Thursday, June 30, 2022

Laura Evans - State Of Mind

Well now.  I came to State Of Mind without any real expectations.  Laura Evans hadn’t really made any impression on me before.  Still, might as well give it a spin, I thought, and pressed play on the opening track, ‘I’m Alright’.
Chunky, fuzzy guitar chords roll over steadily thumping drums, making like ‘Spirit In The Sky’.  Then Laura Evans swings into play, her vocal playing off the rhythm very nicely.  She’s got a bit of a girlish voice, but she knows what she’s doing with it, and punches home the catchy chorus
Laura Evans - Here's looking at you, kid!
Pic by Rob Blackham
rather well, thank you.  They drop down into a bridge involving subtle call-and-response with some fiddly guitar, but on the whole this is three minutes of keeping it simple. One might argue that it’s too simple, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.
By “them” I mean Evans and her producer, engineer, sometime co-writer, and generally player of every instrument on the album Josiah J. Manning, otherwise familiar as a Kris Barras Band member and producer.  Oh yeah, and credit too to Ms Evans’ platoon of other co-writers, because there’s a bevy of decent tunes on display here.
‘State Of Mind’ itself is in a similar mould to ‘I’m Alright’, opening with a rolling riff over a ticking cymbal, just to “start you up” as it were, while Evans rattles out the verse.  Then it shifts sideways into the kind of lighter, hooky chorus that’s one of the trademarks of the album.
A few tunes are vaguely in an Elles Bailey rootsy vein.  ‘Solo’ wavers between bluesy work song grinding, and airier, acoustically backed melody, though with some rather naff lyrics thrown in, it has to be said.  ‘Let You Down Easy’ takes hints of Oleta Adams’ ‘Get Here (If You Can)’ and fashions an acoustically driven slice of country-pop.  On ‘Drag Me Back In’ rolling bass is the backdrop for Evans’ clear delivery, and though the verse and chorus feel a bit disconnected it’s still foot-tapping fare, with some added oomph towards the end pushing it towards Buckingham-Nicks era Mac.  And best of this lot is possibly ‘Gone’, with its handclaps and injections of slide.  That baby that done left you, Mr Bluesman?  This is the song she was singing as she walked out the door.
There are also two high tariff ballads.  The first, ‘Fool’, is a guitar and voice arrangement that’s simple and effective, never gets overblown, and is enhanced by some exquisite Minnie Riperton-like falsetto from Evans. And ‘Mess Of Me’ is a quality affair too, redolent of Irene Cara’s ‘Out Here On My Own’, but diminuendo, as they say in these parts.  It comes with a convincingly moving lyric, and Evans’ vocal variations give the melody a fillip here and there.
Straying further from yer typical Blues Enthused fare, ‘Fire With Fire’ and ‘Good At Getting Over You’ are essentially quality pop songs – think Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ maybe.  ‘Fire With Fire’ eases in with simple drums and stuttering, low-end guitar, while Evans’ vocal is spot-on, and the melody is catchy to the point of “where have I heard that before?”  Meanwhile ‘Good At Getting Over You’ is light and bouncy over the pulsing, subdued rhythm section, and there’s a breather as the bridge cools things off before things swell to hammer home the chorus again.
It's only with the closing, rootsy-by-numbers ‘Free’ that I get a sense of samey-ness abroad.  But still, this ain’t one-trick pony territory.  Laura Evans seems like a vivacious kinda gal, and there’s a similar, summery liveliness to her music.  State Of Mind didn't knock me sideways, but it did make me pay attention.  Like that opening track suggests, she's alright, is Laura.
State Of Mind is released by Rosie Music on 1 July, and can be ordered here.
Laura Evans will be the special guest on Matt Andersen’s UK tour in October.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Supersonic Blues Machine - Voodoo Nation

The thing is, I’m a bit of an old-fashioned git.  I may be interested in hearing new sounds, but there are modern trends that feel alien to me.  I mean, when I was young there were bands and there were solo artists.  Sometimes a band member would make a solo album, to explore something different or whatever.  Band line-ups might change, and solo artists might recruit different casts of collaborators.  But there was none of this side-project bed-hopping you get nowadays, and I don’t recall many albums that featured guest artists on every other track.
Which brings me to Supersonic Blues Machine, which is the brainchild of Premier League
Supersonic Blues Machine get ready to do some interior decorating
Pic by Enzo Mazzeo
rhythm section Fabrizio Grossi (bass) and Kenny Aronoff (drums), originally working with guitarist and singer Lance Lopez, and on Voodoo Nation with Britain’s Kris Barras in those roles – plus a heap of guests, primarily adding guitar but here and there vocals too.  It has to be said, too, that these guests often add something to the equation.
Josh Smith, for example, may not particularly be spotlit on ‘Get It Done’, but he still contributes to the competing guitars, the playing off of ringing chords against bright licks.  It’s a good tune, cracking out a stutter-step Stones-like rhythm to become tough and direct.  And Eric Gales is just the guy to ratchet up the heavy menace of ‘Devil At The Doorstep’, with its twinkling piano and eerie noises, its deep and sonorous chords and mesmeric riff.  His subtle, quivering solo ups the ante with its spacey vibe, even if the track goes on a bit without progressing much further.
In a more soulful vein, Joe Louis Walker is in town for the romantic slowie ‘Is It All’, a duet on which JLW goes all Smokey Robinson with some falsetto vocals, with a bubbling Grossi bass line well to the fore, and a yearning chorus that’s well-suited to the female backing vocals that beef up just about every track.  And Kirk Fletcher is ideally suited to the soul-blues of ‘I Will Let You Go’, peeling off some clean and pure guitar licks that dart off at interesting angles, though Kris Barras doesn’t have the kind of smooth Robert Cray-style delivery the song calls out for.
But on the stomping mid-tempo affair ‘You And Me’, with its heavy chorus over churning guitars, King Solomon Hicks seems a long way from the BB King-style blues of his 2020 album Harlem, to the extent you wonder what he’s bringing to the party, other than a more airy vocal.  Meanwhile Ana Popovic may kick in with some howling guitar on the energetically shuffling ‘Do It Again’, with its bursts of harp bringing some extra edge, but it’s not really a distinguishing mark.  Moreover these two songs display some recurring issues: the former is overlong, and the latter has a rather predictable chorus.
There are good things to be found throughout, but the melody on the opener ‘Money’ is just adequate, and repetitive, and the same ordinariness applies to the tune on ‘Coming Thru’.  But ‘Too Late’ has a lot going for it, with its squirrelling riff, boinkingly percussive guitar backing, and a catchy if samey hook on the chorus, swollen by those impressive female backing vocals.  And the title track does nicely with its pulsing, circling bass and snapping drums, plus dashes of slide and piano en route to some fado-like female warbling that does ultimately pique curiosity before things rev up for a finale of clattering drums and squealing guitar.
Several tracks outstay their welcome though – another thing this old git really can’t adjust to is albums like this one running to 12 tracks lasting over an hour.  And I have the feeling that there’s a problem of identity going on at times here.  Some of the best material here has a soulful, at times funky side.  But that really doesn’t seem like home turf for Kris Barras –  a Brit who sounds uncannily like Jon Bon Jovi, and who Grossi describes as coming from a “British school of hard rock and blues”, citing Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher.  Well, hard rock sure, Fabrizio, but Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher?  Forget it.
You can tell this is the work of top-drawer musos, and the material always has something interesting to recommend it.  But for me Voodoo Nation is an album that never quite hangs together.  To make Supersonic Blues Machine work, I reckon Grossi and Aronoff need to dig out a compass and commit to a clearer direction.
Voodoo Nation is out now on Provogue Records, and can be ordered here.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Gimme 5 - Adam Rigg of modern rock'n'rollers The Bad Day gets down to business

Adam Rigg is the vocalist and bassist with modern bluesy rockers The Bad Day (formerly The Bad Day Blues Band), whose eponymous second album The Bad Day has been shaking the British rock'n'roll tree since landing at the start of June.  So here he is serving up a Gimme 5 menu of songs that have been on his radar recently, artists who have been a big influence on him, and the guests he'd like to invite to his ideal long lunch.  Strap yourselves in, folks!

Gimme 5 songs, old or new, that have been on your radar recently.  [Check out the links to listen to all Adam's selections.]

The Bad Day posing somewhere posh, including the be-hatted Adam Rigg
'In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning'
by Frank Sinatra:  "Stumbled across this when researching concept albums, apparently one of the first. Although I think the album has more of a running vibe than a concept, I love this opening track. Full of memories and smooth swagger. Nobody could do it quite like Frank."
'Moonlight Sonata' by Beethoven (various versions):  "I became a little obsessed with this. It’s one of the most ‘alive’ pieces of music I’ve ever heard. The flow, the tempo changes in the fingers are hypnotic. There’s a reason this piece of music is still so well known to this day. Beethoven was indeed a genius."
'Don’t Answer The Door' by BB King and Bobby 'Blue' Bland:  "This is the live version and I’m not sure there is a studio version. The chemistry between these two blues legends is brilliant to listen to. Humour and friendship filters through the painful bluesy lyrics. The band are great, really tight. BB is the conductor perhaps but Bobby is the soul of the piece."
'Stars' by Simply Red:  "This passed me by when I was younger, despite being a huge hit. The vocals are obviously world class and actually delivered with a nonchalant ease rarely mastered as well as this. The song itself is extremely well crafted and holds up well to repeat listening."
'Good Year For The Roses' by Elvis Costello:  "I am just discovering Mr Costello after resisting his songs for a number of years, mainly because I didn’t think he was a great singer. I was wrong. The unique voice is one of the things that gives great character to this song, as well as being very lyrically clever. I’m not sure if I’m taking the title hook as sarcasm and that’s why I like it."
Gimme 5 artists or bands who have had a big influence on your work. 
Steve Marriott:  "I first came across him on an old episode of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Loved his version of 'Black Coffee'.  The Humble pie era, just outstanding. Often people say he was underrated, and that is probably true in respect of the public (probably due to poor management from what I have read) but not by others musicians as his talent is undeniable. One of the coolest voices ever. A natural gravel that others have tried to replicate ever since. Allegedly
The small but perfectly formed Steve Marriott
nearly joining the stones but Mick knew he was the better singer. Humble Pie were amazing, and obviously The Small Faces had some great hits. Had the pleasure of interviewing his daughter Mollie for a radio show once and she is also a great singer, keeping the Marriott legacy rolling."
Cream/Jack Bruce:  "I learnt to play the bass by copying Jack Bruce bass lines. Love all the classics like 'Sunshine Of Your Love', 'Crossroads', 'Badge' etc. But I also appreciate some of the less well known songs like 'Tales Of Brave Ulysses' and 'Strange Brew'.  Great band, wish they could have stayed together longer."
The Beatles:  "I know, I know. But they are simply the greatest band ever. The band that got me into music in the first place. My first ever record was a vinyl single of 'Long Tall Sally' and I never looked back from there. Paul McCartney needs special mention, although recently I think people are realising he was the driving force in the band, I think in a hundred years time people will look back on him as one of the greatest songwriters to have ever lived. Abbey Road is my number 1 album of all time and a massive inspiration for our recent concept album."
BB King:  "He makes it seem so easy, his guitar playing is sublime, and along with Gary Moore I think the best at making the guitar sound like it’s talking. Nothing crazy flash but mesmerising. So many of his tracks are blues standards and we often play some at gigs and jams. For me he was the King of the Blues."
Eric Clapton:  "I know I mentioned him already as part of Cream, but I feel he deserves his own mention for his solo work. From blues to pop to rock and back to the blues, he has done it all and you have to say been successful in all of these genres. Not many people have achieved
Tom Waits - "I'm sitting next to who?"
that. That is down to his guitar skills, and just as importantly his songwriting and arranging ability. I adore Back To The Cradle as an album, and can appreciate his rockier stuff like 'Layla' which is beautifully written."
Gimme 5 guests you’d love to invite to your ideal long lunch.
Jack Nicholson:  "He would be great at a dinner party, some great stories and actually I could just watch him and be entertained, so charismatic and interesting."

Bob Mortimer:  "He makes me laugh even when he doesn’t say anything. Imagine him with Jack Nicholson. We need to make this happen."

 Cerys Matthews:  "She loves the blues and seems like a laugh, I imagine good chats."

Tom Waits:  "So talented and so unique. Legendary stories and also could chat with him about acting as well as music. I’d probably sit next to him."

Carol Kaye:  "Legendary bassist. I could listen to her stories for hours about the countless number of hits and musicians she has played with."
Just one track – pick one of your tracks that you’d share with a new listener to introduce your music.
"For my pick lets go with ‘Devil’s Lullaby’. It feels like it captures where we are at the moment musically and also I’m very proud of the writing element to it. This was the track that started off our idea of The Bad Day as a concept album, and originally it was written as a duet between two arguing musician lovers. So it has a very definite image in my head when I sing it or hear it. Also the arrangement of the version on the album is very nice, all the instruments give each other just the right amount of space and the guys really knocked it out of the park with the vibe."

Check out forthcoming festival appearances and shows by The Bad Day here.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Rolling Stones - San Siro Stadium, Milan, 21 June 2022

I don’t much like stadium shows, to be honest.  Spending an arm and a leg to see performers strutting their stuff maybe 100 metres away, or more likely watching them on a very large TV screen, isn’t really my kind of gig.
But once in a blue moon I make an exception.  Somehow, I’ve never seen the Stones before.  That’s partly down to the above issues, and also a case of never the right place and time.  So this is a bucket list thing, right?  If that’s not an insensitive comment in the wake of Charlie Watts passing away at the start of the year.
Just yer average little Stones club gig for Keef'n'Woody

When the lights go down, the show kicks off with a montage of Charlie on the big screens, accompanied by a thumping backbeat.  Then the handbrake is yanked off and they fairly rip into ‘Street Fighting Man’.  It’s a day-glo opening, all turquoise and pink and topped off by Keef’s bright yellow tea-cosy hat. Ronnie Wood is spiv-like with slicked-back hair, while Jagger is out of the blocks and immediately rallying the troops. And you know what?  They actually sound good.  That may sound like a weird thing to say about “the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world”, but I’ve heard about them being, er, sonically challenged on occasion.
“Ciaoo Milanoooo!” Mick howls as they conclude the opener.  It’s the first of his numerous excursions into Italian, and as mechanical and Deptford-nasal as they sometimes sound, the natives lap them up.  Meanwhile Keith and Woody are thick as thieves, facing off and perhaps getting themselves in synch.  But after a while they cut the cord and Ronnie wanders and capers further afield, while Keith hugs the drum riser.  Here he is, one of the most famous plank-spankers in the business, but for long spells his profile is low (yellow hat notwithstanding); ego-free, if you like, just getting on with the job, fidgeting away at extra textures to the sound.
Still, his voice may be a raggedy old thing, but he delights in adding some decent harmonies on the phones-aloft moment of ‘Wild Horses’.  And if his later lead vocal on ‘Connection’ is a bit ropey he’s rather more at home inbetween, in a Dylan-esque fashion, when he and Ronnie take to the acoustic blues of ‘You Got The Silver’.
A few songs in they drag ‘Out Of Time’ from the vaults, and turn it into a swaying, Latin-ated singalong, with a ker-thunking beat from Steve Jordan and lots of bum-wiggling from Jagger.  In the best possible way, it’s a complete hoot.  And you gotta think, a band that can pull out an old chestnut like this, and turn it into a highlight, have maybe got a little somethin’ going for them.
When you get down to brass tacks, and when they’re on form like this, the Stones are the ultimate singles band.  Yeah, folk can burble on about Exile On Main Street being a masterpiece if they like.  And maybe not every song has been a chart hit.  But still, this is a party led by a band with their own personal jukebox the size of a lorry, many a song being greeted with squeals of delight from its iconic opening bars.
‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ is a case in point, right from its French horn intro.  There are lovely organ fills, a cracking Ronnie Wood solo, and then it reaches anthemic
"Ciaooo Milanooooo!"
Pic courtesy of Corriere Milano
altitude before surging into a gospel wig-out.  And when Chuck Leavell starts whacking a cowbell everyone knows instantly it heralds ‘Honky Tonk Women’, on which Keef takes a front seat, aided by rattling piano from Leavell and some honking sax to boot.  Meanwhile ‘Miss You’ is all about Mick throwing some shapes to the bass groove, and for all it’s branded as a disco excursion the rhythm plotted by Steve Jordan is more tricksy than straight four-on-the-floor.
The signature sound of interweaving guitars gets revved up going down the stretch though.  There’s a tense guitar’n’harp opening to ‘Midnight Rambler’ – I’ve got no idea how good Jagger is as a harmonica player, but he convinces me.  Woody chips in with a splintering solo as the tempo rises, then he gets together with Keith for a spell of typical cross-riffing, before the latter stalks Mick down the catwalk to add to the song’s sense of menace, then they slip in a brief chorus of Robert Johnson’s ‘Come On In My Kitchen’.
Keef leans forward to deliver the opening chords of ‘Start Me Up’, igniting the crowd big time, and ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ is alive with different elements, from the samba-style percussion (I dunno my samba from my salsa, but you get the idea), to Keef’s angular licks, and the criss-crossing guitars as it progresses.  Then Keith chops out the riff to ‘Jack Flash’, possibly the crowning glory of that churning, counterpointing two-guitar sound.
There are encores, course there are.  It’s striking just how structurally simple ‘Gimme Shelter’ actually is, but boy oh boy is its drama heightened by the classic, ball-busting female vocal part, here delivered by the tiny, sparkling Channelle Hayes, going toe-to-toe with Jagger and then some. Then they bring down the curtain with ‘Satisfaction’, with Jagger scarcely needing to conduct any singalong – the “Hey hey hey, that’s what I say” line being an especially convulsive trigger for crowd participation.
I’m no diehard fan, with a completist album collection and campaign medals from tours aplenty.  But hey hey hey, I say this was a rockin’ good show, and it’s worth considering that they could probably have replaced three-quarters of the set list without any drop in entertainment value.  Okay, they may not be, and may never have been, all that profound.  But the Stones are indeed, and will always be, a rock’n’roll band of the very first order.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Kat Riggins - Progeny

The late, great Irish comedian Dave Allen always used to finish his TV shows by saying, “Good night, thank you, and may your god go with you”.  It was a subtle salutation, indicating tolerance of others’ beliefs while making it clear he trod his own path - generally after spending a good part of his act knocking the stuffing out of the rituals and hypocrisy of religion.  NB – religion, rather than faith.
I mention this because on her latest album Progeny, Kat Riggins offers up several songs rooted very clearly in her faith.  Being an atheist myself, I lean towards the Dave Allen perspective – I'm happy for your god to go with you, but please don’t expect me to go too.  So my response to some of these songs is mixed.
Kat Riggins - true to herself in technicolour
Pic by Dennica Pearl Worrell
On the downside, ‘Got To Be God’ and ‘Warriors’ come over as pretty glib.  The former is laid back soul with a decent tune and arrangement, and some steely, evocative guitar from co-producer Mike Zito.  But I don’t buy lines like “There ain’t no love except holy love” and “It’s got to be god”.  And on ‘Warriors’ the stabbing riff and more zinging guitar from Zito are both far more interesting than stuff about “The devil knows I ain’t in this thing alone,” or "With legions of sinners behind me".
But this isn’t to say that none of Riggins' faith-charged material works.  She sounds totally convincing on the a cappella gospel vignette of ‘Walk With Me Lord’ – a reminder that faith and its attendant music, as vehicles for both hope and despair, were major components of the black American experience in the darkest of times.  And the closing ’40 25:40’ is a reference to the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in the Gospel of St Matthew, and specifically a verse in which Christ observes that “What you do to the least of men, that you do to me” – a powerful sentiment even when couched in a Biblical context of Judgement Day that does nothing for me, and which is given a satisfyingly tough and gritty funk setting.
Away from Riggins’ evangelical bent, the opener ‘Walk On’ is all big tense chords, sustaining a strutting declaration of assertiveness, with a squealing cacophony of guitar from Zito underneath the coda.  In fact Zito selects a particular, edgy guitar sound that provides connective tissue sustaining much of the album.  On the funky and insistent ‘Espresso’, for example, his scything wah-wah cranks up the energy to match Riggins’ arresting line that “She’s got eyes like espresso and I’m feeling the buzz”.
Other highlights include the swinging blues of ‘In My Blood’, with shuffling drums from Matt Johnson and piano boogie from Lewis Stephens, and the funky party tune ‘My City’ paying tribute to Riggins’ home town of Miami, with a triple whammy of stinging guitar from the guesting Albert Castiglia, rubber band bass from Doug Byrkit, and a rattlingly rhythmic rap break from Busta Free.
The tentpole track though, is ‘Promised Land’.  It’s an angry, defiant song fit for these days when it has to be stated that black lives matter, protesting that “I still got shackles on my feet”.  Grinding guitars and sonorous drums and bass combine to create the dark mood, with quaking guitar effects and howling soloing from Zito, and Riggins quoting lines from ‘Voodoo Chile’ to underline the strident sentiments.
Unfortunately, a couple of overlong, so-so tunes, with rather predictable lyrical themes, detract from the impact of the best stuff.  But regardless of the quality of the material, or its lyrical intent, Riggins delivers it with commitment and a strong, gutsy voice.  This is a talented, forceful vocalist in the mould of Shemekia Copeland, as Progeny often demonstrates.  If she can improve the strike-rate of her songwriting, making it more universal while remaining true to herself, then Kat Riggins may really start to fulfil her potential.
 is released by Gulf Coast Records on 24 June.
Read the review of Kat Riggins' previous album Cry Out here.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

The Black Keys - Dropout Boogie

So here’s a couple of questions.  How did a couple of geeks from Akron, Ohio manage to get this big?  And are they still clearing the bar with Dropout Boogie, their eleventh studio album?
The answer to the second question is yes, though maybe not at the personal best height they achieved with some previous outings.  And the various elements on display here do a pretty good job of explaining the success that The Black Keys have generated along the way, in spite of their outsider origins.
Black Keys Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney in celebratory mode
Pic by Alysse Gafkjen

What Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney do, basically, is mash-up stomping, electrified primitive blues with a Sixties soul sensibility that suits Auerbach’s sweet and airy voice, and a liking for Beatle-ish melodies and psychedelic pop that shapes ear-catching tunes.  But while those ingredients are all pretty retro, stirred together the result is something fresh and distinctively Black Keysian.  Oh yeah, and while you can make comparisons with Jack White, for me there’s a mischievous playfulness about the Keys, both musically and lyrically, that’s more inviting than White’s often confrontational aesthetic.
They can pack a hell of a lot into three minutes, as the opening track ‘Wild Child’ demonstrates. A funky riff gets kicked into a heavier gear by pummelling drums, and Auerbach’s lightly soulful singing on the verses gets beefed up on the chorus by singalong-encouraging backing vocals from Andy Gabbard.  There’s a neat bridge, and a brief stinging guitar solo – and also some twiddling guitar noises in the background.
That twiddliness is a signature component.  There’s an undercurrent of synth-like guitar squiggling on ‘It Ain’t Over’ too, giving a modern twist to the Sixties soul feel of its funky rhythm and ascending, elasticated bass line.  And there’s Sputnik-like bleeping on ‘For The Love Of Money’ as well, embellishing a down-home blues groove and slide guitar, as the backdrop to a Beatles-like tune with biting lyrics that insist greed ain’t good.
The Beatles influence is pretty stark on ‘Burn The Damn Thing Down’, whose melody owes more than a few bucks to ‘The Ballad Of John And Yoko’, set to a dirtied up rolling guitar riff that’s also pretty retro.  But if some of this sounds a bit arch and post-modern, their ear for a killer hook is most clearly illustrated by ‘Your Team Is Looking Good’.  It’s simple to the point of being simplistic, with a chunky, fuzzy riff over a glam-rock whomp of a rhythm from Carney, a repetitive lyric, and a guitar break that does little more than replicate the melody.  But the end result is catchy as all hell.  It’s easy to imagine this hook becoming a favourite of those brass bands at college football stadiums up and down America.
Their dreamier side, à la 2014’s Turn Blue perhaps, comes with ‘How Long’, and its spacey washes of Hammond organ, harpsichord and piano courtesy of Ray Jacildo to go with a swirling Auerbach guitar solo and whooshing sound effects.  And there’s a psychedelic pop bent to ‘Baby I’m Coming Home’ too, albeit pumped up by a gritty riff that welds the chorus together, plus an ear-catching bass line.  It revs up into a wiry guitar solo, before crash landing back into the riff, and some more scudding lead guitar.
Some tracks are less interesting though.  Billy Gibbons pops up with a co-write and some characteristically hypnotic guitar on ‘Good Love’, but it’s basically a reworking of the groove from ZZ Top’s ‘TV Dinners’, notwithstanding a spiky second solo before it fizzles out.  The slow-ish, shuffling ‘Happiness’ never really takes off.  And the closing ‘Didn’t I Love You’ fades out rather inconclusively, although up to that point it reached back to the North Mississippi Hill Country blues vibe of their earlier albums, but with added depth from some rumbling bass, and a grinding, needling guitar solo.
All in all then, Dropout Boogie scores high for seven or eight of its ten tracks, though only two or three are the kinds of haymaker hit they’re capable of at their best.  But that’s still a high enough strike rate to say that The Black Keys team are once again sounding good.
Dropout Boogie
 is out now on Nonesuch Records.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Bad Day - The Bad Day

Yikes – a concept album!
Fear not though, rock’n’roll fans.  The Bad Day is on no account a mystical Tales Of Topographic Oceans epic.  No, this second album from the guys who used to dub themselves The Bad Day Blues Band is instead a half-hour serving of a peppery, spicy stew of Sixties British R’n’B, blues-rock, and punkish energy.  And the tale it tells is of a couple of star-crossed lovers, struggling over the course of one day with the chains of their past and the Jungleland of the city.  (The story is set, somewhat to my surprise, in New York.) 
The Wild Bunch get ready to ride

The official track listing is just ‘Part 1’ and ‘Part 2’, but after tireless investigation your intrepid reporter has winkled out the working titles of the underlying tracks in order to guide you more easily through these mean streets.  (Alright, I asked the band for more details, and they helpfully coughed ‘em up.)
The opening segment, ‘Wake Up Carolina’, eases in with the ticking of an alarm clock and a Stonesy, country-leaning riff before blasting into flight.  It pretty much sums up what this lot have to offer, with a grabber of a hook on the chorus, vibrato-laden vocals from Adam Rigg, a trilling solo á la ‘American Woman’, and Sam Spranger’s blazing harp doubling the melody and filling in around it, over the well-sturdy rhythm section of Rigg on bass and Andrea Tremolada on drums.
‘Queen Of The Dirty Minds’ wades in with a ringing, ‘Blockbuster’-like riff, and with Tremolada’s thudding beat could be a glam-rock stomp but has a rootsier, wilder vibe courtesy of Spranger’s blasts of harmonica, before they dial it down by segueing into ‘The Bad Day’ with sparkles of Spanish guitar and a reflective first verse.  Then they let loose with a raging chorus of crashing drums, throbbing bass and lead-heavy chords. But there’s also tension in the guitar riff that underpins Spranger’s harp break.
‘Devil’s Lullaby’ is a slice of snarling power pop, coming over like Springsteen’s ‘No Surrender’ being whacked out by The Clash, with spiky chords and thumping drums to the fore on an old-fashioned 60s rock’n’roll bridge.   It’s breathless stuff, and the pace doesn’t falter on ‘Get Out’, which has a tumbling hard rock riff to go with an urgent, confrontational lyric and vocal, and another wiry Nick Peck solo, while Spranger’s harp worries away, contributing to the typically feverish vibe.
‘When The Cage Comes Down’ rides in on another twiddling, undulating rock riff, and switches tracks into a fierce guitar solo with fiery harp reinforcement.  But ‘Half Now Half Later’ shows they can mix light and shade, starting off as dreamy reverie as our hero recalls better times, before erupting into some Townshend-like crashing chords and a vaguely Celtic, tara-diddling guitar solo.
‘Yeh Boi’ is another tense affair, all chopping, surging guitar and rhythm section, overlaid with harp harmonising as it conveys the restless pacing of the heroine in the city streets, then strips down to sparse chords and kick drum before dropping into the rather different ‘New York’.  Here Peck’s funky rhythm guitar is straight outta ‘Soul Man’ – these musical magpies also raided the Sam & Dave library for ‘Hold On, I’m Coming’ on their previous album Table By The Wall – while Spranger delivers a counterpointing, wailing harp riff and a skating, slaloming solo.
‘Son Of A Bitch’ is a high octane rocker, roaring towards the tale’s climax like an F1 car, then braking furiously into a corner before the agitated, protesting, declamatory chorus, and accelerating into the moment of truth, and the elegiac contemplation of a final separation that is ‘Broken Hands’, with its controlled, sweetly sad solo from Peck.
The Bad Day have succeeded in carving out a sound of their own from familiar rock’n’roll elements, and good on ‘em for that.  They may not sound much like the ‘Oo, but there’s a similar attitude going on here as they explore alienation in a manner akin to Quadrophenia, but at a tangent – and more succinctly.  The Bad Day is a lean, turbo-charged consignment of modern rock’n’roll made out of familiar ingredients.  If I wanted, I could find fault with it, but stuff that.  Listen, and get yer ya-yas out – whatever that means.
The Bad Day is released on 3 June, and can be ordered here.