Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Quickies - The Howling Tides, and Sunjay

The Howling Tides – Blue Moon EP
Between you, me and the world wide web, I don’t really listen to that many new, straight up hard rock or metal bands these days.  A major reason for this is that I rarely like the rhythmic approach of the ones I come across – they ain’t got no swing, but instead opt for an aural bombardment worthy of a pneumatic drill.
The Howling Tides are a hard rock band, but they don’t go down that cul-de-sac.  ‘Thalia’, the
Cheeky chappies The Howling Tides
opening track on their Blue Moon EP, starts with an eerie, throbbing intro, and then its staccato riff is backed up by stuttering, skittering drums from Steven ‘Herbie’ Herbert that suggest broader horizons than yer typical bunch of riff merchants.  They slip into a different rhythm later, dial things down for a bit, and with a guitar solo that sounds like it’s bleeped its way from the Forbidden Planet, they never let things settle into the predictable.  In the midst of this Rob Baynes may be a straight-down-the-middle rock singer to be sure, but he’s a good one, with plenty under the bonnet.
‘Cut Your Losses’ may have a more orthodox hard rock tone, but with an interesting bass part from Adam Brewell there’s an air of offbeat Zeppiness going on.  ‘Fortune Never Favoured Me’ aims for epic balladeering, Baynes vocal melding well with some melodic guitar in a bluesy and relaxed fashion before they ramp things up halfway through.  It may not be especially original, but it’s still well executed.
‘Blue Moon’ itself opens with a subdued, Wishbone Ash-like intro, some suppressed vocals hovering in the background, then shifts through a few different phases.  They’re scarcely priggish, but they do seem to enjoy playing around with the tune a bit, combining muscle and twiddle in a fashion that’s a long way from thud and blunder metal.  And if they do opt for a more crunking rhythm section assault on the stop-start ‘White Crow’, it’s as accompaniment to a twisting and turning riff and a swooping and slithering guitar solo, with some dynamics introduced by a quieter segment along the way.  Okay, so the sort-of-bridge is only so-so, and the track’s overlong, but it still has its moments.
The Howling Tides probably aren’t a band I’ll follow avidly in the future, but as contemporary hard rockers go, I’d venture that they have more to offer than many of their peers.
The Blue Moon EP will be released on 18 November, and can be pre-ordered here.
Sunjay – Black & Blues Revisited
When Sunjay settles into his comfort zone on this collection of 11 blues covers, what you get are tunes that are nicely sung, nicely played – and Anglified in a very genteel and decorous manner.
Take Mississippi John Hurt’s ‘Monday Morning Blues’ for example.  His acoustic guitar picking may be on point, and sometimes a bit mesmeric, but it also sounds rather prim and proper.  
Sunjay takes the load off for a while
Pic by Jane Jordan
And his winsome rather than weary voice really doesn’t convince when singing lines such as “Been layin’ in jail six long weeks”.  Similarly his take on Elizabeth Cotten’s ‘Freight Train’ doesn’t really do anything to overcome the too-sweet-to-be-wholesome folksiness of the song itself.  ‘The Easy Blues’ meanwhile, is neat and tidy and given a pinch of seasoning by some harp from Lee Southall, but it’s no more than okay when compared with the conviction and personality brought to the song by John Martyn.
A few tracks have a bit more life about them, I’m pleased to say.  There may be no chance of him matching the heft of Howlin’ Wolf on the opening ‘Built For Comfort’, but he does commit to the vocal, adding a rasp here and there to bring more character to his far from heavyweight voice.  It rolls along nicely with a swaying rhythm, some flutters of organ, and toots of harp, and Sunjay solos with a bit of dash to match up to Bob Fridzema’s piano turn.  The following ‘Statesboro Blues’ is subtle and skipping, with afterthoughts of organ from Fridzema, and an interesting guitar part that holds the attention, while Sunjay essays another decent vocal in spite of the boyishness of his voice.  ‘Dust My Broom’ carries a bit of emphasis too - vocal included.  There’s some steeliness to the guitar, and a trilling harp solo from Southall that hits the mark, but there’s still not a great deal of edge to go with the swing.
There’s one success in more muted mode though, with ‘Come Back Baby’.  It’s languorous and shimmering in a way that piques the interest, with some understated keys from Fridzema that are worth straining to catch.  It still sounds decidedly Anglified, but on this occasion it offers something different and positive.
I’m sure there are people who will enjoy the folky country blues acoustic guitar picking that is the mainstay of Sunjay’s sound.  But I like my blues to have more depth and personality than is evident on much of Black & Blues Revisited.
Black & Blues Revisited
 is out now on Mighty Tight Records, and can be ordered here.

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