Sunday, February 28, 2021

Redfish - Songs From The Fire Station

Tick tock, time flies.  I’m two weeks beyond the release date with a review of this latest thang by north west of England/south west of Scotland band Redfish.  It’s worth the wait though.
Songs From The Fire Station is a four track EP of covers, recorded live at the Old Fire Station in Carlisle, effectively the home venue for the Redfish gang.  
The best moments come with the opening and closing tracks, ‘Meet Me In The Morning’ and ‘Use Me’, both of which display the kind of imagination that makes Redfish stand out from the blues herd.
The first, a Dylan song, is seven minutes worth of long distance travel from the semi-acoustic twanginess
Redfish turning blue
of the original.  The initial focus is on slinky Fender Rhodes piano from Fraser Clark and funky bass from Rod Mackay, garnished with sprinklings of bluesy licks Martin McDonald.  I sense that a lot of work has gone into giving this arrangement its soulful, jazzy, and relaxed vibe.  Clark’s piano solo eases and flutters its way across the octaves, before McDonald picks up the baton with a guitar solo that teases out and then releases the tension, while Sandy Sweetman’s drums tie things together in lazy, swinging fashion.
McDonald opens ‘Use Me’ with some Hendrix-homage wah-wah á la ‘Voodoo Chile’ which then melts into the soulful groove of the Bill Withers classic, over stuttering bass from Mackay.  Now and then everything drops away except pattering drums and the vocals of Stumblin’ Harris.  Now, Harris may not have the greatest voice in the world, but he does know how to use what he’s got, and he’s very good here, raising and lowering his voice and lending lots of character to the song.  There’s an interesting stuttering rhythm on the go underneath Clark’s piano, and they accelerate smoothly into a yowling wah-wah solo from McDonald, before downshifting again to bring plenty of dynamics to proceedings.  It’s a great song from Bill Withers in the place, and they do it justice.
In between, Hound Dog Taylor’s ‘Give Me Back My Wig’ and Jimmy Reed’s ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ may be less interesting, but they’re still entertaining live fare.  The former is high revving, slide-jangling blues, delivered with plenty of energy.  McDonald goes on a slide guitar toboggan ride, and Clark delivers a barrelhouse piano foray that keeps you hanging on the edge until takes a handbrake turn, and they fairly charge towards the buffers at the end.  ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ is more sturdy, mid-tempo boogie, with the ivories well-tinkled in a Johnnie Johnson stylee, and a warped-sounding guitar solo to add a different flavour.
All in all Songs From The Fire Station is good enough to make me wonder why they didn’t add a few more tracks and produce something more substantial than this tasty appetiser.  But less is sometimes more, and all that.  In any event, Redfish have followed up their album Souls with another demonstration that they’re not just yer typical 12 bar blues bashers.  And that shouldn’t really surprise me any more.

Songs From The Fire Station is available here.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Adventures in the South - New Orleans, Part 1

It was the morning after the night before in Lafayette, Louisiana, and we were up and about and ready to hit the road for New Orleans.  If you want to read about our Lafayette layover, you’ll find that episode here.  Or if you don’t know what this Adventues In The South business is all about, you can go right back to the beginning here.
We headed back along Highway 10, and the 18 mile long, stilts-over-gator-country Atchafalaya Basin Bridge towards Baton Rouge.  But from there we didn’t take the direct route to New Orleans.  Our plan instead was to take the scenic route, and approach New Orleans via the Lake
The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway
Pontchartrain Causeway – the longest continuous bridge in the world, at nearly 24 miles.  This detour wouldn’t take us much longer – or at least wouldn’t have done if a landmark like this was clearly signposted.  But no – here’s the longest continuous bridge in the world, which is even name-checked in John Hiatt’s much-loved, much-covered song ‘Feels Like Rain’, and you’d scarcely know it existed from the road signs.  Bizarre.  So we managed to plough on across the state line into Mississippi, where we had to make an impromptu pit stop at a State Park or some such to do an about turn.
Second time lucky, we found the turn-off, and then the bridge.  And it is remarkable, arrowing south across the lake, and over the horizon to N’Awlins – not jaw-dropping, but worth the diversion.
We dropped our hire car at the airport, as we wouldn’t need it for the remaining few days of our trip, and took a cab to our lodgings.  For New Orleans my other half Jill had selected the Hotel le Marais in the French Quarter, just a few steps from Bourbon Street.  Very nice it was too, as we chilled out after the drive (during which we had blessed the aircon as the temperature hit new heights) and the cab ride, by sinking into the pool in the rear courtyard with a couple of cocktails
Hotel le Marais hangs out the flags for us
– Strawberry Mimosas being the order of the day.
Later, in the course of a first wander around, we enjoyed some grilled oysters in one of the numerous local oyster bars.  Then we took the very warm evening air in Bourbon Street, and ended up in one of its well-known music haunts, the Famous Door.  Here we were treated to a soul and R’n’B, so cool one of them was wearing wraparound shades, whipping through a set of classic covers in most satisfying style.  The audience – a decent number for midweek – was rather less cool mind you, as it included a high proportion of Elks.  No, not the big beasts with coatrack antlers, of course.  These middle-aged folks were members of the Order of Elks, one of those fraternal societies so popular in the States, and their bright yellow t-shirts announced they were in town for a Convention.  The Order of Elks is very keen on God, the Flag and the Constitution – but less keen on black members until the 70s, and still not wild about women members.  That
One of the more genteel Bourbon St buildings
evening though, the Elk types – of both sexes – seemed mostly intent on having a few beers and shaking their booty to the band.
When the band took a break we spread our wings and found a bar further up the road where a jazz quartet was in action.  Rather good they were too, with an exuberant drummer who was really throwing himself into it, and a trumpet player who in my recollection bore a startling resemblance to the actor Chiwetel Ejiofor.  What was most noticeable though, was that they were competing with some rock bar across the street, which was blasting out the likes of Bon Jovi with the volume turned up to 11.  If this was the cause of the slightly pained expression that often crossed the face of our trumpeter, then I sympathised.
That trumpeter’s expression, I have to say, sums up my abiding impression of Bourbon Street.  It’s tacky.  People wander up and down it carrying large, garishly designed plastic vessels filled with high voltage concoctions named “Hurricanes”, “Hand Grenades” and such like.  Here and there along the way they pass by a selection of strip joints, with window displays that make their repertoire clear – even to the pre-teens dutifully trailing along in the company of Mom and Pop.  It smells a bit too, like once a week the whole avenue gets sluiced down with slops from the beer.
Appealing, huh?  Well, it still has some plus points.  And there’s more to New Orleans than Bourbon Street!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

When Rivers Meet - The EP Collection

Okay, so let’s recap.  When Rivers Meet are a British blues-type duo, comprising Grace and Aaron Bond.  They released their debut album We Fly Free in November 2020.  Many of you will know this.  But before that they’d released two EPs – The Uprising in September 2019 and Innocence Of Youth in May 2020.  Some of you will know this, and will have snaffled copies of those EPs some time back.  Good for you.  Now go get a coffee while the rest of us catch up.
You can’t get those two EPs any more, in their original form.  But you can now get this single CD double-helping of them.
So for the unenlightened, here’s the lowdown.
Grace and Aaron Bond - they get a bit dark
Pic by Terry Crouch
  Opening track ‘Free Man’ typifies a key strand of the WRM modus operandi.  The intro is heavy on twangeroonie from Grace Bond's 
resonator mandolin, and then she cuts loose vocally over grinding slide guitar from husband Aaron, over boom-crash drums courtesy of co-producer Adam Bowers.  The Bonds don’t go in for much soloing, but here there’s a brief mandolin break that manages to sound peculiarly like tinkling high notes from a piano.  Later on ‘Innocence Of Youth’ is in a similar vein.  There’s some Page-like slithering slide on the intro, but the backing is minimal until it’s interrupted by jagged crunches of guitar and drums as the song takes off.  At which point Grace Bond lets fly like an air raid siren - that’s the kind of vocal impact she makes when she hits top gear.
But that’s not the only way When Rivers Meet roll.  The Bond girl gets delicate like a Homeric Siren on the gorgeous melody of ‘Tomorrow’, backed by faintly chiming guitar chords and spot on harmonies from Aaron.  Harmonies are also at the heart of ‘Like What You See’, a song that’s steamier than a Turkish baths in overdrive.  It pulses along, restrained and tense, with ringing guitar chords and thudding bass and kick drum.  Then it builds in intensity, with violin thrown into the mix, until La Bond raises her voice in – how shall we put this? – a wordless moan of rapture.
‘Kill For Your Love’ is daring too, all throbbing guitar and snapping, rattling percussion, while Ms Bond croons her way through a darkly violent, obsessive sounding lyric.  At moments like these there’s a Gothic edge to the WRM vibe. ‘My Babe Says That He Loves Me’, similarly, is nobody’s straight-up ballad.  It combines big, rough-edged guitar chords, wistfully descending vocal harmonies, and lines about whispering ravens and “the hidden truth of falling tears”.  Add in a handbrake turn for the chorus, a neat mandolin break, and some pounding drums, and there’s plenty to keep you listening.
They don’t always hit the bullseye.  There’s plenty of dynamics on ‘A Dead Man Doesn’t Lie’, with its ticking riff like a dialled-down grandchild of Zeppelin, but it feels a bit thin to be extended to over five minutes, for all that Grace Bond elevates it with an eerie violin solo.  And the same is maybe true of ‘Want Your Love’, despite its fuzzy, propulsive rhythm guitar, another scraping, ear-catching fiddle break, and a big crescendo at the end.
But here’s the thing.  Nobody else out there sounds like When Rivers Meet.  They’re also a photogenic pair, which can’t hurt.  And I reckon they’re pretty savvy too. Little wonder they’ve managed to create a buzz like a beehive in just a couple of years.  When live music returns, one fine day, you’d better snap up your tickets to see ‘em sharpish, because they’re gonna be in demand.
 
You can order The EP Collection from the When Rivers Meet website, here.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Curtis Salgado - Damage Control

Oh yeah.  Count me in.  From the moment that opening track ‘The Longer That I Live’ hoves into earshot, Damage Control is the real deal.  It bobs along, piano, organ and guitar all dovetailing perfectly with little licks and remarks, over an easy-going, toe-tapping rhythm.  It sounds like these guys are having fun, and I certainly am.  There’s a twangy little solo from Kid Andersen, and a witty organ counterpart from Mike Finnigan, and throughout it all Curtis Salgado delivers a spot-on, expressive vocal about getting the most out of life.  Given that this is a guy who’s overcome two different bouts of cancer, and come through big time heart surgery, I kinda think he means it.
There’s a timeless quality to this stuff, like Salgado and his co-conspirators have uncovered a
"Play me some blues, Curtis!"
Pic by Marilyn Stringer
treasure trove of rock’n’roll, rhythm’n’blues and soul – and other stuff from the popular music lexicon.
Tracks like the Tex-Mex ‘Count Of Three’, ‘I Don’t Do That No More’ and the closing ‘Slow Down’ carry echoes of Delbert McClinton – wry and knowing both lyrically and musically.  ‘I Don’t Do That No More’ is piano-led boogie, with Kevin McKendree tickling the ivories on this occasion, as Salgado delivers a paean to clean living but insists life can still be a breeze.  And Larry Williams' ‘Slow Down’ (also raved up by The Beatles) is even better, with a shuffling groove underlined by horns, more honky tonk from McKendree and twangy rock’n’roll guitar from Bonnie Raitt accomplice George Marinelli, while Salgado gets his gnashers around some tongue-twisting phrases and even hints at Jerry Lee Lewis with some shivering delivery.
‘You’re Going To Miss My Sorry Ass’ may not quite have the chorus to live up to its title, but it’s still a crackling slice of rock’n’roll akin to John Hiatt’s ‘Tennessee Plates’, with more barrelhouse piano, warm acoustic bass from Mark Winchester, and mood-catching backing vocals from Johnny Lee Schnell.  Meanwhile ‘Hail Mighty Caesar’ is a N’Awlins-inflected take on the story of Caesar, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.  It’s a hoot, but don’t rely on it if you’re revising for a History exam.  Instead, lay back and enjoy the witty, Latin-tinged piano courtesy of Jim Pugh, the subtle guitar and acoustic bass from Kid Andersen, while horns bring a second line funk feel to proceedings, and Salgado throws in some shoutalong backing vocals to underline the party vibe.
The variety is enhanced by ‘Oh For The Cry Eye’, all simple, swingin’ rhythm from Tony Braunagel on drums, tooting organ, and jazzy backing vocals from Wendy Moten as they cook up a bit of a Randy Newman feel.  And there’s also room for a touch of zydeco on ‘Truth Be Told’, a neat little toon that rattles along nicely as Salgado duets with Wayne Toups, who also adds cajun squeezebox over a snappy, Diddley-ish beat.  Meanwhile ‘The Fix Is In’ is downbeat funkiness, cruising along on a slowed-down ‘Billie Jean’-like bass line as Salgado delivers some cold-eyed social commentary on modern corruption.  “Somebody play me the blues!” he calls out in response, before delivering a sharp harmonica solo.
One of the very best things on the album though, is the slow-ish soul of ‘Always Say I Love You (At The End Of Your Goodbyes)’, with Salgado’s whole-hearted vocal nailing the emotional lyric about never knowing if you’ll get another chance to tell people you care about that you love them.
The songwriter comparisons and supporting cast I’ve referenced will tell you a lot of what you need to know about this album.  But in the end it’s Curtis Salgado’s engaging voice that really brings home the bacon, full of personality and conviction, really owning these songs.  Maybe a few of the thirteen tracks on could have been stronger, but that’s taking us deep into quibble territory.  Damage Control is a damn fine, irresistibly listenable, enjoyable, likeable album.  Count me in.
 
Damage Control is released on 26 February on Alligator Records.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The BluesBones - Live On Stage

Where to begin?  Well, why not Belgium, since that’s where The BluesBones hail from?  And while my knowledge of the Belgian music scene wouldn’t fill the back of a postage stamp, I’m hazarding a guess that these guys are among the country’s prime exponents of blues-based tunage, having won the Belgian Blues Challenge in 2016 and come second in the European event the following year.
But this is not a purist blues band.  The BluesBones have a distinctive sound that carries a fair amount of heft.  Right at the start of this live album, on ‘Find My Way Out’, they crank out a surging riff with a whiplash end to it, and the Jon Lord-ish power of Edwin Risbourg’s Hammond organ puts me in mind of Deep Purple.  Sort of.  Well, not really.  For one thing, singer Nico De
"Psst, Nico - what song is this again?"
Cock doesn’t have either the raunch and range of Ian Gillan or the soulfulness of prime Coverdale – but he still has a rich, assertive voice.  And though Purple comparisons float to the surface again here and there as the set progresses, the Bluesbones gang explore some different avenues.
‘Find My Way Out’ does make it clear that they’re a tight outfit though, capable of pulling off a clever, stop-start, drum break fuelled ending with ease.  And the following ‘The End’ shows that they can put together an impressive arrangement for something looser too.  Kicking off with rubberband-like bass from Geert Boeckx, it’s cool and steady, with chiming guitar and twirls or organ, while drummer Jens Roelandt relaxes behind the beat.
The twelve tracks on offer are a bit short of convincing hooks, though the songs are generally well-constructed.  But ‘Romance For Rent’ and ‘Psycho Mind’ both stand out as having that little bit extra.  The former is uptempo, with an appealing vibe like the theme to some Sixties TV show – Man In A Suitcase maybe – and a tense, ascending riff, and a typically impressive organ solo from Risbourg.  The riff on ‘Psycho Mind’ is tasty too, more helter skelter, and if they never really whack things into top gear they still generate satisfying momentum, with a thumping rhythm section and oomph from Paglia too while Risbourg is solo-ing.  ‘Going Down’ – no, not that one – may not be the catchiest, but it is atmospheric.  A mid-paced grind with a simple slide riff, it’s another impressive arrangement, and Paglia puts the icing on the cake with an eerie slide solo – the phrase danse macabre springs to mind.
De Cock gets more soulful on the slow and pulsing ‘Betrayal’, on which Risbourg delivers a solo with plenty of light and shade, and the vocals are also the main focus on the following ‘Sealed Souls’, an even slower and moodier affair with a poetic lyric about warfare and loss, that rouses itself in the middle, before falling away again for a quiet, pinpricking Paglia guitar solo.  It’s one of several tracks of seven minutes or more – they do like to spread themselves – but they make good use of the time here.
The uptempo rocker ‘Cruisin’’ has a slightly naff lyric about hunting down “baby” who has nicked the hero’s car and guitar, but it’s redeemed by some humorous musical twists and turns that carry echoes of Purple playfulness.  And Paglia brings the 11-minute long closer ‘Whisky Drinking Woman’ to life with a bluesy solo incorporating some hummingbird-like fluttering, and both soulful and playful passages before the song claws its way to a crescendo, with Boeckx adding some ear-catching bass lines.
To be sure, the songs could be stronger at times.  But the BluesBones are still proper musos who know what they’re about, and if you fancy a muscular blues-rock sound that’s bit of a throwback to the late 60s/early 70s, then Live On Stage could be just the ticket.
 
Live On Stage is available now, and can be ordered here
 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Reading Matters: Diary of a Rock'n'Roll Star, by Ian Hunter

I’ve been meaning to read Ian Hunter’s Diary of a Rock’n’Roll Star for years, but a lot of the time it’s been out of print.  Recently though, I collared a copy of the most recent 2018 edition, which comes in a very stylish trade paperback format.
“May well be the best rock book ever,” says a quote from Q magazine on the front cover.  Well, I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it’s certainly an interesting read.
For the uninitiated, Hunter’s diary covers a month-long US tour in November-December 1972, when his band Mott the Hoople were looking for an American breakthrough on the back of ‘All The Young Dudes’ reaching #37 in the Billboard chart that summer.  Hunter makes one or two references to the tour having been booked in a hurry, and maybe that accounts for one of the things that struck me – the expedition feels a bit ramshackle.
Ian Hunter back in the day - that guitar looks flash, but . . .
Pic by Brian Hunter

After kicking off on the West Coast the band spend much of the next month zig-zagging around the East Coast, Mid-West, and South, often needing two flights to get from A to B.  Inevitably, given that winter is descending, they find themselves competing with the weather, sometimes facing long delays and diversions.  Oh yeah, and guitarist Mick Ralphs is constantly faced with his phobia about flying.
When they get wherever they’re going, some of the shows they’re booked on are less than seamlessly organised.  At the mercy of local promoters, for several shows they’re sharing the bill with two or even three other bands of wildly differing styles (supporting John McLaughlin being one spectacular mismatch), fighting for soundchecks and embroiled in arguments about the running order.  So bad are some of these situations that they point to their contract and blow the gig out – getting paid expenses, but still out of pocket and losing the exposure the tour was intended to bring.
The book is not, by any standards, a litany of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll.  Groupies are always hanging around, but the band aren’t interested.  More than once, in a manner symptomatic of the pre-PC argot of the times, Hunter refers to them as “slags”.  Been there, done that in the past, it seems – and now acutely aware of the diseases these “chicks” might be carrying.
The arc of the diary also reveals the fatigue brought on by touring.  Hunter starts off commenting chirpily enough about flights and hotels; flying is still a relatively novel experience back in 1972, and he finds the standards of American hotels way better than the gloom and poor service in Britain.  But as time goes on tiredness and tetchiness set in.  Flights and security can be a pain, officious cabin crew feel the rough end of his tongue, and some hotels are less pleasing.  When serious drinking does break out, it seems as likely to be in response to boredom as any kind of party vibe – and the hangovers are real.
It’s this insight Hunter provides about the workmanlike nature of the “rock’n’roll star” life that
"Author!  Author!"
marks the book out.  Mott the Hoople, with one big hit single under their belt and not long disentangled from onerous contracts and debts, are by no means rolling in money.  So it gradually dawns that their determined investigation of pawn shops wherever they go is less to do with unearthing some classic guitar to be treasured forever, than with making some spare cash.  The hard currency of these expeditions is highlighted by a Mick Ralphs’ purchase of a Gibson Les Paul Junior in Detroit.  He pays $83.50, which Hunter observes equates to £33 (the past is another country, the exchange rates were different then), plus 50% customs duty to bring it back to Britain.  So, a £200 guitar is acquired for £50, and is eminently saleable in London’s Denmark Street to put some ready cash in a skint rock’n’roller’s pocket.
What you don’t get are regular blow-by-blow accounts of the shows.  Hunter is often more preoccupied with what can go wrong, and maybe when he’s onstage he’s too in the zone to bring many reflections off it – unless something out of the ordinary has happened, which is not necessarily a good thing.  Happily though, the final show in Memphis is a highlight which makes clear the buzz of performance, and sends him on his journey back home on a high.
The book contains a heap of photographs, including a very good glossy section, and in this edition the bonus of a brief diary from Hunter of a 2015 trip to Japan, which comes over as an altogether more relaxed experience.
 
It’s a measure of Ian Hunter the songwriter that some of the 1972 experiences evidently became the seeds of Mott’s 1973 hit ‘All The Way From Memphis’, condensed and transformed into a mythical rock’n’roll tale that’s now a golden oldie.  Just like Ian Hunter himself, who is 81 years old now, and still a rock’n’roll star.
 
Diary of a Rock’n’Roll Star is published by Omnibus Press.   
 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Joanna Connor - 4801 South Indiana Avenue

BOOM-BA-DA-BOOM!  An offbeat train-like rhythm kicks in, and a second later a blizzard of slide guitar follows it.  Joanna Connor is off and running, heading for the ‘Destination’ of the opening track, and for your own safety you’d better stand back behind the yellow line.
‘Destination’ is locomotive chugalong boogie, with additional guitars from producers Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith underpinning Connor’s slide.  Reese Wynans whacks out some Johnnie Johnson-like piano, adding roll to the rock, and over the top of all that Connor delivers a raucous, assertive vocal, counterpointed by backing vocals from Jimmy Hall.
Joanna Connor - not as quiet as she looks
Pic by Maryam Wilcher
Yessiree folks, if you have a taste for rip-roaring slide guitar and a woman who sings with Joplin-esque abandon, then 4801 South India Avenue is the album for you.
If you don’t believe me, cop an earful of ‘I Feel So Good’.  Connor serves up a slide frenzy intro like screaming tyres, then hollers “Weeeeeeelllll . . . I feel so good I’m gonna boogie till the break of day!”  A slight exaggeration, given that the track lasts three and a half minutes, but it does roar along like a souped-up Ford till it downshifts into a slide-and-drums passage, then some especially pizzicato-like slide on the way to a chain-yanking ending.
There’s an appealing retro vibe to songs like ‘Come Back Home’, ‘For The Love Of A Man’, and ‘Please Help’, reflecting their provenance.  The first, penned by Hound Dog Taylor, with its rolling blues riff and sprinkles of piano, brings to mind Beano-era Bluesbreakers, with Connor delivering a powerful, well-phrased and emotive vocal, and scything slide work.  ‘For The Love Of A Man’, a Don Nix tune recorded by Albert King, rolls out a ‘Crossroads’-type riff that’s taken up by the horns that appear on a few tracks, and adds in a smile-inducing up-and-down turnaround reminiscent of the Hendrix take on ‘Hey Joe’.  And JB Hutto’s ‘Please Help’ takes another vintage-sounding riff and sprinkles slide over the top, while Connor drops her voice into a marginally lower register, and takes her slide skating over what an unusually placed, almost counter-intuitive beat.
The slow blues of Luther Allison’s ‘Bad News’ may be topped and tailed by the naff, unnecessary tolling of a funereal bell, but otherwise it delivers the goods, from its synthy bass sound to Connor’s weeping slide and plaintive vocal.  Her solo is characterful, and Reese Wynans cools off the anguish a tad with a virtuoso piano solo.
Connor has one belter of a voice, and gets soulful on the horn-laden ‘Trouble Trouble’, on which she also delivers a gritty solo that’s fraught with tension.  But wielding that muscular larynx with more subtlety wouldn’t go amiss at times, as she hollers all the way through to the strut-riffed ‘Cut You Loose’, which slows and quickens in curious fashion, taking in a woozy slide solo en route to a crash-bang conclusion.
Eventually though, she brings more dynamics to her singing on the easier-going last but one track ‘Part Time Love’, with warm organ from Wynans, some velvety sax from Mark Douthit, and subtle, rolling waves of horns.  Oh yeah, and Joey B sticks his head above the parapet to trade some licks with Connor.  It’s a song that could usefully have been slotted in earlier to apply some coolant to the steaming engine, rather than sitting back-to-back with the following ‘It’s My Time’.  A slinky and sultry affair with a semi-spoken vocal, over a subtle rolling rhythm, the closer combines twangy guitar chords mingle and some spacey keyboard trills, and Connor adds another stylish touch with her cool, angular solo.
Credit to Bonamassa and Josh Smith, and engineer JJ Blair for the huge, live sound – there’s no chance of Connor hiding her light under a bushel with this mix.  4801 South Indiana Avenue isn’t perfect, but it is one juggernaut of a blues album.  Maybe it’s been overdue, but I can hear Joanna Connor’s train a-comin’.

4801 South Indiana Avenue is released by KTBA Records on 26 February, and is available to pre-order from https://shop.jbonamassa.com/collections/ktba-records.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Quickies - Lee Rocker, Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters, Wily Bo Walker, and Fred Hostetler

Lee Rocker – Gather Round

I do like a bit of rockabilly now and then, stemming from a long-held affection for the Stray Cats.  And when I heard that this solo outing by the Cats’ bassist Lee Rocker included a take on the marvellous ‘Everybody Wants To Be A Cat’, from the Disney movie The Aristocats I enjoyed as a young kid, a quick download purchase became a necessity.
And lo, the rendition of ‘Everybody Wants To Be A Cat’ is real cool, man, with lots of low-down,
Lee Rocker - have dirty great bass, will travel!
twangy stand-up bass and a nicely crooned vocal from the Rocker fella.  Being honest, I wanted Rocker and his gang to break loose and get all hot-diggity-dog on it, but no matter – there’s plenty of rock’n’roll elsewhere!
The opening ‘Gather Round’ is a prime example, swinging and uptempo, with rockin’ slap bass from Rocker, honky tonk piano from Matt Jordan, and bright, jangling guitar from Buzz Campbell.  And there’s more upbeat entertainment on the likes of ‘Pickin’ And Grinnin’’, featuring a little firecracker of a guitar solo, with Rocker’s bass racing after it, and the rattling ‘Dog House Shuffle’, with its shoutalong chorus and even a brisk bass break.  And if it seems a bit odd to include ‘When Nothing’s Going Right’, which featured on the Stray Cats’ 2019 album 40, it still cuts the mustard.
Rocker and co are dab hands at mellower rock’n’roll pop toons too, like the dreamy ‘The Last Offline Lovers’, with its warm acoustic guitar and neatly trilling descending guitar line, and the romantic ‘Every Time I See You’, a good melody enhanced by neat harmonies and a nifty little key change.
Gather Round is no magnum opus.  It’s ten tracks and half an hour of innocent, energetic fun, and that’ll do nicely Lee, thanks very much!
 
Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters – Swashbucklin’

Scottish guitarist Jed Potts and his trio the Hillmans specialise in late Fifties/early Sixties style blues, and with the absence of live work in the last year they’ve used the time to develop a bundle of new songs.  ‘Swashbucklin’’ is the second in a series of singles featuring this original material, and it’s the kind of good-rockin-tonite blues that’s right in their wheelhouse.
Jed Potts - good rockin' tonite!
With a shuffling rhythm from drummer Jonny Christie and walking-type bass from Charlie Wild, it’s got bags of swagger, over which Potts lays down bright, stinging guitar chords, and its amusing lyric about buccaneering behaviour is well-matched by Potts’ zinging, witty soloing.  Check it out for a three-minute injection of swingin’ piratical blues.
 
‘Swashbucklin’’ is released on 8 February, available to stream on all the usual platforms, and will be available for download from Bandcamp, here.
 
Wily Bo Walker – I Want To Know

Gravel-voiced troubadour Wily Bo Walker has also released a new single, ‘I Want To Know’, previously included on his album Moon Over Indigo and now recast in slinky funk style.  It’s all grooving bass, flickers of wah-wah guitar, and cool female backing vocals from Karena K as the foundation for Walker’s deep, Waits-like groan of the film noir-ish lyric.  Then there’s icing on the cake in the form of a fuzzy-but-piercing Latin-tinted guitar solo courtesy of Mike Ross, and soul-funk Hammond organ from the inimitable Stevie Watts.

'I Want To Know' was released by Mescal Canyon Records on 22 January.
 
Fred Hostetler – Fred’s Blue Chair Blues

It’s one man and his guitar time with this nine-track collection of acoustic blues from California’s Fred Hostetler.
Hostetler eases in with Jimmy Reed’s ‘Bright Lights, Big City’, introducing himself in relaxed fashion with pleasant vocals and a warm acoustic guitar sound, to which he adds some nice flourishes as the song progresses.
His voice is his Achilles’ heel over the course of the album though, his lack of strength and resonance soon making themselves evident on ‘Hey Corporate Vandals’, an otherwise okay bit
Fred Hostetler and friend
of acoustic boogie, with a guitar figure that recalls ‘The Boy From New York City’.  And the lack of vocal attack also detracts from his intricate slide playing on ‘Deep, Deep Well’, a decent blues tune that I could imagine turning out very well if amped up by the likes of Savoy Brown.  (Hostetler was once a member of rhythm’n’bluesers Blue By Nature, so he has an understanding of muscular blues.)
There’s a tendency to long-windedness on ‘Rain On My Window Pane’ and ‘I’m A New Man’, though the former actually improves as it goes on, emerging from a so-so blues, via good guitar-picking and interesting slide work, into a good groove around the later choruses.  The latter is uptempo, brisk and cheerful, but Hostetler is straining again vocally, and as it descends into a rather dull bridge it outstays its welcome by a good minute.
Conversely, one of the best tracks is the eight-minute long ‘Taming The Wolf’, a slow blues with a spoken intro and simple guitar chords that develops into an interesting, ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ type tale of turning away from pride and confrontation, with a faster section spicing it up.  Meanwhile, in rather shorter mode, the other highlight is ‘There I Go Again’, a simple, country-ish slowie with a pleasing melody, that brings to mind Willie Nelson.
“This is what I call ‘Living Room Blues’,” Hostetler has said of Fred’s Blue Chair Blues, and the album certainly has that kind of intimate feel.  There are some decent songs in here, and Hostetler’s guitar playing is often pleasing, but I’m left with the feeling that if he’d brought in a genuine vocalist it would have given the whole enterprise a big lift.

Fred's Blue Chair Blues is out now, and available here.