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 just one 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 blue-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 at 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 enlivening 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 provide 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 many tracks 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.

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