Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Robert Jon & The Wreck - Wreckage Vol.2

New album Wreckage Vol.2 from Robert Jon & The Wreck is a quasi-live album, mixing together some in concert recordings, live-in-session studio stuff, and a couple of new studio recordings.  But really, that’s not important.  What is important though, is that this collection underlines the fact that Robert Jon & The Wreck are a three-dimensional animal.  Slapping a simple label on them is plain lazy, because this is a band who come at you from a variety of different angles, and make a damn good job of all of ‘em.
For one thing, they can rock the foundations when they want, as on the opening couple of tracks, ‘She’s A Fighter’ and ‘Waiting For Your Man’.  The opening ‘ . . . Fighter’ is urgent, neck-
Robert Jon & The Wreck develop new guitar playing styles
Pic by Phil Honley

snapping fare, led by huge, ringing chords, gambolling piano and floor-shaking organ.  It’s a big sound, and I mean BIG, over which Robert Jon Burrison hollers with a voice built for mustering a cattle drive, while Henry James lets rip with a zippy guitar solo.  And when they’re done with that, they find another gear and slam their foot to the floor on ‘Waiting For Your Man’, Andrew Espantman’s drums rattling along like a runaway train, Warren Murrel’s bass not so much bubbling as frothing, while Burrison and James lead the way with some nerve-jangling guitar.  And later on, in case you’ve forgotten they can rock, they get their heads down in no-nonsense fashion on the helter-skelter bash of ‘ On The Run’.  Get ready for clattering drums, surging slide guitar, rollicking barrelhouse piano and a wig-out guitar solo.  Oh yeah, and a breathless call-and-response chorus.
But the tail end of the album reveals them in more sophisticated rocking mode, with ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Witchcraft’ both stretching to around the ten-minute mark.  The former is an instrumental that kicks off with crunking guitar chords and waves of organ, leading into a harmonised guitar theme.  There’s a change of gear into a sharp, ascending riff, and then James is off and away on a sizzling guitar solo, later matched by a surging, gutsy organ solo from Steve Maggiora.  Some of this carries echoes of big epics by the Allman Brothers Band from Fillmore East, like ‘You Don’t Love Me’ or ‘In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed’, but this comes with more focus and structure than a jam band exploration – and hey, that works for me, guys’n’gals!
The same goes for the closing ‘Witchcraft’, another big thematic affair, juxtaposing harmonised guitar figures and chiming piano over swinging, churning drums’n’bass.  A fizzing, squealing James solo spins back into the main theme, which then rolls into a jazzy piano solo from Maggiora.  Then the bridge lets them switch direction into a more psychedelic segment full of Morse Code guitar and fluttering keys.  The Wreck, I have to tell you, have this kinda thing nailed.
But before getting to these epics, they take a turn down a different avenue with new songs ‘Old Hotel Room’ and ‘Dark Roses’.  The first is a subdued, plaintive, weary-on-the-road song, with a touch of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ in its guitar break and some typically good harmonies.  The second is essentially a country ballad, with weeping slide licks and a tasteful balancing of piano and organ to go with its big chorus.  Neither of these tracks is really my cup of tea, but that’s not to say they’re not done well.  More to my liking is the short’n’sweet ‘Something To Remember Me By’, on which the Wreck take a different tack, and get good and funky.
And then there’s their cover of ‘The Weight’.  Now this is the kind of thing that might sometimes have me asking “What’s the point?”.  However, while they may not do anything radical with it, they absolutely do it justice, staking a claim to The Band’s blending of American folk tradition and rock’n’roll with an impressive lightness of touch.  More of this kind of thing, Wreckers!
Wreckage Vol.2 may be lashed together from a variety of sources, but it’s still quality stuff, and Robert Jon & The Wreck are the real deal.  And that’s the only label that really matters.
Wreckage Vol.2
 is released by KTBA Records on 30 September, and can be ordered here.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Gimme 5 - The Jujubes tell us what gets their mojos working

London-based band The Jujubes are purveyors of a stripped-back blues sound that leans towards the dark and mysterious, as shown by their recently released second album Raging Moon.  But what kind of stuff gets the trio of Nikki Brookes (vocals), Sandy Michie (guitar) and Pete Sim (guitar and harmonica) all hot and bothered?  Now's their chance to tell all, as they share 5 songs that have pricked up their ears lately, 5 artists who have given them inspiration, and 5 characters they'd love to get round the table for a long lunch.  Let's get the party started, Jujube people!

The Jujubes take us Through The Keyhole
Gimme 5 songs, old or new, that have been on your radar recently.
‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ by Junior Parker:  “From the album Love Ain’t Nothin’ But A Business Goin’ On.  Just a stunning, unexpected minimal cover. I wonder how this came to fruition? It’s so different from the original Beatles version and works in its own right.”
‘Rollin’ Stone’ by Johnny Jenkins:  “From the album Ton-Ton Macoute!  Anything with Duane Allman playing slide is going to be great. Again another minimal production with some tasteful Dobro licks, playing for the song not for himself. Released in 1970 just as the Allman Brothers were about to go big.” 
‘Hard To Stay Cool’ by Cedric Burnside:  “From the album Benton Country Relic.  We saw Cedric live at what was then Dingwalls in Camden and were blown away by his performance. We became complete fans buying the album at the gig and getting pics with him. This track captures what he’s all about; cool, stripped back blues just the way we like it.”
‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is’ by Irma Thomas:  “From the [compilation album] Straight From The Soul*.  We got to know this song from the TV show Black Mirror. It gets right under your skin. The most beautiful ballad with a haunting understated vocal.”
‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’ by The Civil Wars:  “From the album Barton Hollow.  Can’t
The glorious Rory Gallagher
remember how we came across this version of Leonard Cohen’s song from the now disbanded folk country duo recently. You can imagine Robert Plant and Alison Krauss doing this. One of those songs you wish you had written.”
Gimme 5 artists or bands who have had a big influence on your work.
Rory Gallagher:  Rory is Pete’s big influence.  “My friend Ned Carty (an amazing guitarist from Limavady) introduced me to Rory Gallagher many, many, many years ago. The intensity, no prisoners taken approach coupled with an incredible technical ability along with a mastery of acoustic guitar, harmonica and mandolin made me want to be like him when I grew up! I’m still trying. If there was a living embodiment of the blues outside of America, it would be Rory.”
John Lee Hooker:  “Nikki’s dad was a Blues obsessive and took her to see John Lee Hooker when she was little. Seeing him, sat with just a guitar holding an audience captive made a big impact on her. When we started The Jujubes, getting back to the real, raw roots of the blues was something that all three of us really wanted to try and do.”
Jack White:  “Sandy and Nikki heard ‘Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground’ by The White Stripes on the radio when they were trying to create their own Blues-based band many years ago, and
They don't make 'em like Marlene any more
became obsessed by Jack White.  If Howlin’ Wolf was alive, we think Jack is the guy he would love to play with. His choice of guitars, his choice of guitar sounds, his incredible detail on every aspect of the look and feel of any project he does is very inspiring, and he performs and plays like a demon.”

Marlene Dietrich:  Ms Dietrich is Nikki’s big influence.  “Seeing a woman in a man’s suit with a vocal that sounded so world weary and strangely disinterested completely captivated Nikki as a child and really influenced her on the type of performer she wanted to be. She was so far removed from the typical image of a woman at the time. Androgenous, strong, in control and no desire to please anyone.”  [How about an earful of Marlene's world-weary crooning?  Why not?  Here she is with 'The Laziest Girl In Town', from the Hitchcock movie Stage Fright.]
The Beatles:  The Mop Tops are Sandy’s big influence.  “Every day is a Beatles day as far as Sandy is concerned.  It was like the world turned from black and white into colour when he heard them as a child growing up in Scotland and made him want to pick up the guitar and be in a band.  Their ability and desire to constantly learn and create really inspired him and still does. That love of being able to create something with other likeminded musicians and then connect with the audience has never diminished for him however hard and frustrating it’s been at times.”
Gimme 5 guests you’d love to invite to your ideal long lunch.
Buddy Guy:  “Probably the last living connection to Chicago blues. Imagine the stories he could tell you about finding his way, playing with Son House and Muddy Waters, recording at Chess, the blues revival in the 80s, it would be a long lunch!”
Brian Cox, keyboard playing physicist

Professor Brian Cox:  “To be able to listen to him answer all the questions about the universe that make your brain hurt, would be fascinating. From his past as a musician, he could then have a jam with us – a perfect combo.”
Irvine Welsh: “Known for being sweary and straight talking he would be a great addition to keep the conversation alive. We can’t imagine there is a topic which he wouldn’t have an opinion on.”
Nigel Kennedy:  “He is a true original, recently pulling out of playing at the Royal Albert Hall as his choice of wanting to play Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ in a Celtic style of Ralph Vaughan Williams was snubbed by the concert organisers. Like Irvine he is not afraid to express his views and has a sharp wit.”             
Jane Fonda:  “If anyone could hold court its Jane Fonda.  With an intriguing past of movie star to activist, sparks would fly with some great political debates with them all.”
Just one track – pick one of your tracks that you’d share with a new listener to introduce your music.
“Our pick is ’John the Revelator’, from our first album Where Are We Now. It’s one that shows our love of the blues but hopefully with our own stamp on it, bringing it in to the present without losing its roots. I’m slightly obsessed with the tempo of songs,” says Nikki, “and had a very clear idea of wanting it to be really slow. It nearly drove Sandy and Pete mad when we recorded it but they begrudgingly had to admit I was right in the end!”

Find out more about The Jujubes on their website, here.

*In the interests of completeness, 'Anyone Who Knows What Love Is' was originally released as a single in 1964, with 'Time On My Side' on the B-side, and then featured on Irma Thomas's second album Take A Look in 1966.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Troy Redfern - The Wings Of Salvation

There’s Troy Redfern staring out from the cover of The Wings Of Salvation: saturnine, bearded, beetle-browed, and wearing a kinda cowboy hat.  He looks mean and moody like he’s about to tell Clint Eastwood this dust-ridden fleapit is a one-horse town, and that horse ain't Clint's.  But if that makes you think that this here album might sound like a mariachi band, think again amigo.
On first listen to The Wings Of Salvation you could imagine that Troy Redfern’s middle name is ‘Raunch’, given his hoarse voice and rasping Resonator guitar, and the often sledgehammer-like
Troy Redfern has a bash at new exercise activity 'Guitar Yoga'
Pic by Adam Kennedy
rhythm section of Paul Stewart on drums and Dave Marks on bass.  But as with Redfern’s previous album The Fire Cosmic, there are subtleties discernible beneath the surface thunder.
Among these are a couple of nods to glam rock, in the form of 'Sweet Carolina' and ‘Come On’.  Redfern has referenced Marc Bolan as an influence for ‘. . . Carolina’, and the comparison is reasonable enough – except that this is way more manly than the simpering Bolan could ever manage, and with less inane lyrics into the bargain.  With its strongarm drumming from Stewart, busy bass from Marks and a siren-like slide solo, it's a grower of a song.  Then the following ‘Come On’ mixes up Glitter Band stomp with a bouncing, catchy chorus that’s roughed up by Redfern’s sandpaper vocal.
‘Navajo’ is, as its title suggests, a Wild West injun song.  At first it feels like it could do with more fire water in its veins.  But gradually, with its clippety-clop rhythm, and Redfern’s fiddle-like slithering slide competing with down-home banjo from Marks, it develops an interesting country vibe - like a muscled-up ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’, and with a similar mythic tone to its lyrics.  ‘Dark Religion’ has a vaguely Celtic feel, with a discordant edge set to waltz-time.  I’m not even really sure I like it, but it is an intriguing little thing, its lyrics featuring a couple of phrases from Shakespeare alongside the album title, which is shared with a song featured in the game Minecraft – as Redfern may or may not know.  (I didn’t, but Google and I are on intimate terms.)  And ‘Heart And Soul’ is a wistful, brooding, stripped back affair with more Western shadings that brings the album to a dwindling close.
“Yes yes yes,” some of you may be thinking.  “This is all very well - but does Troy get heavy?”  Well, yes yes yes, I told you right at the top that he does.  The opening ‘Gasoline’ is a jangling rocker, with slamming drums and chunks of grinding slide, allied to a brief, swirling bridge that segues into his solo, and an airy melody – or as airy as he can manage with his throaty vocal – leading to a quasi-anthemic chorus.  ‘Profane’ is a Motorhead-like thrash, without Lemmy’s bald wit but with a guitar solo of interesting quirkiness.  And best of all there’s the energetic but not full-tilt ‘Down’, with its warped, guttural guitar sound, a raw, punk-ish whine to some of the vocals, and a scraping slide solo.  (My review download actually had ‘Down’ tagged with the cryptic title ‘UKhfu1600064’ - presumably a recording code of some kind - which fits this slightly off-kilter affair rather better than its prosaic proper title.)
Dave Marks (who some readers may know for playing bass with guitar whizz Simon McBride), deserves special mention not just for his bass-spanking, but for his contributions as Redfern’s producer and co-arranger, and supplier of keyboards, banjo, percussion, additional guitars and backing vocals for extra colour.  Sure, there are a couple of tracks that are slight in comparison to the best of ‘em, but The Wings Of Salvation reinforces the sense that Troy Redfern is an artist with a distinctive rocking identity.
The Wings Of Salvation
 is out now on RED7 Records, and can be ordered here.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown - Shake The Roots

Methinks Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown have made a good decision with Shake The Roots - to shake things up and dial things down.  They sound right at home getting back to basics and bluesing it up on several of the tracks here, like they’re on the back porch with a jar of hooch and keeping it loose and, yes, rootsy.
Take the opener ‘Bare Bones’ – a foot-stomping, tripping, shuffling, handclapping basic blues, its rhythmic value enhanced by little more than some damn fine harmonies and a nifty slide break expedited on a resonator six-string very like the one Tyler Bryant is wielding on the album cover, I’m guessing.  And they double down on this approach with the following ‘Ain’t None Watered
Cheerful chappies Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown go on a roots-shaking outing
Down’, which is even more down-to-earth and reflective, though with more weight to its chorus, and guitars more electric and fuzzy.
There’s a toughness to ‘Roots’, but drummer Caleb Crosby continues to hit the sweet spot, here with a swing to the stop-start rhythm, fluidity on the chorus, and weight when they ramp things up.  There’s forceful rhythm guitar work, and some sparky guitar licks strewn around.  But most of all it’s a grabber of a tune, with some light and shade and a good lick that they ram home with conviction.  Meanwhile ‘Hard Learned’ is atmospherically subdued, majoring on moaning, bendy blues guitar notes and Bryant’s measured, expressive voice.  It’s somewhat of a boyish voice to be sure, and some ol’ geezer with more grizzle to his vocal chords could undoubtedly bring more heft to these tunes, but kudos to young Bryant for giving it his best.
When they decide to get heavy things are more mixed.  ‘Ghostrider’ is Aerosmithy slam-thump, and lacks the kind of swing they bring elsewhere, even if the soaring harmonies and scrabbling guitar break add some seasoning.  ‘Shackles’ is better, subterranean heavy and ominous, with bass (also courtesy of Bryant) way down at the bottom end, and a false ending heralding some crashing chords.  It could probably still do with a tad more subtlety for my taste, but sod that when it comes to the following ‘Off The Rails’.  Here, friends, we have an off-the-hook, turbocharged rocker that whizzes out of the speakers and thumps into your head like an arrow into a bullseye.
They continue to vary the menu though, as ‘Good Thing’ opens in creeping, twanging fashion before gradually flexing its muscles around a strong melody.  ‘Sell Yourself’ features some good, rubbery riffing and interesting use of dynamics to hold the attention, packing quite a bit into three minutes.  Then they ease off with ‘Tennessee’, all breezy acoustic guitar, skipping drums – Crosby again hits the nail on the head behind the skins – and some long, easy, slithers of slide. It’s a laid back, old-fashioned bluesy kinda tune, with Bryant sounding happy as Larry vocally, and no wonder with his missus Rebecca Lovell of Larkin Poe adding her own brand of fairy dust on backing vocals.
They crank things up again for ‘Sunday No Show’, which is heads down, jolting blues rock set to a ‘We Will Rock You’ drum rhythm, with a sassy vocal from Bryant and some twiddling slide as further embroidery.  And they close with some down-home, upbeat blues boogie in the form of ‘Midnight Oil’, which they keep agile rather than making it lead heavy.
That nimbleness of approach is a large part of the charm of Shake The Roots, in contrast to the overly rigid ‘Ghostrider’.  With less excess weight and more sprightliness - and some strong songs - Bryant and The Shakedown have fashioned an album that casts their rootsiness and blues feel in a very positive light.  Shaking dem roots suits, guys.
Shake The Roots is out now on Rattle Shake Records.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Milk Men - Spin The Bottle

Titling their latest album Spin The Bottle doesn’t just seem like another pun from The Milk Men, whose previous outing was Deliverance.  It could be a metaphor for the variety of styles they cover here, like a spinning bottle has directed them to turn out songs in different genres.
They rev up with ‘Driving It’, its intro featuring slamming, AC/DC-like chords against a backdrop of zooming F1 engines, before it hurtles off the starting grid into a fast-paced, zinging boogie, taking a Quo-like chug and cranking it up into the red zone, then adding a bundle of precision-tooled guitar twists and turns to grab your attention.
Hard rock may be their homeland, but they take it in different directions, with mixed results.  
The sharpest dressed Milk Men you're ever likely to meet
Pic by Rob Blackham
‘Adelaide’ sounds like The Who in restrained mode, with its ringing acoustic guitar chords from Adam Norsworthy and twanging bass from Lloyd Green – and Jamie Smy’s voice has more than a whiff of Daltrey.  But while the verses are interesting, the chorus is “meh” by comparison.  And the swaying ‘How Do You Think I Feel?’ heads further into common-or-garden AOR territory, in spite of a tasteful guitar line that evolves into a nifty interwoven ending.
Happily though, other excursions are much more convincing.  ‘Go Go Baby’ sounds like post-Feelgood rivvum’b’blues’n’rock’n’roll given a modern sheen, and pulls you in with its shoutalong chorus.  There’s a sizzling, harmonised solo from Norsworthy, and a key change into a turbo-charged ending.  All of which is a good warm-up for the later ‘Gabba Gabba Hey’, a tribute to The Ramones written by long-time fan Lloyd Green. Mind you, it sounds nothing like the blitzkrieg boppers, and rather more like glam rock rebels Mott the Hoople, with suitably stomping drums from Mike Roberts.  But it’s a great little tune and infectiously good fun, and they follow it up with the simple but effective ‘Fabulous’.  Again it’s redolent of the glam rock era, this time in the mode of something from the hit-making production line of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, hammering home a catchy chorus, some witty Elvis “Uh-huh-huh” asides, and rattling one-chord piano.
But they also hit the mark in more sophisticated settings, such as the modern slow blues of, er, ‘Sing The Blues’, which becomes smoothly romantic in a manner that suits the softer side of Smy’s voice, backed up by some soulful playing from Norsworthy that culminates in a closing solo – or one might say duo, because he likes an overdub, does Norsworthy – that’s full of feeling.  On the closing ‘Bad Seed’, contrastingly, they head off into widescreen epic territory redolent of Wishbone Ash, with higher pitched vocals and harmonies played off against an edgy, spiralling riff, with some sweeps of organ from guesting James Welch.
On both these tracks, and indeed throughout, Roberts’ drumming is unshowy but always on the money, while the bass playing of Lloyd Green is genuinely ear-catching, supple and melodic in its own right, as well as complementary to Norsworthy’s guitar.  Rightly, it’s given space to shine in the production by Norsworthy and Wayne Proctor.
There are a couple of sturdier rockers in the form of ‘Cheap Seats’ and ‘Highway Woman’ that are good in parts, with a stuttering riff and electric piano colourings carrying the former, while a gritty, Purple-ish riff drives the latter, enlivened by some polished harmonies, swirls of Welch’s organ, and a wah-wah contorted squealer of a solo from Norsworthy, though lyrically the chorus is in cliché corner.
Variety is normally the spice of my listening life, but stylistically The Milk Men sometimes stretch themselves a bit thin - a bit more focus wouldn’t go amiss.  But still, the more I listened to Spin The Bottle, the more I enjoyed it.  Gabba gabba hey, guys!
Spin The Bottle is out now, and can be ordered here.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado - Navigation Blues

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado certainly know how to rock the blues, as their 2015  live album Songs From The Road amply demonstrated.  But there have always been more sides to Risager’s songwriting than simple boogie, and the seven-piece Black Tornado have plenty tools in their bag to pursue different musical options.
Several tracks on Navigation Blues are built on a foundation of acoustic rhythm guitar, as was the case on 2020’s Come On In, but that’s merely the starting point for a variety of song styles and textures.  ‘Navigation Blues’ itself kicks off as a primitive blues stomp in a measured tempo, with percussive strumming, a basic drumbeat, and a hypnotic electric guitar motif that turns over and over before ultimately breaking out into a spiky, steely solo that complements the song in purposeful fashion.  But a couple of tracks later ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ is a more soulful
Red carpet treatment for the Black Tornado
Pic by Christoffer Askman

affair, redolent of Canadian master of stripped back soul Matt Andersen. ‘Blue Lullaby’, meanwhile, comes over like Risager has been listening to some Jimmy Webb, starting with just his voice and acoustic guitar to the fore, but gradually painting some subtle shading into the background, including both viola and glockenspiel courtesy of guitarist Joachim Svensmark to become lush and romantic.  And the slow and steady ‘Something To Hold On To’, leaning entirely on simple acoustic strumming and Risager’s emotive vocal, suggests Kris Kristofferson.
‘Hoodoo Lover’ dials up a ‘Lay Down Sally’-type JJ Cale vibe, with a shuffling, butt-wiggling rhythm from drummer Martin Seidelin, bright, twanging guitars, and tweaks and twinks from the horns, leading up to some Albert Lee-like guitar soloing, mixed in with rippling piano.  But if it’s real rocking you’re after then ‘Headed For The Stars’ is the pick of the bunch.  With its thumping metronomic beat and throbbing bass, and some smartly harmonised guitar breaks, its chunkiness surfaces the influences on Risager of ZZ Top – even more so, in fact, than ‘Fire Inside’, which is apparently a tribute to the late Dusty Hill but with its ringing riff and snapping backbeat, enlivened by some wah-guitar notes and chiming piano, leading into a wiry guitar solo.
There’s more besides, such as ‘Watch The Sun Go Down’, again with acoustic guitar overlaid with a slide riff and backed by a crisply swinging beat and lurching bass, and with some rhythmic changes on the third verse to keep your ears peeled.  And the jaunty, bobbing and weaving ‘Taking The Good With The Bad’ is good, upbeat fun, with warm Fender Rhodes piano and chirruping female backing vocals
These stylistic variations are held together by Thorbjørn Risager’s resonant bass voice, which also glides effortlessly over the top of the clacking, horn-tootling blueings of ‘Whatever Price’ with a sweetly catchy melody, and also evokes sadness and emotional burdens on the closing, low key ‘Heart Crash’, set to a twinkling guitar refrain and some spooky viola playing, and with an intriguing semi-classical bridge led by goodness knows what instrument.
The comparative namechecks I’ve offered above will say plenty about the range of the material served up here.  But what’s just as impressive, as ever with the Black Tornado, is that the execution is not only on the money, but sounds effortless.  Navigation Blues will undoubtedly be one of the most interesting albums of the year, confirming that Risager and his gang are among the smartest, most imaginative blues’n’roots outfits out there.
Navigation Blues
 is released by Provogue Records on 30 September, and can be ordered here.