Sunday, October 2, 2022

Quickies - The Hungry Williams, The Terraplanes Blues Band, and Keith Thompson

Today's Quickies round-up catches up with a few albums that have been left behind in the rush, as it were - and representing three different sides of the blues.

The Hungry Williams – Let’s Go

Well, this is fun!
The Hungry Williams come from Milwaukee, but their heart is in New Orleans, their name coming from NOLA drummer Charles ‘Hungry’ Williams.  And the enthusiasm they bring to Let’s Go! is captured by opening track ‘Mardi Gras Day’, an on-the-money scene-setter for their sound, all second line rhythms led by drummer and band founder John Carr’s tripping, skipping, syncopated snare drum playing.  There’s bouncing bass and tootling horns, while singer Kelli
The Hungry Williams painting a rosy picture
Pic by Mark Hines
Gonzalez paints a tempting picture of a festive Big Easy atmosphere, reinforced by bright trumpet breaks from Lech Wierzynski.
The ten tracks are a mixture of covers and originals that sit alongside each comfortably.  There’s a brisk trilogy of nifty tracks about women ditching, or rebounding from, unsatisfactory men.  The swaying ‘Movin’ On is first up, followed by ‘You’d Better Find Yourself Another Fool’, which dials up a fingersnapping rhythm to underpin some doo-wop-ish backing vocals, and features a sprightly guitar solo and a rumbling baritone sax break.  ‘One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show’, a 50s B-side for Big Maybelle, is a bluesier affair, with some jangling guitar from Joe Vent and tinkling piano from Jack Stewart, but the real focus is the sassy, storytelling vocal from Gonzalez.
Then they flip the relationship schtick with the eye-fluttering female crush of the simple ‘Gee Baby’, and the adoring ‘Boss Man’, with its stuttering percussion, jaunty sax solo and jungle drum propelled bridge.
Other highlights are the humorous ‘Big Mouth Betty’ and the closing ‘669 (Across The Street From The Beast’.  The former is a Gonzalez composition whose heroine is “busy talking when she’s fast asleep”, set off by strolling drums and a couple of woozy sax breaks, and the latter tells the swinging story of having the Devil for a party animal neighbour, with twanging guitar from Joe Vent and squirrelling sax complementing Gonzalez’ jazzy vocal.
A good time is had by all for half an hour or so on Let’s Go!  It may not be anything profound, but The Hungry Williams do what they set out to do, and convey the festive vibe of N’Awlins very nicely.
Let’s Go!
 was released by Rochelle Records on 9 September, and can be ordered here.
The Terraplanes Blues Band – Stepping Stones
Bristol-based four-piece The Terraplanes Blues Band get their mojo working with an R’n’B sound that ranges from the grinding riff’n’rhythm of ‘Highway 61’ to the prickly and energetic stop-time riffing of the enjoyable ‘Get Along’ and the Quo-like boogie of ‘Rattlesnake Blues’, a tale of a Queen Bee with an appealing tune.
Nick Scrase goes at it with gusto on vocals, in addition to his guitar duties, and Eduardo Allen is
The Terraplanes Blues Band provide some local, er, colour
often well to the fore on harp, whether squawking away on the Diddley-esque ‘My Malaise’ or getting more mournful on the loping slow blues of ‘Pick Myself Up’.  He wails away effectively on ‘Don’t Do Me Wrong’ too, counterpointing some jangling chords and spiky lead from Scrase.
It feels like the recording and mix haven’t been especially kind to the drums of Tom Turner, who provides some snap and crackle but is hampered in terms of real oomph.  The skating bass’n’drums of ‘Ain’t Had No Lovin’’ works well though, with Scrase’s jagged, chopping rhythm guitar and Allen’s swinging harp suggesting a Feelgood-ish vibe here and there.
The slow-ish ‘North Street Blues’ provides some Bristolian local colour, with some fuzzy slide from Scrase and slithering harp from Allen.  ‘The Ballad Of Ragtime Texas’ takes a different tack,
a light and perky affair with the addition of piano from Richard Parsons to provide extra jollification.  The closing ‘The Lonesome Crow’ provides the most imaginative note though, dialling things down for a folk-country narrative featuring a tasteful segment of low key but clean cut guitar against an organ backdrop – and a Clint-like spoken passage that, intentionally or not, is a bit of a hoot.
Stepping Stones is stronger on enthusiasm than expertise at times, but if you came across The Terraplanes Blues Band down your local then I reckon they’d be infectious enough to make you abandon your beer for a bit of a soft shoe shuffle.
Stepping Stones
 is out now, and can be ordered here.
Keith Thompson – Smoke And Mirrors
When Smoke And Mirrors kicks off with ‘Easy Money’, the signs are promising.  It’s laid back, with interesting sprinkles of guitar, and Keith Thompson’s smoky, semi-groan of a vocal fits in well.  The subtle, Gilmour-like tones of his first guitar solo show effective control, and the same is true of a second outing that mixes long notes with fluttering licks.
Keith Thompson trying out a Hendrix move - sort of.
Unfortunately, Thompson doesn’t maintain a similar standard across the whole of the album.  There are some clunking lyrics on the likes of ‘Moment Of Choice’ and ‘Sandcastles Of Lies’, and Thompson’s vocal feels more strained in sympathy, while elsewhere those fluttering guitar breaks begin to feel like a default setting.
There are other good moments though, such as the Toto-ish AOR of ‘Falling’, where some well-executed harmonies give a lift to the chorus, and Thompson conjures up some interesting textures in addition to a wah-wah solo that adds a different dimension.  ‘Softer Frame Of Mind’ opens up in more of a Celtic folkie-prog vibe, a twiddly guitar line overlaid with swooping synth notes, before the tune smooths back into AOR territory for its chorus, with Thompson turning out a stronger vocal, leaning towards an angsty groan again at times.  And the fiddle break is a nice touch that elevates matters.
There’s a bit of an edge to ‘The Ride’, with its measured beat and plonking bass sound, and some background chatter adding an interesting texture, before a rippling, sometimes woozy guitar solo.  And the hushed, meditative – and lengthy - slowie ‘Chasing The Wind’ gradually reaches for the epic, with an interesting breeze-blown solo in the middle.
Keith Thompson has some interesting ideas, and a handy way with guitar tone, but Smoke And Mirrors is a patchy album, that could have been much better with more focus and consistency, especially in the songwriting and vocal departments.

Smoke And Mirrors is available now on Bandcamp, here.

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