Thursday, December 22, 2022

Mudlow - Bad Turn

Mudlow are a trio.  Not a power trio, mark you.  If what you’re after is butt-shaking blues-rock, with lots of guitar jiggery-pokery and lyrics about lascivious women, then move along buddy.  Mudlow are on a different, more winding road with Bad Turn.
Listen to tracks like the opening ‘Lower Than Mud’ and, later, ‘One Bad Turn’, and you won’t really need to be told that Tom Waits is a big influence.  ‘Lower Than Mud’ has an [Explicit] label slapped on it, which is a laugh, because I can only make out about half of what guitarist and vocalist Tobias Tester is singing, and certainly can’t decipher any four-letter mischief he might be
Mudlow - just your average everyday party animals
Pic by Jonny Wilson
dealing out.  Not that I mind, because his growling, cackling Waitsian sound-over-sense brings a gloriously ragged edge to this dipping, looping, low-key boogie. ‘One Bad Turn’, meanwhile, evokes Waits in more balladeering mode.  It’s a downbeat monologue, like a late night drinker telling his tale to a barkeep who ain’t listening. “One bad turn, outside the house I used to own / Inside the yard’s overgrown, spreading grass and weeds I used to mow,” go the opening lines, setting the tone, against a sparse backdrop of pricking guitar, gently ticking drums, and restrained bass.
The boogie ain’t just any old two-step.  North Mississippi hill country vibes infuse the perky, twitching grooves of ‘Further Down The Road’, while Tester rolls out images like a tour guide rolling down the Main Street of some seedy town in a beat-up Oldsmobile, pointing out “Good ol’ boys getting teenage girls loaded in the local saloon”.  Subdued at first, it gradually gathers momentum, rattling and scraping its way towards a serrated, scratchy solo from Tester.  ‘Red Rock’ gives this hypnotic groove a modern lift, with a rolling, offbeat rhythm from drummer Matt Latcham and rumbling bass from Paul Pascoe laying the foundations for a fuzzy, Stylophone-like stutter of a guitar riff, coming over like the Black Keys, with a jolt of electricity making Tester yowl every time the chorus comes around.
There’s a vaguely Latin air to the skipping rhythm and prickling guitar of ‘The Last Rung Down To Hell’, backing the semi-spoken narration, until they shift into a more urgent gear to relate the final descent into the darkness.  And the following ‘So Long Lee (Redux) is another uptempo affair, scooting along in jagged fashion while Tester lets loose a whooping, yelping vocal.
Along the way both ‘Clean Slate’ and ‘Crocodile Man’ cleave more to brooding, murky atmosphere, the former with meandering guitar lines over similarly roving bass, the latter with a hushed vocal and more twinkling guitar over rolling bass and a tapping rhythm until they up the ante for a twanging, discordant guitar break and closing exclamations of “Lord have mercy on me”.  And the closing ‘Sundown’ is an acoustic-sounding collage of images from the end of a day, a mother “picking up her kid, he’s all fingernails and dirt” and urging him to “get out of this ol’ town”, all anchored by minimalist tripping drums and just enough bass.
Are some of those rippling, circling guitar lines a bit samey?  Maybe.  But Mudlow are really all about drawing you into a mood, a place, a grimy, dust-swept scene, and considering they come from Brighton, the sense of back roads America is pretty convincing.   Bad Turn is an album that fell down the back of the Blues Enthused sofa earlier in the year.  I wish I’d rescued it sooner.
Bad Turn is out now on Whisky Preachin’ Records [vinyl] and Juke Joint 500 [CD], and can be ordered here.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Laurence Jones - Destination Unknown

Principle #1:  As Todd Rundgren once said, if you’ve got a single, put it first.  Now nobody’s going to mistake Laurence Jones for a singles artist anytime soon, but the principle still applies, and Jones has followed it by opening Destination Unknown with a real attention-grabber of a track in ‘Anywhere With Me’.  Bursting into action with a taut, Schenker-like riff, it’s bright and fresh, and packs in plenty of twists and turns to keep your ears on alert.  The rhythm section are right on it, with neat variations from drummer Samuel Jenkins, Bennett Holland supplies some
Laurence Jones feels the spirit move him.
dandy blasts of organ, and Jones himself adds surging chords, guitar fill garnishing, and a zesty solo leading into a strident bridge.  Oh yeah, and a confident, spirited vocal too.  Okay Laurence, I’m in.  What’s next?
What’s next is ‘Can’t Keep From Loving You’, which opens with a bouncing riff over throbbing bass from Jack Alexander Timms and swinging drums from Jenkins.  It’s a good tune, with a witty guitar turnaround at the end of the chorus.  Which brings me to Principle #2: As someone once put it, “You get the chorus, and then at then at the end you milk it.  Do it five times!”   It’s a maxim Jones and co seem to have grasped, hammering home the hook here - and elsewhere - even while Jones sends guitar licks flitting between the lines.
There’s a tense urgency about ‘Give Me That Feeling’, which suits a lyric about getting all hot and bothered over a girl.  The pushy, low-end, stop-start riff works a treat, another catchy chorus comes swathed in organ from Holland, and Jones adds a clever, needlingly different guitar break for good measure.
Do they keep up this glowing standard over the course of the remaining tracks?  Well, perhaps not – but they give it a good go.  There’s an air of Foreigner-like AOR to the likes of ‘Gave It All Away’ and ‘I Won’t Lie Again’, the former swirling and kicking and the latter neat and swinging, if less memorable.  And there’s a similar vibe later with ‘Said And Done’, this time with a mellow opening of pulsing bass and chocolate box piano before Jones enters with a probing guitar line, and then a yearning vocal backed up by satisfying harmonies.
‘Tonight’ veers from sensitive verses to a muscle-flexing chorus, and if the value of adding a delayed coda initially seems doubtful that’s soon brushed aside as it swells into a whirling organ solo and some lofty, sweeping guitar work from Jones.  There’s a touch of latterday King King-like soulfulness too, on the romantic ‘Holding Back’, which veers between a breathy chorus and a strong guitar theme, and on the closing title track, with its glossy harmonies and ascending chorus, plus its good use of dynamics and the impactful bridge that prefaces Jones’ melodic solo that wraps itself around the final replays of the hook.
Destination Unknown is a worthy follow-up to previous album Laurence Jones Band - an enjoyable ensemble performance from Jones and his amigos, this time with a new rhythm section in Timmis and Jenkins.  The arrangements are concise but punchy, slipping in enough flourishes to sharpen interest along the way, and the sound is clear, tight and well-balanced.  Well done chaps.
Destination Unknown is out now on Marshall Records, and can be ordered here.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Quickies - Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton, The Commoners, and Selina and the Howlin' Dogs

The latest Quickies round-up brings together three different brands of blues'n'roots under one roof, with some rock'n'roll, some Southern rock, and some British blues-based rock.
Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton – The Stardust Sessions
Ever the moving target, Samantha Fish recently announced that she was getting together with Texan guitarist and singer Jesse Dayton, an outlaw-country-meets-punk-rock kinda guy,  for a bundle of US dates and an album of originals titled Death Wish Blues, produced by Jon Spencer and due out in the Spring.  And to seal the deal the pair then rush released this 3-track EP on 2 December.
Writing together the duo apparently “envisioned a sound that married the explosive blues with
Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton, not necessarily in that order
Pic by Skyler Smith
alt-rock”.  Well, whatever that may sound like, this collection of three covers is two parts rock’n’roll, and one part Americana.
‘Brand New Cadillac’ was originally released by British rock’n’roller Vince Taylor and His Playboys in 1959, and famously covered by The Clash 20 years later.  Hell’s bells, that was 43 years ago!  Whatever, the SF-JD take is an adrenaline blast, jaggedly banging out the ‘Peter Gunn’-like riff, while Fish and Dayton compete and interact with breathless vocals and some suitably scratchy guitar breaks.  Then they double down with a souped-up version of Magic Sam’s ‘Feelin’ Good’ (aka ‘I Feel So Good (I Wanna Boogie)’).  Dayton leads on the street-talking conversational vocal, getting into some vocal and guitar call and response and trading stinging licks with Fish.  These two tracks are, essentially, a hoot.
‘I’ll Be Here In The Morning’ is a whole different kettle of potatoes, although counterpointing slam-dunk rock’n’roll and acoustic sensitivity is a formula that will be familiar to Samantha Fish fans.  Indeed this cover of a tender Townes Van Zandt song would have fitted very snugly onto her Belle Of The West album.  Acoustic picking and strumming is the basis for some delicate Fish singing, and low-down country-ish vocals from Dayton, with some mandolin-like trilling guitar providing a minor diversion along the way.   Evidently Fish and Dayton are ready to be romantic as well rambunctious.
The Stardust Sessions is out now as a digital-only release, available here.
The Commoners – Find A Better Way
“The Black Crowes are a considerable influence for us,” says Commoners vocalist and guitarist Chris Medhurst.  This, I think, is an understatement.   I mean, I like the Black Crowes, got a few of their albums and everything.  But listening to Find A Better Way I’d infer that the Commoners positively adore the Crowes.
The Commoners try to find a better way out in the country
‘Find A Better Way’ itself sets the scene, kicking off with a big, ringing riff, reinforced by a blast of organ, before Medhurst embarks on an impressively raunchy vocal – a vocal that channels Chris Robinson to a quite bonkers degree.  Gotta say though, it’s a really strong song, with a powerful hook rammed home by the backing vocals, while guitars power along and the guesting Jeff Heisholt adds a gutsy organ solo.  The following ‘Fill My Cup’ starts off with another surging riff over hammering drums from Adam Cannon (yes, really), before chilling out for the first verse, suggesting more light and shade may be in the offing.  And maybe a smidgen more dynamics are evident, but that’s soon overcome by another anthemic chorus, with darn near choral backing vocals, and slide guitar flitting in and out courtesy of Ross Citrullo.
There’s plenty more of this densely arranged sound to follow.  ‘More Than Mistakes’ features a stomping backbeat and Citrullo’s guitar melding with waves of organ, plus a guitar solo that starts with a nod to Hendrix’s ‘Third Stone From The Sun’, while ‘Too Much’ opens with a scudding rollercoaster of a riff, and Medhurst’s vocals get going in a lower, less plaintive pitch.  Even when they start off slow on ‘Naturally’ though, with just acoustic and sparse electric guitar, and a cooler vocal from Medhurst, things end up getting very intense.
‘I Won’t’ leans towards country rock, and brings with it pedal steel courtesy of fellow Canadian Michael Eckert that really isn’t my bag.  This isn’t Eckert’s fault, it's purely a matter of personal taste.  ‘Hangin’ On Again’ reaches for the epic, starting slowish with serpentine slide guitar and more restrained vocals over soulful organ from Miles Evan Branagh, and features tasteful slide guitar wrapping itself around the vocal.  Inevitably Medhurst ends up getting all worked up, and Citrullo breaks out a very Southern slide solo, but there’s more subtlety at work here than elsewhere.
There will be Southern rock fans who love Find A Better Way from first to last, and good luck to 'em.  But while I enjoyed particular songs, I could do with The Commoners being a bit less relentless over the span of an album, and a bit less in thrall to their inspirations too.
Find A Better Way is out now on Gypsy Soul Records. 
Selina and the Howlin’ Dogs – Blues Revisited
I love it when a plan comes together, and on songs like ‘On The Line’ and ‘I Still Want More’ Reading-based Selina and the Howlin’ Dogs join the dots to show what they can do.
‘On The Line’ kicks off with a catchy combination of chiming guitar work and bubbling bass, over a rolling, offbeat rhythm, engaging the butt as well as the ear, while singer Selina Arch is supported by some handy backing vocals on a satisfying melody.  The Dogs have aspirations to
Selina and the Howlin' Dogs go for the gritty urban look
add hip-hop to the mix at times too, and here the rap element delivered by bassist Mark Peace fits into the skipping rhythm nicely.  The closing ‘I Still Want More’ kicks off with brisk stop-time guitar chords over a fast clip rhythm, setting up an appealing power-pop vibe.  It’s the basis for Arch to rattle out a simple verse, and a chorus that comes with a useful hook attached, while guitarist Alan Burgin knocks out a tasty solo worthy of a Pretenders hit.
Other good moments include ‘The Way Things Are’, with its fuzzy, low slung, if somewhat familiar sounding rock riff.  It has another likeable chorus, and Burgin offers up a spiky but all too brief guitar break.  ‘Never Get Over You’ opens up with an urgent, tumbling riff over clattering drums, before cooling off into the semi-funky verse, and Burgin produces a nicely melodic guitar solo over the swinging rhythm section of Peace and drummer Tobias Andersson, who clearly have some jazz chops between them.  
There are plenty of interesting things to catch the ear over the course of 13 tracks.  ‘Please Me Now’ comes with an edgy if under-powered guitar riff, and Arch injects personality into the Blondie-like chorus, but it could do with something punchier than Burgin’s rather sedate, jazzy solo.  And ‘Get Up’ suggests some tasteful soul-jazz capability, with Peace and Andersson syncopating nicely in the run-up to a rippling Burgin solo, and Arch making with the required slinkiness.
Things could be better in several respects though.  The mix feels thin, making the band sound tame and leaving Arch’s somewhat reedy voice unhelpfully exposed until the moments when double-tracking produces more depth.  Stylistically meanwhile, they’re scattergun; blues fused with elements of rock, funk and hip-hop may be their aim, and they do all of that with varying degrees of success, but from a songwriting perspective they pack the most punch when they’re in power pop territory.
There’s a bundle of musical talent circulating within Selena and the Howlin’ Dogs.  But they need more focus, and some sympathetic production, to give that talent direction and make it count.
Blues Revisited is out now, and can be ordered here.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Joanne Shaw Taylor - Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 2 December 2022

A wonderful thing happens halfway through this show by Joanne Shaw Taylor.  After leaning heavily (but not exclusively) on her 2021 outing The Blues Album for the first half of the set, she goes all the way back to her debut album White Sugar, which I must confess isn’t in my collection, and pulls out ‘Watch ‘Em Burn’, digging into a more rocking sound than what has gone before.  And after a bit of punchy testifying in the middle she launches into a sizzling low-end solo, then takes it down to embark on a semi-Celtic excursion full of ringing notes that builds
Joanne Shaw Taylor - smiling the blues!
and builds until soon she’s absolutely flying, the band giving it some serious welly as she soars into a whole other dimension.  In these moments JST comes alive, the audience comes alive, and - as someone who’s never seen her onstage before - I’m well and truly impressed.
This isn’t to suggest that the show has been anything less than entertaining up to now, by the way.  Au contraire, mes amis.  Ms Taylor and her beardy band hit the boards in free’n’easy fashion with the rollicking ‘Stop Messing Around’, and follow up with some swinging boogie on ‘Keep On Lovin’ Me’, featuring some fleet-fingered, near jazzy fretwork from Taylor.
The title track of Jo’s new album Nobody’s Fool is bright and breezy, with chiming piano, and if there’s a bit of Quo-like chug to this and the boogie of ‘Three Time Loser’ the latter is leavened by an inventive solo that hints at Texas blues stylings.  She brings real focus to her vocal on ‘Let Me Down Easy’ too, delivering with feeling and then bringing a cutting edge to a biting, scything solo.  There are other good moments too, such as the mid-paced blues of ‘If You’re Gonna Make A Fool Of Somebody’, where she shares some soulful soloing with guitar sidekick Joe Espido.  ‘Bad Blood’ is a strong song from the new album, featuring some tasty Chicano twang from Espido, though its finale feels a bit thrown away.  But it’s ‘Dyin’ To Know’, from 2016’s Wild, that really catches the ear with its spiralling guitar riff and inventive arrangement, that foreshadows the later moment of lift-off on ‘Watch ‘Em Burn’.
Later there’s variety in the form of the mirror-ball-ready ballad ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’, which gets stronger as they ramp it up, Taylor getting into some proper blues wailing en route to a satisfyingly definitive ending; there's the funky soulfulness of ‘Just Another Word’ too; and the beautifully executed meditation of ‘Fade Away’, with Taylor playing acoustic and Espido adding tasteful electric colourings in place of the cello that decorates the album version.  The music could speak for itself, sure, but for me Jo’s thoughtful introduction explaining its inspiration added to the emotional undercurrent.
The brief ‘Runaway’ from the new album sparkles and ripples, but the rocking riffage of the set-closing ‘Bad Love’ really energises proceedings.  The thought crosses my mind that Jo could really take her fizzing solo further, but then she returns after an organ solo to put me in my place by busting out good and proper to hit the heights again.
First encore ‘Going Home’ is impressive too, with its rolling Western-type vibe, but ‘Mudhoney’ really hits the nail on the head as a finale, with its tumbling, stuttering, highly original riff.  Much as I enjoyed the Blues Album material, and really enjoyed the hook-heavy songsmithery of Nobody’s Fool, in a live setting I reckon this tougher, blues-rockin’ direction is really Taylor’s métier, and a proper platform for her wing-ding six-string capabilities.  Another song or two in this vein could really stiffen the spine of her set, methinks.  Next time, maybe.
Joanne Shaw Taylor seems like a happy soul, smiling her way through the show.  And why not?  There was plenty to smile about in this performance, and I look forward to catching her again before too long.
Joanne Shaw Taylor continues her UK tour until 11 December – tickets available here.