Friday, November 24, 2023

Philip Sayce - Oran Mor, Glasgow, 23 November 2023

Philip Sayce comes onstage sporting a fetching hat, and with a scarf dangling from the bottom of the 1963 Stratocaster he calls Big Daddy. He embarks on a bit of star-spangled lead guitar fluttering just to get warmed up, and then bursts into the choppy, neck-snapping, crunking, and frankly irresistible ‘Out Of My Mind’.  He cracks out a couple of hair-raising guitar breaks, then encourages a bit of handclapping, at which point I half-expect him to drawl “Move over Rover, and let Philip take over.”  You know what I’m talkin’ about?  But instead he dives into a grinding riff as the launchpad for a rollercoaster of finger-blurring, sky scraping fretwork, and ultimately a whammy bar cranking close.
You get the picture?  Philip Sayce is a five star, 24 carat axe fandangler, with a Hendrix influence
Philip Sayce - the quickness of the hand deceives the eye
pinned proudly on his sleeve, whose raison d’être is to try and set fire to that venerable ol’ Strat with just his fingertips.  And to anyone who might be inclined to sneer at that, I’d just say this – he does it very, very entertainingly.
Using a grinding blues intro as a springboard for the punchy rock-funk of ‘Powerful Thing’, he bounces around like an excitable puppy to the jabs and thrusts of rock solid drummer Bryan Head and bassist Sam Bolle, evidently having a whale of a time himself.  Then on the rolling stomp of ‘Bitter Monday’ – which, like several other tunes here, has a plenty infectious hook – he squeezes out a squelchy wah-wah solo, before letting loose a big drone of feedback, then fanning the strings with his right hand in a way fit to give him friction burns.
The way that howl of feedback gets a cheer of its own is testament to the healthy quotient of guitar fanatics in the house, and as the set progresses it’s clear their Christmas has come early.  Personally, as our Phil embarks on the slow, spacey blues of ‘Once’, with a whammy-warping opening to his solo, I’m fixated on two questions:  a) does he use a pick?  And b), if he does, where does it disappear to when he doesn’t?  It takes me half the show to be sure that yes, he does put a plectrum to work alongside his apparently double-jointed fingers, and the rest of the set to spot the sleight of hand with which he tucks it away.
But y’know, it’s also only fair to note that the fella has a good voice, showing off great phrasing on an SRV-like reading of ‘Blues Ain’t Nothin’ But A Good Woman On Your Mind’.  And he shows
Big Daddy goes strapless
a handy way with a rhythmic vocal too, on ‘Beautiful’, another chunk of stop-time funk into which they pump a pint of very ‘Hey Joe’-like bassy riffing.
Sayce is capable of slowing things down, as on ‘Aberystwyth’ (named after his birthplace) with its nicely developed themes, and the meditative ‘5.55’.  Bursts of scurrying prestidigitation are never too far away though, much as I might wish he could cool his jets and show a bit more patience at times.  He does show a handy way with some volume controlled weeping on ‘5.55’ though, along with a spell of near-silent picking à la Alan Nimmo of King King.
The closing stretch brings more tough stop-start funkiness in the form of ‘Morning Star’, with its whirlpool of a solo.  It segues into ‘Spanish Castle Magic’ in monster riffing fashion just to underline the Jimi influence, Sayce whipping Big Daddy from his shoulders to scrape the neck off the low ceiling, which really is no way to treat an expensive musical instrument (© Jim Steinman).  Needless to say, the crowd go nuts.
They encore with ‘As The Years Go Passing By’, a song recalled from his days working with Jeff Healey many moons ago, though I’d have preferred him to render it with Gary Moore’s restraint.  But hey, they rock out with ‘I’m Going Home’ to finish on a decisive upbeat note, Sayce even taking a wander off stage – though not far, ‘cause his Strat ain’t cordless, remember?
On one level the whole focus on wang dang guitar wrangling isn’t entirely my thing.  I’d prefer a bit more focus on the songs, and a bit more structure.  On the other hand though – hot damn but Philip Sayce puts on a show.

Monday, November 20, 2023

King King - Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh, 19 November 2023

Maybe it’s the compact venue.  Maybe it’s the clear but beefy sound.  Maybe it’s something indefinable.  But whatever it is, King King’s mojo is well and truly working right from the git-go.  On record the opening ‘Dance Together’ is a pleasing chunk of funky fun, but not tonight.  Tonight it’s a big fat statement of intent, the two Les Pauls of Alan and Stevie Nimmo harmonising on the intro, before Jonny Dyke’s organ rips in to whip things up.  And when he gets round to it, Alan Nimmo’s solo squeals like a thing possessed.  Welcome back, my friends.
Alan Nimmo senses the traditional bagginess of the kilt
‘Long Time Running’ is a blues-rocking blast, with those two Les Pauls packing a serious rhythm guitar wallop, and on a crunching rendition of ‘Heed The Warning’ they’re tight-tight-tight all the way to the guitar harmony ending.  Then they show their sensitive side on ‘By Your Side’, with bluesy guitar over delicate piano on the intro, and poignant harmonies that exhibit just one of the benefits of bringing Stevie Nimmo into the fold.  And then the song metamorphoses into a power ballad with the emphasis on power, capped by a howling Alan Nimmo solo.
Emotional epics are of course a King King trademark.  Not widescreen, cinematic tales, but songs that give expression to life’s challenges.  ‘Long History Of Love’ is one of the best songs in this vein you’ll find anywhere - the first King King song I ever heard, still my favourite in their repertoire, and tonight given a terrific reading - with Alan Nimmo on excellent vocal form despite evidently being irritated by a slight cough.  ‘Whatever It Takes To Survive’ is another, more defiant example from their latest album Maverick, tonight dedicated to still-recovering Thunder singer Danny Bowes. Easing in with downbeat images of isolation and despair, it then surges into a promise of hope with what is, tonight, a chorus that sounds well and truly massive.  And that chorus gets reworked into an all too brief zinger of a twin guitar attack from the Nimmo brothers.  More of this kind of thing please, fellas!   Meanwhile, ‘Rush Hour’ may have become one of the traditional moments for the King King choir to exercise their lungs, but it begins with contemplation of everyday pressures before swelling into its gutsy “You believe in me” exclamation.
There are singalong moments on ‘You’ll Stop The Rain’ too, which nowadays comes with a huge a cappella intro.  It doesn’t go in for light-and-shade dynamics like the songs mentioned above, but as an impassioned expression of sympathy to an ailing loved one, it simply takes off into
Brothers in arms
another dimension through Alan Nimmo’s solo, while drummer Andrew Scott gives his kit a fearful hammering for thunderous emphasis.
But amid all the emotional heave-ho there’s also the togetherness and fun that Alan Nimmo has always brought to the table, the sense of being reunited with long-standing pals, having a laugh.  Responding to a malfunction with Jonny Dyke’s keyboard set-up that necessitates a technical pause, he observes that “Our tech guy’s away working with Michael Schenker – fucking traitor!”   Welcoming “newbies” among the audience he laments that they’ve taken so long to come on board: “I was young and good-looking when we started this!”  And as he’s introducing ‘You’ll Stop The Rain’ he casually mentions that it’s actually brother Stevie’s birthday, resulting in a spontaneous chorus of ‘Happy Birthday To You’.
And speaking of Stevie, he delivers a wowser of a guitar showcase on the funk-inflected set closer ‘I Will Not Fall’, as a precursor to an electrifying tandem guitar break.  More of this kind of thing, please!  (Did I say that already?)
They come back for just the one encore, with another matters-of-the-heart epic in ‘Stranger To Love’, replete with Alan’s patented sotto voce guitar picking spot, and peaking with he and drummer Andrew Scott going at it hammer and tongs as it reaches its climax.
I wasn’t there when Alan Nimmo set out on his King King journey back in 2008, but I’ve seen them live plenty of times over the last 8 years, and this was the performance of theirs I’ve enjoyed most for a while.  Sure, I might have liked a sneak preview of a new song or two, but all in good time.  For now I sense this line-up have discovered some deeper gears, and fresh possibilities, that hold out the promise of even better things to come.  Bring on the new album, guys!

Friday, November 17, 2023

Paul Rodgers - Midnight Rose

Obviously I’m a bit behind the curve with a review of this new ‘un from Paul Rodgers.  Fact is, I didn’t even know Midnight Rose was out till a few weeks ago, when I saw a review by a fellow blogger.  But I’m glad I’ve caught up with it in the last couple of weeks.
The opening track ‘Coming Home’ is almost worth the purchase price alone.  A big fat chugging riff sets forth over a thumping beat from Rick Fedyk, and then that soulful, liquid, head-turning weighs to lift the thing to a whole other level. Welcome back Paul – the more so in the wake of the strokes and life-threatening illness that could easily have silenced that voice for good.  He manages to soar too, on the bridge, and there’s a quicksilver guitar solo* if all of the above ain’t enough for you.
Paul Rodgers - still soulful after all these years
Pic by Ron Lyon
Also featuring in the wallopingly good stakes is ‘Living It Up’, a paean to life in America (with a nod to Canada, where he actually lives most of the year) driven by strutting, stop-time riffing interspersed with helter-skelter guitar lines, while Rodgers spells out his affection for the “Home of the blues and the heart of soul”, and observes that “Memphis music moved me so – and I’ve never been the same”.  Meanwhile ‘Photo Shooter’ is a sturdy affair, with a tough swagger to its backing, and some neat guitar harmonies, but its dispassionate commentary on the role of a news photographer is less emotionally engaged than the other songs here.
There’s a different, sunny-side-up vibe to ‘Dance In The Sun’, which opens with classical guitar from Rob Dewar spinning a sparkling web.  A song about consigning pain to the past and looking forward with optimism, it’s given an extra layer of warmth by the backing vocals of Leslie Page and hints of Latin rhythms before it closes with children’s laughter.  ‘Take Love’ then picks up the positivity baton in a rockier, but still relaxed fashion.  It builds from an acoustic intro, and there are plenty of nippy slide embellishments as Rodgers brightly offers encouragement to “Take love when you find it, ‘cause it may not come so easy next time”, with more multi-tracked harmonies cooked up by Paige, as well as more extemporised injections of extra soul.
‘Midnight Rose’ is a contemplative ballad that takes a different musical tack, with a foundation of mandolin strumming and violin adding some elegiac texture as Rodgers croons that “I know that I have had no one to tell me I am not alone”, backed by some choir-like wordless harmonies.  It gathers a little more strength as it progresses, but in truth it becomes a bit repetitive.
Way back when, Rodgers showed a fondness for “cowboy” themed lyrics on the likes of ‘Bad Company’, and another one surfaces here with ‘Highway Robber’, a patient bit of High Noon-like storytelling about a shootout between renegades and a lawman, with chiming acoustic guitar embroidered by flickerings of spangly electric.  The closing ‘Melting’ also deploys some Western-sounding backing as it opens with a spiralling acoustic guitar motif over a queit, tapped out beat, but is rather better to these ears.  Partly it’s a plea for refuge from troubled times and (echoing Robert Johnson) “hounds of hell on my trail”.  But it also has a mystical, Zen-like vibe at times - especially towards the end - and as it muscles up halfway through, with Todd Ronning’s bass picking up that earlier motif, Rodgers brings more ache and passion to his vocal.
Midnight Rose is Paul Rodgers’ first album of original material in 24 years.  It may not be a 24-carat knockout, but it does show that his songwriting talent is still very much intact – and thankfully that classic voice is still the business.

*Electric guitar duties on the album are shared by Ray Roper and Keith Scott, but there's no info about who plays lead when.

Midnight Rose is out now on Sun Records. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Long Road Home - Are We Invisible?

Long Road Home make no secret of the fact that they have a penchant for Seventies classic rock. Not that you’d be in any doubt after a listen to their debut album Are We Invisible? With a line-up that balances guitar and Hammond organ, they’re well equipped to reminisce about the heyday of Deep Purple, Uriah Deep et al. And subject to a few caveats they make a pretty good job of it too.
They set out their stall nicely on the opening ‘Long Road Home’. A sturdy, thrusting riff comes gilded with swirling keys, over a muscular rhythm section, and harmonies add colour to the chorus. Guitarist Steve Summers get bonus marks for his biting solo, and the splurge of organ from Ian Salisbury isn’t far behind.
Long Road Home - a bongo dog doo-dah band?
They wear some influences on their sleeve with ‘I Lose Again’ and ‘Where I Wanna Be’.  The first features a splash-and-twirl riff that’s very Hendrix á la ‘Foxy Lady’, and is nicely put together with guitar and organ taking turns at the wheel, Summers impressing again.  The second sports an urgent, fuzzy riff buttressed by surges of Salisbury’s organ, ordered straight from the Deep Purple catalogue circa 1972, and romps along very nicely till a dialled down bridge over swooning keys.  This is the cue for lift-off with a thoroughly Blackmore-esque solo from Summers, and indeed some distinctly Blackmore-Lord styled interplay.  It’s all good fun, although the melodies are nothing to write home about, and Mike Sebbage’s vocals don’t really have the attack and range to ram home these rockers.
Sebbage is more comfortable when he can relax into a lower pitch, as on the elegant ‘What They Call The Blues’, with its stretchy bass from Derek White, mellow piano, and spacey wah-wah guitar.  ‘Whispering Rain’ also hits the spot in quiet mode, with a Gary Moore-like bluesy guitar intro, a measured, reverb-soaked vocal, and a soulful organ solo from Salisbury.
They throw in some variations with ‘Are We Invisible’ and ‘I Don’t Like Belong Here’.  The title track features an intriguing, squiggly-toned riff and hints of Latin in Lee Morrell’s rolling drums, now and then supplemented by bongos.  Impressive harmonies add an AOR gloss to proceedings, and Summers brings a jazzier tone to his fluttering guitar solo.  Meanwhile there’s a touch of funky strut to ‘I Don’t Belong Here’ with its squelching wah-wah riff and stabs of horn-like keys.  There are distinct echoes of Whitesnake’s ‘Girl’ at work here, but lacking the soulful swagger David Coverdale could bring to bear.
They find some good moves on the closing twinset of ‘Gone Gone Gone’ and ‘Perfect Afternoon’ as well.  The former opens with jaunty acoustic strumming and a droll, drawled vocal, before picking up the pace as Summers embarks on a skating slide solo, and Salisbury similarly switching things with a honky tonk piano break.  And the closing ‘Perfect Afternoon’ warms up with a courtly, Wishbone Ash-like intro before kicking in with another crunchy, jab-and -move riff over crisp drums and throbbing bass.  They buff it up with more AOR polish, and Summers’ guitar seasoning is tasty again, but the melody is a bit lacklustre, and boy do some of their harmonies go off-kilter on this occasion.
There’s some fat could have been trimmed from Are We Invisible?, and it would have benefitted from some stronger hooks and a bit of tidying up.  But the enthusiasm and facility Long Road Home display for blues-inflected Seventies classic rock sounds is still infectious.
Are We Invisible? is out now, and can be ordered here.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Various Artists - Heavenly Cream: An Acoustic Tribute To Cream

So here we have an array of big names, including the likes of Bernie Marsden, Ginger Baker, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Rodgers and Maggie Bell, getting together in various combinations to deliver an acoustic tribute to Cream.  This raises a coupla questions, I’d say.  Like, why acoustic?  And really, when you get right down to it, just - why?
The answer to the second question seems to be simply that it was cooked up as a result of a discussion between a Quarto Valley Records honcho and sometime Cream lyricist Pete Brown, the latter then kicking off the trawl for some personnel.  As for the first question, your guess is as good as mine.
It's Ginger Baker - stand well back!
And since we’re talking about Pete Brown, the guy crops up to sing on three tracks here: ‘White Room’, ‘Theme For An Imaginary Western’ and ‘Politician’.  And his vocals are, to be blunt, consistently duff.  It’s a significant handicap to all three songs, though ‘White Room’ is at least graced by an interesting string arrangement.  But towards the end of a rather plodding take on ‘Politician’ Brown reaches a real low with a spoken interlude that is simply embarrassing.
To be honest, the omens aren’t that good right from the intro to the opening ‘I Feel Free’, where the “bomp-bomp-ba-bomp-bomp” vocal motif is accompanied by some ill-advised plonking piano notes from Malcolm Bruce, the multi-instrumentalist son of Jack Bruce who is a mainstay of the album’s cast list.  Thankfully he makes more positive contributions elsewhere, such as his wistful, controlled vocal on the airy ‘We’re Going Wrong’ (also featuring some tasteful strings), and his excellent elasticated bass on ‘Deserted Cities Of The Heart’.
‘Deserted Cities . . .’ is one of two tracks featuring Joe Bonamassa, who brings the lyrics to life with a punchy vocal, over some steely strumming in tandem with Bernie Marsden, and also contributes a highly enjoyable spangly acoustic solo.  Bonamassa and Marsden also join forces on a satisfying version of ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’, deploying a buzzing guitar effect to add some
The late lamented Bernie Marsden does his stuff
extra zip over the suitably pummelling drums and percussion of Ginger Baker – yes indeed – and Abass Dodoo respectively.
There are some other good moments too, notably on the celebrated Cream covers ‘Crossroads’, ‘Spoonful’ and ‘Sitting On The Top Of The World’.  Bernie Marsden digs out a growl to provide some necessary earthiness on the first, and adds a sterling acoustic solo - naturally.  And while I’m not keen on Bobby Rush’s normal schtick, he certainly brings authentic blues groaning and squawking harp to ‘Spoonful’ and ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’, on the latter duetting with Maggie Bell, whose pipes are also still in full working order.
But here’s the thing: these renditions have much more to do with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon than Cream.  And that’s fine by me, but seems to miss the point.
Elsewhere, Deborah Bonham delivers a fine vocal on a slinky reading of ‘Badge’.  But when Paul Rodgers pops up on the closing ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ my first thought is that it’s not a patch on the version on his own Royal Sessions album, and would have benefitted from the warmth and depth of that album’s horns. But guess what?  Elsewhere on this set we have the legendary Pee Wee Ellis contributing sax to ‘Tales Of Brave Ulysses” and the nondescript ‘Sweet Wine’, along with trumpet from Henry Lowther.  Go figure.
So Heavenly Cream is a strange brew of good stuff and misfires, and in fact an odd project altogether.  I come back to that question – why acoustic?  Cream’s studio stuff may sound a bit undercooked nowadays, but they really made their name by cranking everything up live: the virtuosity, the jamming, and yes, the volume.  They were the original power trio.  So why dream up a tribute that travels resolutely in the opposite direction?  Beats me squire.
Heavenly Cream: An Acoustic Tribute To Cream is out now on Quarto Valley Records.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Kenny Wayne Shepherd - Dirt On My Diamonds Vol 1

“I like a little dirt on my diamonds, like my edges rough,” go the opening lines on the title track of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s latest album.  Which is a bit ironic, because “glossy” would be a pretty good adjective for the sound dialled up by Shepherd and his co-producer Marshall Altman on Dirt On My Diamonds Vol 1.  But by and large it’s glossy in a good way, and they pull out a few little tricks here and there to spice things up.
‘Sweet & Low’ is a good example, with its smoochy trumpet intro like some jazz station has been playing in the background, before Shepherd and co punch up a loping groove, with a twiddly riff augmented by bursts of a chirruping, electro-sounding rhythm effect over the steady beat.  The lyrics may be middling fare, but full marks are due for the effects-soused guitar solo, which
Kenny Wayne Shepherd - Roughen up those edges, boy!
Pic by Jim Arbogast
verges on voicebox levels of expressiveness.  There are horns beefing things up too – and we’ll get back to them later.  ‘Best Of Times’ is a band’s eye travelogue similarly enlivened by Shepherd’s squelching guitar accompaniment over a snappy snare measure from drummer Chris Layton, though it manages to get a bit repetitive even in the space of three and half minutes.
‘You Can’t Love Me’ is a strong song though, an easy-going affair with an intriguing lyric addressed to a girl apparently burdened with some “ishoos”.  Shepherd flits in and out of the soulful groove with a subtle guitar figure, complemented by sparks of organ.  It might even be the best thing here, though it has serious competition from the closing ‘Ease Of Mind’.  A straight-up slow blues, ‘Ease Of Mind’ sports a plenty satisfying, emotive vocal, with Shepherd contributing some pinging guitar licks as a warm-up for a quality, clear-toned solo that also captures the emotional theme.  A second solo picks up the baton in similarly convincing fashion, alternating between suspense and scrabbling release – maybe a tad too much of the latter – over a last beat and washes of organ.  What’s more, there are no horns on this here track.
Not that horns are a bad thing per se, or that the horns in evidence here are bad.  But it seems to me there’s just too much of ‘em.  They’re all very well on the mildly funky ‘Man On A Mission’, adding soulful punctuation as Shepherd’s guitar flickers and chimes over the skipping drums, building to a fuzzy’n’fluid solo that darts around in novel fashion.  But they’re surplus to requirements on something like ‘Bad Intentions’, a song that aims to be tough with its slam-dunk riff but whose vocals lack the requisite heft.  Credit to Shepherd though, he maintains the impetus with a skedaddling solo, and on a later turn adds still more cutting edge.
A cover of ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ seems like playing it a bit safe, especially when the vocal lacks ol’ Elton’s punchy brio, and with Jimmy McGorman’s piano-pounding too low in the mix.  But the longer they stick with it the more they kick up some dust, with Shepherd going to town on a crackling solo.
Dirt On My Diamonds Vol 1 is a solidly entertaining album that finds Shepherd on fine six-string form.  But I’d have liked more of that spirit of sonic adventure hinted at on ‘Sweet & Low’.  There’s a moment on the title track when some oddly tweeping organ bubbles to the surface, and is more fresh and intriguing in a few bars than swathes of the horns buttering things up. Dare to be different Kenny, and get some real dirt on them diamonds!
Dirt On My Diamonds Vol 1 is released on 17 November by Provogue Records, and can be ordered here.