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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Aynsley Lister - Along For The Ride

I’ve got a lot of time for Aynsley Lister.  He’s a really talented guy.  But . . . well, we’ll get to that later.
When you hear tracks like ‘Eve Part I’ and its counterpart ‘Eve Part II: Love You To Death’, as well as ‘World Is Falling’ and ‘Made Up My Mind’, plus ‘No One Else But You’ and ‘Masquerade’, it’s clear the man has some handy tools in his bag as a songwriter, singer and guitarist.  These songs are stylistically diverse, but they all carry a kitemark of quality.
Aynsley Lister gets all moody and atmospheric
Pic by Alexandre Coesnon
The ‘Eve’ pairing, inspired by the TV thriller Killing Eve, exemplify a cinematic vibe that Lister has explored with success in the past, notably with ‘Il Grande Mafioso’ from his last album Eyes Wide Open.   “Part I’ conjures up a moody, mysterious atmosphere, with a high-pitched vocal from Lister over isolated piano chords, sparse guitar, ticking drums and bendy pulses of bass.  The lyrics produce a character sketch in smart and economical fashion, and Lister adds an elegant, thematic solo, which after a pause he elevates to ramp up the sense of drama.  And ‘Part II’ gradually turns the mood from merely sinister to threatening, with tough, ominous chords, bigger bass and drums, more urgency, and ultimately a blazing solo to close the album.
In contrast to these brooding, epic affairs, ‘World Is Falling’ is a brisk, staccato injection of energy into the middle of the album, with crunching chords and surges of organ the accompaniment for an oblique reflection on pandemic confusion, topped off with a gutsy, edgy solo.  ‘Made Up My Mind’ rocks too, but with a sidestep into funkier territory.   Hendrix-toned chords are played off against a kinetic, twitching rhythm from drummer Russ Parker in a manner redolent of Jimi’s ‘Fire’.  It’s tough and snappy, with a good hook, a weighty tug of war bridge beefed up by swirling organ, and some driving, wiry guitar soloing to which producer Scott McKeon makes a contribution.  At which point it’s worth noting that McKeon and Parker, plus Gavin Conder who adds backing vocals here, have previously combined in the band Rufus Black.
Contrastingly, ‘No One Else But You’ is a minimalist slow blues delivered with warmth and personality, demonstrating how simplicity can work.  ‘Masquerade’, meanwhile, is a musically playful jaunt into a European-sounding milieu, for a tale of escape from relationship deceit, which Lister decorates with a couple of solos that play around with the main theme to good affect.
But – yes, there is a but.  As good as the above songs are, elsewhere things get rather too comfy at times.  The title track is just one example of a song that feels stylish, but ultimately a bit thin, with a melody that’s tasteful, and nicely sung, abetted by some nice harmonies.  Nice, but not something to grab your attention, in spite of some sparkling, glittering soloing.  ‘Bide My Time’ and ‘Wait For Me’ concern different kinds of stuff getting in the way of relationships, but for all their qualities neither generates real traction.  The former exhibits subtle changes of pace and has a restrained, silvery guitar solo, and the latter includes an appealing guitar break with a vaguely Steely Dan-like jazzy leaning (a direction he could probably explore further), but both could do with more dynamics to make a real impact.  And our Aynsley could also do with being a bit more biting on the lyric front now and then, a bit more salty – even if he does observe on ‘Amazing’ that the online world “fucks with your mind”, underlined by a stinging solo and some swooping guitar on the outro.
There are other good moments, but over the course of 13 tracks Along For The Ride leans towards cruising along safely a mite too often, when sometimes a heavier foot on the gas is needed.  Meantime Aynsley Lister is still a really talented guy, who I look forward to seeing live in a few weeks.
Along For The Ride is out now on Straight Talkin’ Records, and can be ordered here.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Gerry Jablonski & The Electric Band - 105

KERRANG!  That seems to be the most apt descriptor for the thunderous squall of the intro to ‘Breaking The Stones’, the opening track on this new album by Scotland’s Gerry Jablonski & The Electric Band.
And yep, if you’re after a hard rocking riff, then Gerry Jablonski’s your man.  There are plenty of ‘em on 105, from the grinding chords of the aforementioned ‘Breaking The Stones’, to the driving affair on the uptempo ‘Goddamn’, to the mean’n’nasty beast that rears its head on the dynamic ‘Heavy Water’.  And more besides.
Gerry Jablonski and chums get electrified
So yes, the Electric Band are a hard rock band.  But they’re not yer typical hard rock band, due
to the presence of harmonica blower Peter Narojczyk.  The prowling, electric intensity that Narojczyk offers on stage is difficult to get across on record, but his playing still adds a different dimension to the sound.  He shakes up the stuttering, Purple-esque riff of ‘Strange Love’ with an early harp break, and on the more relaxed Paul Kossoff tribute ‘Koss’ his shivering sound beefs up the chorus.  He complements the spiky guitar riff on ‘Tiny Thoughts’ in zig-zagging fashion, then shows that he can wail with the best of ‘em on ‘Goddamn’.  But he also brings a mournful, cowboy-like aspect to the intro of ‘Heavy Water’.
Sometimes though, his harp and Jablonski’s guitar feel like uneasy bedfellows.  Whereas harmonica lends itself easily to blues and rock’n’roll vibes, Jablonski has a penchant for more exotic guitar territory, illustrated by the closing ‘Dark Island’, on which he gives a romantic Scottish song from the 60s a positively ‘Star Spangled Banner’ solo guitar treatment.  He pulls that off with conviction, but the Van Halen-like squiggling of the solo on ‘Strange Love’ is an example where the tonal difference with the harp sound jars a little.  When they funk things up a bit on ‘Tiny Thoughts’ though, Jablonski’s zingy guitar solo and the call and response with Narojczyk’s harp work well together.
The Jablonski/Narojczyk axis isn't the be all and end all of GJEB, mind you.  The rhythm section of Lewis Fraser on drums and Grigor Leslie add plenty of muscle to the riffage, with the frothing bass and whip-cracking drums playing their part in making the bluesier rock of ‘Goddamn’ a standout.  Fraser also steps forward to share the elegiac lead vocals on ‘Hard Road’, a meditation on the Ukraine war on which all concerned demonstrate both sensitivity and power.  Meanwhile Grigor Leslie complements Jablonski’s spangly guitar with tastefully meandering bass on ‘Breaking The Code’, setting a romantic tone that’s reinforced by some trilling Narojsczyk harp and Jablonski’s best vocal.  And Fraser and Leslie also combine to provide notable backing vocals at times, including the Yardbirds-like choral segments on ‘Breaking The Stones’ and the harmonies that lead into and beef up the chorus of ‘Tiny Thoughts’.
The Electric Band never let songs outstay their welcome, I'm pleased to say, but now and then they have too many ideas for their own good.  The wah-wah guitar overdubs on ‘Strange Love’ and the martial coda on ‘Tiny Thoughts’ are both examples of unnecessary frills.  Sharpening their focus a bit would allow the essence to shine through more clearly.  But hey - the riffs, the musicianship and the intelligent lyrics on 105 are all quality fare.  Give it a whirl and see if it takes your fancy!
105 is released on 25 November, and can be ordered here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Liz Jones - Bounty

You could be forgiven for thinking, when the title track ‘Bounty’ kicks off this solo album by Liz Jones, that it doesn’t sound so very different from the two albums she has made with her band, Broken Windows.  Here’s a warm and inviting tune, with Jones’ distinctive, engaging voice to the fore, backed by quietly insistent acoustic guitar, gentle piano and a clip-clopping rhythm, enlivened here and there by a trilling, trippy guitar line, and ultimately a pin-sharp solo from Windows guitarist John Bruce.
Liz Jones - lady sings the roots
As subtle as this sound may be though, for the most part Bounty tones things down even further, initially capturing the songs with just Jones’ voice and acoustic guitar.  She and producer Jennifer Clark then elicited contributions from a gaggle of other musicians to provide additional textures according to their own lights.  And if that sounds like a risky kind of “lucky dip” approach, the results are both coherent and delicate.
Most importantly though, Liz Jones’ alluring voice is front and centre throughout.  Here we have a roots singer with bags of range and variation in tone, who can be as sensitive, relaxed or powerful as her songs demand.  Indeed several songs on Bounty feature Jones harmonising with herself to exquisite effect.  Overdubs curl around her lead vocal like smoke rings on the meditative, swaying ‘Green’, to which Jamie Hamilton adds some richly soulful organ embellishment.  ‘Temple’ is even more startling on this front, the harmonies starting simple, then growing into delicious spirals.
Characterising the styles of these songs isn’t straightforward.  Given that London-born Jones sings in her own accent, without recourse to Americanisms, I’m loath to use a term like Americana.  But ‘Little Song’ carries some echoes of Geraint Watkins, the Welshman who has collaborated with Nick Lowe among others and who sometimes attracts the Americana tag.  Meanwhile ‘Mother Earth’ has an ethereal aspect that takes me back to (very) early Joan Armatrading, with understated shadings of pedal steel as Jones offers the typically evocative image “What have I tasted so sour on my tongue?”  ‘Temple’ puts me in mind of Deacon Blue in downbeat mode, like ‘Bethlehem’s Gate’ perhaps, sweetly delivered in antithesis to acerbic lines like “Our body is a temple until Friday night”, and with starlit pedal/lap steel decoration from Jon Mackenzie. And the sombre ‘Magnet’, with its prickling guitar, reflects on the attracting and repelling poles of relationships in a manner suggestive of the darker moments Justin Currie brought to Del Amitri.
Thirteen tracks is possibly too many, though I’m not complaining – this is an album to lay back and wallow in.  But there are some other favourites along the way.  ‘Accused’ starts with another patient, throbbing rhythm and ticking guitar, and then Jamie Hamilton weighs in with trombone to add more heft and depth as Jones’ vocal gathers more force for the pay-off: “I should have done all those things you accused me of, honey I’d have had way more fun”.  ‘Show Me The Way’ rolls along on an easygoing, pattering rhythm from Suzi Cargill’s djemba, providing an upbeat soundtrack for a tribute to someone who rolls with the punches, with more harmonies that this time culminate in a soaring choral effect.
Bounty is a sophisticated album, with producer Jen Clarke and the cast of collaborators finding just the right degree of elaboration to bring out the quality of the material, and burnishes Liz Jones’ credentials as both a songwriter and a singer.  I know it ain’t rock’n’roll, but I still like it.
Bounty is released on 18 November, and can be ordered here.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Steve Hill - Dear Illusion

Wait, what?  This is Steve Hill, right?  Long-haired Canadian dude, pretty intense looking?  Purveyor of hard-riffing blues-rock and shimmering acoustic blues?  Generally to be found playing as a one man band these last ten years or so?  This is that Steve Hill?
So what in Sam Hill is going on with all these horns plastered all over his new release Dear Illusion?
I’ll tell you what’s going on – Steve Hill is having a shitload of fun, that’s what.
Okay, so ‘All About The Love’ kicks off with a trilling guitar riff and a simple stomping beat that sounds very much like Hill in his one man band mode – but then the swell of horns preceding his rat-a-tat vocal makes you prick up your ears.  As well you might, because when he hits the
Steve Hill has himself a quiet night in
Pic by Scott Doubt
chorus – BLAM! - there’s a virulent outbreak of horn-blaring gospellation fit to have Jake and Ellwood Blues jigging about like a pair of loons.  And that’s just for openers.
Swear to god, I could well imagine Mick Jagger prancing about at the end of a catwalk to the likes of ‘Keep It Together’ and ‘Everything You Got’.  The first kicks off with a harp riff that’s taken up by guitar, with perfect punctuation from The Devil Horns, while Hill hollers “Wake me up when it’s over, please somebody spiked my drink,” given extra oomph by spot on backing vocals.  And the razor-edged slide guitar that plays off against the hook is a pretty cool too.  ‘Everything You Got’ opens with a horn fanfare that swiftly gets elbowed out of the way by a nailed-on, ZZ Top-like fuzzy guitar riff over swinging, punchy drums and more horn interjections.  It’s stuffed with vitality, everything fitting together hand in glove, and catchy as hell.  (Be sure to click on the link for the video, which captures the good-time vibe brilliantly.)
In a similar upbeat vein, ‘Steal The Light From You’ is a whomping good-time shuffle, with a carefree ascending riff and the horns flaring brightly, and expertly twanging guitar breaks.
So who are they, these Devil Horns that are so much to the fore?  No, they’re not some legendary outfit like the Muscle Shoals gang.  It’s just the moniker Hill has given to the various groups of brass exponents he conscripted at different times, and in different places, to beef up particular songs – the point being that regardless of their disparate recruitment processes, somebody or somebodies have done a A1 job of getting exactly the right contributions out of them.
Oh yeah, and those swinging, punchy drums?  It’s worth noting that Wayne Proctor does the skin-walloping on six of the tracks here, bringing extra groove to proceedings as well as mixing and mastering the whole caboodle.
But Hill also makes room for his sensitive side.  ‘Dear Illusion’ itself is a yearning contemplation of self-deception in love, the chorus borne aloft by the horns.  ‘So It Goes’ is a reflective, iridescent acoustic breather, and the closing ‘Until The Next Time’ is laid back and romantic, with Hill’s crooning vocal accompanied by swooning horns and some sparkling guitar. 
It has to be said that Hill’s voice sounds in particularly good fettle too.  On both ‘Don’t Let The Truth Get In The Way (Of A Good Story)’ and ‘She Gives Lessons In Blues’ the name of Paul Rodgers sprang into my mind.  Not that Hill could seriously be taken for Rodgers – who could?  But I could imagine Rodgers offering a polite round of applause for the soul Hill applies to these tracks.  The first comes with an irresistible snappy rhythm, another decent hook, and a twirling solo.  The second is a funky sorta blues, with more on-the-money horn moments, and Hill’s guitar ramping up the swaggering fun quotient.  And there’s more soul in ‘Follow Your Heart’, of which Hill admits nicking the chords from a song played at his mum’s choir’s Christmas show, though he can’t recall the song itself.  Well, my money is on the jazz classic ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’, and he does it justice with this swinging, sunny, but measured take, including some splendidly free’n’easy guitar work.
Some albums you like because they intrigue you, some because they push the envelope and show some imagination.  Dear Illusion is an album to be enjoyed because it’s terrific entertainment, pure and simple.
Dear Illusion is out now on No Label Records, and can be ordered here.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Robert Connely Farr - Shake It

Mississippi-born Robert Connelly Farr likes to keep it down, down, deeper and down.  Have a listen to the opening track on Shake It, a reading of Charley Patton’s ‘Screamin' And Hollerin' Blues’, and you’ll get the idea - screaming and hollering, ironically, ain’t what’s on the menu.  Warped, bent out of shape guitar chords drift into earshot like tumbleweed, while Farr moans pleas for the Lord to have mercy on his wicked soul.  It’s real slooow, and minimalist to boot, with drummer Jay Bundy Johnson and bassist Tom Hillifer making like Farr gave ‘em a sedative before hitting the Record button.
Robert Connely Farr tries to leave out more notes
Pic by Anita Van Weerden
It all adds up to a spooky sound that reflects the lessons in the Bentonia blues tradition Farr has learned from his mentor Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes, whose ‘Going Away To Leave You’ is second up.  Here Hillifer’s bass is subterranean,  Farr’s guitar break is barbed-wire-spiky, and it has all the haste of a man hurrying to catch a train.  Tomorrow.
The less-is-more vibe is evident elsewhere too, with the pinpricks of guitar over another funereal beat on ‘Ain’t No Other Way’ prompting the thought that these guys may enter the studio asking themselves “How much can we leave out?”  The closing ‘Sugar Momma’ is just voice and bass at first, with Farr at times practically whispering the despairing refrain “Sugar momma won’t you please come back to me”, and adding smatterings of edgy, discordant guitar.  And along the way ‘Going Down South’ is also slowed to a crawl, with foot-dragging drums, a plaintive, strung-out vocal, and guitar that rings like a cracked bell.  It takes discipline to play this slowly and sparsely.
That off-kilter sound is present on ‘Knock On Wood’ too, with lagging brushes of drums and metronomic bass laying the foundations for Farr’s splintered shards of guitar and drawled vocal, before things get a bit more muscular and he adds a couple of often atonal guitar breaks that suggest he’s adopted the obscure ‘Open W-T-F Tuning’.
It’s not all eerie gloom.  ‘Miss My Baby’ is built around hypnotic grooving bass and a lazy snare drum, over which Farr intones some semi-spoken “blues rapping”.  His guitar doesn’t even arrive till nearly two minutes in, sounding fuzzy and wiry like he’s playing with a knackered amp, while the introduction of a shaker towards the close underscores the track’s rhythmic charm.  It may be super-simple, but it hits the spot in an easy-going way that evokes comparison with Steve Earle.  ‘Lefty’, meanwhile, is positively hyperactive by comparison with much of the album.  Drummer Jay Bundy Johnson was presumably delighted not to have to play with one hand tied behind his back on this one, and be able to crash a cymbal now and then, as they all rouse themselves to give it some welly as Farr delivers some stinging guitar.  And the title track ‘Shake It’ is an offbeat shuffle, with Hillifer given an extra allowance of notes on bass to help liven up the insistent groove, and there are echoes of early Black Keys as Farr knocks out some distorted, ringing guitar.
This sure ain’t party music, but Farr and friends counter the dark energy with just enough daylight to strike a satisfying balance, and at just under half an hour there’s no excess fat.  It may be rooted in old-fashioned blues, but Shake It is no dusty antique.  It's a modern day quiet storm.  
Shake It is out now, and you can buy it here.

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.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Joanne Shaw Taylor - Nobody's Fool

Hook!  Hook!  Hook!
Chorus!  Chorus!  Chorus!
Hit!  Hit!  Hit!
I can imagine co-producers Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith sitting down at the end of a day’s work on Nobody’s Fool and rubbing their hands with glee at a job well done.  If Joanne Shaw Taylor’s core audience to date has been blues-rockers and guitar nuts, then this album has the potential to garner a wider variety of enthusiastic listeners.
How so?  Because this is an autumn release that’ll help you cling on to summer with its sunny-side-up soul/pop confections, that’s how.  But fear not, six-string fans, there are still lots of tasty guitar breaks to slake your thirst.
The tone is set by the title track.  If Johnnie Walker were to play 'Nobody's Fool' during his Sounds of the
Joanne Shaw Taylor - happy days are here again!
Pic by Kit Wood
 radio show, you’d happily accept it was a hit from back then and just get in the groove as it chugs merrily along – and ponder just how much of a nod that sweet guitar intro gives to ‘My Sweet Lord’.
The following ‘Bad Blood’ picks up the baton perfectly with its low-twanging Hispanic guitar figure, heralding a heaven-sent chorus that’s trotted out multiple times to maximise its impact.  The attention to detail is terrific, from the lazy, right-in-the-pocket beat to the placement of the female backing vocals, to the flurries of organ.  Mind you, they miss a trick with the tubular bell that gets chimed here and there, but not often enough for me.  More tubular bells, I say!
There’s a Sixties soul sound at work here, and there’s more of it with the post-Motown vibe of the romantic ‘Won’t Be Fooled Again’, Bonamassa getting in on the act by trading spot-on solos with Taylor, but all totally in service of the song.  ‘Runaway’ is rippling, blissed-out pop to reinforce the mood, with tripping drums, sun-dappled electric guitar, rubbery bass from Calvin Turner, and a rhythmic vocal nicely delivered by Taylor.
The steady, measured ‘Just No Getting Over You (Dream Cruise)’ is carried along by a bright’n’breezy guitar riff, some tick-tocking wah-wah guitar (or perhaps clavinet) in the background, and – hey, is that a cowbell?  Meanwhile ‘Then There’s You’, a bluesier but still catchy item, struts along on layers of low-slung guitar riffing – the sort of thing you can visualise a trio of backing singers dancing along to in sinuously choreographed fashion.
They take the load off twice, both times to good effect.  ‘Fade Away’ is a total change of pace to a spare, sad slowie led by Taylor’s wistful voice and Deron Johnson’s piano, and then garlanded by cello from Tina Guo that lends an extra air of melancholy.  It’s also a lovely tune.  ‘The Leaving Kind’ is like a mash-up of a quasi-torch song and epic ballad.  It’s built around some timeless-sounding acoustic guitar chording, and ultimately a sweeping guitar solo, emoting away big time before a dying fall.  That’s where the album should have ended, fellas, instead of tacking on the upbeat ‘New Love’ afterwards, good as it is with a Motown-ish feel again.
There’s also a cover of the Eurythmics’ ‘Missionary Man’ undertaken with Dave Stewart himself.  With its synthy bass sound and squelchy guitar break it’s interesting, and different from the original, but possibly the least impactful thing on the album.  The following ‘Figure It Out’ though, featuring scratchy guest guitar from Carmen Vandenberg, hits the power pop bullseye dead centre, evoking both ‘Teenage Kicks’ and The Tourists’ take on ‘I Only Want To Be With You’.  Oh yeah, and it smacks you over the head with the chorus till you submit.
In days gone by I’ve had some reservations about Joanne Shaw Taylor’s singing, and she’s still prone to a curious vowel sound now and then.  But really, full credit to her for leading from the front and capturing the spirit of this enterprise, whether on the sun-drenched upbeat material or the elegiac ‘Fade Away’.  She and the whole ensemble make Nobody’s Fool sound effortless – and very, very easy to like.
Nobody’s Fool is out now on KTBA Records, and can be ordered here.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Samantha Fish, Wille & The Bandits - Wylam Brewery, Newcastle, 25 September 2022

Bonus marks to Samantha Fish for wearing a black and white outfit in Newcastle, the home of the Magpies.  Though she really didn’t need any special pleading to get the attention of this audience.
Tonight’s set is front loaded with newer material, ‘Bulletproof’ up first, followed by five straight songs from Faster.  ‘Bulletproof’ is a slam-dunk rocker to open, but it also feels looser, more relaxed, than on previous encounters, as Fish plays around with her phrasing.  There’s not much messing about on the stuff that follows though.  Both the funk groove of ‘All Ice No Whiskey’ and
Samantha Fish feels the burn!
the muscular ‘Faster’, with Sarah Tomek's walloping snare beat, are kept short and to the point. In between, the contemporary bump’n’grind of ‘Twisted Ambition’ is given extra spice by Fish verily wringing that neck on a wild solo.  
During ‘Like A Classic’ her voice sounds a little lighter than usual, and I’m wondering if she might be feeling a slight tickle in her throat, but if so she sure as hell gets over it by the end of the spiky power pop that’s ‘Better Be Lonely', when she unleashes some steepling, swirling high notes.
Maybe her voice is utterly tour-hardened – I don’t see her take a single sip of water during the whole set – but later on even she finds it a challenge to make the falsetto chorus of ‘So Called Lover’ cut through the full force gale they apply to its Blondie-like punk-pop.  It doesn’t stop her enjoying herself though, as she almost bursts into laughter mid-line at one point, probably having glimpsed the novelty flashing shades of superfan ‘Boogie Ignitor’*, standing right in front of her.
The first older song to get an airing is ‘Gone For Good’, a teasing intro giving way to a hip-wiggling run through with plenty room for Samantha’s slippin’an’slitherin’ slide playing, as well as a rattling piano solo from Matt Wade en route to a rip-roaring conclusion.  Then, introducing ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’, Fish jokes about the “churchy” ambience of this domed venue, suggesting it has a certain “resonance-esonance-esonance”.  It’s not exactly a throwaway line, as after the song’s low key intro it builds and builds in dramatic fashion, until she unveils her latest trick, by heaping reverb onto her vocal for a crowning moment, before they add a slinky ending.  Evidently it’s an effect Samantha likes, because she also lets it loose on Nina Simone’s ‘Either Way I Lose’, amplifying the song’s agonised emotion.  A spell of sotto voce guitar turns
Shades of deep purple
steely, then cools off again before she delivers a dentist-drilling solo to round the song off.
Along the way Sam teases the crowd at the start of ‘Bitch On The Run’, asking them to get their hands in the air, scolding them for a half-hearted effort, and promising there’ll be payback later.  Then they rip into it, with that riff that must surely give Keith Richards a phantom tingle up his spine wherever he may be, and in no time the crowd explode into enthusiastic clapping along, such that Fish turns to look at bassist Ron Johnson with a beaming “got ‘em” smile, before diving into an eyeballs-out solo.  Matt Wade steps in with an organ break to take things down, then stomps on the power again.  But La Fish isn’t finished teasing, telling the audience that if they think clapping along was payback then they’re wrong, as it’s time for them to take a turn at singing.  Which they do with gusto, of course.
‘Black Wind Howlin’’ provides the crunking, grinding finale, into which Fish inserts a needling, discordant solo before leading the band into an explosive closing segment - so explosive that she breaks a string.
Fish comes out alone and picks up her acoustic for the first encore, again engaging in some repartee with the crowd, telling them coquettishly that “you guys are special” before embarking on ‘Jim Lee Blues Pt.1’, inspiring some more spontaneous clapping to accompany her extensive, playful solo.  Then it’s time to strap on the cigar box again for the stomping raunch of ‘Shake ‘Em On Down’, which concludes with Samantha executing some bottom of the neck wailing fit to
Smiling Bandit Wille Edwards
disturb the local dog population.
Whisper it if you’re in earshot of the Toon Army, but Samantha Fish delivered an even better 90-minute performance than they’d see at St James’ Park.

Cornwall’s Wille & The Bandits are opening on this tour, in the latest line-up led by singer, guitarist and main man Wille Edwards.  Edwards and WATB have been fixtures on the club circuit and at festivals for years, and deserve the extra exposure this tour will provide for their inventive mix of blues-rock with other stylings.
Opener ‘Caught In The Middle’ is a good example, with Edwards delivering rhythmic rapping amid swirling textures and periodic detonations of power.  He’s equally rhythmic on the funky ‘Keep It On The Down-Low’, which he stirs up with a splintering guitar solo, and later a lap steel break that comes over like interstellar radio bleeping.
‘Still Go Marching In’ is soulful pop over a snapping beat, with oohing backing vocals and woozy lap steel, plus a sensitive singalong asking “When will that rainbow come?”    But they pull out the heavy machinery down the stretch, including the big riff of long-time favourite ‘1970’, on which Edwards goes into full-on axe hero mode, before closing with ‘Bad News’ on which a fugue-like middle passage erupts into a wailing finale.
Wille & The Bandits head out on their own headline tour in February and March next year, and will doubtless attract some Fish fans along to catch them delivering a full set.

*Harry 'Boogie Ignitor' Loflin is a retiree from Washington State, who regularly travels to Europe to follow Samantha's tours, wearing goofy attire to gigs as in accordance with his admirable maxim, "Life is short, have fun!"

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.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Jeremiah Johnson - Hi-Fi Drive By

Right from the start, there’s a confidence about Hi-Fi Drive By that says you’re in good company, that there’s an experienced pair of hands at the wheel, and you can sit back and enjoy the ride.  The opening ‘’68 Coupe De Ville’ is a horn-tooting, piano-pounding (with Victor Wainwright guesting on the ivories) slice of rock’n’roll à la John Hiatt’s ‘Tennesse Plates’.  It rattles along with brio, and a comic turn to the lyrics, while Emily Wallace backs up Jeremiah Johnson’s lead vocal in fine, singalong-inducing style.
There’s a satisfying smorgasbord of roots sounds on offer here. ‘Ball And Chain’ is a loose-
Jeremiah Johnson - "Yes Officer, I know I should be wearing a seat belt."
limbed “can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em” affair in a Seger-ish vein, rocking along in soulful fashion with tasty horn-riffing and a laid back guitar solo from Johnson.  ‘Hot Diggity Dog’ is a funky little slice of Delbert McClinton-like narrative fun, with a laconically drawled vocal and some piercing wah-wah guitar.  And ‘Hot Blooded Love’ has a sultry vibe, with hints of Latin in the rhythm, horns that are more Tijuana than Memphis, and the twinkling tone of Tom Maloney’s guitar fills, paving the way for Johnson’s more biting solo.
‘Skippin’ School’ is a jazzy blues recalling BB King, with its smooth horns and pinpoint guitar work, plus cool piano from the multi-tasking Maloney.  The BB reference prompts the thought that Johnson’s voice might benefit from an ounce or two of more heft.  But his strength is a conversational air that draws you in and pitches some ear-catching, cliché-free lyrics perfectly.  ‘The Squeeze’ is a slow-ish but assertive blues, laying out a clever metaphor for the trials and tribulations of love with the line “I’m beginning to wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze.  Meanwhile ‘Sweet Misery’ is a strolling bad luck blues, with Johnson complaining that “You took all the eggs from my basket, and now you’re coming back for the ham”, reinforced by some stinging guitar from both Johnson and his producer, Paul Niehaus IV.
Niehaus plays musical chairs on the loping, offbeat ‘Quicksand’, adding grooving, funky bass to the swampy vibe, plus dabs of Wurlitzer and contributions to some hey-hey-ing “gang” vocals, while Tom Maloney spices things up with slithering slide guitar, and Johnson plays out one side of a comic spoken dialogue.  It’s typical of an ensemble approach in which a whole array of musicians play their part, with special mention due to Kevin O’Connor for his horn and string arrangements.
And those horns get a special outing on closing track ‘The Band’, which starts off with a Shaft-like cool vibe, with behind-the-beat drums from Joe Meyer and restrained solo-ing from Johnson, before it metamorphoses into a Latino romp, driven along by pattering percussion from Tony Antonelli and O’Connor in support of Meyer’s drums, while the horns juke it out in fine style.
The starting point though, is the songs.  Johnson, ably assisted by Niehaus and Maloney, has the knack of writing interesting material that has warmth and personality.  Having dug those foundations, Hi-Fi Drive By then does them justice with a succession of impressive performances.  Jeremiah Johnson and friends have done a damn fine job here – hot diggity dog to ‘em.
Hi-Fi Drive By
 is released by Ruf Records on 21 September.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Jimmy Hall - Ready Now

Once upon a time, many moons ago, Jimmy Hall was singer, harmonica and sax player with the Southern rock band Wet Willie.  They had some big hits Stateside back in the Seventies, but suffice to say their name only registers at the edge of my consciousness.  So I come to his new solo album Ready Now, produced by the increasingly busy duo of Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, with no real expectations.
Initial signs are promising, as the boogie of opening track ‘Jumpin’ For Joy’ aims to deliver a good time, and succeeds.  The guitar riffing may be pretty simplistic, but with skedaddling drums from Greg Morrow, bursts of organ and barroom piano from the ubiquitous Reese Wynans, and
Jimmy Hall checks out the bar to see if Bonamassa is getting his round in
Pic by Drew Stawin
a rock’n’rollin’ solo from Bonamassa, it’s an infectious concoction.  And Hall plays his part too, hollering away over the top like a good ‘un, and giving his harp a satisfying blast too.
For a guy in his seventies, Hall’s voice is in admirable nick, with plenty of wattage and range.  What he does with it is more of a mixed bag however.  On the following ‘Risin’ Up’, with its soulful ‘Take Me To The River’ type vibe, he gives it plenty without offering much light and shade.  The same is true on 'Ready Now' itself, a song about turning over a new leaf that all sounds a bit earnest, but is redeemed by a slide soul from Warren Haynes that carries some real cutting edge.  And if his harp solo on the song-of-the-road ‘Will You Be Here’ shows plenty of subtlety, his vocal could be more supple.
He does better elsewhere though, his urgency and power working a treat on the rocking ‘Girl’s Got Sugar’, with its hard-chugging rhythm guitar, more stonking keys from Wyman, and an excellent, ducking and diving guitar excursion from Josh Smith.  And he shows more vocal variety on both ‘Holding On For Dear Love’ and ‘Without Your Love’. The former is a soulful ballad, a bit sugary for my taste, but given extra colour by the harmonies of Jade McCrae and Dannielle De Andrea – who deserve plaudits for their contributions to several tracks – and by a funky wah-wah turn from Bonamassa.  ‘Without Your Love’ is a contemplative affair led off by acoustic guitar, with the range and dynamics of Hall’s vocal suiting the growing intensity of feeling, and the guesting Jared James Nichols adding a tasteful, nicely toned guitar solo.
With the addition of the slowie ‘A Long Goodbye’, a Bonamassa co-write, it feels to me like there’s a bit much of this balladeering tendency, but at least this one has an epic, cinematic quality that’s very JB, topped off by him throwing the kitchen sink at a showcase solo, before an anthemic refrain to close.
Other songs explore different directions, with mixed results.  ‘Dream Release’, a co-write between Hall and his son, is an elegy for his friendship with Greg Allman, but to these ears works none too well, maudlin in tone and sounding like it originated in musical theatre.  ‘Love For It’, contrastingly, is a little gem.  With its out of the ordinary percussion and bass framework, soul-gospel roots, and unusual shift in tone from verse to chorus, it may not be a barn burner, but it’s still a genuinely original song.  And Hall does a good job narrating the bluesy song of experience ‘Eyes In The Back Of Your Head’, as it ripples along on acoustic guitar, and tootling harp.
Bonamassa completists may be interested in Ready Now for his five co-writes and varied guitar contributions. Overall though, it’s an inconsistent album.  Some tracks hit the mark, but others fall a bit short, especially when they lean towards the emotive.  Throwing a bit more wit and rock’n’roll into the mix may have suited Jimmy Hall better.
Ready Now
 is out now on KTBA Records, and can be ordered here.