Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Alligator Records: 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin' Music

With a blockbusting 58 tracks, this compilation celebrating 50 years of Alligator Records is certainly a representative tour of the label’s roster over the years.  And what’s most enjoyable about the collection is the way its variety underlines the point that the house of blues has many rooms.
That notion is nowhere better exemplified than on the opening track, ‘Give Me Back My Wig’ by Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers.  This was the very act that gave birth to Alligator when Bruce Iglauer couldn’t persuade his boss, Bob Koester of Delmark Records, to record them, and
Alligator then, with Hound Dog Taylor . . .
Pic by Diane Allmen
so resolved to do it himself.  ‘Give Me Back My Wig’ is an itchy, scratchy, fuzzy piece of business, like a ragged and hyperactive version of ‘The Boy From New York City’ – and it’s a wicked delight.
That sense of getting beyond the obvious is a recurring pleasure across this 3 CD set, whether in the breezy harp instrumental ‘Have Mercy’ by Big Walter Horton and Carey Bell, the piano and horns New Orleans sound of Professor Longhair on ‘It’s My Fault’, with its eccentric yelping vocal, or the stuttering, twitching version of ‘Got My Mojo Working’ by Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown.
There’s a great run of more contemporary tracks on Disc 3 that ventures into several different vibes to great effect, kicking off with the Delbert McClinton-like soulful rock’n’roll of Curtis Salgado on ‘The Longer That I Live’.  Selwyn Birchwood’s ‘Living In A Burning House’ follows, edgy but vibrant, before the old-stagers Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite take things down with the sombre guitar and harp duet of ‘Midnight Hour Blues’.  Then the Cash Box Kings ramp things up again with the smile-inducing, dance-able jump blues of ‘Ain’t No Fun (When The Rabbit Got The Gun)’, as a prelude to the rockin’ boogie of Tommy Castro & The Painkillers’ live rendition of ‘Make It Back To Memphis’.
In between there’s plenty of the classic guitar-led blues style to keep the six-string lovers happy, ranging from Fenton Robinson packing plenty into three minutes on his excellent 1974 re-recording of ‘Somebody Loan Me A Dime’, to Albert Collins showing just how to do a slow blues with ‘Blue Monday Hangover’, to Luther Allison ripping it up on a rollicking live reading of ‘Soul Fixin’ Man’, and on to 2019 with Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram and the big, fat, dirty groove of ‘Outside Of This Town’.
There are female voices too, starting with Iglauer’s early signing Koko Taylor, who groans and rasps her way through the R’n’B of ‘I’m A Woman’.  Marcia Ball delivers a paean to New Orleans
. . . to Alligator now, with Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram
Pic by Rory Doyle
with the cajun-inflected ‘Party Town’, while Shemekia Copeland’s ‘Clotilda’s On Fire’ is a typically bruising piece reminder about the about the slave-traded origins of African-American oppression.  Oh yeah, and Janiva Magness hits her sweet spot on the funky soul of ‘That’s What Love Will Make You Do’.
There are less familiar names too, to me at least.  Another female singer, Saffire, The Uppity Blues Woman, comes up trumps with rattling piano-led accompaniment to her Nina Simone-like pipes on 'Sloppy Drunk'.  Meanwhile The Paladins get shaking on ‘Keep On Lovin’ Me Baby’, which enters on a Hendrixy shiver of guitar before vaulting into the energetic, snare-snapping ‘Keep On Loving Me Baby’.  And Corey Harris and Henry Butler come up with some hand-clapping acapella gospel on ‘Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You’.
There are a couple of stretches when some of those guitar lovin’ fellas seem to be ploughing an all too similar furrow, in contrast to the stylistic variety and quirks of character on offer from other artists.  But there are also plenty of other little gems, too many to name check them all, that make Alligator Records: 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music a more than worthwhile proposition – and also an excellent entry point if you want to explore the Alligator catalogue.

Alligator Records: 50 Years Of Houserockin' Music is released by Alligator Records on Friday 18 June.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Joe Bonamassa - Now Serving: Royal Tea Live From The Ryman

It may seem a bit incongruous, selecting the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the high temple of country music, for this onstage performance of songs largely drawn from last year’s Brit-guitar-hero-inspired, recorded-at-Abbey-Road studio album Royal Tea.  But JoBo fans needn’t worry that the material has metamorphosed into pedal steel twangin’, Stetson-hatted, Okie from Muskogee fare.  No siree Bob, what’s Now Serving is a guitar-heavy, blues-inflected, hard rock menu typical of the chef du jour.
Opener ‘When One Door Opens’ is almost a microcosm of the variety to be found across the nine tracks from Royal Tea.  It bundles together a mock regal pomp and circumstance intro, a delicious staircase-like riff, a martial rat-a-tat passage, some moody Pink Floydism softened by the harmonies of Jade MaCrae and Dannielle DeAndrea, and – most spectacularly – a monster riff that digs the foundations for a howling Bonamassa wah-wah solo.
Joe Bonamassa at the Ryman - no Stetson, but that's a bit of a country jacket!
Pic by Kit Wood

For me the most satisfying mugs of Tea on offer are ‘A Conversation With Alice’ and ‘Lookout Man!’.  The former rattles along engagingly, with slide guitar thrown into the mix alongside a ripping organ solo from Reese Wynans.  Then a shift in rhythm, with Michael Rhodes stirring in a dollop of funk on bass, brings more swing to underpin a really enjoyable guitar solo.  Meanwhile ‘Lookout Man!’ catches the ear with a novel, synthy sound for its subterranean bass riff, while guest Jimmy Hall adds some squawking harp in tandem with the guitar, evoking a neon-lit urban nightscape in which matters get well’n’truly heavy.
Elsewhere, there’s a swaying bluesy vibe to ‘Royal Tea’, on which Bonamassa challenges himself vocally with the ascending melody on the chorus, and acquits himself pretty well.  But there’s even more blues to the bump’n’grind of ‘High Class Girl’, on which the ‘Green Onions’ flavour of the studio version gives way to echoes of Willie Dixon’s ‘Spoonful’, not least in the brief quote that our Joe slips into his scrabbling storm of a solo.
When it comes to the big epic moments I’m inclined to think the semi-mystical light and shade of ‘Beyond The Silence’, the kind of large canvas picture like ‘The Last Matador Of Bayonne’ that Bonamassa does well, has the edge over ‘Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye’, which builds from a sweeping, romantic guitar figure into a beefed-up Foreigner-style power ballad before shifting into a muscular instrumental passage full of spiky guitar over simmering bass from Rhodes.
There’s more funky bass to enhance the drum-whuppin’ of Greg Morrow on the Pat Travers-like ‘I Didn’t Think She Would Do It’, spiced up by some Arabic-sounding guitar from Bonamassa, and a tense bridge before he heads into funky wah-wah soloing territory.  And somewhat out on a limb there’s the oddball boogie-woogie of ‘Lonely Boy’, which is likeably daft if a little disjointed, with harp tooting accompaniment from Jimmy Hall, a barrelhouse piano spot from Wynans, and a rockabilly guitar showcase from Rob McNelley.
They wind down with a trio of covers from Bonamassa’s A New Day Now celebration of his debut album, in Rory Gallagher’s ‘Cradle Rock’, Free’s ‘Walk In My Shadow’, and a segue of Tull’s ‘A New Day Yesterday’ into a chunk of Yes’s ‘Starship Trooper’.  They’re all perfectly enjoyable, even though they lack the distinctive personalities of the originals.  ‘Cradle Rock’ may not have Rory’s singular fire, but they certainly put the pedal to the metal, with Morrow giving his kit a real good leathering, and Bonamassa firing off a tasty, sharp-but-slithering slide solo, ‘Walk In My Shadow’ eschews Free’s tough swagger for a carefree walking riff, and a slippin’an’slidin’ organ solo.  Then they rock up and rough up the Tull classic, but inevitably lose some of its quirkiness, though Bonamassa certainly revels in the sledgehammer riff, before finally they stitch on the spangliness of ‘Starship Trooper’.
Joey B fans will doubtless love all this, and supplement the crowd noise 
from other Bonamassa recordings augmenting this largely audience-free gig .  And why not enjoy it?  In these concert thin times, any whiff of a fresh live performance from an artist who knows their stuff has got to be welcome.  Yessiree Bob.

Now Serving: Royal Tea Live From The Ryman is released on DCD, Vinyl, DVD and Blu-ray by Provogue/Mascot Label Group on 11 June.  Pre-order: www.mascotlabelgroup.com/collections/new-products