Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Joanna Connor - Best Of Me

That fidgety scraping sound you can hear?  That’s me scratching my head.  Why?  Well, because I’m mightily puzzled by this new album from Chicago blueser Joanna Connor, that’s why.
See, if you cast your mind back, you may recall that in 2021 Joanna Connor released 4801 South Indiana Avenue – an absolute belter of an album that grabbed the attention because, as I wrote at the time, Connor delivered rip-roaring slide guitar and sang with Joplin-esque abandon.  But if 4801 was a passionate, feral creature, Best Of Me is more of a drowsy house cat.
True, a few tracks here are invested with proper drive and rock’n’roll conviction.  ‘Highway Child’ is tootling Texas-style blues, on which Joe Bonamassa makes an appearance to tear things up a bit in tandem with a gritty, turbo-charged slide solo from Connor.  But the production feels thin
Joanna Connor - "Ouch!  That hurts!"
Pic by Allison Morgan
and the song pretty much fizzles out.  ‘Mercury Blues’, however, really cuts the mustard.  The only cover on the album, it’s a blast of boogie dating back to 1948 that’s propelled by some energetic skins-bashing from David Abbruzzese, while Connor herself lets loose with a strident vocal and some buzzing, fizzing slide guitar that really should be higher in the mix.  And the closing ‘Shine On’ rocks away merrily, with crisp drums and a tumbling, ear-catching riff, and if the melody and lyrics don’t exactly set the heather on fire the guitar soloing of Connor and the guesting Gary Hoey compensates in darting, quicksilver fashion.  Sadly, these grabbers are in the minority.
When ‘House Rules’ kicks the album off, it’s in a good-time soul-funk vein, with Connor’s snaky slide guitar playing second fiddle to a welter of flaring, parping horns.  From there they downshift into ‘Pain And Pleasure’, a cooler soul groove that features a metronome-clicking beat and stop-start bass and is, in spite of a swooping slide break from Connor, something of a non-event.  These songs are just about passable, but the same can’t be said of something like ‘All I Want Is You’, a horribly dated slice of soul weighed down by some dire, soppy lyrics.
There are some decent moments along the way, mind you.  ‘Best Of Me’ itself may be bland easy listening, but it develops an interesting rollercoaster-tinged riff and Connor adds a sensitive, swirling slide solo.  She takes that sensitivity further on the emotional mother-to-son ballad ‘I Lost You’, veering atmospherically from firefly flickering to taut sustain in a manner worthy of Gary Moore, augmented by subtle piano colourings from Dan Souvigny. Meanwhile the hip-twitching ‘Two Of A Kind’ is the best stab at funk here, Connor bringing a kinda sexy, girlish timbre to her vocal, and adding a bristling guitar solo while the rhythm section and horns strut their stuff to good effect.  Oh yeah, and Mike Zito turns up to enliven ‘Shadow Lover’ with some tasteful guitar work.
It pains me to mark Best Of Me down like this, because I expected so much more from Joanna Connor after 4801 South Indiana Avenue.  Of course, she wasn’t compelled to repeat that album’s formula of high-octane takes on a bundle of well-selected covers.  Still, if she’d explored different avenues here with the same intent and clarity, all might have been well.  But with the 10 original songs here, Connor and her bassist/co-writer Shaun Calloway have unfortunately come up short too often.  Fingers crossed this is just a bump in the road, and next time we really will get the best of Joanna Connor.
Best Of Me
 is released by Gulf Coast Records on 9 June.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Selwyn Birchwood - Exorcist

Exorcist may sound like a pretty menacing title for his latest album, but I reckon there ain’t much darkness on the edge of Selwyn Birchwood’s town.  The Floridian singer and guitarist’s modus operandi is generally of the upbeat variety.
Sure, the title track conjures up some metaphorical voodoo for an imaginative lyric about being trapped in a bad relationship, but the music is cool and rhythmic, heightened by a moaning tenor sax break from Regi Oliver, rather than heavy and threatening.  And this is still about as gloomy as our Selwyn ever gets – which isn’t, y’know, any kind of crime.
‘Underdog’ may tell the tale of someone who’s written off by others, but the message is one of
Selwyn Birchwood smiling up a storm
Pic by Jay Skolnick
resilience, of someone who says “I thrive on doubt, and this dog bites back”, set to a bubbling, loosely funky groove, with fizzing guitar tones surfacing now and then around Birchwood’s insistent vocal, and with a cheese-wire sharp lap steel solo.  And if ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ is a litany of self-criticism, it kinda feels like Birchwood’s heart isn’t really in it, to the extent that the tune and guitar work may be okay, but overall it feels a bit underwhelming.
Yup, positivity and fun are where Selwyn is really at.  ‘FLorida Man’ is an amusing take on batshit crazy behaviour in his home state, “Where the Wild West meets the Dirty South”, bopping along to a lurching rhythm, with Birchwood firing off some grinding, squealing slide along the way.  ‘Swim At Your Own Risk’ is a companion piece, a comic take of law and disorder, with a bubbling bass line from Donald ‘Huff’ Wright to go with some aquatic sound effects and conversationally squeaking lap steel.  Meanwhile ‘Hopeless Romantic’ is a celebration rather than a lament, a slice of spiky, twitchy funk given some caramel sweetness by cooing backing vocals from Charlyce Simmons and Vanessa Hawkins, while Birchwood sprays plenty of guitar glitter around.
By and large Birchwood goes for a very modern blues sound, but a few songs suggest he’s also a keen student of blues roots.  ‘Call Me What You Want To’ is straight up jump blues, with Jim McKaba on piano plinking away with his right hand while rocking with his left, bolstered by stand-up bass from Andrew Gohman, and Birchwood cutting a rug with some flip-flop-flying, jitterbugging guitar.  Opening track ‘Done Cryin’’ is in a BB King/Robert Cray soulful blues mode, Birchwood’s molasses-rich growl supplemented by Oliver’s smoky sax, and counterpointed by stinging, cleverly phrased guitar.  The slower ‘Plenty More To Be Grateful For’ takes this further, Birchwood encouraging an optimistic outlook over some smoochily old-fashioned backing, with female backing vocals adding to the mood – although Birchwood’s fluttering solo gets a bit too jazzy for my taste.
The wackily titled ‘ILa-View’ is swinging blues that deploys a ‘small big band’ sound, full of rinky-dink piano from McKaba, while Birchwood trots out a heap of similes for the strength of his love, á la “I love you baby, like a wino loves grapes”, and adds a skating lap steel solo.  And there’s room for gospel too, as he gets into a biblical vein with ‘Lazarus’.
Losing a couple of tracks, and trimming a couple of others, would have made Exorcist tighter and more focused.  A couple of stronger hooks wouldn’t have gone amiss either.  But hey, there’s still plenty good stuff to enjoy here – and who wouldn’t want to spend an hour or so accentuating the positive in the company of a cheerful fella like Selwyn Birchwood?
 is released by Alligator Records on 9 June.

Monday, May 29, 2023

JW-Jones - Everything Now

He’s an engaging little fella, JW-Jones.  The fresh-faced Canadian is a talented songwriter, with a zinging guitar style that reflects his study of blues greats.  And these traits are well to the fore on his latest album Everything Now.
‘Keeping Me Up’, for example, is a neat little tune with the protagonist relating the tale of a sleepless night listening to his partner’s enigmatic sleep-talking.  It comes dressed in some crunchy guitar over smacking drums and bopping bass, with some satisfyingly squelchy guitar
JW-Jones goes happily double denim
Pic by Mark Maryanovich
breaks as a bonus.  The following ‘Papa’s In The Pen’ is also good stuff, but in a contrasting vein, as Jones draws on his own troubled childhood – as he did with ‘Who I Am’ on his 2017 High Temperature outing - to describe parents who are “Not your average father figure, not your average heroine”, set to broody backing that opens in cinematic, Morrisons-ish fashion before settling into off-kilter riffing and rumbling bass.  Jones delivers the vocal with the conviction you’d expect, and his squealing lead guitar is equally characterful.
His way with a personal story is also evident on ‘When You Left’, a convincing pen picture of the feel of a suddenly empty house, inspired by the death of Jones’ mother.  The words and music combine to conjure up the atmosphere, with mournful commentary from the Texas Horns adding to the vibe, while Jones adds some pin-sharp, pinging guitar.  The chorus could be more impactful though, and in fact as intriguing and well played as several of these songs are, they’re often lacking a bit in the hook department.
Nevertheless, the guest appearance by Jimmie Vaughan on the tootling, toe-tapping blues of ‘Take Your Time’ is worth the admission.  It’s lightweight but pleasant, with Vaughan delivering a brittle, jangling solo before he and Jones get down to trading some licks in an entertaining, keep-you-guessing fashion.  ‘To Tell You The Truth (I Lied)’ is a slow blues that feels like it’s arrived from yesteryear via some time tunnel, but works well with its minimal approach on the opening verse, all chiming guitar and trills of piano and organ courtesy of producer and multi-instrumentalist Gordie Johnson.  It comes with another interesting lyric, a warped, sparse solo from Jones, and some sweeping, romantic strings to increase the sense of drama towards the end.
Elsewhere though, the generally sunny vibe sometimes leans a bit too far towards airy blue-eyed soul, as on ‘My Luck’, its virtual sequel ‘It’s Not Raining In LA’ (which gains most of its interest from some clever allusions to ‘California Dreaming’), and the rather too-sweet-to-be-wholesome ‘I Choose You’.
The closing ‘Good To Be True’ rather sums things up.  There’s a snappy, perky vibe once again, and lots of buzzing, fuzzing guitar tones to pique the interest, and some muscle is flexed along the way to underpin an all too brief exchange of tasty guitar between Jones and Gordie Johnson.  But when you get down to it, the song lacks the grabber of a hook that it really needs.
Everything Now is a likeable album, with good musicianship to appreciate all round, not least the nimble fretwork of JW-Jones, who also underlines his storytelling credentials on the best songs here.  But on a few tunes there’s just a bit too much of a lightly funky, happy-go-lucky kinda thing going on - which admittedly suits Jones' light, breezy voice - when a few more sharp angles wouldn’t go amiss.  Maybe next time JW-Jones will pull out all the stops he’s capable of.
Everything Now
 is out now on Solid Blues Records, distributed by Stony Plain.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Gráinne Duffy - Dirt Woman Blues

There are, in case you hadn’t noticed, a wheen of excellent woman blues’n’roots artists out there these days – sisters doin’ it for themselves, as it were.  And Ireland’s Gráinne Duffy is very much one of ‘em.  The woman sings like a bird, plays some mean guitar, and with her guitar buddy and husband Paul Sherry writes some damn good songs.  What’s not to like?
Dirt Woman Blues picks up where its predecessor Voodoo Blues left off, in a rootsy vein, but exploring some new angles. On a few tracks here Duffy, who can make her voice soar and swirl with panache, dials things down to a lower, more restrained pitch – and brings something fresh to her repertoire in doing so.  ‘Rise Above’, which comes halfway through this set, is a good example of the resulting mood.  A pattering rhythm and spangly guitar create the platform for a
Come out from behind that guitar Gráinne, and take a bow
Pic by Rob Blackham
reflective Duffy vocal that comes over like a female Paul Rodgers.  It’s a simple enough song, but with a deep, deep vibe about it.
There are hints of Free and Bad Company in the opening two tracks ‘Well Well Well’ and ‘Dirt Woman Blues’ too.  The first swings lazily, with some great slide embroidery that I’m guessing is courtesy of Paul Sherry, while Elijah Ford delivers some rubbery bass playing worthy of Andy Fraser, and Duffy mostly just goes with the flow, rolling along with the groove.  Meanwhile the slow and measured title track kicks off with mellow chiming chords and sparse lead guitar notes, establishing a real old bluesy feel as it builds up a head of steam, and benefitting from some very Kossoff-like lead guitar laden with sustain.
Duffy has often crossed musical borders beyond pure blues though, and she does it again here with ‘Running Back To You’, which opens in country-ish fashion á la Patsy Cline, but quickly folds in soulfulness worthy of Etta James.  Duffy is a singer capable of slaying an audience with her take on James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, and the attributes that make that possible are evident here – bags of feeling, and phrasing that develops plenty of tension and release, while some mucho simpatico guitar work weaves around her voice.  There’s similar soulfulness on ‘Hold On To You’, Duffy’s aching vocal spilling out beyond the essentially simple song structure.  The backing is slow and steady, with a layer of organ embroidered by some low-end guitar remarks and chiming piano.  Is it blues?  Soul?  Americana?  All of ‘em, maybe?
Duffy and co can rock too, mind you.  ‘Sweet Liberation’ may start off calm and contemplative, but three minutes in they suddenly crunch into a higher gear of crisp drumming and gutsy guitar, and La Duffy cracks out a more impassioned vocal over tangled, rocking guitar and rattling piano.  ‘Yes I Am’ similarly eases in on a pulsing beat and long, gritty chords, but then explodes into driving guitar, booming bass and rattling drums, prefacing an urgent Duffy vocal and some wailing lead guitar that’s more about feistiness than finesse, and culminating in a scrabbling, feedback-challenged, eyeballs-out rock’n’rollin’ solo.  I reckon they had fun cutting that one.
The closing ‘Killycrum’ has a laid-back feel with a hint of the Allmans about it, and a languid vocal from Duffy.  Then a rhythmic bridge triggers some jangling guitar and Gráinne getting more assertive as she sings “I want to show you, the way you showed me” in a fashion that’s assured more than delicate, prompting the thought that once upon a time, long ago, Texas were this good.  
Dirt Woman Blues is a classy album from a classy artist, reinforcing Gráinne Duffy’s standing among the modern-day sorority of leading blues’n’roots women.  If you're not familiar with her, you need to fix that quick.
Dirt Woman Blues is out now, and can be ordered here.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Gimme 5 - Mike Ross puts together his personal playlist

Mike Ross is a singer, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist - and a sharp-tongued observer of modern life.  He recently released his latest album Third Eye Open, so let's give him the chance to spin the bottle and point to some songs, artists and characters that get his mojo working.  Gimme 5, Mike!

Mike Ross - If you're sitting comfortably, he'll begin
Pic by Rob Blackham
Gimme 5 songs, old or new, that have been on your radar recently.

'Dust In A Baggie' by Billy Strings: "An unbelievable singer and guitarist that I've just been introduced to - he has an incredible story having grown up in poverty. His dad taught him how to play old bluegrass tunes from a young age and he's just the best there's ever been it seems. So humble and authentic too, really shaking the country music scene up in the USA and beyond."
'The Mavericks' by Juanita Stein: "Juanita's a friend of mine and a fellow transplanted Brightonian - she writes incredible songs and sings them so beautifully. I played bass in her band for a show recently and hope to do more in the future, the songs are such a joy to play."
'The Lee Shore' by Stephen Stills, with David Crosby: "Two of my favourite singer songwriters ever. Crosby died recently and I just sobbed for days man - such a massive influence on me. The version of this I'm thinking of just came out on a Stills release Live in Berkeley 1971 and the whole album is great, but this is one of my favourite CSNY songs so I had to pick it."
'Be Here Now' by George Harrison: "Aaah George, beautiful, cosmic George. Here at his most
spiritual with a song played in open G tuning. I love the message here, ' the here now'. Really helps me keep grounded in these days of media-induced 'permacrisis'."
'Come And Go Blues' by The Allman Brothers Band: "The Allmans are my besties! Hard to pick
Cheerful chappies the Allman Brothers Band - well, one of 'em at least
a favourite one by them, in fact mostly I'd go for something from the Live at the Fillmore album with Duane playing guitar, but this track from their first release post Duane's death has been on my car stereo a lot recently so it's in the list today."

Gimme 5 artists or bands who have had a big influence on your work.

The Rolling Stones: "I kind of forget about London's finest sometimes due to having played their mid 60's/mid70's 'golden era' back catalogue to DEATH when I was younger.  But they really had it all, from gritty blues to wild rock'n'roll, psychedelic dreamscapes, riff rock, country twang. The whole trick bag. And Mick Taylor, man. What a soloist."
AC/DC: "My first rock 'bromance' – from about age 11 I started listening to rock music and AC/DC were my favourites by a country mile. I'm more of a Bon Scott 'bad boy boogie' era guy than a 'shake your foundations' Brian Johnson man (even though my mum went to school with Brian!) but I love all their stuff up to about 1988. Bad boy boogies indeed. Red hot riffs and guitar tones to last you a lifetime."
Creedence Clearwater Revival: "More bad boy boogie from the California swamp kings! What a band – so far ahead of their time. I watched some live footage from about 1970 of them playing the Albert Hall and they were just RULING it – tight as hell with a great sound and hypnotising onstage presence. Shame how that all ended with them but John Fogerty is a massive influence on my songwriting, everything really."
The Allman Brothers Band: "Where do I start! I went to see them in the early 90s when I was just a teenager and they literally changed my life – 2 hour set with a 30 minute encore, just wailing the whole time. I rushed home and the next day I bought their Live at The Fillmore double album and it's still teaching me about groove, mood and taste to this day whenever I give it a spin. What a band!"
The Who: "The Who circa about 1971 are again a huge influence on me. Wonderful tight band
Pete Townshend prepares to spread some Marmite
Pic by Ross Halfin
live with endless energy and dynamics, Pete's songwriting is just on another level for me – so full of story and message. Powerful stuff."

Gimme 5 guests you’d love to invite to your ideal long lunch.

Pete Townshend: "Acerbic, sarcastic, knowledgeable and gifted - the 'Marmite' lunch companion!"
Larry Graham: "Bassist for Sly & The Family Stone. One bad mother. I want to hear first hand the story about how after he quit The Family, Sly tried to get him assassinated. Heavy dudes."
Neal Stephenson: "The author. A mind jammed full of incredible history and (un)believable
futures. The inventor of the term 'metaverse'."
William Gibson: "My other fave author. Wrote the books that inspired The Matrix. I borrowed the 'Clovis' name and concept of alternate futures influencing the past from his book The Peripheral for my The Clovis Limit Pts 1 & 2 records.
Gabor Mate: "The Canadian doctor and author. Every word he says blows my mind. His theories of how mental health and addiction connect both physically and spiritually are fascinating."
Just one track – pick one of your tracks that you’d share with a new listener to introduce your music.

"I'll go for my song ‘Third Eye Open’ – actually the last tune I wrote for the new album and it ended up being the title track! There was a big hole in the song list for the record and it needed something massive and sprawling to fill it. The brief was 'AC/DC playing Sabbath Riffs with a George Harrison bit in the middle' and that's exactly what we got I reckon. I think it's important to see what you say, especially these days where most media is manipulated so much that it's unrecognisable as truth or fiction and my lyrics here pull no punches, from attacking "petty moral signallers and slimy hypocrites" to imagining an end to oppression, pitiless hatred and greed."

Check out the Blues Enthused review of Mike's album Third Eye Open here.

And you can find details of Mike's forthcoming live shows here.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Ana Popovic - Power

I really enjoyed the most recent album by Ana Popovic, 2018’s Like It On Top.  With a fair amount of collaboration from Keb’ Mo’, it was full of cool and modern soul grooves, and sharp lyrics about what a woman wants and expects from the world – and from men.
Unfortunately, Power doesn’t repeat that success, partly because it rarely lives up to its title. Sure, it has its moments, but often there’s a sense of gloss rather than substance.  Opening track ‘Rise Up!’ is a case in point, lightly funky with burbling bass and swirls of organ, and
Ana Popovic - more noise from that Strat would be welcome
Pic by Brian Rasic
Popovic singing sweetly over the top.  It’s airy like a soufflé, with a bridge nudging towards Nu-soul territory, which isn’t my happy place. A couple of guitar breaks inject a touch of grit into proceedings, but that’s about all they manage.
‘Luv’n Touch’ and ‘Recipe Is Romance’ even seem to veer into easy listening territory, which isn’t a crime in itself, but these examples don’t do it for me.  The former sounds like it would be a suitable theme song for some winsome romantic comedy, with floaty vocals from Popovic, though at least there’s a satisfying burst of energy late on, with guitar soloing and backing vocals rubbing up against each other.‘Recipe Is Romance’ is similarly too sweet to be wholesome, with jazzy guitar commentary, syrupy horns, and what sounds like a multi-tracked vocal by Popovic – this last a trick that’s adopted on a few tracks, and typifies the air of over-polished production in evidence.
‘Power Over Me’ has a bit more oomph, even if it’s still in the shiny soul zone.  Flares of horns add a bit of heat, there’s some edge in the guitar solo again, and a catchy chorus is delivered with conviction.‘Queen Of The Pack’ also packs a bit of a punch, with a couple of biting wah-wah solos, horns pumping, and some rat-a-tat vocal delivery, notwithstanding more of that multi-tracking.  And ‘Strong Taste’ is entertaining, with a brisk, tripping shuffle of a rhythm, and Popovic getting sassy with her vocal.  The “dooh-do-do-do-dooh” backing vocals contribute to a lively jitterbugging feel, but it still feels like higher gears should have been explored.
‘Deep Down’ gets closer to the grooves of Like It On Top, riding a simple bass line and with a straightforward, assertive vocal.  But it gets repetitive towards the end, and eventually outstays its welcome.  ‘Ride It’ is a similar curate’s egg, bobbling along pleasantly on another nifty groove, with some woozy horn remarks and stinging guitar licks, while Popovic proclaims that “We’re gonna ride it, ride it till the wheels fall off,” though without any real sense of exhilaration.
‘Flicker’N’Flame’ though, provides a belated moment of serious grit and drive, with some stomping drums and bass, and Popovic getting good and riled up vocally, insisting “Need you to work your nasty on me” and “Cover my mouth as I scream in ecstasy”.  Ooh er, missus. Then she lets rip with some squealing guitar to close, though it could do with being whacked higher up in the mix.
That kind of agitation and passion is exactly the kind of vibe Power could do with more of. Coming to the recording of this album on the back of treatment for breast cancer, Ana Popovic had a story to tell, but Power doesn’t feel like a deeply emotional album – not to this listener at least.  A bit more of Ana Popovic telling it like is, with less backing vocal sheen and more guitar torque, might have been more persuasive.
Power is out now and can be ordered here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton - Death Wish Blues

Coming soon to a drive-in near you . . .
Don’t miss the thrilling tale of Sam and Jesse, a deadly duo of star-crossed rock’n’roll outlaws, hustling gigs from town to town.
They’re on the road . . .
They wear leather . . .
And they
Or sump’n like that.  I mean, I don’t think Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton would tell you Death Wish Blues is any kinda concept album.  But still - clad in danger signal yellow/black artwork, the whole Bonnie’n’Clyde schtick is there if you want it.
Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton - Natural Born Killers
Pic by Melrose Kaelan Barowski

I mean, who’s seducing who on the darkly throbbing opener ‘Deathwish’?  Backed by a slithering riff, Fish jabs out a lyric about a woman advancing on the guy in the shadows at a party, sticking his hand on her shoulder, and feeling his breath on her neck as he leans in for a “kiss like a death wish," inspiring some hectic guitar soloing.  And is this the same twosome that head off down the highway on ‘Riders’, grifting a rock’n’roll living with (so to speak) one-night stands from coast to coast?  Here they're propelled by some funky, squelchy keyboards, prodding bass and six-string stings, while the chorus adds raunch that's underlined by a warped, buzzsaw guitar break.
These are troubled characters though, our hero declaring on ‘Trauma’ that because of her he has “fever in my dreams” but “it’s never gonna stop me loving you”, over a shuffling rhythm from Aaron Johnston on drums, edgy, spaced out guitar notes and a twitching riff.  Then that trauma erupts into a squall of guitar over a Zep-like bridge, as the track heads towards an agonised conclusion.  In response, Fish delivers the very Fish-like love song ‘No Apology’, opening with vulnerable, aching vocals, insisting that “I can’t be your enemy and your everything,” but that “It’s you, you that I want,” and eventually launching into soulful vocal territory on a tune that wouldn’t have been out of place on Chills And Fever.
But there’s helpless heat for each other too, as “We knew the levee was gonna break, so we did it again for old time’s sake”, all rumbling bass, snapping drums and low-slung ‘Peter Gunn’ riffing as Dayton and Fish go at it together on vocals, the flood a metaphor as “Feeling reckless, we both explode”.  The tension rises until the dam busts open musically and the bridge comes tumbling out in a maelstrom of guitar, before pounding their way to another, er, climax.  It’s love and hate o’course, as they taunt each other on the rattling rockabilly of ‘Lover On The Side’ that “You ain’t my woman,” and “You damn sure ain’t my man”.  It’s a conversational duet, full of prickly guitar culminating in an itchy’n’scratchy solo and a bridge in which the pair of ‘em get, shall we say, a bit overheated.  Meanwhile ‘RIppin’ And Runnin’’ builds slowly through an acoustic blues picking intro, booming kick drum and pulsing bass, with Fish breathily demanding “Come on baby, why don’t you do something for me?”  We’re talking steamy provocation over grimy guitar and quirky keyboard vibrations, clambering its way to a barbed-wire guitar solo.
Yessir, these are, like the song says, ‘Dangerous People’.  “Trust me,” Fish drawls over junkyard percussion, “a crook knows another crook”, en route to a big, catchy chorus proclaiming “We’re dangerous, don’t play with us, unless you wanna get busted”.  And if that trails off a bit inconclusively, it’s only to make way for the high-octane party animal of ‘Superdupabad’, a two-minute rollercoaster ride of a familiar-sounding juddering riff laced with needling guitar and squiggling keys in the background, while Dayton makes chuckling, basso profundo conversation about “drinking Courvoisier from a crystal cup”.
There’s other good stuff along the way that may not fit fit my imaginary film noir script, of course, like ‘Down In The Mud’, which opens with a lurching chorus before diverting into the pulsating funkiness of its verses, with distorted spoken interventions from Dayton and some bristling guitar breaks.  And there’s ‘Settle For Less’, a pithy “no half measures” commentary with tick-tock percussion and a needling vocal from Fish, added to an explosive rocking chorus and some wiry guitar work.
Finally, there’s what one might consider the epilogue of ‘You Know My Heart’, a ballad that’s firmly in the Fishy waters of ‘Go Home’ and its ilk, a duet with Stonesy strummin’an’pickin’ and a sensitive harmonised chorus.  There’s a key change as it swells romantically towards its end, with Fish adding some trademark soulful vocal remarks over squealing but restrained guitar.

Death Wish Blues is a deceptive album.  Some might call it a simple exercise in garage band alt.blues, or some such.  But with the assistance of producer Jon Spencer there are a lot of twists and turns packed in here – in fact there’s a lot packed into each of these 12 short’n’sharp songs, with the scribbling, doodling keys throwing frequent stabs of funk thrown into the mix.  When you get down to it Death Wish Blues is 21st century rock’n’roll, with Jesse Dayton cast as a leather-clad Link Wray rebel - and hey, they really should work 'Rumble' into their live set - and Samantha Fish as his cigar-box toting femme fatale.  It’s full of personality, which suits Fish, who has often cleaved to character-based songs, and here plays sassy, troubled bad girl types with some relish.
I had some doubts about this project, after taking in a rather underwhelming live show by Fish and Dayton last month.  But the album works.  It’s fresh and it’s fun, and invested with some neat story-telling.  Go get some popcorn, and enjoy the ride.
Death Wish Blues is released by Rounder Records on 19 May, and can be ordered here.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Jim Kirkpatrick - Dead Man Walking

Patience is a virtue, which is its own reward, so the saying goes.  But in the case of Jim Kirkpatrick’s new album Dead Man Walking, if you stick with it to the third track, ‘Razor’s Edge’, you’re rewarded with a doozy of a tune.  Opening with big ringing chords and piercing lead licks, it’s a moody mid-tempo animal that bursts into an epic chorus, replete with soaring backing vocals courtesy of Kirkpatrick himself, and is stacked with bouts of his excellent guitar soloing, full of trilling tones and changes of pace.
Not that the opening ‘Promised Land’ and the following title track are by any means poor songs.  The former is a classy little vignette, a part a cappella bluesy spiritual, and ‘Dead Man Walking’
Hope you hear that train a comin', Jim!
Pic by Jonathan Johnson
itself is a western-tinged affair redolent of ‘Bad Company’, say, that gets properly going when it crunches into the urgently voiced chorus, before a howling solo provides lift-off.  But our Jim is still getting warmed up here, for the eight cracking tunes that follow.
Whaddya get for your dough then?  Well, there’s some tough rocking with the Thunder-like ‘Life On The Run’ and the mountainous ‘Road Of Bones’ for starters.  ‘Life On The Run’ is a winner on the strength of its guttural, stuttering riff alone, but the melodic chorus, surging bridge and stiletto-like guitar break seal the deal.  Meanwhile ‘Road Of Bones’ is gutsy and atmospheric, built around some rocky mountain way-ish chords, with another splendid display of backing vocal prowess from Mr K, and a cracking, quick-quick-slow-quick-quick solo to get you working out on your imaginary fretboard.  Oh yeah, and ‘Union Train’ really delivers on the rootsy-rock promise of the title track; an American Civil War tale with fiddle from Clare ‘Fluff’ Smith mixed in with a gritty stop-start riff, it grows in power and really rocks.
‘Heaven Above’ and ‘Hold On’ are both good-time rockers, the former dirty and twitchy, with horns thrown into the fray, a grabber of a chorus, and Leon Cave going big on the skins to plough the road for another crunking Kirkpatrick solo, and the latter in a more swinging vein, with a gritty, Bad Co-like riff.
But Jim Kirkpatrick has more clubs in his bag than straight ahead rocking, as damn fine at that as he is.  So there’s more imaginative range on display in the melodic epic ‘The Journey Home’, with its twinkling opening and initially reflective vocals, building through ripples of guitar and dappled keyboards from Jem Davis till it breaks out like the sun emerging from behind the clouds to deliver an aspirational chorus.  And the closing track is an excellent take on Rory Gallagher’s ‘I Fall Apart’ that's absolutely a worthy homage to the Irish master.  With a yearning opening and prickling guitar, Kirkpatrick does a bang-up job on Rory’s clever vocal phrasing, and there’s even an air of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ as it unfolds, with strings swelling to add to the drama as the Jim fella really uncorks his guitar for the final act.
In Dead Man Walking and its 2020 predecessor Ballad Of A Prodigal Son Jim Kirkpatrick has produced a brace of albums that place him in the crème de la crème of British blues-rock.  The guy really should be given more attention than he already gets from his work elsewhere.  So get out there on the road with these two albums, Jimmy boy, and get the acclaim that you’re due!
Dead Man Walking is out now, and available here.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Quickies - Bison Hip, Under-Volt, The BluesBones, and Tony Holiday

Here's the run down on four different musical angles from the recently-released pile, in the latest Quickies round-up.

Bison Hip – Older Stronger Better
Glasgow band Bison Hip are frank about the fact that they are four-fifths comprised of 50-somethings.  In fact, as their album title Older Stronger Better suggests, they reckon their experience is an asset.  And you know what?  They may have a point, because this doesn’t sound like the strained efforts of a bunch of neverwozzers.
Take ‘The One That Got Away’ for example, a loping blues-meets-AOR affair with a hint of
The youthful, colourful, ever-smiling Bison Hip
Foreigner about it.  It’s got a strong, catchy chorus, and they put vocals and harmonies to the fore, to good effect.  Okay, so singer Paul Sloway doesn’t have Lou Gramm’s voice, but he’s no bum either, and does a good job with what he’s got, demonstrating good phrasing throughout and giving life to some smart lyrics.
It wouldn’t surprise me if these guys were fans of FM, as several songs, like ‘Mercy’ and ‘Symptomatic’ for example, mine a similar seam of melodic rock.  The former shows off their ability to produce something structurally interesting, with a snappy guitar and drums intro, some less-is-more vocals and drum passages, changes of pace, and both Graeme Carswell on bass and Steven Radzironik on organ making the most of chances to shine.  The latter is more of a glossy slowie, with those vocal harmonies justone aspect of an impressive vocal arrangement.
They find some funk on ‘Doghouse’, with a nagging vocal line over stop-time backing, and a varied arrangement that includes a snazzy guitar break from John Gilmour Smith and good rhythmic emphasis from Malcolm Button on drums, and some horns even enter the fray towards the end, jostling for attention with Carswell’s funky bass.  But ‘This Old City’ is even better, a bluesy ballad that’s like the romantic flip side to Maggie Bell’s ‘No Mean City’ theme to the TV show Taggart.  There’s some ‘Parisienne’-style guitar work from Smith over washes of mellow organ to go with the atmospheric lyric, and Radzironik adds a delicate piano solo for good measure.
The second half of the album feels less strong, though that’s partly a matter of personal preference as they lean towards Hall & Oates blues-eyed soul on the likes of ‘Stronger’ and ‘Older’ – well done, and well suited to Sloway’s voice, but a bit middle-of-the-road for my tastes.
‘In Love With Life Again’ brings things to a tasteful conclusion though, a Deacon Blue-ish slice of contemplation built on gentle guitar strumming, patient piano chords, effective imagery and another strong chorus.
Older Stronger Better is a satisfying, well put together outing by a band who know how to write and arrange a good tune.  I could do with them frightening the horses a bit more times, but on the whole Bison Hip do more than enough to give greybeards a good name.
Older Stronger Better is out now on Bad Monkey Records, and can be ordered here.
Under-Volt – Let’s Just Go
This ain’t blues Jack, not by a long chalk.  But if you wanna indulge in some heads down, no nonsense, guitar’n’drums rifferama, Edinburgh duo Under-Volt may be just the job.
Opener ‘Over-ride’ lets loose with supercharged riffing from guitarist Jed Potts, shifting and splintering over cacophonous drumming from his buddy Vini Bonnar.  And if Potts is scarcely
Under-Volt - The Force is with them
some Hetfield-like grunter and growler of a vocalist, he still manages to penetrate the clamour, with some assistance behind the mic from Bonnar too.
They really hit their stride on ‘Depths Of Sky’, with its buzzing intro like an approaching plague of locusts.  A grinding, repetitive riff generates tension, given a couple of twists and turns to keep you guessing, and ultimately the thing picks up pace like some snarling, ravenous escapee from Jurassic Park.
Title track ‘Let’s Just Go’ is a breakneck tumble down a mountainside, slowing momentarily before taking off again, propelled by helter-skelter drums. There’s a shadowy, creeping section, and then it claws its way back out of the crypt to close.  The following ‘Kerosene’ is one of the best moments though, its tense verses of stretched out notes giving way to a looser chorus, accompanied by a warped, ringing riff, culminating in a passage akin to Quasimodo leaping around clanging the bells of Notre Dame.
Despite its title, ‘Skincrawler’ feels more, er, sophisticated, with bright chords and some spangly guitar picking that remind me (not for the first time) of late period Rush.  A bit.  Maybe.  Whatever – ‘In Spite Of’ sports some jerk’n’tumble guitar accompaniment to a teasingly repetitive melody, plus a cave-crawling middle section and some machine guitar riffing as a finale.  And the closing ‘Den Of Thieves’ goes in for some Sabbath-like churning, with Potts (or is it Bonnar?) dropping his voice into graveyard tones for the opening verse.  There are harmonies livening the “You don’t know if it’s truth or lies” chorus, and Potts makes with some bristling, high-tension riffage before a final acceleration to the line.
Let’s Just Go isn’t just a slab of thud-and-blunder, hammer-and-anvil noise.  It’s smarter than that, and if its ten tracks don’t all quite reach the same level of intrigue, Potts and Bonnar still manage to create a compelling maelstrom most of the time.
Let’s Just Go is out now on Wasted State Records, and can be ordered here.
The BluesBones – Unchained
Dutch band The BluesBones have their moments on Unchained, but in an ideal world they’d manage a better strike rate from the nine tracks on offer.
They start off solidly with ‘Chain Gang’, its solid groove contrasting bruising guitarchords with
The BluesBones break out
some rainfall piano, while singer Nico De Cock does some decent story telling in a groaning vocal.  ‘Time To Learn’ takes a straightforward blues and spices it up with an itchy guitar line from Stef Paglia and a rumbling, propulsive bass line from Geert Boeckx to go with some surging organ and occasionally offbeat drums.  There’s some good weeping slide guitar from Paglia too, and it’s a real highlight despite the distraction of a duff spoken-word section.
‘Talking To The Lord’ is a briskly rocking outing, with skipping drums from Jens Roelandt contributing to a bubbling groove, enhanced by a bright, frothy organ break from Edwin Risbourg.  And the buoyant ‘The Road Ahead’ has a chugging, toe-tapping groove, decorated by a neat descending turnaround and a fuzzy guitar riff.
On the other hand though, ‘The Tale Of Big Tim Brady’ is a woozy, rather corny take on a Stagger Lee-type barroom narrative that lacks any kind of edge.  Meanwhile songs like ‘Changes’ and the plangent ballad ‘I Cry’ don't feel much at home, although a nifty guitar solo on the former and some weeping slide on the latter providing interesting moments.  Much as I like variety, Unchained suggests that The BluesBones would benefit from a bit more stylistic focus.
Unchained is out now on Naked Records.
Tony Holiday - Motel Mississippi
Well, this is nice.  Too nice, really.  Motel Mississippi kicks off promisingly enough with the rolling groove of ‘Rob And Steal’, folding in hints of North Mississippi hill country blues – appropriately enough, given that it was recorded in the Dickinson brothers’ Zebra Ranch studio in that very
Tony Holiday wonders where his banjo went
Pic by Jamie Harmon
territory – and with some neat, understated guitar flourishes of guitar for seasoning.  But as the album progresses too manytracks feel like easy-going strolls in the park, lacking in real traction.
By way of example, ‘She’s So Cold’ eases into play, but while it acquires some strut and swagger led by a fuzzy guitar break, that kind of cockiness feels alien to Holiday as a singer.  His voice is never less than pleasant, but at the same time it's rarely demanding of attention.
The arrangements are similarly short on oomph and focus at times, as on ‘Get By’ fr’instance, a laid back amble with the odd hop, skip and jump, some tootling harp from Holiday and tasteful guitar filigrees from Dave Gross.  Which is all appealing enough, but as it slowly dwindles away, it feels like an under-developed sketch.  ‘Just As Gone’ is brisker, and features some nimble harp playing, but comes and goes in two and a half minutes without ever seeming to hit top gear.
There are good grooves throughout, as on the Jimmy Reed-ish ‘Trouble’, and ‘You Know Who I Am’ with its pleasing bass line from Terrence Grayson, but gripping ain’t a word that springs to mind much.  They try something different on the closing ‘Yazoo River’, a two-harp instrumental on which Holiday duels with Jake Friel to a quasi-Zydeco rhythm, but here too things could do with a bit more zip, a bit more sense of a sweaty dance floor.
There’s plenty good musicianship on Motel Mississippi, but Tony Holiday and co need to give their material more personality – and Holiday himself needs to up the ante vocally.
Motel Mississippi is out now on Forty Below Records.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Gimme 5 - Elles Bailey turns the spotlight on the music and people that give her chills and thrills

She’s a multiple UK Blues Award winner, a multiple UK Americana Award winner, hit the bullseye with her 2022 album Shining In The Half-Light, recently completed a highly successful UK tour, and has her own weekly show on Planet Rock Radio.  But Elles Bailey has still found the time to play the Gimme 5 game with Blues Enthused, telling us about the music and people that float her boat.  Take it away, Elles!
Gimme 5 songs, old or new, that have been on your radar recently. 
Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile:  “Taken from her last record, I love how this song rocks. Its
been great being able to give this track some love on my Planet Rock Show. I am a huge Brandi fan, not just her incredible writing and incomparable voice but she is a huge champion of up and coming artists and she’s always celebrating someone else. What a woman.”
Elles Bailey goes all Mona Lisa smile
Pic by Rob Blackham
Nightflyer by Allison Russell: I think Allison’s last record is a masterpiece. I had the absolute joy of sharing the stage with her at the Uk Americana Awards. She’s an incredibly generous artist who lifts up all around her.
Speed Dial by Alice Armstrong:  “What a debut single! I’ve been a fan of Alice’s for about 4 years in her various projects but It is so great to finally hear what she’s got to say.
Find Yourself by Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real:  “I can’t get enough of this song, I am totally obsessed by it. I am really looking forward to sharing the stage with them at Black Deer Fest!
Long Road Ahead by Delaney & Bonnie:  “This has been spinning a lot over the last few months. So much so that we have recorded a cover of it. I look forward to sharing it soon.
Gimme 5 artists or bands who have had a big influence on your work. 
Mavis Staples Mavis is all heart, soul & feel - her delivery is like no one else’s. You feel every word she sings and being in her audience is like being taken to church. 
Bonnie Raitt:  “The trailblazer. I remember listening to Bonnie’s Dig in Deep record a lot whilst
Bonnie Raitt ready to blaze some trails
Pic by Marina Chavez
making Wildfire. She’s an artist I look up to, and aspire to have a career like. It’s a long game, but she’s played hard and shone like a light to inspire artists like myself. 
Creedence Clearwater Revival I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have CCR in it. My dad always played old records of theirs and I’m super proud of our version of Long As I Can See the Light on the Shining in the Half Light Deluxe Edition. An honour to take on this Classic Creedence Song. 
Fleetwood Mac/ Stevie Nicks Stevie Nicks is one of the most Iconic women of the 20th Century . There is no denying that I love her, her music, her fashion sense. Again another trailblazer.
The Civil Wars This was the act that introduced me to the modern Americana Scene. I remember hearing 'Barton Hollow' in 2012 and it was a game changer. That song inspired WildfireWaiting GameMedicine Man and so much more Elles Bailey!

The entirely average looking Ryan Gosling
Gimme 5 guests you’d love to invite to your ideal long lunch. 
Jennifer Lawrence and Taylor Swift:  “Cuz I reckon they would be so much fun to have dinner with. Can we go out dancing after too?
Ryan Gosling:  “So I can just sit and stare. (Shhh don’t tell my hubby!)
Mavis and Bonnie:  “So we can discuss our future collab!!
Just one track – pick one of your tracks that you’d share with a new listener to introduce your music.
“I’m going for ‘Spinning Stopped’, from the Shining In The Half-Light Deluxe EditionI think this song is really beautiful and sums up exactly what I wanted to say. It's my intimate reflections of becoming a mother in the crazy beautiful yet totally messed up world during a pandemic. Recorded live it also shows how incredible my band are, Yes we can rock out at the best of times but this shows us in a different light, subtle and sensitive!"

Check out Elles Bailey's summer dates below.


Friday, April 28, 2023

Mike Ross - Third Eye Open

Mike Ross is, it seems, mad as hell and he ain’t gonna take it anymore.  And he’s channelled his feelings into some goddamn heavy stürm und drang on his new album Third Eye Open.
One listen to the opening track ‘I Swear’ tells you Ross isn’t messing about.  An intro of spidery, keening guitar draws you in, and then blam!  He lets loose with some seismic riffage, underpinned by lead-weighted bass from Derek Randall, who exploits increasing licence to rumble as the track progresses.  Meanwhile Ross delivers a controlled but emphatic vocal that gains extra edge on the off-kilter chorus – a chorus that’s ultimately repeated over some swooping and soaring guitar commentary.  Yeah, it’s heavy, but it’s not blunt – it’s angular and clever.
Mike Ross contemplates the need for a safety warning on Third Eye Open
Pic by Rob Blackham
The following ‘Cool Water’ is mid-tempo neck-snapping fare, all static-charged guitar and bruising drums from Darren Lee, with a juddering pre-chorus that gives way to a melodic chorus and some bursts of organ to offer some light and warmth.  But that’s just an interlude before ‘Third Eye Open’ itself crunches into earshot – brace yourself for some earth-moving guitar chords and bass, and jagged riffing, before Ross gets going with a teeth-grinding vocal over tense, staccato guitar chords.  To provide some respite things eventually subside into a halcyon, Floyd-like bridge, all swooning slide guitar and background chatter – and then they’re off again with those sledgehammer chords, overlaid with spiky soloing.
It's not all like this mind you, and given that the album extends to 72 minutes that’s probably just as well, or you could end up punch-drunk.  ‘Face By The Window’ goes with a blues framework, but still has a slightly oddball feel, with a repetitive twirl of guitar over drum paradiddles, and a slithering, serpentine slide solo.  ‘The Preacher’ also has more of a blues-rock vibe, but with its fuzzy, grinding guitar it still has a distinctive, British kinda feel.  And there are echoes of the Black Crowes in both ‘Ugly Brain’ and ‘(Be With You) Tonight’, though with its revolving, spiralling riff the former pulls off the trick of sounding familiar and fresh at the same time.  ‘ . . . Tonight’ takes a different, more serene tack; a duet with Jess Hayes, it’s all about the yearning vocals, and if it’s a bit Southern rock-ish it’s certainly not imitative – though for me it’s overlong, as is the rather different ‘Fallen Down’ despite the appeal of its hypnotic, shimmering opening, bristling guitar, and even some guitar transmissions from occupants of interplanetary craft.
‘Kicks Like A Mule’ is the most radio-friendly type o’thing on offer here, with jangling guitar over a pulsing rhythm section, and Ross doubling up the guitars for some harmony/interplay work, before a big anthemic solo – though it does seem to get snagged on the riff for a bit before wrenching itself free to bring the album to a close.  But I’m more taken with ‘Eulogy’, which sounds nothing like its title suggests as it steams in with another landslide of a riff.  It calms down a bit after a while, but with its tense vocals, stabbing guitar punctuation, and some tangled, discordant riffing it feels a bit like having your teeth cleaned by the dentist – abrasively good.
Wish I’d had a bit more time to get properly to grips with the lyrics on Third Eye Open, as Mike Ross seems to be in acerbic, truth-telling form.  But future listens will doubtless reveal more detail of where he’s at, and add a bundle more volts to the power of this album.
Meantime, I recommend that you grab your hard hat, adopt the brace position, and turn up the dial on this sucker.
Third Eye Open is released on 28 April, and can be ordered here.

Check out the Gimme 5 feature with Mike Ross talking about his favourite music and people, here.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Ian Hunter - Defiance Part 1

There may be a hint of Dylan-ish creakiness in Ian Hunter’s voice these days, but his capacity to write a rock’n’roll song remains undiminished – and to capture it with brio.  And for all that there’s a bundle of big names making quality contributions to Defiance Part 1, it’s still Hunter who’s at the heart of everything.
The title track gets things moving with enough power to clear the custard, as it were.  Yeah, there’s a bucket of grit in the guitar work from Slash and bass from Robert Trujillo, but it’s also the only track for which Hunter himself straps on an electric guitar to add to the churning sound of the rhythm section.
Long-time Hunter fans are going to be well pleased with a lot of the stuff here – the melodies, the riffs, the vibe and the lyrics are all present and correct.  ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ rattles its cage in a manner reminiscent of rockers from the Hunter/Ronson escapade Y U I Orta, but with just a tad
Ian Hunter joins Def Leppard shock!
less sense of turbo-charged rabble-rousing.  It’s a nagging shuffle with a very Hunter-ish ringing riff and the piano banging away in the engine room, while Hunter cracks out, just a little hoarsely, an urgent chorus about how “You can bite the hand that feeds ya, but I gotta job to do,” and Dean De Leo of Stone Temple Pilots carves out some warbling, ferrety lead guitar.  ‘I Hate Hate’ on the other hand, is a piano-pounding anthem with a keyboard and snappy, behind the beat drums and shaking tambourine, plus a terrific piano riff that surfaces periodically.  And while the lyric doesn’t do anything elaborate, it’s a great example of how good Hunter is at ramming home something simple, direct and forceful.  (There’s an alternative take too, with Jeff Tweedy adding guitar and bass.  Take your pick.)
‘Kiss N’Make Up’ sounds very modern, with restrained, offbeat drums from the late Taylor Hawkins, subterraneanly rumbling bass from JD Andrew, and subtle, fuzzy guitar from Billy Gibbons.  ‘This Is What I’m Here For’ has Waddy Wachtel rocking out on guitar over swinging, thumping drums from Hawkins, who clatters a few cymbals for good measure when things heat up with a sizzling Wachtel solo, and all the while Hunter sounds like he’s having a damn good time hollering away at the title and declaring “Might as well enjoy it”.
But Hunter can still dial things down in expert fashion too.  ‘No Hard Feelings’ is a wistful affair of vivid, character-led memories, drifting along on lilting piano and some moans of slide from Johnny Depp, and with a very Jeff Beck guitar solo from – well, Jeff Beck actually.  ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ is soulful, with nice bass from co-producer Andy York, cleverly phrased backing vocals and understated lead breaks from Todd Rundgren, but with words of warning from Hunter about trying to push him around.  Even better though, is ‘Guernica’, with Hunter putting himself in the shoes of Picasso, contemplating the painting of the title and reflecting that “If you think for yourself you’re a traitor”, over interesting, downbeat percussion from Dane Clark, while Mike Campbell adds an excellent, reverb-shimmering soloing.
Songs like ‘I Hate Hate’ and ‘Guernica’ show that Hunter has his finger on the pulse of today’s bitterness, and can still get his feelings across in pointed fashion.  But ‘Bed Of Roses’ is a reminder of just how long he’s been at this game – a jaunty piece of nostalgia about Hamburg’s Star Club with, appropriately enough, Ringo Starr on drums. It’s melody and lyrical pattern recall ‘White House’ from Fingers Crossed, but here with a singalong chorus and anthemic bridge, and some wonderful, woozy slide guitar from Mike Campbell.
Much of Defiance Part 1 was recorded remotely by the various contributors, but it all sounds as engaged and fresh as if they were all knocking it out in the same room.  And it’s released on Sun Records – aptly enough, as if Ian Hunter is still rocking all the way from Memphis.
Defiance Part 1 is out now on Sun Records.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Marcus Malone & The Motor City Hustlers - Interstate 75

Get ready to work up a cold sweat in the company of Marcus Malone & The Motor City Hustlers, a collaboration by Malone and Dan Smith of The Noisettes that channels the soul and funk heyday of Detroit, Memphis and James Brown.  Yes sir, this here is a brand new bag full of old-style grooves to make you get offa that thing and get on the good foot.  As it were, so to speak.
Interstate 75 is bookended by the funk-orientated offerings ‘Ain’t No Telling’ and ‘Temperature Rising’, and boy do they work a treat.  ‘Ain’t No Telling’ is all twisting and turning guitar over
Dan Smith and Marcus Malone dressed to do The Hustle
skipping, tripping drums, creating a cool vibe warmed up by swells and bursts of horns, while Malone – mostly known as a blues-rock exponent – nails the soulful vocal vibe like he was born to it.  Which after all, given the guy hails from Detroit, he pretty much was.  Oh yeah, and there’s some focused guitar sizzle too, as the icing on the cake.  The closing ‘Temperature Rising’, meanwhile, lives up to its title by starting cool but gradually getting worked up over some social commentary, with occasional clavinet bonking added to its bippety-bopping groove, with a molten sax solo giving way to some thrusting bass that propels a squelching guitar solo. At which point it's worth saying that most of the instrumental work here - and especially the supple, funkadelic bass'n'drums - is down to Smith, aided and abetted by the Vanguard horns.
There’s more funkiness along the way too, in the form of ‘Can’t Take The Fight’ and ‘Other Side Of The River’.  The former has bumpin’ an’ slidin’ bass well to the fore, over a deliciously hip-loosening rhythm, with added pizzazz courtesy of some horn punctuation, intermittent sprinkles of guitar, and some falsetto scat singing that gives way to an easy-going sax solo.  And on ‘ . . . River’ there’s still more of that terrific funky drummer thang going on, alongside twitching, slinky bass and sunnily strummed guitar.  Meantime Malone proclaims “Gonna wind it up, like a sex machine,” en route to some lip-smacking bass playing that bounces teasingly around steely, reverb-assisted guitiar licks.
But it’s not all superbadness in intent.  Interviewing Malone years ago, he spoke about coming up with material “with this Otis Redding vibe, like really high-powered soul”, and Otis sure as hell springs to mind with ‘Can’t Make It’ and its “oh-na-na, na-na-na-na” refrain, although initially it’s laid back, focusing on just Malone’s voice plus drums’n’bass.  But while the song leans heavily on its hook, it’s a damn good hook, and there are still some needle-sharp guitar filigrees from Smith to earn bonus marks.
‘Good Lovin’ Angel’ is similarly sweet soul music that could have its roots in Wilson Pickett, a simple enough song that still packs plenty of detail into three and a half minutes, while Malone sings about “My Mona Lisa, my Salvador Dali” – though hopefully the latter doesn’t mean his baby has a face like a melted clock.  Meanwhile the title track ‘Interstate 75’ makes hay out of a wonderful, ‘Knock On Wood’-like groove, decorated with some fidgety guitar lines, and horn exclamation marks point up the title.  There’s a steely little guitar break too, and a backbone-slipping shift in rhythm to underpin a classy bridge.
Malone and Smith demonstrate that they know how to take it down a notch into more romantic territory too, most especially with ‘Hurt Walks Out Of The Door’, which carries echoes of ‘Tracks Of My Tears’, except with Marcus making more like David Ruffin than Smokey Robinson.  It’s a track the soul-aficionado in Stevie Van Zandt would be proud of.  And ‘Never Gonna Leave You’ is also an aching torch song, with Malone’s vocal very much at its heart, underlined by some soulful backing vocals.
Interstate 75 isn’t a complicated album.  It isn’t any kind of genre-crashing innovation either.  What it is, is a niftily crafted homage to classic, floor-filling soul and R’n’B sounds from days gone by.  Sometimes, happily, nostalgia really is what it used to be.
Interstate 75 is out now on Ramrock Red Records, and can be ordered here.