Saturday, January 21, 2023

DeWolff - Love, Death & In Between

I can’t claim to be a long-time devotee of DeWolff, though I did enjoy their 2020 album The Tascam Tapes.  But I do admire the air of don’t-give-a-shit independence that emanates from the Dutch trio.  For one thing, the guitar, keys’n’drums combo don’t sound like some cookie-cutter blues-rock outfit, but march to the beat of their soul-blues-rock-and-whatever-else-they-fancy beat.  And they do it their own way, whether it’s recording The Tascam Tapes with the most rudimentary set-up you can imagine, or in the case of Love, Death & In Between, retreating to an entirely analogue studio in Brittany and recording the whole shebang live to tape, no overdubs, with a crowd of pals contributing additional musical chops to the enterprise*.
Oh yeah, and on Track 5 here, titled ‘Rosita’, they knock out a 16-minute plus extravaganza of
DeWolff pull their finger out
Pic by Satellite June
 soul, gospellated testifying to “the Mighty Power of Love” (their delivery compels me to capitalise that phrase), a blast of uptempo Latino stylings, and even a bout or two of ‘Aquarius’-like vocal uplift.  Or if you prefer, you could focus on the slaloming guitar segments, the hurtling Hammond organ, the affirmative bursts of horns, or the sense of Joe Cocker getting by with a little help from his friends.  There are plenty of elements to choose from in this magnum opus.
But if all that sounds a bit overwhelming, they offer rather more disciplined fare elsewhere.  The opening ‘Night Train’ may not be the James Brown toon, but they do set the tone with a snippet of JB hollering “Ah ya ready for the night train?”  They set off with a suitably locomotive rhythm from Luka van de Poel, parping organ from Robin Piso, and an urgent guitar riff from his brother Pablo who also delivers a confident, expressive vocal, backed up by female interjections.  It all adds up to something upbeat, pulsating and fun, and they reinforce that vibe with the following ‘Heart Stopping Kinda Show’, celebrating the simple things in life in steadier but still thumpingly catchy fashion, full of horns tooting high and low alongside barrelling piano.  Later too, ‘Wontcha Wontcha’ combines snapping drums, brash horns and rollicking keys, plus a trumpet solo and an uptempo Santana-like bridge and guitar break, in an increasingly fevered, and maybe overlong, soul-funk wig-out.
They can cool things off too, whether with the Steely Dan-like subtleties of ‘Jackie Go To Sleep, with its tripping rhythm, jazzy guitar and silvery organ solo, or the Al Green delicacy of the swaying ‘Pure Love’.   ‘Mr Garbage Man’ has a yearning bluesy sensibility, stripped down and with a romantic soul bridge as it hints at the influence of Sam Cooke.  And there’s a spookier aspect to the closing ‘Queen Of Space And Time’, with its minimal percussion, swirls of Wurly organ, and interjections of flute and piano.
But they balance things in the opposite direction too, as they let rip halfway the bouncing, witty ‘Counterfeit Love’ and turn it into an organ-powered rock beast.  And just in case you think that’s an aberration, they follow it up with ‘Message For My Baby’, on which hooting and hollering in the background gives way to an intro of powerful guitar and organ chords.  They back off a bit to provide Pablo van de Poel with more room for a squealing, screaming vocal akin to Ian Gillan crossed with James Brown, before Piso gives it some serious welly on organ, over syncopated percussion, while van de Poel runs some busy interference on guitar – a combination they redouble after another burst of ecstatic church-like hollering, before chucking in a wailing sax solo for good measure.
After over an hour of this fervent soul-fuelled celebration I feel a bit of musical indigestion coming on, even with the periodic palate cleansers of the more laid back tunes.  But the DeWolff boys and their amigos really know how to put this distinctive sound together, and by god they do it with conviction.  I like ‘em.
Love, Death & In Between is released by Mascot Records on 3 February, and can be pre-ordered here.

*Sadly at the time of writing I have no information about the various supporting musicians, who make significant contributions to the album's sound.

Monday, January 16, 2023

The 2:19 - We Will Get Through This

Back in 2021 Belfast band The 2:19 released their debut album Revelator, a collection of very satisfying, meat-and-two-veg blues originals that showed a bit of potential.  Their new album We Will Get Through This isn’t as good as that.  It’s better.  Much better.
Let me begin at the very end, with the title track.  After a mournful flutter of harmonica 'We Will Get Through This' opens with just voice and acoustic strumming, as singer Chris Chalmers gently lays out a message of personal reassurance and encouragement in response to a shared moment of doubt and fear.  An undertone of organ emerges, then some sensitive electric guitar
The 2:19 play musical chairs
remarks.  Then as the lyric grows in conviction, the band come in, but subtly. A female voice adds sighing backing vocals, alongside brushes of piano.  And gradually, as the lyric becomes more universal in intent, the song evolves into a marvellous, uplifting slice of soul – especially when that female voice, the property of guest singer Amy Montgomery, comes to the fore and counterpoints Chalmers’ own moans and groans.
‘We Will Get Through This’ makes for a bravura climax, no question about it.
But the really great thing is that it doesn’t stand in isolation.  The album builds to this peak from the start as The 2:19 go through the gears with confidence.  They grab things by the scruff of the neck with the opening ‘No Smoke No Fire’, all crunching staccato chords, steady thumping beat and declamatory vocal, plus an impressively barbed guitar solo from Paul Wilkinson, and they don’t let go.
They loosen up a bit on the likes of ‘Turn Out The Lights’, but in a good way. A twitching shuffle, it’s crying out for handclaps to underline its good-time feel and go with the on-the-money harp solo from Andrei.  ‘Best Suit’ goes back to their roots, a slice of straight-up blues, with the bass and drums laying out a toe-tapping groove, and some rinky-dink piano and slide guitar as garnishing for a brisk tale of crime and punishment.  ‘Hey Carolina’ suggests they’ve supped at a similar Southern well to Robert Jon & The Wreck, horns and all, while ‘The Reach’ shows that they can get funky too.  And as a livener before the finale, ‘Seven Wonders’ is a cheerful chunk of Frankie Miller-style R’n’B, replete with rootsy harp and slide, on which the hero’s global sight-seeing always ends up back with his bewitching baby.
These songs all make for solid, impressive foundations.  But along the way they also detonate the fierce, surging ‘Ready To Go’, a stand-out propelled by some serious tub-thumping from Monty Sneddon, throbbing bass from Marty Young, and some ripped out, resonant rhythm guitar from Ady Young, as the underpinning for Chalmers’ edgy, semi-distorted vocal and a knife-edge guitar solo, also this time from Ady Young.
And they continue to demonstrate their potential down the stretch.  ‘Radio Smiles’ is laid-back and soulful, well-suited to Chalmers’ rich voice, a story of drive-time radio listening as a vehicle for personal reflections, with mellow organ from guest ivory-finagler John McCullough (who adds excellent brush strokes throughout) and similarly subtle horns from Barry McCrudden and Linley Hamilton, the latter also furnishing a well-placed trumpet solo.  There’s some evocative word-smithing too, as in “an old song sweet enough to make a radio smile”, and if it’s a song that doesn’t hit the absolute heights, it’s still reaching for them.
‘Broken Harmony Blues’ is another matter though.  It’s a slow, sensitive duet, again featuring the alarmingly good Amy Montgomery, whose voice blends perfectly with Chalmers on a beautifully simple piano and voice arrangement that illustrates how less can be much, much more.
When I reviewed their debut album, I suggested The 2:19 had hinted at a spirit of adventure they hadn’t quite fulfilled.  On We Will Get Through This that spirit has flowered.  They’ve written some songs that stretch beyond the basic blues framework, been bold enough to bring in session musos to help them fully realise those songs, and been well-served by the engineering and mixing of Michael Mormecha.  Salutes and high fives all round folks – this is a damn good album.
We Will Get Through This is released on all major digital platforms on 23 January.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Speedbuggy USA - Sonic West

Eighties cowpunk, garage rock, rockn’roll.  Mash up that little lot, and some other stuff besides, and the end result might sound a bit like Speedbuggy USA.  They’re rootsy, raunchy, and do their thang with a decent helping of attitood on Sonic West, an album that came out last August, but which only crossed my path the other week.
‘Sonic West’ itself leads the way, introduced by an echoing, ‘One Step Beyond’ style call to arms, before rolling out of the station with an intriguing, Clash-like rhythmic interweaving of Steve Kidwiler’s guitar and Patrick Dennis’s bass as a prelude to a surf-rockish guitar excursion. Then before you can say “Dick Dale” they dial it down again for an atmospheric spoken interlude that’s the track’s sole vocal component.
Speedbuggy USA - not the usual country suspects
There’s a garage rock raunch to ‘Bad Reaction’, with its blasts of harp and distorted vocals on the edgy verse, and moaning backing vocals on the pre-chorus as they hint at the 60s likes of ‘Psychotic Reaction’ and early Yardbirds R’n’B, underlined by a pleasingly scratchy guitar solo that I'd have liked to get scratchier still.
“I wanna hear some country music, crank it loud,” demands singer Timbo on ‘Burn’, and they do, to the extent that Greg McMullen actually manages to make his pedal steel sound respectably gutsy, instead of that godawful snivelling sound it contributes to a lot of old-fashioned country music.  We’re in the realms of Lone Justice here, with a mucho catchy chorus and a smattering of wiry guitar breaks for extra rock’n’roll credits.  They crank things up even further on the following ‘Run With The Wolves’, which has moments of restraint but is really all about the ringing, charging chorus, with an increasingly feverish vocal from Timbo, runaway drums from Mike McNamara.
They really can write a good chorus, as ‘Just Give Me A Reason’ demonstrates.  There may be a Stonesy, stuttering quality to the verses, but it’s the chorus that dominates, yearning and enhanced by some sweet harmonies supplied by Cindy Wasserman of Dead Rock West.  Their skill in this department is underlined by the slowish ‘Don’t’, on which the verses are kinda inconsequential next to the call and response hook.
‘Left All Alone’ is more energetic fare, a harem scarem blast of country garage that puts me in mind of the Raelyn Nelson Band, with a twangeroonie guitar break and a borderline bluegrass burst of gymnastics towards the end.  ‘(One Tough) Son Of A Bitch’ explores a different kinda country angle, with “oh-woah-ho-oh” singalongs and pedal steel trimmings bracketing a Johnny Cash-like bit of storytelling, delivered in suitably assertive fashion by Timbo.
The Smiths’ How Soon Is Now’ pops up [careful with the video if you're averse to strobes], and as incongruous as that may sound they do a damn good job of making it work.  Kidwiler retains Johnny’s chiming, swooning guitar vibe, while Timbo ditches Morrissey’s fey, mannered stylings in favour of a more in-yer-face, finger-jabbing assertiveness.
They get more expansive on the closing ‘Hitch My Wagon’, which sets out with big fuzzy chords over a leisurely beat, gradually developing an out-in-the-desert-night openness to go with the romantic melody and Timbo’s aching vocal.  Kidwiler gets to wig out with a big, squealing guitar solo, and the epic feel is completed by his guitar bleeding all over the slow fade-out.
I may have mentioned country numerous times in this review, but this ain’t no Nashville sound.  This is country given a rock’n’roll shot of in the arm by a bunch of urban punks who like the twang and the tunefulness, but aren’t up for any sentimentality.  A few of the songs are a bit slight, truth be told, but I’ll let ‘em off because of their no messing, get on with it approach.  Sonic West is a pitcher of something fresh to wet your musical whistle.
Sonic West is out now on Rare Bird 

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Eddie 9V - Capricorn

If you’re going to live up to a nom de musique like Eddie 9V, it pays to have a bit of chutzpah. And listening to Capricorn, it’s crystal clear that said Eddie – born Brooks Kelly - ain’t in need of any booster shots of charisma.
When opening track ‘Beg, Borrow And Steal’ springs out of the speakers, brightly soulful horns and snapping snare giving way to a bass-popping, finger-snapping groove, it makes for a pretty darned engaging start. But things really take off when Eddie’s personality-laden, near-squawking vocal bursts into earshot, like a new buddy taking you by the elbow and hurrying you along to
Eddie 9V - no retreat baby, no surrender!
catch the vibrant chorus waiting just down the road.  He adds a couple of nifty little guitar breaks along the way for good measure, and alto sax man Noah Sills steps forward to play around with the melody to add some extra seasoning.  This, I’m thinking, sounds good.
And that’s the review right there, really.  Capricorn is a collection of songs that thwacks into the bullseye. It's delivered in style, and it’ll loosen your lumbago and make you wish you had a dance floor and a partner at your immediate disposal.  But let’s give you a bit more info to chew on, huh?
The album takes its name from the Capricorn Records studio in Macon, Georgia where it was recorded.  But while Capricorn Records is possibly most strongly associated with the Allman Brothers, the soul vibe here is more akin to that of Macon’s most famous son, Otis Redding.  But judicious helpings of young Eddie’s blues sensibilities are folded into the mix too.
Slide guitar offers a signature refrain and a closing solo amid the horn punctuation of the swampy, offbeat ‘Yella Alligator’, which serves up another simple but damn good hook, the 9V fella singing about the bayou but sounding very like a creature of the streets.  ‘It’s Going Down’ has a woozy, bluesy feel, mucho relaxed and laid back, with flutterings of flute and pinging gutiar adding a summery flavour.  But ‘Down Along The Cove’ is brisker blues-rooted fare, peppered with Eddie’s slide guitar alternating conversationally with his vocal, until the slide has its moment on a gritty but playful solo, followed by a blast of rockin’ piano from Chad Mason.  The avowed influence of Sean Costello, who was raised in 9V’s home town of Atlanta, is evident here and elsewhere.
But songs like ‘Bout To Make Me Leave Home’ are delicious regardless of the blues quotient involved.  “We're trackin’ in history now,” Eddie drawls, and then they kick off a funky, rhythmic groove, simple and loose but fit to turn you to rubber, while the main man yelps out his frustrations.  There’s a classic soul vibe to the all-too-brief ‘How Long’, which comes buttered in Fender Rhodes piano and organ from Mason, with a sizzling little guitar solo as the cherry on top.  And ‘Tryin’ To Get By’ is another meltingly good song, perfectly delivered, bouncing along till it reaches a swooning pre-chorus to tee up its sunny, good-time refrain.  The multi-instrumentalist 9V is responsible for both the bass and drums here, and locks them into the pocket in swaying fashion.
There are more contemplative moments too, such as ‘Missouri’ (that's as in "Misery"), with its slinky bass and tapping drums.  And they cap off proceedings with the lazily shuffling, hypnotic groove of the dreamy ‘I’m Lonely’.  Once again, the instrumentation is woven together perfectly – bass, drums, keys, horns, guitar, everything – while Eddie, Mr Personality to the end, crafts another distinctive, soul-steeped vocal.
Capricorn is just the ticket to kick off the year.  This is a stylish, sassy, individual album, well-conceived, and well captured by Eddie 9V’s brother Lane Kelly in the producer’s chair.  Eddie 9V is the real deal – don’t say you haven’t been told!
Capricorn is released by Ruf Records on 20 January.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Jared James Nichols - Jared James Nichols

Listening to the latest, self-titled album by Jared James Nichols, is a bit like Christopher Walken playing Russian Roulette in The Deerhunter.  Every time you pull the trigger on a new track, there’s the strong possibility you’re going to get your head blown off by a heavy calibre riff.  Nichols is good on that front, no question.  When it comes to the quality of the songs though, I reckon a few chambers on this 12-track outing fire blanks.
Jared James Nichols tickles up an understated solo
The tracks that work best are the ones where some subtlety enters the equation. ‘Down The Drain’, for example, opens with a psychedelic, Beatle-ish intro of spangly guitar as the accompaniment to the appealing melody of the verses, which give way to a gutsy chorus powered by a beefy, if derivative, riff.  Nichols’ wah-wah soloing is impressive here, and his vocal is urgent.  ‘Skin’n Bone’ mixes up a slow, squealing, ascending guitar line with a strong tune, and some big slabs of chords, generating some tension along the way.  There’s a brief whirl of a solo and a downshift into a swirling, phased segment, and there’s no excess fat.
‘Shadow Dancer’ is the longest track on the album, and Nichols and his crew make the most of it.  A bendy, effects-laden guitar intro prefaces a dreamy melody, before they step up with a solid chorus over ringing guitar and rolling bass.  Nichols’ vocal is convincingly angsty, and there’s a satisfyingly spacey, anthemic guitar segment, embellished with overdubs.  All in all it may be the best offering here.  There are similar elements on display in the closing ‘Out Of Time’ too, with its patient, echoing guitar theme and flickers of harmonics.  The tune is appealing, delivered in conversational fashion, and there’s an interestingly warped solo as icing on the cake.  All of which suggests that when Nichols is prepared to take his foot off the gas he can deliver some intriguing results.
On the other hand, it’s no surprise to hear that the heavy, mid-tempo ‘Hard Wired’ evolved from a jam with Tyler Bryant and his compadre Graham Whitford.  There’s a wailing intro, some stuttering riffage, and a couple more snippets of interest via a mellow bridge and a solo that scrambles its way into some kind of shape.  But the melody ain’t so hot, and the whole is less than the sum of its parts.  Much the same is true of the opening ‘My Delusion’, which has a stonking rollercoaster riff and a squawking ‘rawk’ vocal, but ultimately sounds like one of TB & The Shakedown’s less interesting, swing-free moments.
The rifferama on something like ‘Bad Roots’ is the real McCoy, with guttural guitar over thunderously rolling drums and pummelling bass.  But the chorus is, not to put too fine a point on it, half-assed.  Much the same is true of the full-throttle ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’, despite its fuzzy, scuzzy guitar chords over the pounding rhythm section, its curious, squeaking little riff, and the downshift into a piercing solo over elasticated bass.
And so on, and so on.  “I’m not trying to be anybody but myself and play the music I love for today,” Nichols says in the PR bumf for the album.  “I’m giving you loud ass guitars and no fucks given rock’n’roll, and I’m loving it.”  Fair enough Jared, and doubtless there are headbangers out there who’ll love all the foot-on-monitor, heads-down guitar bashing.  I reckon bit more wit, imagination, and consistency wouldn't go amiss though.
Jared James Nichols is released by Black Hill Records on 13 January, and can be ordered here.