt vocal.
But if these are the el serioso moments, there’s plenty of fun to be found elsewhere.  ‘Dreaming Of You’ may be a bit slight, in its chorus for example, but there’s still plenty to enjoy as echoes of Springsteen’s ‘Spirits In The Night’ drift through the chord progression on the verses, and Zito adds a succession of fuzzy, jangly guitar licks.  ‘In My Blood’ relaxes into a laid back, Latin-tinged groove, with bobbing bass and sprinkles of restrained sweet-toned guitar, plus some nicely arranged female backing vocals, to create something simple but gorgeous.  And ‘You Don’t Have Me’ is lightweight fun with an air of Springsteen nicking something from the Sixties, aided and abetted by the warmth of some Fender Rhodes piano.
I could live without the penultimate track ‘Evil’, which comes across like an everyday funk blues workout that doesn’t add much to the equation – there’d be an elegant sufficiency to the album without it.  And now and then I’m inclined to think Zito overdoes the emphasis on slide guitar, however good he is at it.  But Resurrection is still typically disarming Mike Zito fare, with some peak moments worthy of particular attention - not as urgent as last year’s Quarantine Blues perhaps, or as outstanding as Keep Coming Back or some earlier albums, but quality work nonetheless from one of the cornerstones of current day blues-infused rock’n’roll.

Resurrection is out now on Gulf Coast Records.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Bernie Marsden - Kings

Well, it’s a tribute album innit?  And lord knows there are always plenty of them kicking around in the blues music realm.  So what makes Kings any different from all the other runners and riders?  It’s very simple – Bernie Marsden is a master craftsman.  The guy has the blues in his veins, he can capture a modern sound while remaining true to the roots, and he has an incredibly light touch as a guitar player.  So these may be old songs originally recorded by BB, Albert and Freddie King, but our Bernie constantly conjures up moments that make them fresh and interesting.
Bernie Marsden - me and my beastly guitar!
Pic by Fabio Gianardi
Take the Leon Russell-penned Freddie song ‘Help Me Through The Day’, for example.  It’s a blues ballad emotive enough to evoke Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, delivered in deliciously patient fashion, with Marsden offering flickering gems of soulfulness with precision-tooled tone.  Way back in 1979 the song was also covered by Whitesnake on their Lovehunter album, so that one quickly recalls David Coverdale in his prime.  But while Marsden’s light voice will never have the resonance of a BB King, he’s learned over the years to bend his vocals to a satisfying bluesy feel so that DC comparisons soon pass.
Possibly the two most familiar tracks here are ‘Key To The Highway’ and ‘Help The Poor’, both of which were given 24 carat modern readings by BB King and Eric Clapton back in 2000.  Marsden’s versions may not be better, but he does put his own successful spin on them.  ‘Key To The Highway’ opens with some low-down twangery, before giving way to clear-toned, sustain-heavy guitar licks, and gentle vibrato worthy of BB.  And on ‘Help The Poor’ he deploys a chorus pedal, or some other gizmo beyond my ken, to bring a bright harmonising effect to some passages, while dropping his voice into a more meditative pitch than usual.
Major highlights include ‘I’ll Play The Blues For You’, and ‘Same Old Blues’.  The former hangs off a lazy beat from Jim Russell and sinuous, loping bass from John Gordon, while Marsden summons up yet more effortlessly magnetic guitar, making a little go a very long way.  ‘Same Old Blues’, meanwhile, combines a warm guitar sound, tinkling piano from Bob Haddrell, and some of Marsden’s best vocals to produce a great take on a great Don Nix song, suggesting a late night barstool reflection, while the barkeep patiently thumbpolishes his shot glasses.
There are uptempo pleasures too.  The opener ‘Don’t Lie To Me’ is as light as the froth on a cappuccino – a proper Italian one, that is – with tripping, hip-twisting rhythms from Russell.  And there’s plenty of grit in the rocking ‘Me And My Guitar’, on which Marsden well and truly nails the Freddie King vibe well before the teasing outro quote from ‘Going Down’ – as he also does on the self-penned ‘Runaway’, a very Freddie-style slice of instrumental boogie, with Marsden’s guitar constantly finding unusual angles of attack.  I like to imagine them having a hoot in the studio as Bernie knocked out some of the laughter-inducing guitar breaks in evidence here.
Kings is not a museum piece dedicated to BB, Freddie and Albert.  Bernie Marsden may have been inspired by them, but he doesn’t sound beholden on this relaxed, affectionate exploration of their songs.  Kings is a reminder of just how good Bernie Marsden is - which is very good indeed.  I look forward to further episodes in Bernie’s Inspirations Series.  But I’m crossing my fingers that somewhere down the line he’ll give us a couple of original albums too.
 
Kings is out now on Conquest Records, and can be ordered on CD here, and can be downloaded/streamed here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram - 662

Now, I know what all the guitar freaks will be asking about this second album from Clarksdale “prodigy” Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram: is the kid still the next generation fretboard hero?  So let’s address that point right away, shall we? Yep, have no fear, the Kingfish continues to shine when it comes to the plank spanking.
Me, I’m more interested in the big picture – the guitar for sure, but also the songs, the arrangements, and Ingram’s singing.  From that standpoint, the opening title track ‘662’ ticks all the boxes.  Titled after the telephone area code for Clarksdale, it’s a rattlin’ rockin’ blues, and though the dynamic vocal mic used on the first verse is an unnecessary gimmick, the fact that
The Kingfish wrings that neck
Pic by Laura Carbone
young Christone has a great voice is still self-evident – it’s big, it’s round, it’s deep, and it’s persuasive.  When Glenn Worf’s bass kicks in on the second verse it really turbocharges proceedings, and after a teasing pause there’s another minute of wing-ding soloing as the cherry on the cake.
But it’s with fourth track ‘Another Life Goes By’ that Ingram embarks on a spree of really impressive material.  It’s a coolly reflective piece with a mellow, boom-chick groove over which Ingram delivers an articulate lyric about the impact of spiralling hate.  “Gotta stop the madness before another life goes by,” he sings, in soulful fashion, backed up by superb, mellifluous guitar playing.
He follows that with ‘Not Gonna Lie’, kick-started by a juddering riff and chops of wah-wah rhythm guitar, matched by a forthright lyric about the importance of singing from the heart rather than mouthing clichés.  It then segues straight into the loose-limbed ‘Too Young To Remember’, featuring funky, spartan rhythm guitar over a stuttering jazzy beat courtesy of drummer and producer Tom Hambridge, while Ingram delivers some easy, breezy soloing, and sings about being too young to have first-hand knowledge of old-fashioned juke joints, but still knowing blues history.  Suggesting that “when you see me playing guitar, you’re looking back a hundred years” is a bit of a stretch though – if Charley Patton were to see the cover pic of Ingram playing a purple Strat, he’d think a Martian had landed.
There’s no arguing with the following ‘You’re Already Gone’ though, a piece of dreamy soul recognising that a still-official girlfriend is mentally out the door, throughout which Ingram scatters delicate, rippling and shimmering guitar licks.  And while this may close a run of tracks that are real attention-grabbers, one way or another, there are several other tracks that aren’t far behind.  ‘That’s All It Takes’ is a smile-inducing soul ballad with horn backing and its roots in Motown, and a couple of impeccable, fluid solos – simple enough, but beautifully done.  And ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ is a genuine slow blues, with lazy piano in the background from Marty Sammon, and a bravura solo from young Christone, with changes of pace, twists and turns, and tension and release, sustaining interest with ease.
Ingram’s guitar rings like a bell on the mid-paced boogie of ‘That’s What You Do’, a contemplation of life on the road to which he adds another playful, darting and diving solo.  Then ‘Something In The Dirt’ is a companion piece to ‘662’, a bit of old-fashioned fun with barrelhouse piano to the fore that’s also a meditation on the Delta roots of the blues.
For me, a couple of tracks should have been cut, particularly the uneasily arranged ‘She Calls Me Kingfish’, on which it seems like nobody is quite in the pocket.  But that’s offset by the bonus track of ‘Rock & Roll’ which, far from being a rocker, is a haunting elegy for Ingram’s mother and her encouragement of his music – reflective and heartfelt, right down to the plaintive guitar solo.
662 isn’t perfect, but it does confirm that the Kingish is a special talent.  The material is varied and for the most part top notch, embellished not only with startling guitar but with real-deal vocals too.  Is he the next King of the Blues?  Who can say?  But Christone Ingram is sure to harvest more awards with this display.

662 is released by Alligator Records on 23 July.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Eddie Martin - The Birdcage Sessions

So what does Britain’s Eddie Martin have in store for us this time around?
Well, let’s start by saying that The Birdcage Sessions is a primarily acoustic affair, leaning heavily on Martin’s guitar work and rich voice, with some minimalist additional instrumentation from Martin himself, plus a few cello contributions from his son Xavi.
Stylistically much of it draws on country blues.  But there’s a British folk element to Martin’s playing too, in which respect the guy clearly knows his Richard Jansch from his Bert Thompson – geezers who of course had their own take on Delta blues.
Eddie Martin let out of his cage
So the opener ‘Before We Wake Up’ majors on restrained, slinky acoustic picking with hints of slide, complemented by spells of droning cello and flickers of moaning electric guitar.  Add in some sporadic percussion, and the end result is a darkly cinematic blues vibe for a commentary on modern day greed and poverty.  And the following ‘Home’ is a simple, hypnotic blues, embellished by shivers of harp, subtle washes of organ, and some feminine-sounding backing vocals that Martin apparently managed to contrive himself.
Elsewhere though, ‘Skylight’ combines rippling guitar and nicely judged cello accents in a manner that vaguely brings to mind Richard Thompson and John Martyn.  It’s a meditation framed by the skylight in Martin’s home studio, an imaginative contemplation of the world beyond that window, and the world within - or “space . . . both inner and outer”, as Bill Hicks might have put it.  Closing track ‘Country Walk’, meanwhile, has a Bert Jansch feel, with acoustic playing, slide included, that feels like swimming through choppy water.
And speaking of water, ‘River Song’ flows musically like a current passing through both pools and eddies, with kick drum and harp added to the mix.  The river is a common enough metaphor, and one that Martin was also fond of on his previous album Thirst, but he handles it with style - as he does with the lyrics throughout - and delivers it expressively too.
Because the thing is, the songs on The Birdcage Sessions may be rooted in old-fashioned blues, but they’re not stuck in some time warp, with Martin imitating some dirt-poor dude scratching a living in the Mississippi Delta, with hellhounds and mean-hearted women on his tail.  Nope, Martin writes songs that reflect the world around him.
So if ‘Birdcage Blues’ is a fairly straightforward country blues, at first percussive and then less so, lyrically it’s a call for liberty dedicated to Black Lives Matter.  Meanwhile Martin brings some gritty electric guitar to the fore for ‘I Long For A Sail’, augmented by a metronomic bass note, moaning harp, foot percussion and handclaps as he muses on the appeal of sailing in the midst of lockdown.  And minimalist cello lays down an uneasy background for Martin’s slow and steely picking on the tale of relationship pain in the modern world that is ‘Falling’.
Special mention too to ‘Lazy Sunday’, a reverie about doing not a lot that has lap steel to the fore, twanging lazily to create a dreamy vibe that puts me in mind of Geraint Watkins.  And on a free and easy front, there’s fun to be had on the likes of ‘Kitchen Boogie’ and ‘Too Much Choice Blues’.
On the surface The Birdcage Sessions may seem a simple affair – just some old bald fella with a guitar and a harmonica doing ye olde worlde blues, right?  But there’s a depth and a subtlety to it that’s worth exploring, if you have the patience.  As ‘Lazy Sunday’ puts it, why not “lay right here and watch the sun creep across the floor”, let Eddie Martin’s songs wash over you, and see what you think?
 
The Birdcage Sessions was released on 9 July, and is available here.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Ivy Gold - Six Dusty Winds

Atlantic Crossing may have been the title of an album by Rod the Mod, but it’s also a good description for this blues rock/classic rock pot pourri from Ivy Gold, given that Six Dusty Winds is a transatlantic collaboration between Avalon guitarist Sebastian Eder and singer Manou from Germany, drummer and bassist Tal Bergman and Kevin Moore from the States, and Swedish keys man Anders Olinder.
But wherever they come from, the initial impression when they press play on ‘Face Of Deceit’ is encouraging.  There’s a latterday Purpleness to proceedings as Bergman and Moore kick in with a big fat rhythm section sound, over which Eder essays some – let’s get technical here – twiddly
Ivy Gold get photographically tricksy
guitar on the intro.  Fair play to ‘em, here and throughout Ivy Gold whack out a great sound, with the benefit of Eder’s experienced production skills.  Olinder adds some appealing, burbling organ fills, female singer Manou delivers a satisfying vocal, and Eder takes the biscuit with a stinging, slow-slow-quick-quick-slow solo.
Some of these positives remain a constant across the piece – strong musicianship and arrangements, great sound, and some ear-catching soloing from Olinder, and especially Eder.  And in the latter part of the album the more blues-tinged tracks like ‘Shine On’, ‘We Are One’ and ‘Without You’ show them at their best.  On ‘Shine On’ Manou produces a smoother than usual vocal, while on ‘Without You’ she gets dramatic and angsty but still on point.  Eder offers a clever, teasing guitar solo on the first of these, while on ‘We Are One’ funky rhythm guitar and bass underpin an appealing organ solo.
Mind you, some of their traits that are more creeping ivy than burnished gold are also evident.  There’s a tendency towards melodies that, while pleasant enough, are less than startling.  And on ‘We Are One’ Manou leans towards a declamatory vocal style, which she deploys across much of the first half of the album, and which doesn’t do much for me.  Which is a pity, because on the other hand the lady deserves credit for the lush harmonies and backing vocals that bring a sheen to songs like ‘This Is My Time’, with its choppy rhythm guitar and swells of organ, and a cool bridge leading into a soaring solo from Eder.  Sadly it’s also one of several songs to feature a hackneyed lyric, in this case asserting that “This is my time to change my life, it’s not a crime to break free” – though in mitigation, I imagine English is Manou’s second language, and I’d like to see yer average Brit muso deliver quality wordsmithery in German.
Still and all, there are always impressive moments to be found.  There’s the solemn and spangly, mirrorball-ready intro to ‘Retribution’, on which Olinder serves up a tastily reflective organ solo, that in turn segues into a stiletto-sharp guitar solo over a switched up chord sequence.  Slapping bass from Moore kicks off a twitchy funk intro on ‘Believe’, with stuttering drums from Bergman, developing into a savvy arrangement in which Olinder’s organ solo is the icing on the cake of a prog-funk-rock vibe, while Eder’s guitar break plays around with tension and release to good effect.  And in spite of another clunky lyric, they just about nail the demi-epic aspirations of the well-assembled closer ‘Born Again’, a chunky mid-paced rocker on which pulsing keys form the backdrop to another polished guitar showcase from Eder, ahead of a neatly coasting outro.
On Six Dusty Winds the whole ain’t really more than the sum of Ivy Gold’s parts, but some of those parts are still impressive.  The challenge for Ivy Gold next time around is to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, because it sounds to me like they have the tools to do the job.
 
Six Dusty Winds is out now on Golden Ivy Records.