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 terrific rock’n’roll song remains undiminished – as does his ability 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 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 solo.
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.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Robert Jon & The Wreck - Live At The Ancienne Belgique

After the last chord dies on closing track ‘Cold Night’, we get to hear a couple of seconds of the crowd cheering, and then they’re gone.  Cut off in their prime.  This, I have to tell you, is a wholly inadequate response to Live At The Ancienne Belgique.  Here we have 74 minutes of rock’n’rollin’ live performance goodness, my friends, that deserves to end with sustained hollering, chanting and whistling that gradually fades out just as your pulse is returning to normal.
Robert Jon & The Wreck letting the good times roll
Pic by Robert Blackham
I mean, have yourself a listen to ‘Do You Remember’.  There’s some ‘Jessica’-like guitar harmonies from Robert Jon Burrison and Henry James as a how’d-ya-do, teeing up ‘Night Moves’ style lyrics (“Do you remember when we were free?  We were young and wild and seventeen.”) that are just the right side of sentimental, set to an irresistible, catchier-than-flu
tune.  And once they’ve let that sink in – whoosh!  There’s lift-off as Henry James goes nuts on guitar, blazing a trail across the song and reeling you in with spells of tension and release.
The band take a breather after that while James does a bit of solo guitar-wrangling that heads into crowd-teasing, stop-start, call and response Angus Young territory, before he steps into the strut’n’twirl riff of ‘Hey Hey Mama’, and the rest of the gang lean into the offbeat rhythm with him, Steve Maggiora’s organ adding colour and drummer Andrew Espantman occasionally flicking at, I do believe, a cowbell.  They stroll and swing through the song like a breeze, before James spices it up with a bout of wah-wah frenzy, warming things up for the moment, another verse and chorus down the road, when they explode into a storm of barrelling drums, racing bass from Warren Murrel, surging keys from Maggiora – and some gobsmacking, head shaking, rock’n’rollin’ guitar fireworks from James.
‘Blame It On The Whiskey’ starts off loose-limbed around a descending piano motif, and
Robert Jon Burrison leading from the front
Pic by Maurice Mooney
illustrates once again that they don’t lapse into predictable song structure.  Some of those high-grade harmonies are to the fore (pepped up by a couple of additional ladies for this show), and there’s some squawking slide guitar soloing, then they subside into just drums and voices, taking a breather before changing the rhythm and propelling James into another stonking solo.  But that’s just the curtain raiser for an extended, accelerating section worthy of ‘Freebird’, with frantic guitar over rattling drums and pounding piano.  Hot damn!
But if these are blasts of sparks-flying musical spectacle, they also know how to keep it short’n’sharp and focus on the song doing the work, as on ‘Oh Miss Carolina’, with the singalong hook of its chorus soaring along on great harmonies then hammered home at the end.  The ghost of ‘Mighty Quinn’ might be drifting around somewhere in the melody of ‘Don’t Me Go’, but it’s overtaken by the gutsy, harmony-laden nature of the dominant chorus, and injections of slide-guitar slithering.  Or there’s the slow-quick assault of ‘Shine A Light On Me Brother’, from their 2021 album of the same name, with another killer chorus rammed home by Maggiora’s barroom piano, and a slide solo from James that’s like a dragster tearing down the strip, plus a subtle, rolling-thunder bridge before they go for broke on the chorus again.
‘Tired Of Drinking Alone’ is less my cup of poison, a slower affair with lines like “I got a bottle o’wine, we both have plenty of heartache” lapsing into the kind of self-pitying country music lyrical stylings that are prone to infect Southern rock too often in my book.  But that’s my personal pet peeve, and it’s still well executed, with some sweetly lachrymose slide guitar reinforcing its mood.  ‘Old Friend’ could easily fall into a similar trap, but gets away with it, being
"Play it Henry, play it!"
a bitter “I’ve moved on” middle finger to an old flame – and with another hooky-as-hell chorus that they parade nakedly on an a cappella harmonies’n’handclaps finish.
And then there’s ‘Cold Night’.  It starts with some rainfall-like Fender Rhodes piano from Maggiora, before they launch some anthemic guitar harmonies in an Allmans vein, and while I’d personally like them to wean themselves off that particular Southern rock trope, over-used as it is, they still do it splendidly.  And after carefully building the song, they have some more guitar duetting to set the scene for an expansive Henry James solo, well counterpointed by piano and underscored by cacophonic drums from Espantman as it escalates into a blizzard of notes – but with purpose and intent, not noodling.  And it sounds like they’re lining up a big finish at that point, but no – the storm abates, to be sure, for some excellent guitar and keyboard interplay, but only as a palate cleanser before they erupt into another, final torrent of mayhem.
So yeah, one or two Southern rock clichès crop up in the Wreckist oeuvre that I could personally live without, and I reckon a couple of different song selections could have made this set even better.  But let’s not get picky.  Because what we really have here is the latest stirring adventure by a band who are a tighter than a Victorian corset; a band who write terrific songs like falling off a log; a band that can go the whole hog from bang-it-out rocker, to sensitive ballad, to widescreen epic, and more besides.  They’re a band led by a powerful, charismatic singer, with a 24-carat killer guitarist at his side, but who are absolutely an ensemble, with all the players performing critical roles with panache, right down – or up, maybe – to the harmonies they sprinkle over songs like gold dust.
You know what’s really impressive?  The Wreck could go onstage somewhere tonight with a whole different set list, and still hit the same heights.  But until the next time you get to see ‘em, Live At The Ancienne Belgique is a barnstorming document of Robert Jon & The Wreck doing their shake, rattle'n'rollin’ live thing, and you need it in your life.
Live At The Ancienne Belgique is released by Journeyman Records on 21 April, as a CD/DVD set, on vinyl, and digitally, and can be ordered here.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Joe Bonamassa - Tales Of Time

Although Joe Bonamassa tends to get pegged as a blues-rock guy, nowadays he’s as likely to spread his wings and explore broader classic rock horizons - as this live set recorded at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre confirms.  And when he sets the controls just right for a spot of widescreen hard rocking, the results are plenty satisfying.
The opening ‘Notches’ does the business very nicely, for example.  There’s an African sorta styling to the intro, with some evocative spoken word narration over quiet percussion, before the baton is handed to JB for some piercing, Gilmour-like guitar remarks.  Then it’s off and running, with a spiralling riff that’s shadowed and heavily reinforced by Calvin Turner’s bass.  That heavy
Joe Bonamassa tries to play phantom guitar neck
Pic by Jenise Jensen
groove is the prime attraction, though a Zepp-ish bridge also announces a pretty scorching Bonamassa solo, and if Reese Wynans’ swirling organ solo is so-so, it’s fair to say he more than makes up for it elsewhere.
If anything ‘Curtain Call’ is even better, as they throw the kitchen sink at it.  There’s stomping guitar and drums, then Arabic-sounding keys à la ‘Kashmir’, setting up the drama to come.  We get niftily counterpointed guitar and keyboard motifs, gutsy rhythm guitar and pseudo-baroque lead, culminating in a shooting star sound that I suspect comes from Bonamassa’s guitar, before returning to the Arabic theme.  And ‘Time Clocks’ is impressive too, mixing things up to good effect with slamming chords and country-esque picking around a grabber of a soaring, emphatic chorus.  It goes from thoughtful and subdued to to urgent and angsty, and some melodic, quasi-Celtic soloing from Bonamassa adds icing to the cake.
On the other hand, there are times when the epic approach sounds like Bonamassa repeating himself - ‘Mind’s Eye’ being a case in point, despite good moments of rolling drums and precise, needle-sharp guitar, and awestruck-sounding backing vocals.  Similarly ‘The Loyal Kind’ feels formulaic with its reflective opening giving way to an urgent riff and tense vocals, though the guitar solo feels more interesting, and better connected to the song, than in a couple of other cases.
It's a relief then, that other tracks offer some different vibes.  ‘The Heart That Never Waits’ has a bluesier feel, laid back and steady-as-she-goes, with some excellent Wynans ivory-tinkling and top drawer backing vocals from Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae and Danielle DeAndrea.  (Though the ubiquity of those female voices in Bonamassa’s recent repertoire, good as they are, also contributes to a sense of “same old same old” now and then.)  ‘Known Unknowns’, with its cooler, mellower opening, feels lighter and more soulful, with an airy guitar riff and some organ frosting from Wynans, and a tasteful guitar break leading to some variations on a theme – though Bonamassa, not for the first time, can’t resist throwing in a few high-velocity salvos whether they’re needed or not.
There’s no arguing with the closing ‘Evil Mama’ though, resurrected from the Redemption album.  Here we have (more of) a flat-out rocker, with a hard-revving, push-me-pull-you riff and a strong, hooky melody.  It charges along like an F1 car going through the gears, enhanced by a Wynans organ solo, and a piercing Bonamassa effort over rumbling bass and steady drums.
Tales Of Time is an enjoyable album, with lots going on to keep things interesting, and will doubtless please loyal Bonamassa fans no end.  If I seem to have some qualms now and then, well, maybe it’s not really meant to be listened to with a pen in hand, making notes.  Let the arrangements and the playing wash over you – with excellent sound quality, I might add – and those occasional moments of déjà vu may just drift past on the current.
Tales Of Time is released by Provogue Records on 14 April, on CD/DVD, CD/Blu-Ray, and 3LP 180gram Vinyl, and can be ordered here in the UK.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Chris Duarte - Ain't Giving Up

Well now, what have we here?  Apparently this is the fifteenth album by Chris Duarte, and it seems his second album Texas Sugar Strat Magik was a big seller way back in 1994.  All of which is news to me, I hafta say.  And it really doesn’t matter, because what I do know is that Ain't Giving Up is a belter of an album.
Duarte sets out his stall right from the start with ‘Nobody But You’, which starts off muffled, then explodes into a cacophony of distorted vocals, warped guitar, thudding bass, and snapping drums.  Well, I say drums, but while Brannen Temple does a great job bashing the skins, Duarte
Chris Duarte paints technicolour blues
Pic by Jim Argobast
and his producer Dennis Herring also make bold use of a rhythm machine to add extra snap, crackle and pop to several tracks.  Now, that may be anathema to some blues fans, but to these ears it works a treat.  The end result sounds like Texas blues colliding with Ugly Kid Joe’s ‘Everything About You’.  Or something.  Whatever, it's a zinger that sets the standard that the whole album lives up to.
That rhythm machine clickety-clack also enlivens ‘Bye Bye Bye’, which chugs along merrily in any case, with a ‘Route 66’ vibe and a hint of rockabilly to its appealing melody, with Duarte’s voice enhanced by some neat backing vocals.  It’s short and sweet, with witty lyrics and a rock’n’rollin’ guitar solo.  The formula of rhythm machine and distorted vocal also hits the spot on ‘Come My Way’, enhanced by some scratchy, inside out guitar contortions from Duarte on his closing solo.  None of this really sounds like ZZ Top, but in its own way it evokes the head-turning freshness that the Tres Hombres dispensed on Eliminator.
Duarte emerged in Austin, Texas in the wake of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and some comparisons are justified when you listen to his guitar style on the mid-tempo blues instrumental ‘Can Opener’, with the bass and drums shifting and drifting now and then to give things a lift.  And there are nimble, SRV-like guitar breaks on ‘Ain’t Giving Up On Us’ too, over a boom-clack rhythm and slow, booming bass, though the song is maybe a tad slight compared to most of the 12 on offer.
And really, the songs here are a pleasure.  ‘Half As Good As Two’ is a typically simple but on the money affair, with a funny lyric about how the hero will “never find a woman half as good as two”, and a wry Texas blues sensibility that somehow puts me in mind of Rosie Flores, while Duarte’s solo is full of wit – patient and then scurrying all over the place.  And ‘Look What U Made Me Do’ is a sweet rock’n’roll confection, with a tick-tock rhythm overlaying the drums, which occasionally break free to rev things up in tandem with the rolling bass, while Duarte sparkles and scintillates over the top.
‘The Real Low Down’ throws something different into the mix in sparsely twitchy-funky fashion, with the bass bouncing off the drum pattern, while Duarte adds a zippy, citrus smart guitar outro.  Then ‘Weak Days’ closes things out in entirely different fashion – a slow blues in the vein of ‘Stormy Monday’, but with a woozy, slip-sliding vocal evoking a protagonist who sounds like a bit of a drunken idler.  Duarte’s guitar playing is equally characterful, embodying the spirit of the song beautifully – slow or quick, it’s all eye-poppingly good, and makes 7 minutes go by in a flash.
I could go on about some other tracks too, but you get the picture.  Ain’t Giving Up is probably my favourite album of the year so far.  I may never have heard of Chris Duarte before, but I’m sure as hell gonna try some more of his Texas Sugar Strat Magik now – and you should get on the case too.
Ain’t Giving Up is released by Provogue Records on 14 April, and is available here.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton - Magazzini Generali, Milan, 2 April 2023

To use the old oxymoronic cliché, this show by Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton was a bit of a curate’s egg – good in parts.  This is a very odd thing for me to say about a show involving Sam Fish, but I have my reasons.
For one thing, there’s the matter of unfamiliar material.  This is partly a matter of timing, as the duo’s album Death Wish Blues, doesn’t come out until May, so a handful of songs in this set are unknown quantities.  And while I know Fish’s back catalogue very well indeed, I can’t say the same about Jesse Dayton, so a couple of his songs are new to me too.
Jesse Dayton and Samantha Fish pick their way through the symbolic murk
None of which would necessarily bother me much, if the sound wasn’t so bad.  From where I’m standing during the first half of this show, a few metres from the stage, the mix is terrible.  The drums seem to swamp everything, rendering the keyboards inaudible most of the time, and even worse making it difficult to hear the vocals with any clarity.  Given that Samantha Fish is generally a singer with seriously good diction, the fact that her words are reduced to a blur here is a major disappointment.  It's bad enough when the subtlety of her well-known cover of ‘Hello Stranger’ is completely overpowered by the clattering drums, but it’s ruinous on a previously unheard song like the soulful ‘No Apology’, where what Fish is singing about is anyone’s guess.
And just as the audio is a problem, so is the visual, because the lighting is unhelpfully hyperactive.  Magazzini Generali is a venue given over more to club nights than gigs, and it seems the in-house lighting guy isn’t too fussed about adjusting the light show for the latter.   So we’re subjected to a whirling display, and an occasional fug of smoke, that generally do more to obscure the band than illuminate them.
All the same, there’s entertainment to be had in the course of the night.  The rock’n’roll intent is clear when they open with ‘Brand New Cadillac’, and they give Junior Parker’s ‘Feel So Good’ a decent thrashing, while there’s also a grinding purpose to the “get no more than you deserve” counsel of ‘Settle For Less’.  Fish straps on her cigar box to knock out the reliably punchy ‘Bulletproof’, but for me a better choice in this show would be for them to drag the gutsy, tub-thumping duet of ‘Go To Hell’ out from the depths of her closet. 
Dayton’s brief and strutting ‘Hurtin’ Behind The Pine Curtain’ has a satisfyingly heavy, heavy monster sound, and there’s a funkier feel to new song ‘Trauma’, with its Zeppelin-like bridge.  But it’s the acoustic double-header of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘I’ll Be Here In The Morning’ and
It's a hard dollar, but they just can't let it go.
Dayton’s ‘Baby’s Long Gone’ that really starts to turn the set around, allowing the duo to show their subtlety, as the band take a break and there’s respite from the overweight mix.  The former tune features a neatly Hispanic solo from JD, while the latter is a coruscating acoustic blues on which Fish delivers a lovely solo of her own.
It also helps that shortly afterwards I retreat to stand by the sound desk, where the mix seems – as you’d hope, fer cryin’ out loud - less lop-sided.  And this coincides with them embarking on a run of covers with which familiarity breeds contentment.  ‘Shake Your Hips’ features another characterful Dayton solo, and then they segue into ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, producing some walloping fun.
They slow things down for ‘I Put A Spell On You’, on which Samantha conjures up a ghostly solo to go with her slinky (and thankfully intelligible) vocal, before bringing it to a head with a howling guitar foray, laying the foundations for a driving, punkish rendition of Love’s ‘Seven And Seven Is’, which they dial back for a tasty display of interlinked guitar work.
The set proper then closes with new single ‘Riders’, on which the keys finally surface to offer some throbbing clavinet as the pair let rip vocally about how the road is in their blood - a "hard dollar" that they just can't let go.  And they encore with new song ‘Know My Heart’, which sounds like it might have legs, but which is outdone by the solidly rocking blues of ‘Going Down South’.
All in all this wasn’t a show on which to judge just how well the talents of Jesse Dayton and Samantha Fish blend, and add up to something extra.  It was a gig in which the pairing fought an unhelpful setting, and won on points.  If I see ‘em again later in the year, I hope it’s in more sympathetic surroundings.