Friday, October 28, 2022

Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters - Swashbucklin'

The Hillman Hunter – a popular middle market British car from yesteryear.  Is this really the vehicle with which to rev up a bundle of classic blues stylings and make them anew in the 21st century?  You betcha.
Swashbucklin’, the second album by Edinburgh three-piece Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters, brings you nine original tracks that celebrate blues past by creating blues present.  The Hillmans have been doing this kinda thing for years, and they go at it with gusto on this new material.
They open with the title track, making it clear from the outset that they swing like Tarzan, Jonny Christie’s drums and Charlie Wild’s bass locked in a relaxed shuffle.  Meanwhile Jed Potts
"We are not men, we are Hillmans!"
Pic by Allan Ferguson
himself knocks out oddball, playful chords to go with a succession of original lyrical metaphors, before turning his fretboard inside out in a fizzing solo – by which I mean inventiveness, not speed-freakery.
There’s an air of Sean Costello evident there, but Potts and the gang dip into different blues styles elsewhere.  ‘It Won’t Be Long’ is a lurching, clanking, Chicago-style blues, with Potts adopting a scowling vocal tone for lines like, “It won’t be long till my baby’s gone, ain’t gonna do no cleaning, ain’t gonna mow the lawn”.  Medium-sized white Scotsman Jed Potts ain’t never gonna replicate the basso profundo menace of Howlin’ Wolf, but he makes good use of long drawn-out syllables, and the lyrical pay-off is worthy of the Wolfman. The same vibe infuses the bumpin’an’grindin’ ‘Where’s Your Man’, a ‘back door man’ song that combines stabbing chords and an edgy vocal as Potts lays out comic examples of the interloper’s caution. He cracks out a wiry solo, before they take things right down for the bridge, and a third verse advising “You’re gonna call me up saying your husband’s on vacation, I’m calling up that airport baby and check his reservation”. 
‘The Fastest Outlaw’ mashes up ‘Catfish Blues’ with a Rory Gallagher-style cowboy tale, declaring “Tell men speak the legend, and leave the truth alone,’ with tense, stinging chords played off against an offbeat rhythm and rolling bass.  Potts harmonises vocally with his guitar in Rory fashion, then tops things off with a scudding slide solo.
Freddie King instrumentals have been a key reference point for the Hillmans in the past, and they concoct their own fresh take on that style here with ‘Splash-Down!’, two minutes’ worth of pinballing around that peaks with Potts tearing up another solo.  And later there’s a jaunty, hip-wriggling N’Awlins vibe to ‘How’mi’mentuh’, which Potts has described as an attempt to reproduce a Professor Longhair piano boogie vibe on guitar.  In any event it’s a confection that could only work in the hands of a tight-but-loose band like this, with twanging, jingle-jangling guitar and bop-a-loo-bop bass – and, it has to be said, a bit of a naff ending.
Elsewhere, ‘To The Mountains’ offers a more expansive, wide screen country-ish sound, while ‘Won’t Be No Use’ is a danse macabre with spooky bass and halting drums, and Potts’ voice recorded in very analogue-sounding fashion to go with his moaning, shivering slide.  There’s another bout of guitar/voice harmonising, before the pace picks up for a charging finish – and then finds another gear beyond that.
They close with the breezy ‘Take What You Want’, all warped guitar notes and splintered chords over a lazy beat and walking bass, as Potts doesn’t so much riff as duck and dive all over the joint with licks and notes coming out of left field.  It’s short and sweet – in a too short more-ish kinda way.
Jed Potts doesn’t have the strongest voice in the world, but he’s made big strides on the vocal front with this album.  And the same is true of the songwriting, which crackles with energy and some commendably sharp word-smithing.  Swashbucklin’ is a vibrant blast of blues that does what it says on the tin.
 is out now on Wasted State Records, and can be ordered here.

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