Monday, January 31, 2022

Misty Blues - One Louder

Misty Blues may hail from Boston, Massachusetts, and they recorded this, their 11th album, in New York.  But the location that springs to mind most often on One Louder is New Orleans.
The spirit of NOLA is especially present when they get funky, as on ‘Do My Thing’, which twitches along on an appealing, Meters-like groove, embellished by hints of Latino rhythm supplied by the added percussion of Yahuba Garcia.  It’s there too on ‘Freight Car’, with its funk in a second-line vein rather than hard-pumping James Brownism, and in the briskly funky guitar and horns on the bouncy ‘This Life We Live’.
Thing is though, this element ain’t the be-all and end-all of Misty Blues’ sound.  ‘Freight Car’ also 
"Hey Seth, you ready to rock?"  "Er . . . "
factors in a nagging, tumbling riff, bursts of Morse Code horns, and raw slide guitar from the guesting Justin Johnson, all over a thumping beat, before climaxing with a squealing, cat-attacking-a-scratching post sax solo from Aaron Dean.  ‘This Life We Live’ complements the funk with hints of jazz, it also throws some Texas blues-like guitar fills from Seth Fleischmann into the mix to create a real smorgasbord of sounds.  Meanwhile the N’Awlins vibe on ‘A Long Hard Way’ comes from Benny Kohn’s trilling barroom piano, but the song itself is a low-key, gospel-inflected piece, while band leader Gina Coleman delivers a poetic lyric about personal challenges in a conversational style.
The contribution of Coleman is significant, as bandleader and chief songwriter, but also with her distinctive, sonorous voice.  Her deep, deep tones and occasional line-ending yelps may not be everybody’s cup of joe, and truth to tell that sometimes includes me.  But that’s a matter of personal taste, and she still does the business more often than not.  On the moody ‘Birch Tree’, for example, with its slow and steady rhythm and flutters of sax and slide, she delivers a lyric full of intriguing images with delicacy and feeling.  And on the following, Selwyn Birchwood-like ‘Leave My Home’, she rattles out the rhythmic lines with assertiveness against a backdrop of tickling funk guitar and frothy organ.  It’s a track given an additional lift by some call and response sax playing from the aforementioned Dean, in tandem with guest baritone player Chris Rand.
There are two guests bringing extra angles to ‘How The Blues Feels’, a slowie with a hook that evokes ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’.  Big Llou Johnson duets with Coleman in a languorous, treacly voice, while Bob Stannard adds some harmonica seasoning and ultimately an elegiac solo.  It’s guitarist Fleischmann who really grabs the limelight here though, with a stinging, reverb-heavy solo.  ‘Seal Your Fate’ brings some zydeco to the table, with the requisite accordion textures supplied by David Vittone over a “shave-and-a-haircut, two-bits” rhythm, while Kohn serves up some rinky dink, jazzy piano, and Fleischmann inserts a playful guitar break.  As elsewhere, they sure pack plenty into four minutes or so.  And on the closing ‘Take A Long Ride’ they make the most of having Joe Louis Walker as a fellow traveller on guitar and backing vocals.  It’s slow and steady, brooding and tense, gradually energised by horn riffing, until Walker cuts loose with a solo that’s by turns teasing, suspenseful, and finally warped and wild, matched at the end by another tempest of a sax break from Dean.
You’ll have gathered by now that while guitar plays its part in the Misty Blues sound, it doesn’t dominate proceedings.  One Louder isn’t, as it were, turned up to 11.  Instead it’s a team effort, drawing on all concerned to create a multi-faceted sound, and with the benefit of Coleman’s imaginative wordsmithery conjuring up something both authentic and all different.
 
One Louder is available now on Lunaria Records, and can be ordered here.

Friday, January 28, 2022

John Mayall - The Sun Is Shining Down

“It’s been a long, long journey, and I ain’t got time to quit,” sings John Mayall on the title track of his new album.  Which seems like a pretty good summation of where this British stalwart of the blues is at nowadays.  His “epic road hog days” may be over, as he puts it, but The Sun Is Shining Down shows there’s recording life in the old dog yet.
Both the ideas and the delivery here brim with vitality.  The opening pair of tracks, ‘Hungry And Ready’ and ‘Can’t Take No More’, are in turns bright’n’bouncy, and swingin’n’snappy, with horns aplenty adding punch and colour.  Melvin Taylor does a zesty guitar turn on the former, while
John Mayall - still grooving after all these years
Pic by David Gomez
Marcus King guests on the latter with a sizzling solo, underpinned by some great bass playing from Greg Rzab to follow his nifty walking blues groove on the opener.  Mayall’s voice may be a tad more wizened than on his 2019 release Nobody Told Me, but hell, the guy’s 88-years old – and he’s still got the pipes to produce some fun harp breaks on ‘Hungry And Ready’.  There’s more vibrancy too with ‘Chills And Thrills’, on which Mayall’s regular guitarist Carolyn Wonderland supplies a booty-shaking riff as the foundation for Mayall to express – with good phrasing and feel - how he has the hots for a particular woman, and for Mike Campbell to add some squealing lead.
But there are also the twists that are thrown into the mix to keep things fresh.  Buddy Miller turns up to add baritone tremolo guitar (it sez here) to the palette on ‘I’m As Good As Gone’, over more ear-catching bass from Rzab, making a Bobby Rush song sound most unlike Bobby Rush, I imagine.  And violinist Scarlet Rivera turns up to give a different slant to both ‘Got To Find A Better Way’ and ‘Deep Blue Sea’.  On the former she slips and slides around gracefully over the offbeat, putter-pause rhythm from drummer Jay Davenport, while Mayall adds warm and subtle electric piano.  And while that’s a low-key tune, ‘Deep Blue Sea’ has a more upbeat, jazz-tinged vibe, with her fiddle providing different hues – part folkie, part jazzy – and an excellent solo interleaved with Mayall’s piano break, showing that she totally gets what the song needs.  On the other hand I’m not convinced that Jake Shimbakuro’s ukulele adds anything distinctive to the jump-bluesy ‘One Special Lady’ – largely because you would scarcely guess its pinging sound is a uke rather than a guitar.  That’s a relief to these ukulele-hating ears, mind you, even if Mayall’s Wurlitzer solo isn’t really to my taste.
The slow blues of ‘A Quitter Never Wins’ is another matter though, with Mayall’s pensive, meditative harp to the fore right through to an impressive solo, while Wonderland complements washes of Hammond B3 with restrained, sensitive guitar fills.
Wonderland gets her own showcase on ‘The Sun Is Shining Down’ itself, a strolling, “life is good” reverie, laying down a conversational guitar commentary to match Mayall’s understated, swirling organ, over a lazy, easy-going groove from Davenport and Rzab.  Gotta say, while the guest guitar dudes might be good for marketing purposes, Wonderland has plenty enough quality in her own fingertips to merit a higher profile.
In fact the whole of Mayall’s core band deserve a heap of credit for making this album such an enjoyable listen, along with sympathetic production once again from Eric Corne.  The guest artists are really just icing on the ensemble cake.  But it’s John Mayall’s name that’s on the cake tin, and while The Sun Is Shining Down is no game-changer, it is still very much, as he sings on the title track, “not bad for some old Brit”.
 
The Sun Is Shining Down is released by Forty Below Records on 28 January.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Eric Gales - Crown

Gallus.  It’s a Scottish word.  It means cocky, bold, maybe a bit flashy, and the way Eric Gales introduces himself on Crown – I won’t spoil it for you – is a good example.  The cap fits Eric Gales the guitar player too, who often floats like a six-string butterfly and stings like a bee.
This side of Gales is most in-yer-face on ‘I Want My Crown’, on which he comically calls out co-producer Joe Bonamassa for a guitar-duelling title bout like Ali taunting Sonny Liston.  It’s a fun track too – funky with its tripping drums, thrumming bass, ooh-ing backing vox and shuckin’ an’ jivin’ horns, all of which is just the backdrop for Gales and Jo Bo to rip out some high-octane solos.  Not that Gales needs much of an excuse to put his pedal to the metal.  Opener ‘Death Of
"Yes you, Eric Gales! This review's about you - ain't nobody else here!"
Pic by Katrina Size
Me’ may not really be a drag race of a track, with its heartbeat rhythm and stabbing, thrusting staircase of a riff, but if sheer notes-per-bar is your thang then Gales’ squirrelling, fluttering solo will surely get your juices flowing.
But here’s the thing – lyrically ‘Death Of Me’ isn’t gallus at all.  Instead, singing in a calm voice, Gales ponders the missteps of his youth, and the advice he’d give his younger self now if he had the chance.  See, Eric Gales is a more complex guy than just the cocksure guitar wrangler that's his most obvious face.
He reflects further on his past with songs like ‘Survivor’, ‘You Don’t Know The Blues’, and ‘My Own Best Friend’, and from more than one perspective.  The first of these is tough and lean with a wiry riff, well-suited to a tale of resilience in the face of pressure, which he then embellishes with a typically sizzling solo over a Free-like, bass-leaning riff, while lush organ adds more colour.  ‘You Don’t Know The Blues’ lays out the circumstances that delineate a truly hard life, but rather than going for the obvious, angry blues-rock assault, it’s a loping affair, keeping it matter of fact until Gales ignites a strident solo.  And the middling ‘My Own Best Friend’ stresses the need to learn self-respect, with a lower key, mellifluous solo that recaptures the interest with an unusual theme.
There are the tunes too, that describe the black person’s experience.  ‘The Storm’ is a smooth and soulful song in a Robert Cray vein, with Gales asking “How can you love what I do, but hate who I am?”, and adding “Only love can erase the hate, I’m a witness to that,” before shifting gear and vocally whooping along to a hummingbird-like solo.  ‘Stand Up’, with its breathy backing vocal interjections has an almost romantic vibe that seems incongruous for a song about the need to stand up to racists, and those who think artists should “know their place”.  But it just about works, as Gales’ take is sorrowful rather than bitter, right the way to its subtle electric piano outro.  The mellow arrangement of ‘Too Close To The Fire’ is less successful though, failing to reflect the lyrical tension about the positive relationship he has with an audience and the alienation he often feels on the street, and Gales’ solo remains stuck in this restrained furrow until finally he kicks out the jams and dials up some howling tension and release.
And then there’s romantic Eric, who takes a very different musical turn on ‘I Found Her’, a love song to his missus LaDonna that’s simple and effective when it relies mostly on acoustic strumming and Parisian-style accordion, folding in a quasi-classical acoustic solo.  Does it really need the big, Bonamassa-like epic segment, with its wig-out electric solo, to fully express his affections?  Maybe not, but decide for yourself.  Speaking of LaDonna Gales, Gales’ “Number 1 soul sister” gets her own showcase on ‘Take Me Just As I Am’, displaying a fair old set of pipes, and expressively too, over a strutting James Brown-esque funk workout.
There are a couple of other fun tracks along the way, and three instrumental snippets too, of which only the howling Hendrix sketch ‘Rattlin’ Change’ is worthy of note.  But by the time Gales serves up the pseudo-live show-closing jam groove of ‘I Gotta Go’, he may be back in gallus mode, but he’s shown us numerous sides of his personality, musical and otherwise, and kudos to him for that.  Eric Gales may be a modern-day axe hero, but Crown makes it clear he’s not a two-dimensional cartoon axe hero.
 
Crown is released on 28 January by Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group, and can be pre-ordered here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Reading Matters: Lightning Striking - Ten Transformative Moments in Rock & Roll, by Lenny Kaye

Lenny Kaye may be best known as the guitarist in the Patti Smith Group, but he’s also celebrated for curating the Nuggets compilation of left field Sixties garage rock and psychedelic tracks.  Now he’s undertaken another historical project, with his recently published book Lightning Striking which explores, as the sub-title has it, Ten Transformative Moments in Rock & Roll.
Or to put it another way, Kaye sets out to describe a range of “scenes” – those times and places when the tectonic plates of popular music shifted, when circumstances combined to birth
Venerable rockn'roll history professor Lenny Kaye
Pic by Mike McGregor/The Observer
something that took rock’n’roll in a new direction.  And we are, in the main, talking about rock’n’roll here – the stuff with an electric guitar at its heart.
Kaye is a an ideal guide for this musical tourist trail.  Born in 1946, he was exposed to the early seismic shocks of rockn’roll, such as Elvis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.  And then, as he says in the chapter on The Beatles and Liverpool 1962, “I’m watching that storied night of February 9 [1964], along with 73.7 million other curiosity-seekers,” when the Fab Four detonated the States on the Ed Sullivan Show.  “I’m in the sweet spot of adolescence,” he recalls, “just seventeen, you know what I mean.”  A few pages later he contemplates the full might of the British Invasion and writes: “They’re joined on the pop charts by ‘Louie Louie’ and ‘Surfer Bird’, the ur-texts of garage rock.  Temptation took control of me and I fell.”
Those passages tell you a couple of things.  First, the chapter headings may identify specific years, as in ‘Liverpool 1962’ or ‘San Francisco 1967’, but Kaye doesn’t confine himself to those periods.  He recounts the evolution of these scenes in the periods before, and their full flowering (and withering, where appropriate) afterwards.  Secondly, Kaye gets it.  He’s a “fan with a typewriter” – but a smart, discerning and literate fan.  Here’s a guy who was playing in two-bit bands himself by the mid-60s, then a rock writer in the emerging music press, an occasional record label scout and an aspiring producer before, as an habitué of the New York demi-monde, he and Patti Smith started hanging out and doing their nascent thing in the early 70s.  And when Kaye wasn’t an eye-and-ear witness himself, he’s clearly done his homework.
Writing about ‘Memphis 1954’ he gives due credit to the catalyst that was Sam Phillips, but he’s also good weighing up the confluence of ingredients that triggered the sound of rock’n’roll: the jump blues tradition underlying Ike Turner’s ‘Rocket 88’; the R’n’B typified by Howlin’ Wolf; the hillbilly country music familiar to Elvis, shorn of fiddles and pedal-steel; and the boogie taken up from Western Swing by Bill Haley & The Comets, derided as Mr Kiss Curl may have been.  Just importantly though, even in hindsight Kaye feels it – the electric shock of it – as in this passage about Jerry Lee Lewis:
“ . . . it’s ‘Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On,’ Jerry Lee raking his fingers up the keyboard in his soon-trademark gliss, circling his index finger when he brings it real low and then lower and wiggle around just a little bit, almost giddy on theSteve Allen Show in July 1957, grabbing the bull by the horn, peroxide hair and piano stool flying, that explodes him, makes him a star.  And a target.” [Kaye’s italics]
He captures the sweaty, hairy, psychotropic craziness, typified by Ken Kesey and his LSD-fuelled Merry Pranksters, that sits alongside the love-and-peace-man of San Francisco 1967.  But he’s also there himself, in the audience to witness the out-there-ness of Big Brother & The
Lenny do-in' the do with long time amigo Patti Smith
Holding Company and become enthralled by Janis Joplin, “to dream about ways I could be there for her . . . if only to buy her records and witness her shows and remember her for ever.”
He’s good on the storminess of Detroit 1967 and its ambassador of raw power Iggy Pop, but is even more on the ball, naturally, writing about ‘New York 1975’ and ‘London 1977’, when he’s in on the action himself in the environs of those sibling punk scenes.  The New York Dolls, The Ramones, Television, Talking Heads, Blondie and others are all refracted through the lens of nights in CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City in the very long and comprehensive chapter on NYC.  His knowledge of punk London is bolstered by making a tape-swapping Transatlantic buddy in Don Letts, capturing its multi-faceted evolution into New Wave, Power Pop et al, and along the way noting the contribution to the Pistols of Glen Matlock in contrast to the disaster-in-waiting that is Sid Vicious, even as the latter “thinks he’s the only Sex Pistol living up to the founding principle, anarchy unleashed, the ur-zombie”.
A couple of chapters depart from the normal trajectory.  ‘Philadelphia 1959’ is less about a new emerging scene than the soon-to-be-eclipsed one of doo-wop, and the development of teenager TV with American Bandstand – and the dubious business practices of its Teflon-smooth host Dick Clark.  But the chapter on ‘Los Angeles 1984/Norway 1993’, conflating hair metal and black metal, feels like an ill-fitting makeweight.
As is often the way in accounts like this, Kaye sometimes gets bogged down in lists of singles that are the stepping stones of a burgeoning scene; or in the incestuous band-hopping of musicians and indie label bosses, skipping hither and yon in search of their own musical motherlode – Seattle being a case in point - until one can barely keep track of who’s who.  Now and then too, his wordplay slips from amusing to confusing.   Don’t come to Lightning Striking expecting to read about Motown, hip-hop or reggae either, as they don't fit the guitar rock-focused narrative arc of the book.
But if you want a big and joyous account of some of the seminal moments in rock’n’roll history, and the people and places that created them, Lightning Striking is just the ticket.  A book by someone for whom, to give Lenny Kaye the last word, “It is my blessing to wake each morning with music on my mind.”

Lightning Striking - Ten Transformative Moments In Rock & Roll, is available now, published by White Rabbit.

A 2-CD companion collection of tracks featured in the book is also available - Lenny Kaye Presents Lightning Striking, on Ace Records.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Harlem Lake - A Fool's Paradise Vol.1

I’ll say this right at the top.  This debut album by Dutch band Harlem Lake is a mixed bag.  It’s stylistically diverse in a way that makes me think they haven’t really found their identity yet.  And the quality is variable too, with some songs that really needed more work.  But for all that, there are good things going on here too – and signs of better things to come, I hope.
“It’s like old Blues souls are trapped in these young bodies,” says a bit of PR bumf about A Fool’s Paradise Vol.1.  And yeah, there’s blues stuff going on over the course of the album, and we’ll get to that.  But in fact Harlem Lake are more interesting when they step off the blues trail.
Harlem Lake - happiness is a debut album

Opening track ‘Deaf Blind’ kicks off with a pleasingly gutsy, winding riff, but it really grabs the ear with a progg-ish bridge on which Dave Warmerdam’s organ and Sonny Ray van den Berg’s guitar get all Wishbone Ash with a clarion call of a descending motif.  The same is true on the pseudo-heraldic theme that recurs throughout the low key title track, on which van den Berg offers up some fluid, dreamy guitar work.  Later, twinkling guitar introduces ‘I Won’t Complain’, which has a pleasing folk-rockish melody in spite of its somewhat disjointed arrangement, and gets more positive marks when its goes through the gears, van den Berg delivering a powerful solo en route to another big, melodic riff in a Wishbone Ash vein, with an undertow rippling piano from Warmerdam.
These songs suit the voice of singer Janne Timmer, even if the melodies are sometimes less than gripping.  She can do the blues chanteuse bit, as she demonstrates on the loping closer ‘I Wish I Could Go Running’.  But with her crisp, sometimes strident delivery she strikes me as more of a Grace Slick type, as on ‘My Turn To Learn’, which marries a rolling, bluesy guitar line to a not-so-bluesy, more folky melody, before van den Berg kicks in with some piercing guitar licks.  And she can do a subtle turn too, as on ‘Guide Me Home’, a soulful ballad that focuses on the melody to good effect as Timmer delivers a delicate vocal embellished by moments of coo-ing and sighing variation.
‘Please Watch My Bag’ is funk-leaning, with swells of organ, but musically a bit predictable and with a title more intriguing than the actual lyric.  But ‘The River’ is a decent chunk of blues-rock, with a twisting and turning slide guitar riff, pulsing bass and drums from Kjetl Ostendorf and Benjamim Torbijn on the brooding verse, and an appealing, attention-snagging chorus.  The bridge is a bit run-of-the-mill, but van den Berg makes up for it with a sizzling, scurrying guitar solo.  The aforementioned ‘I Wish I Could Go Running’, meanwhile, is a straight-ahead 12-bar blues with a low-slung riff, kept just the right side of humdrum by another good vocal and van den Berg finding his blues mojo for a tasty solo when they rev it up a bit.  (I was really hoping for a quirky lyric to go with that title, mind you – ‘I wish I could go running, but I tore my calf last week,’ maybe.)
Okay, so I’ve highlighted several flaws evident on A Fool’s Paradise Vol.1.  But with musicianship that’s never in doubt, I reckon Harlem Lake have the potential to produce something striking next time around, if they can find a clearer direction and up the ante on the songwriting front.  Good luck to ‘em.
 
A Fool’s Paradise Vol.1 is out now, and can be ordered here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Wille & The Bandits - When The World Stood Still

“Strange days have found us,’ sang Jim Morrison. “Strange days have tracked us down.”  You’re not kidding, Jimmy boy.
Some artists have responded to the strangeness of the last few years by girding their loins and creating music with uplift in mind, and that’s cool.  Wille Edwards and his Bandits, on the other hand, have chosen to confront the weirdness in its various forms – not just the pandemic, but political and economic turmoil, social divisiveness, climate change, and the impact on us as individuals.
"Bandits at 12 o'clock!"
Pic by Laurence Harvey
This is a tall order.  But When The World Stood Still lives up to the challenge.  Perhaps, having tackled themes like these on previous albums, Edwards has made himself ready for just this moment.
It’s not an easy album to peg though.  The opener ‘Caught In The Middle’ may kick off with a thudding hard rock riff, but it then flits through rapped vocals over piano, and into a mellow pre-chorus in which Edwards croons that “love is a better way”, before revving up into a chorus on which his voice becomes aching and angst-ridden.  And that tension between crashing chords and delicate segments reflects lyrics that balance aspiration and reality.
There are moments across the album that put me in mind of Led Zeppelin.  There’s the quasi-collapse à la ‘Dazed And Confused’ of the hard-hitting ‘I’m Alive’, with its funky groove melding into a semi-Arabic guitar passage, and reverb-induced spiralling vocal.  And there’s the juddering riff that recalls ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ in the bridge of the bright and breezy ‘Daylight’, in which Edwards sings of his daughter that “Your smile always lights the way”.  But in truth WATB don’t sound much like Zeppelin, even if they share a similar spirit of musical adventure.  And if Wille Edwards’ often teeth-gritted vocalising doesn’t resemble the blues-wailing or mercury-like liquid glisten of Robert Plant’s singing modes there’s still, I think, a desire to treat his voice as another instrument to be bent into the mix - and now and then there’s an off-kilter vibe that’s evocative of latter-day Plant too.
For me the best moments are in quieter songs like the title track, and the closing ‘Solid Ground’ (video is of a single edit).  The soulful ‘When The World Stood Still’ is a delicious, reflective song, opening with a gentle vocal over swirling organ and delicate piano from Matthew Gallagher, building towards a real “lighters aloft’ hook on the chorus, as our Wille sings of “sunshine, moonlight, sacrifice”.  ‘Solid Ground’ has an air of ‘Albatross’-mode Peter Green in the tone and pacing of its guitar parts,
Chief Bandito Wille Edwards gets angsty!
over tinkling piano notes and church-like strokes of organ, while Edwards sings yearningly that in an increasingly climate-challenged world “I want my children walking on solid ground”.  He then produces a quite beautiful guitar solo, over an anchoring bass motif from Harry Mackaill, en route to a gorgeous outro of gentle strumming, piano and organ fluttering in and out, and vocal whispering.
Those two tracks are worth the ticket on their own, but the epic, dynamic ‘Without You’ isn’t far behind.  It’s ultra-subdued, ghostly intro suggests a weary wanderer lost in a darkened forest – who then trips over roots and blunders against trees trunks.  Edwards’ keening, haunted vocal suggests alienation and loss even as he sings “You are someone to lean on”, before they ramp up the mood with spooky, weeping lap steel guitar, interpolated with lightning forks of power.  Meanwhile 'Will We Ever' is the bluesiest tune on offer, with Edwards' lap steel riffing over slithering organ from Gallagher, and a gossamer-light Dobro solo over behind-the-beat drums.
My one quibble would be that the more upbeat tracks rarely achieve the focus that was evident on the last Bandits album, Paths.  The semi-funky ‘Good Stuff’ lives up to its title, with a thumping backbeat, and a toe-tapping chorus with uplifting “woah-oh, oh-oh” backing vocals, and the following ‘In This Together’ recovers from abrupt verses as tyro drummer Tom Gilkes drives it along into its punchy chorus.  But I’d have liked just one unquenchably anthemic tune to add a little momentum.
How good is When The World Stood Still?  I can’t really say.  I’ve listened to it several times now, and I’m still getting to grips with it.  What I can say is that’s an absorbing hour of imaginative music that transcends easy labels – and on that basis alone it deserves your attention.
 
When The World Stood Still is released on 28 January on Fat Toad Records, and is available to pre-order here.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Tinsley Ellis - Devil May Care

Devil May Care seems like a fitting title for this latest album by Tinsley Ellis, because one of its strengths is its carefree vibe.  Ellis and his band sound at home and at ease, with no sense of strain – which is a good fit for much of the material on offer.
Opening track ‘One Less Reason’ finds Ellis picking out a most ‘Green Onions’ inspired guitar riff, over a similarly inclined bass line from Steve Mackey, before all concerned settle into a relaxed groove, swinging along with Lynn Williams’ drums.  Ellis’s John Mayall-like voice may
"Careful everyone - I've dropped my Juju!"
Pic by Elaine Thomas Campbell
 have some limitations, but that doesn’t distract when they’re in the zone like this – and his handy way with overdubs and harmonised guitar effects adds some extra piquancy.
Our Tinsley is at his best operating in a zone that suggests Clapton on a good day, covering something by JJ Cale maybe.  ‘Right Down The Drain’ has echoes of ‘Cocaine’, with a loping rhythm and an undulating guitar line, underlaid with slide guitar to add more texture, and with a growling vocal that adds emphasis.  But what really sets it off is Ellis combining slide and straight-up guitar, ultimately having an impressive six-string “conversation” with himself in the closing passage.  And if there’s a hint of Skynyrd in there, it’s also apparent in the easy-going shuffle of ‘Juju’, its laid back feel ear-catchingly punctuated by a woodpecker-ish one-note phrase from - I’m guessing here - the bottom end of an electric piano.  Whatever, it jogs along on a revolving motif between bursts of a jabbing turnaround, and Kevin McKendree comes to the fore with a rinky-dink piano solo, before entering into an entertaining dialogue with Ellis’s again-impressive slide playing.
They can deliver this kind of groove in slower form too, to best effect on the excellent ‘Just Like Rain’, a patient affair that doesn’t follow a typical slow blues template as it rolls along over acoustic guitar strumming, while McKendree’s organ and piano playing dovetail perfectly with Ellis’s electric guitar, and the main man delivers his most impressive, “felt” vocal – and a closing guitar solo that captures the mood perfectly.
Of the other tracks in a slower tempo, the more orthodox blues of ‘Don’t Bury Our Love’ is the most satisfying.  A minimalist affair, it combines extended organ chords, clicking rim shots from Williams, and sparing bass notes from Mackey, with Ellis showing similar restraint when his guitar eventually comes in.  It’s all about atmosphere, pressure gradually building from halfway, before receding again for Ellis’s solo.  It may sound familiar, but it doesn’t sound derivative.  By contrast ‘One Last Ride’ is less impactful, even if well assembled around a twitching rhythm, and with more chorus-like guitar from Ellis, while the closing ‘Slow Train To Hell’ is similarly well executed, but also somewhat predictable.
Ellis shows a liking for Hendrix on the funky excursions of ‘Step Up’ and ’28 Days’, but while they may provide some variety neither really sets the heather on fire.  The chopping rhythm guitar, snapping drums and burbling organ of the former are appealing enough, melding into some soulful horn textures, but Ellis doesn’t really have the vocal punch to drive it home.  He sounds more at ease on 'Beat The Devil', bringing feeling to his vocals alongside economical guitar and warm swells of organ and horns.
Devil May Care is a likeable album, and not one-dimensional, even if it doesn’t convince right across the piece.  When Ellis and co hit their sweet spot though, they create a blues sound that manages to feel both familiar but distinctive – and more than satisfying.

Devil May Care is released by Alligator Records on 21 January.

Monday, January 3, 2022

The Peppermint Kicks - The Peppermint Kicks

“Hey, you there!  You with the glasses!  I want you.  I want you in the front.  Don’t lean on me man, ‘cause you can’t afford the ticket.  Let’s kick out the jams and find our lust for life, coz mama weer all crazee now!  I’ll bring my Sharona, you bring Irene Wilde, and we’ll take those California girls and get ourselves a piece of the action.  We’ll surrender to rock’n’roll, yeah
"Hey, that you down there Dan?"
surrender - but we won’t give ourselves away, and we won’t let people put us d-d-down. We’ll get our teenage kicks on Route 66!”
Yeah, all that.  And all points before, between and beyond, if you get my drift.
See, I was born in ’62, so I was 9-years old when Slade had their first Top 10 hit with ‘Coz I Luv You’.  The fashions of glam rock weren’t remotely my pre-teen thing, man, but the music was.  Not that I knew it then, but glam pointed back to the wild evolution of rock’n’roll, sideways to my seduction by the power of hard rock – and also forward to the revolution of punk.  And though the latter was the road less travelled for this kid, its impact still resonated down the years.
The Peppermint Kicks are Bostonians Sal Baglio and Dan Kopko, plus a few pals when called for.  Never bleedin’ heard of ‘em till last week, to be honest.  But listening to their self-titled album, I can only think that these guys shared a kinda similar trajectory to me, way back when and way across the Atlantic Ocean.  And then they probably went and formed garage bands that thrashed through their passion for ‘Louie Louie’ and ’96 Tears’ right alongside ‘20th Century Boy’, ‘All The Way From Memphis’, and Blondie’s ‘Rip Her To Shreds’
Get a load of opener ‘When Rock & Roll Met Your Dad’, with Kopko’s vocal sounding uncannily
"Quiet Sal - I'm listening to the Man In Black!"
 (and surely on purpose) like a wistful Ian Hunter, while Baglio’s piercing lead guitar competes with sweeping strings and backing vocals.  Or ‘Strawberry Girls’, with Baglio at the mic this time as they mash up ‘Blackberry Way’ with Beach Boys harmonies.  Or the tougher ‘Shag ‘72’, which sounds like a lost demo by Cheap Trick, with Kopko taking the chance to get his rocks off on guitar.  Or the invitation for Iggy to make a guest appearance on the edgier, punkier ‘Stooge’.

Get the idea?  This is a power poppin' rock'n'roll adrenaline rush stuffed with diamond-hard hooks to make you ache to be part of a sweaty, joyous crowd, heaving and bouncing in front of a cramped stage, just like you did in yesteryear.  Which is pretty much what the Peppermint Kicks envisage with ‘Johnny D’s (Play It Again)’, all spangly, jangly guitars and “doo-do, doo-doo-doo-doo” singalong moments.  And surely they’d encore with ‘Rock & Roll Rampage’, heralded by a siren straight outta ‘Blockbuster’, before they beat the crap out of the riff from ‘Route 66’, stuff it into the trunk of a souped-up Ford alongside drummer Chris Anzalone impersonating Keith Moon, and blast off down the strip with one last scrape of a pick along an E string.
You’ll have worked out by now that I’m breathless about this album.  Yeah, I know, I know – it’s not a blues record.  But goddamn it, if you yearn for ‘The Golden Age Of Rock’n’Roll’, then The Peppermint Kicks has got your name written all over it!  Whaddya waitin’ for?
 
The Peppermint Kicks is out now on Rum Bar Records, and is available here (or from Amazon etc).
 
Notes:
  1. Sal Baglio is also a member of The Stompers and The Amplifier Heads.  Dan Kopko (aka Danny The K), is also a member of Watts, and The Shang Hi Los.  I know nothing about these bands.  Yet.
  2. I never much cared for Marc Bolan.  The guy could write a great riff, but his simpering style and his half-arsed lyrics weren’t for me.  Give me Slade, Mott The Hoople, or even the ChinniChap production line of (The) Sweet, Suzi Quatro and Mud any day.
  3. Credit to fellow blogger Andy Thorley of maximumvolumemusic.com, whose review tipped me off to The Peppermint Kicks.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Sean Chambers - That's What I'm Talkin About

Having been a member of Hubert Sumlin’s band from 1998 to 2003, Florida’s Sean Chambers decided to record a tribute to his mentor with his 2020 album That’s What I’m Talkin About.  But the result is something that follows its own path, rather than being in thrall to Sumlin’s relatively restrained blues style.  Chambers is more of a blues-rocker, and puts his own stamp on the material in entertaining fashion.
Given that Hubert Sumlin was the long-time guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf, the vocals will inevitably be as much a point of comparison as the guitar playing on some of these songs.  The Wolf’s
Sean Chambers doin' the do!
voice was more bear-like roar than lupine howl, and unsurprisingly Chambers doesn’t inhabit that ballpark.  But the snarl-meets-growl that he brings to the opening ‘Howlin’ For My Darlin’’ is convincing in its own right, contributing to a shaken-rattled-and-rolled vibe that’s often redolent, to these ears, of vintage Dr Feelgood.
The aforementioned ‘Howlin’ For My Darlin’’, fer instance, is all jagged, spiky guitar chords and driving rhythm section, supplemented by waves of organ.  ‘Hidden Charms’ rattles along with cracking, cantering drums from Andrei Koribanic and bounding bass from Antar Goodwin as the basis for Chambers’ scratchy riffing and sharp, to the point soloing.  ‘Rockin’ Daddy’ is in a similar vein, with more force and more beats per minute than the loping, swaying Wolf original, all the way to its sudden ending.  And if ‘Do The Do’ is less full throttle, it’s still a shaken’n’stirred cocktail of shuffling, Diddley-esque drums and skating slide guitar breaks.
Elsewhere, there's more of a blues-rock raunch to tracks like ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’, with its big meaty chords, thumping drums, and skimming, squealing solo; ‘Goin’ Down Slow’ with its scrabbling guitar fills and waves of organ like Big Surf set to a slow-ish tempo; or ‘Tail Dragger’, which features one of Chambers’ most interesting solos, with a succession of bent notes and sudden jabs, plus some exchanges with swirling organ work.
‘Forty Four’ and ‘Louise’ are the most Wolfish takes.  Chambers and co deliver an excellent rendition of the former, with its spiky, almost wonky riff, rippling piano, and a slamming kick drum at the heart of its slow march rhythm, while the latter is a slow bump’n’grind with ringing, resounding guitar, tootling piano, and a squall of a guitar solo to close.
‘Chunky’ is a surprisingly funky Sumlin instrumental, the drums behind the beat while the bass is busy, leading to a sweeping organ solo and some FX treated guitar work from Chambers.  And the closing ‘Hubert Song’ is a tribute written by Chambers – an uptempo, bouncing boogie, and affectionate if prosaic lyrics.
Never mind that That’s What I’m Talkin About is a Hubert Sumlin tribute, it’s enjoyable fare in its own right.  Sean Chambers and his band bring plenty of energy, oomph and chops to proceedings, rounded out by guest turns from Bruce Katz and John Ginty on keys.  It may not be a showstopper of an album, but it does add a fresh and zesty dressing to some classic ingredients.
 
That’s What I’m Talkin About is out now on Quarto Valley Records, and can be ordered here.