Thursday, March 18, 2021

Quickies - Wily Bo Walker, Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters, Jo Carley & The Old Dry Skulls

Wily Bo Walker Presents . . . Tales Of The Mescal Canyon Troubadours
 
I could have sworn that Wily Bo Walker had already released an album going by this title a few years back, but further research suggests not.  Probably I’m just getting older and a bit more addled.  But it may also be that I can’t keep up with the Wily one’s constant re-working, re-
Wily Bo surfs it up
Pic by Sally Newhouse
imagining and re-purposing of his material.  In any event some of the songs here are familiar landmarks from cruising around the streets of “Voodooville”, the noir-ish, B-movie locale that’s the imaginary backdrop for Walker’s songwriting.
With that kind of cinematic taste, it’s little wonder that the likes of ‘Drive (Mescalito Mix)’ and ‘Jawbreaker (Surf-O-Rama)’ carry echoes of the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction.  The former tune swathes Walker’s characteristic growl in Hank Marvin-esque twang, while the latter is an instrumental firmly in Dick Dale/Del Shannon terrain.
My favourite track here is cut from different cloth though.  ‘Velvet Windows’ is catchy and rootsy in a JJ Cale ‘Tulsa Sound’ fashion.  It canters along with rippling acoustic guitar and banjo accompanied by pattering drums and stand-up bass, adorned by an Albert Lee-style guitar solo.
Different guitar styles are in evidence elsewhere.  Regular compadre E D Brayshaw contributes typically biting and sizzling six-string stuff over the loping beat of ‘Walk In Chinese Footsteps (Bardo Thödol Mix), and adopts a piercing, Santana-without-the-Latin-rhythms persona on the closing ‘Moon Over Indigo’, with its hints of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’.  (Bardo Thödol is the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, by the way.  Go figure.)  Meanwhile the uptempo ‘Chattahoochee Coochee Man (Southern Slide)’ does exactly what it says on the tin, dialling up a squealing solo that turns grittier as it progresses, bouncing off some underplayed injections of horns.
If you’re not familiar with the Wily Bo Walker oeuvre, Tales Of The Mescal Canyon Troubadours offers an ideal entrée – ten tracks that are all roads to Voodooville.

Tales Of The Mescal Canyon Troubadours is available now from Mescal Canyon Records.

 
 
Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters – It Won’t Be Long
 
‘It Won’t Be Long’ is the third in a series of original singles coming down the pipe from Scotland'sJed Potts & The Hillman Hunters, and finds them coming over all Howlin’ Wolf.  Which is some going, because Jed Potts isn’t six foot four tall, doesn’t have a bass voice like gravel, and sure as hell ain’t black.  But fair play to him, he digs deep to find all the vocal raunch he can muster to go with the scratchy, spiky, lurching opening to this latest outing.
It’s a tale of domestic less-than-bliss that sounds like it was garnered from some seedy Chicago joint, with Potts reinforcing the sentiments with jagged injections of guitar.  Then they cool things down halfway through and play around with the groove ahead of the lyrica
Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters - not in a seedy Chicago joint
Pic by Mark Holloway
l pay-off.  All in all, ‘It Won’t Be Long’ is the best effort so far in this string of new releases from the Hillmans.
 
‘It Won’t Be Long’ is released on 20 March and available from Bandcamp here.
 
 
Jo Carley & The Old Dry Skulls – Voodoo Bones & Vaudeville Blues
 
Is Anglo-Voodoo a thing now?   Are sales of hoodoo dolls and gris-gris soaring along the Thames Delta?  Because if Voodoo Bones & Vaudeville Blues sounds like it has one foot in Louisiana Creole, the other seems to be planted in East End music hall.
To give a quick example, the brief instrumental ‘Crowhurst’s Lament’, with its creeping low-end guitar notes and funereal beat, may carry dark and atmospheric hints of a movie soundtrack – but that movie might well be Carry On Screaming.  I have visions of Kenneth Williams waist-deep in a vat of boiling oil, yelling “Frying tonight!”
I’m kidding. A bit.  But I’m not dissing Jo Carley & The Old Dry Skulls when I say this, because that comic tinge is deliberate.  As is, I imagine, Jo Carley’s occasional preference for a vocal approach that evokes Eliza Doolittle more than Marie Laveau – witness ‘The Jungle’, with its spoken intro.  Nothing wrong with that in principle – I call Ian Dury as an expert witness, M’lud – but here it does seem a bit mannered at times.  For me her more straight-up vocals work better, allowing her use of dynamics and story-telling to come across without distraction, as on ‘The Devil’ and the following ‘She Got Him (With Her Voodoo)’.
Jo Carley and pals - engagingly bonkers
The arrangements often suggest skiffle, but that’s not the whole story.  Carley, her husband Tim, and amigo James Le Huray have a range of weapons in their arsenal, and between them can chuck in mandolin, fiddle, banjo and keyboards as the need arises.  Sansula, even.  (A kind of African thumb piano, since you ask.)
The melody of opener ‘Little Limbs Of Satan’ reminds me of nothing so much as the daft old song ‘Three Little Fishies’ – you know the one, where the fishies “swam and they swam right over the dam”.   But there’s better fare elsewhere.  Highlights include the slow-ish ‘Lose Your Soul’ with banjo-picking leading the accompaniment, some spare guitar notes flitting in here and there, and sonorous backing vocals from the fellas.  ‘The Witchdoctor’ also bobs along in appealing fashion, with a cod-ominous vibe, and some fiddle duetting with guitar to hint at Gogol Bordello gypsy punk.  ‘The Devil’ could be a stripped down, esoteric take on something from Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions Band.  And there’s a characterful vocal to with the tense and suppressed feel and syncopated rhythm of ‘The Bone Readers’.
Voodoo Bones & Vaudeville Blues is engagingly bonkers, and probably an acquired taste.  But if a little of that ol’ Black Magic is what gets your mojo working, then let Jo Carley & The Old Dry Skulls go do their voodoo on you.
 
Voodoo Bones & Vaudeville Blues is available now on Old Higue Records/New Retro Sounds, here.

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