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.

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