Monday, October 30, 2023

Quickies - Liz Jones & Broken Windows, and Consummate Rogues

The latest Quickies round-up compares and contrasts a couple of recently released live albums for your delectation and delight.

Liz Jones & Broken Windows – Live At The Voodoo Rooms
This may be an avowedly unvarnished live album, with a few imprecise moments allowed to stand, but Liz Jones & Broken Windows still make good on the rootsy subtleties that are their stock-in-trade.
The opening ‘No Classic Love Song’ makes for a good appetiser, a hymn to an unconventional couple that Jones wrote for their wedding, which has a loping, offbeat, gypsy-ish charm.  Jamie Hamilton’s piano is to the fore, and also adds various frills and filigrees, while John Bruce’s
John Bruce and Liz Jones of the tinted Broken Windows
guitar solo adds some extra bite to set things on their way.
The strongest of the nine songs stretch across the middle of the album, starting with the mandolin strumming and twangy guitar motif of ‘Lover’, with Jones making a delicious vocal out of the simple melody.  A sumptuously ascending guitar and piano line comes up a couple of times to reel you in, and Hamilton adds some chocolate box piano remarks to enhance the final verse.  The following ‘Jo’ is an interesting character study with a ‘Fever’-like groove à la Peggy Lee, smokily delivered by Jones overs warm Fender Rhodes piano, punctuated by twirls of guitar and rattles of vibraslap, topped off by a sweet’n’sour slide solo from Bruce.
Jones reveals that the patient ‘Strum’ is about “fancying a musician onstage”, so it may not be amiss to interpret the tagline of “Strum, strum, strum, with two fingers and a thumb” as being about more than just guitar playing.  Percussionist and mandolin player Suzy Cargill jazzes up the rhythm with bongos, and Bruce delivers an edgier solo as the tune gets rather more, er, aroused.  New song ‘Bala Man’ opens with raindrop-descending piano and a fuzzy Gerry Rafferty-like guitar riff, then clacks along in relaxed fashion as Jones delivers a conversational lyric.  The riff returns as the launchpad for a tasty solo, and a turn of organ before the rippling piano rounds things off.  And the set peaks with the Hispanic-sounding stroll of ‘Before Me’, a delightful ensemble affair with typically clever Jones wordsmithing in its bitter lyric from the standpoint of someone feeling spurned by their lover.
The moody “J’Accuse” of ‘Narcissist’, the cover of JB Lenoir’s quirky blues ‘The Whale’, and the closing ‘Call Centre Blues’ are all fine, but there are stronger songs in the Windows’ repertoire that could have elevated this set still further*.  All the same, Live At The Voodoo Rooms is still a tasty treat to provide a flavour of what the Jones gang are like in a live setting.
Live At The Voodoo Rooms is out now, and can be ordered here.
You can read the Blues Enthused review of Broken Windows’ debut album here, and their second album Bricks & Martyrs here.
*On second thoughts, 'Call Centre Blues' has rather grown on me, earworm fashion!
Consummate Rogues – Live In Bucharest
As strategies for your debut album go, a live recording made in Romania is a bit oddball – especially when the resulting set could reasonably be described as a pretty traditional affair.
Consummate Rogues are a four-piece led by piano-player, sax man and singer Chris Rand, a session man who has played with many artists on the British blues and jazz scenes, and has been able to call on team-mates of a similar ilk to get this band up and running.
You don’t really need the PR bumf to tell you that boogie-woogie piano is a big influence on what’s going on here, as Rand demonstrates his ivory-bashing chops on the likes of ‘How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away’, just about vindicating his byzantine introductory anecdote
Consummate Rogues - not in Bucharest
involving a tribute album to the famed Stones piano man Ian Stewart, which provided the inspiration for the song.  It’s an okay strolling boogie, but they kick things up a notch when they segue into the old standard ‘Alright, Okay, You Win’, and the band weigh in to add some rock to the roll.  Rand whacks out another stonking piano turn, and then picks up his sax to add a jazzy but emphatic solo, over the rattling rhythm section of Geoff Threadgold on bass and Will Chism on drums.
This mix of originals and covers is the template followed across the album, the best of the new songs being ‘Across The Year’, which ploughs a tense groove with a low down riff that recalls the bass line from the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’, and features an attack-minded guitar solo from Leo Appleyard that really should be punched up higher in the mix.  Meanwhile an avowed New Orleans influence is reflected in Dr John’s ‘Such A Night’, which has a suitably good-time vibe and a vaguely romantic air too, plus a nice walking bass line.
A penchant for roots rock is revealed in a suitably energised reading of The Band’s ‘Rag Mama Rag’, and a laid-back take on Dylan’s ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’.  Rand’s vocal on the latter is confident enough, though as a rule his voice leans towards the thin and reedy, and without any vocal harmonies they can’t make it fly like the original – though Appleyard does give it some zip with a sizzling, occasionally discordant guitar solo.  Rand’s vocal is better suited to the Dylan tune though, a good tune that offers a different, Americana-type slant to the set.
‘I’m A Believer’ seems like a bizarre song selection though, especially when set in motion by Rand’s impressively sophisticated boogie-woogieing intro, until the band enter the fray with a brisk train-track rhythm – but again the lack of vocal harmonies is telling.
Live In Bucharest is a good bit of fun, but a bit more focus would have been useful to get the best out of an obviously talented group of musicians.
Live In Bucharest is out now, and can be ordered here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

When Rivers Meet - Aces Are High

Last week, in case you didn’t notice, When Rivers Meet’s third album Aces Are High gate-crashed the Top Ten of the UK Album Chart.  Now, in these digital, stream-orientated times, the charts aren’t really the kind of measure of success that they were in days of yore.  But still, it’s quite an achievement for a husband-and-wife duo whose modus operandi is entirely independent, and whose oeuvre is a spin on blues-rock.
Mind you, the two tracks that most immediately offer justification for their chartbusting status aren’t rockers at all.  ‘Golden’ and ‘By Your Side’ are both ballads, and they both hit the bullseye with a resounding whisper, as it were.  ‘Golden’ opens with quiet vocals from Aaron Bond, over
When Rivers Meet - In through the in door
Pic by Rob Blackham
simple acoustic strumming, the sound sweetening as Grace Bond arrives to harmonise on a melody that may not be entirely original, but is still a delight.  They have the courage to take it right down in order to muster light and shade, and though they stir some minimalist piano and drums into the mix, it’s the subtle vocal arrangement that hogs the limelight.  ‘By Your Side’ is a love song that begins with hushed, harmonised vocals and relies on its simple, lovely melody and sensitive, poetic lyrics to carry the day, framed by sparse backing and some twinkling guitar.  They really are good in this softer vein, as they've demonstrated before.
When they rock on this album though, it’s often with a heavier, less bluesy intent.  The opening ‘Infected’ sets forth with an angle-grinding riff and thudding mid-tempo drums, the latter courtesy of producer Adam Bowers, ahead of a shuddering pre-chorus, before Grace Bond serenades like a siren on the sweeter chorus.  And the following ‘See It All Before’ is all ceremonial chanting, doomy Sabbath-like chords, and a Bond femme vocal like something risen defiantly from the grave.
For my money they’re better when they lighten things up a bit.  ‘Play My Game’ may still be mid-tempo, but its staccato guitar is complemented by more fluid drums and bendy bass, and the moaned backing vocals give it a Yardbirds-esque retro feel.  But while Grace Bond demands “So kiss me, just kiss me” with conviction, it’s nothing compared to the full-on wailing and swooping she delivers at the climax.  ‘Perfect Stranger’ brings drama in different ways, with tense, choppy guitar chords and pattering drums for the verses, before slowing into some triumphal guitar chords as the prompt for Grace to illuminate the chorus.  Quirkier percussion livens up the third verse, and the chorus becomes even more magisterial as Bowers’ drums cut loose and Grace soars over the top with her tale of passionate connection.  ‘The Secret’ is as uptempo as they get, rattling along on the verses before hitting the brakes for the strident chorus, with squealing interjections of violin – or is it slide mandolin? – while a cool bridge shifts the focus and sets the scene for some more eerie slide slitherings, of a kind that also enlivens the familiar quiet verse/blazing chorus dynamics of ‘Trail To Avalon’.
A couple of tracks are less interesting though.  ‘Aces Are High’ itself feels a bit thin, more a sketch than a fully realised song, with its fuzzy guitar doodling over a funereal beat, and inconsequential verses.  The closing ‘5 Minutes To Midnight’ ushers in some stop-start grimy guitar over a whumping Glitter Band-like rhythm, but the verses aren’t as attention-grabbing as the crash-bang-wallop chorus, with its cri de coeur of “I’m alive!  And I’m ready!”.
By the by, I could do with Grace Bond’s vocals being higher in the mix at times.  If When Rivers Meet have a secret weapon, her voice is it, and it needs to cut through bright and clear.
Writing about When Rivers Meet’s second album Saving Grace, I reckoned their distinctive sound had given them an edge so far, but they’d need to add more strings to their bow in order to keep their material fresh.  Both those things remain true.  Adding some new colours to their palette is going to be important in the future.  But for now they can just enjoy the ride.
Aces Are High is out now, and can be ordered here.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

The Rolling Stones - Hackney Diamonds

Well, the cover is a bit rubbish.  But as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by it’s cover – and in this case it's damn good advice.
Right from the opening bars of ‘Angry’, Hackney Diamonds grabs the attention.  Steve Jordan’s drums arrive like a whipcrack, swiftly following by a jagged, cross-cutting riff, while the bass - courtesy of either Woody or Keith - rumbles around with ominous intent.  Credit to producer Andrew Watt and everyone else on knob-twiddling duty – the sound is terrific.  Over all this Mick Jagger starts snapping and whining away in inimitable fashion, and it all clatters along most entertainingly, culminating in a very Stonesy cacophony of slashing, razor-like guitars and a shoutalong refrain.
The energy on display is impressive for a bunch of notoriously old geezers. ‘Bite My Head Off’, for example, is punch-in-the-face rock’n’roll, like they’ve taken jump leads to a song like ‘When

The Rolling Stones - Here comes trouble.

The Whip Comes Down’, say. Jagger jabs out the words in tandem with a juddering jackhammer of a riff, reinforced by heavy duty fuzz bass from some codger called McCartney, who even manages to wangle a little break of his own. There’s a scrabbling guitar solo too, as it careers along to a ragged finish. And they follow that with ‘Whole Wide World’, Jordan earning his corn with pounding drums as the foundation for a hacking, chopping riff.  The chorus also manages to sound plangent in the midst of this ruckus, but still has to compete with a violent, scything guitar solo.  Jagger’s Estuary English accent sounds a bit off kilter mind you, but who the fuck cares?
With ‘Mess It Up’ and ‘Live By The Sword’ they pull a couple of songs from the vaults with Charlie Watts behind the drums, and they’re both satisfying memorials. On the former Jagger calls time on some background noodling with a shout of “Come on!”, triggering jangling guitar chords as Charlie whacks out an irresistible four-on-the-floor dance beat.  There’s chunky bass from Andrew Watt, while Keef and Woody seem to have accepted an invitation to get funky, and Jagger flings some falsetto vocals around for a laugh. There’s a constant sense of “This sounds a bit like . . . “, but the reference points are elusive, and anyway it all sounds so fresh it’s not worth bothering about.  ‘Live By The Sword’ is a return to down and dirty riffing, with Elton John of all people turning up to do some ivory bashing.  Jagger gradually winds himself up to some good ol’ fashioned contemptuous sneering, and those two guitars get down to some squealing interplay, while Bill Wyman turns up on bass.
They still find space to hark back to some other favoured avenues though.  ‘Depending On You’ is strum-along pseudo-country, with a neat lift-and-drop melody, Jagger resisting the temptation to go all cod-Americana with his vocal.  It’s elevated by sweeping strings and chiming piano, and all in all demonstrates that they still do this kinda thing better than most of yer latterday “Southern Rock” bands.  They also rediscover Dylan on the sparse and twangy ‘Dreamy Skies’, Jagger virtually channelling the old croaker as he moans that “That damn radio is all that I’ve got.  It just plays Hank Williams, and bad honky tonk.”  He also contributes some tootling melancholy harp, and I can imagine him and Keith grinning at each other as the last notes fall away, just because the music still does it for them.  Keith gets his own turn at the mic on the disarmingly simple ballad ‘Tell Me Straight’.  He’s not a great singer of course, but he still delivers the vocal with feeling, giving it a suitably wistful air.
The longest outing by far is ‘Sweet Sounds Of Heaven’, which opens with some barroom doodling on piano and guitar, before easing into a melody with distant echoes of ‘You Can’t Always Get You Want’.  Or maybe it’s 'Sweet Virginia'.  Or maybe . . . never mind.  Bit by bit it gathers angsty, gospelly momentum, Lady Gaga showing up to give Jagger some wailing company before horns and guitar fills roll up to raise the stakes further, and if they go back to that barroom for a breather it’s only to recharge their batteries for a final, soul-shaking assault.  Okay, so it doesn’t quite have the shocking, primal force of ‘Gimme Shelter’, but it’s still gripping stuff.
Along the way the deeper groove of ‘Get Close’ and the melodic twang of ‘Driving Me Too Hard’ don’t clear the high bar they’ve set on everything else, though they’re solid enough.  But when they close with a new take on Muddy Waters’ ‘Rolling Stone Blues’, going back to basics with hesitant, buzzing guitar and squawks of harp, and Jagger rolling back the years to moan’n’groan like his blues heroes, it’s a reminder of just how deep their roots go.
Old and gnarly they may be, but the Stones can still get some sap to rise now and then.  All that stuff about this maybe being their best album since Some Girls?  Who cares?  All I know is that Hackney Diamonds does, in fact, give me plenty satisfaction.
Hackney Diamonds is out now on Polydor Records.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram - Live In London

There are a couple of lazy phrases I come across from time to time that are guaranteed to get my goat:  “guitar prodigy”; and “future of the blues”.  Both these labels have been slapped on Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram in the past, but I’m pleased to say that on Live In London the Kingfish transcends such froth.  He simply does his thing, and does it very well indeed.
So what is his thing?  Well, a good example would be ‘Empty Promises’, a cover of a song by the late Michael Burks - a name new to me.  Ingram announces it with a piercing, near howling intro, but at heart it’s a soulful slow blues with a touch of Robert Cray about it.  It’s well-suited to Ingram’s warm, rich voice, which also has it own distinct character.  Then in due course he sets
Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram - The Spotlight Kid
Pic by Colin Hart
out on a squealing, scurrying solo, but full of changes of pace, moments of suspense, and handbrake turns in unexpected directions.
From moments like these the thought occurs that the Kingfish is, quite simply, a natural.  And really it's just confirmation of what he’s already displayed on ‘Fresh Out’, another slow blues about having bare shelves, both literally and metaphorically, after his baby done gone.  There’s nothing original about it, really, but the delivery is confident and sharp, with dizzying solos that duck and dive, show command of tension and release, and now and then drop down into playful quiet passages - a Kingfish trademark.
Funky blues is another Ingram sweet spot, as on the strutting and jiving ‘Hard Times’, which features an apt clavinet solo from Deshawn ‘D-Vibes’ Alexander to go with a swaggering effort from the main man.  ‘Not Gonna Lie’ is a brighter kinda animal, with twirling turnarounds and a sizzling wah-wah solo. And ‘Midnight Heat’ is perhaps cream of the funky crop, its deeper groove underlined by Paul Rogers bass and more clavinet from Alexander, while drummer Christopher Black gives his kit a good workout as they get well and truly syncopated on the bridge, and for good measure Ingram knocks out another guitar tale of the unexpected on his second solo.
He can also do the business on the less-is-more front too though, as evidenced by his solo acoustic turns on ‘Been Here Before’ and ‘Something In The Dirt’. The former is an old-style Delta blues affair that demonstrates the power of simplicity, and fits with the sentiments of a lyric about how his grandma thought Ingram had “been here before”.  ‘Something In The Dirt’ is a paean to his hometown of Clarksdale carrying echoes of ‘Key To The Highway’, in which he notes that “I played my first gig at a place called Red’s”.  A bit different, and perhaps even better, is the relaxed, rootsy and soulful ‘Listen’, on which Ingram’s simple acoustic strumming is augmented by washes and swirls of organ, culminating in a satisfying  B3 solo from Alexander.
The album’s not faultless, mind. Now and then Kingfish and co lapse into lounge bar jazziness, signalled right from the start with the limp piano on the intro to the opener ‘She Calls Me Kingfish’, and cropping up again on the likes of ‘Another Life Goes By’, and the maudlin ballad ‘Rock & Roll’.  There are also misguided fade-outs on ‘You’re Already Gone’ and ‘Not Gonna Lie’.  Fade-outs, on a live album?  I do not approve.  And while songs like ‘Fresh Out’ demonstrate that Ingram can hold the attention for nine minutes with ease, I’m not sure he needs the whole ten yards of the instrumental ‘Mississippi Night’ to get his point across, good as it is, while the lengthy intro to the encore of ‘Long Distance Woman’ is all a bit “meh”.
Much more to my taste are the set-closers ‘Outside Of This Town’ and ‘662’.  ‘Outside Of This Town’ sports a fuzzy, strutting riff as they get down and dirty over Black’s behind-the-beat swing, before Ingram whips up dollops of quicksilver soloing, punctuated by some typical toying quieter moments. And ‘662’ is an oomph-laden romp, a hip-wiggling shuffle that has sizzling Ingram guitar augmented by Alexander knocking out some honky tonk piano and gutsy organ, until a false ending lets them gather themselves for a surging victory lap.
Live In London crystallises what Christone Ingram has to offer, surpassing his two earlier studio albums.  Never mind all the hype - the Kingfish doesn't need it to grab the spotlight.
Live In London is out now on Alligator Records.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Leo Lyons & Hundred Seventy Split - Movin' On

Leo Lyons & Hundred Seventy Split is a hell of a mouthful for a band name – though in fact the ‘&’ is only there because I’ve stuck it in to make it sound more logical.  Presumably Leo Lyons’ name is on the tin because he still has some kind of recognition factor after playing for Ten Years After for many years, including their Woodstock heyday.  What does Hundred Seventy Split signify?  Don’t ask me Jack, ‘cause I don’t know.
Whatever, Lyons and his fellow Splitters Joe Gooch (guitar and vocals) and Damon Sawyer (drums) have been working together for over a decade now, and it shows in the cohesion of their musicianship.  Movin’ On – a bland title it has to be said – is a varied set of ten
Hundred Seventy Split - where'd the road crew go?
tunes, but regardless of the styles involved their delivery is polished.
Some of their best moments are British blues-leaning, as you might expect given Lyons’ roots. Opener ‘Walking In The Devil’s Shoes’ kicks in with a Creamy-sounding riff, switching between brisk verses and a mid-tempo chorus.  It has a satisfying heft that puts me in mind of latterday Savoy Brown – except that Joe Gooch’s clean, accurate vocals don’t have the character Kim Simmonds could bring to the party.  Gooch does offer plenty of sharp guitar work though, so he does earn his corn.  ‘Deep Beneath That Muddy Water’ is a moodier, gritty affair, balancing steely, acoustic-sounding strumming with flickering electric guitar fills, over a sombre beat, for me evoking Walter Trout in reflective mode – a serious compliment.  But while Gooch’s ducking and diving soloing gets high marks, he can’t match Trout’s personality on the vocal front – not that I want to mark the guy down for what is a pleasing, light voice, but I’d prefer some pipes of an earthier bent.
His voice benefits from some double-tracking on the lick-strewn boogie of ‘Mad Bad And Dangerous’ though, on which the trio’s sound is also beefed up by some guest Hammond organ from Bob Hadrell to produce one of the most satisfying tracks on offer.  A more mid-tempo rocker is ‘Sounded Like A Train’, which recalls a Nashville hurricane with appropriately guttural Gooch riffing, rubber band bass work from Lyons, and a suitably urgent Gooch vocal.  ‘Time To Kill’ aims for similar territory, with an ear-catching rumblin’ an’ rollin’ riff, matched by Lyons’ bass, over snapping drums from Sawyer.  But as a closing track it doesn’t quite pack enough punch.
A couple of swingier tunes work nicely though.  On ‘It’s So Easy To Slide’ Sawyer’s drums skip around breezily, complemented by Lyons’ bass bopping along jazzily, while Gooch hits the spot with a sackful of guitar frills and an easy-going vocal, and ultimately a pretty damn satisfying guitar solo too. And ‘Meet Me At The Bottom’ is perky fun too, a boozy, woozy blues with acoustic-ish guitar and stripped back, tripping drums.
Other songs are decent enough, but overlong.  ‘The Heart Of A Hurricane’ is an okay slice of Bryan Adams-like AOR, with some tasty sustained, ringing chords, but at seven minutes long it stays up way past its bedtime.  The slower ‘Black River’ isn’t quite so extended, but still doesn’t have sufficient content to justify its length.  But while ‘The Road Back Home’ could also do with a shave, it interweaves acoustic strumming and discursive lead guitar to good effect, together with a twirling Bad Company style riff, and an intriguing coda.
Movin’ On (still don’t rate that title) is an entertaining album, but a bit short in the raunch department.  It makes me visualise a stylish boxer who can jab and move all night, but who doesn’t have the haymaker to lay you out or the body punch to take your breath away.  All the same, it may do enough to win you over on a split decision.
Movin’ On is out now on Flatiron Recordings.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Joe Bonamassa - Blues Deluxe Vol.2

And so Joe Bonamassa releases his second album of the year.  But where the live album Tales Of Time was (mostly) an epic, quasi-proggy sounding animal, Blues Deluxe Vol.2 does (mostly) what it says on the tin, as Bonamassa goes back to his blues roots.  And the first thing to be said is that this collection of eight covers and two originals is a perfectly enjoyable affair.  However . . .
What I like about it is that much of the time Bonamassa and his gang sound like they’re having a real good time.  Guitar Slim’s ‘Well, I Done Got Over It’, for example, is honest to goodness,
Joe Bonamassa leans into the blues
Pic by Adam Kennedy
swinging fun, with behind-the-beat drums from Lamar Carter and strolling bass from Calvin Turner, plus schmoozing horns and a neat shift in the backing to underpin JB’s solo.  The following ‘I Want To Shout About It’ underlines the point, hinting at Sam Cooke and even Fats Domino in its swaying soulfulness, all burbling bass, lazy beat and good-time backing vocals – but amped up into an R’n’B swinger of a very Springsteen-esque disposition, with Federici-like organ from Reese Wynans, sparkling guitar play from Bonamassa, and hell, even a sassy sax solo from Paulie Cerra to brighten your day.
‘Lazy Poker Blues’ simplifies things even further, shuffling along briskly and giving a jolt of 21st century electricity to the Fleetwood Mac boogie, with some piercing guitar from Joey boy and barroom piano stylings from Wynans to generate even more of a party mode.  Meantime ‘Hope You Realize It (Goodbye Again)’ goes uptempo in a different, funkier direction, with lots of drive and oomph powered along by Turner’s motoring bass, before downshifting into a jazzier, horn-inflected bridge to introduce Bonamassa’s solo.
When it comes to slower stuff, the album opens with ‘Twenty-Four Hour Blues’, originally recorded by Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland.  And very good it is too, with sweeps of strings recalling Bland’s stylings, with Bonamassa’s confident delivery demonstrating just how much his vocals have improved over the years.  All the same, he can’t quite match the languid soulfulness Bobby had at his disposal, though he does make up for it with some sizzling soloing.  In a similar vein, while Paul Rodgers would surely make a better fist of Albert King’s ‘You Sure Drive A Hard Bargain’, Bonamassa has a good enough shot at it for you to imagine it being an outtake from Rodgers’ Royal Sessions album.
‘Win-O’ is a proper slow blues, in a reflective rather than elegiac vein.  However – remember that however up top? – I could live without the horns that pop up to gild the lily with squirting interjections now and then.  And same applies to ‘The Truth Hurts’, a Kenny Neal song on which both Kirk Fletcher and Josh Smith turn up to supply guest vocals and guitar, but which suffers from a so-so arrangement on which the horns again take up too much space, distracting from the contributions of the three guitar honchos, which should surely be the USP of the track.
Also however, and not for the first time, I feel like Bonamassa has got overly used to the presence of backing vocals filling out songs.  They make good contributions at times here, but are they really necessary on ‘Is It Safe To Go Home’, the closing track written by Josh Smith? It’s an archetypal Bonamassa epic slow blues, on which he delivers a good, committed vocal, but those swelling backing voices and the strings (or string-sounding keys) take it away from the rootsy mood and back towards the widescreen stylings of Tales Of Time.
So like I said, Blues Deluxe Vol.2 is a perfectly enjoyable album.  But I think it’s time for Joe Bonamassa to let go of a few over-familiar elements of his recent sound, and shake things up more.  Go on Joe, and surprise us!
Blues Deluxe Vol.2 is out now, and can be ordered here.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Brian Setzer - The Devil Always Collects

Same old same old – but still great fun!  That pretty much sums up The Devil Always Collects, the new album from Brian Setzer of Stray Cats fame.  To listen to this album is to enter a time warp back to the 50s and maybe early 60s, guided by a guy who was only born during that period, but who has been inhabiting it for over 40 years now.  And his love for the sounds and vibes of that rock’n’roll explosion shines through.
There are tunes here that are pure Stray Cats in feel, and if they can’t magic up the sense of brash novelty that the trio conveyed way back in the 80s, they’re still belters.  The opener ‘Rock Boys Rock’ is driven along by rattling drums and rocking stand-up bass from Victor Indrizzo and David Spicher, punctuated by whooping and hollering vocal interpolations from Jennifer Goforth
Brian Setzer - Rock boy, rock!
 and/or Setzer’s missus Julie, while the man himself knocks out a scorching rockabilly guitar solo.  There’s a tug o’war going on between the verses and chorus on ‘Psycho Suzie’, as the drums and bass get another good skelping on a rockabilly workout in support of Setzer twanging and surging his way around with licks galore.
‘One Particular Chick’ isn’t quite ‘Stray Cat Strut’ revisited, but it’s still a finger-snapping woozy stroll down the sidewalk on a sultry evening, with Setzer merrily crooning away about clicking at first sight with the chick of the title.  Best of all though, is the hoot that is ‘Girl On The Billboard’.  Its lyrics may be cartoonish, but they’re still breath-sappingly brilliant as Setzer delivers them like a hepped-up, rock’n’rollin’ Johnny Cash, over backing that bounces along in irresistible fashion, this time with Jimmy Lee Sloas wielding electric bass.
But there’s more variety on offer with the likes of ‘The Living Dead’, another languid ballad but this time with a spooky vibe like a David Lynch soundtrack, ooh-oohing female backing vocals adding to the atmosphere as Setzer adopts his crooning tone once again.  Better still though is ‘She’s Got A Lotta . . . Soul!’, which lives up to its title with horn-drenched sassiness over a Peter Gunn-like bassline and Bo Diddley-leaning rhythm to provide a dance-like-no-one’s-watching opportunity.
Elsewhere there’s a cover of Nick Lowe’s ‘Play That Fast Thing (One More Time) that carries more than a hint of Rockpile as it skips along at mid-pace, and though the verses may be a bit so-so the chorus has a hook fit to land a marlin.  ‘Black Leather Jacket’ is a “gotta have the rumble” romance, with the eponymous jacket just one of the objects of the hero’s affection as he reflects on weaving down the road on his motorsickel, dicing with Dead Man’s Curve.  Meanwhile ‘The Devil Always Collects’ may be a low-down, rumbling warning against deals with El Diablo, but it still cracks along at a hectic pace.  (By the by, something about this track keeps putting me in mind of Whitesnake's 'Hot Stuff'.  Go figure!)
Sure, this is unreconstructed old-time rock’n’roll.  Sure, the songs can get a bit silly on the wordsmithing front now and then.  But the talents of Setzer and his band of compadres, bring this stuff to vibrant life sufficiently to ignore a few sub-par moments.  Still bequiffed, still committed, still rockin’.
The Devil Always Collects is out now on Surfdog Records, and can be ordered here.