Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Quickies - Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry, James Oliver Band, Jimmy Lee

Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry – Purple Kittens
Kimberley Rew, in case you didn’t know, was in Katrina & The Waves, and wrote their hits ‘Walking On Sunshine’ (featured in the movie of High Fidelity) and Eurovision-winning ‘Love Shine A Light’, as well as songs covered by The Bangles and Celine Dion.  There are a couple of things I take from this.  First, Kimberley Rew knows how to write a pop song.  Second, he’s made enough loot from these efforts to do whatever he goddamn likes.
Kimberley Rew & Lee Cave-Berry - gonna have some fun tonight!
Seems to me both these factors are at play with Purple Kittens, the new album from Rew and his singing/bass-playing missus Lee Cave-Berry.  There are tracks here that have the hallmark of precious-metal-level pop songsmithing – not gold standard perhaps, but still pretty shiny.  And then there are moments of “Oh why not” whimsicality to match that twee album title
On the plus side, ‘You Can Rely On Me’ is catchy and scratchy, all rolling tom toms and staccato riffing.  Rew claims inspiration from Santana, but what I'm hearing is a second cousin to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’.  ‘Kingdom Of Love’ is even better, a hooky slice of power pop that descends in a direct line from the Kinks, with nifty wordplay and crisp, ringin’ an’ twangin’ guitar.  Makes me think that Rew has a liking for the edginess of punk, if not the accompanying sneer.
‘Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream’ is another fun jangle-pop confection, with a lyric that runs all the way from raspberry ripple to rum’n’raisin, boosted by another punchy, grungy guitar break. ‘Black Ribbon’, its words and melody courtesy of a couple of six and eight year-old kids, is a two-minute tribute to  their grandad, a late bandmate of Rew’s, and if that sounds mawkish the upbeat results aren’t, again garlanded by a rock’n’roll guitar solo.  And the closing ‘Daytime Night Time’ is straightforward lightweight chug-a-boogie that may not be ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ but can still rock all over your kitchen.
The opening ‘Penny The Ragman’ may be a paean to Morris dancing and the Women’s Institute, but the whimsy ante is upped by the languid ‘Wrong Song’, even with its flute and spiky, jagged guitar, while the following ‘Unsatisfactory Cats’, with Cave-Berry on vocals, could come from a children’s singalong collection – though an appealingly jolly one, to be sure.
Purple Kittens may be mostly about Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry pleasing themselves, but in its best moments it’s got quality to go with its naïve charm.

Purple Kittens is released on 18 June, and can be pre-ordered here from 30 April.
James Oliver Band – Goofin’ Around
I know it’s only rock’n’roll and all that, but while ‘Goofin’ Around’ may be an okay title for a two-and-a-half minute Bill Haley instrumental, it’s hardly a strong sales pitch for a five track EP.  And it has to be said that this follow-up to the James Oliver Band’s 2020 album TWANG! is, indeed, inconsistent.
‘Welsh Rockin’ Blues’ kicks off with a good twanging groove, and if its lyrics are pretty disposable
James Oliver - rockin' in the Rhondda
and the chorus feels hurried, it still benefits from a simple but effective solo from Oliver.  The rock’n’roll farmyard metaphors of ‘Chicken And The Duck’ may be passing fun, but the distorted vocals on the verses seem pointless, and certainly less interesting than the harp interventions of Billy Lee Williams, or the redeeming Chuck Berry-with-a-twist solo from Oliver.
‘Goofin’ Around’ itself is a pretty much common-or-garden rockabilly instrumental, in spite of some interesting twists and turns from Oliver and a succession of tub-thumping drum breaks from Ollie Harding.  But things perk up a bit with ‘Only Thing I Lack Is A Cadillac’.  It may owe a few quid to the Stray Cats’ ‘Look At That Cadillac’, and the vocals may be a bit squawky, but it’s energised by rumbling riffing, and a change of gear into Oliver’s guitar break and a Williams piano solo lift into a different league, showing what this band can do.
The most interesting thing here, though, is an extended take on Hendrix’s ‘Red House’, here re-titled in Welsh as ‘Ty Coch’.  Reflective and bluesy, it shows that Oliver and co have the ability to do something different, adopting a semi-spoken storytelling vocal style over Patrick Farrell’s meditative bass lines, and moulding the tune to his own pin-sharp toned style, culminating in a pretty darned impressive solo.  Hell, he even changes Jimi’s line “There’s a red house over yonder” to “There’s a red house up the Rhondda”, so bonus marks for the chutzpah.
James Oliver is a talented guitarist, and he has a good band around him, but he needs to aim for a more consistent standard than Goofin’ Around displays.  As it happens, this EP was followed on my digital turntable by a Lightnin’ Willie and the Poorboys live album – now there’s a lesson in putting your stamp on good ol’ fashioned rock’n’roll.

Goofin' Around is released by The Last Music Co on 14 May.

Jimmy Lee – Broken
Every picture tells a story, they say.  Well, on the cover picture of Broken, Jimmy Lee’s acoustic guitar is sporting a sticker with Woody Guthrie’s slogan “This machine kills fascists”.  He’s got a serious, moody look on his face too, and on the back cover he’s got a harmonica on a rack draped round his neck.  All this says Dylan-esque folk-blues, right?
Jimmy Lee gets mean and moody
Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.  Sure, Lee’s music has its roots in folk traditions, but there’s little of Dylan’s edgy, twisted vision in evidence.  He sure as shootin’ doesn’t have Dylan’s corncrake voice either, and while it could be argued that’s a blessing, it doesn’t help Lee any in grabbing the attention.
Gotta say, this kind of folksiness ain’t my usual stomping ground, so others may get more out of it.  But across 14 tracks I’m often hard pushed to find handholds to get a grip of.  The lazily trotting opener ‘Lonesome Frail And Blue’ sounds like a cowboy on the trail, with Lee's mournful harp break heightening the mood.  And in fact Lee’s harp-playing is one of his key strengths throughout, intensifying the contemplative, elegiac ‘Absent Friend’, adding character to the brisk and brief, cantering ‘Truth Be Told’, and giving another dimension to the faintly Celtic folk of ‘Torn Down The Middle’.
‘Ghost In Blue Jeans’ is one of the stronger songs, with hints of darkness in the vocal and moans of violin adding to the atmosphere.  ‘Cosmic Wheels’ combines rippling guitar and harmonies to good effect, with some sombre strings and ethereal piano also catching the ear.  And ‘3-4ths Drunk’ is a cut above too, with electric guitar adding some bite, bass guitar adding muscle, and some distorted vocals adding variety.
Often though, it’s pretty frictionless fare, into which Lee’s light, sometimes fey voice fits all too easily.  A song like ‘Old No.7 Blues’ may be a sun-dappled, Sixties-style folky blues ramble, which is nice, but that’s about all.
Jimmy Lee may be a handy acoustic muso of a folk-blues bent, but for me he needs to develop material with a bit more depth – a bit more of the jagged edges, as it were, of something “broken”.

Broken is released on 30 April, and available here.

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