Monday, December 18, 2023

Mike Zito & Albert Castiglia - Blood Brothers: Live In Canada

Reviewing these guys' Blood Brothers studio album back in March, I expressed a “nagging feeling that this album could have been so much bigger, so much bolder – a fusion of Zito and Castiglia to blow the bloody doors off”.  Well, friends, I am here to tell you that THIS IS THAT FREAKIN’ ALBUM!
From the minute they crack open ‘Hey Sweet Mama’, everything is just as it should be.  The Quo-like boogie-ing riff rings out like a bell to pave the way for a Skynyrd-like blast of rocking blues, their voices fitting together perfectly as Mike Zito provides high harmonies to complement Albert Castiglia’s growl, while Lewis Stephens flings in piano trills as an extra spark.  Oh yeah, and there are rock’n’rollin’ solos from both parties to top things off.
"Hey Mike, I think he likes it!"

The following ‘Tooth And Nail’ confirms that they mean business.  It starts off as a sturdy strut, with harmonised guitars cranking out its ‘Green Onions’-ish riff, with slamming punctuation from the doubled up drums of Matt Johnson and Ephraim Lowell and a snarling vocal from Castiglia.  But it builds up a head of steam through rollercoaster passages of slide guitar, till it turns into a tyre-squealing, siren-blazing, bodywork-crunching car chase of a thing.
And so it goes on.  ‘In My Soul’ is a Southern-sounding epic to give recent leaders of that pack Robert Jon & The Wreck a run for their money and then some, bringing together spangly, mirrorball-like strumming, thudding drums, sweeps of organ, and more great harmonies, before lifting off into a whole other, stratospheric level of spiralling guitar and Zito singing feelingly that “I need love in my soul”.  ‘A Thousand Heartaches’ opens with simple chords and a tumbling guitar line, as a precursor to the swoonsome melody that illuminates its achingly romantic lyric, with dashes of perfectly complementary piano and organ.  With all its light and shade, and a stunning, intense solo, it’s a real delight.
Ten of the eleven tracks on the studio album feature, but the likes of ‘No Good Woman’ and ‘My Business’ seem transformed.  The former is a relaxed, loping blues of the kind Zito has made a speciality over the years, and in this rendition is bristling with character.  Meanwhile John Hiatt’s ‘My Business’ rides a Willie Dixon-style Chicago blues riff that sounds like it’s being attacked by a panel beater with a grudge, and features a screeching, buzzsaw-on-metal slide solo to go with the acidic distaste of the vocals.
Fans of the Allmans are likely to drool over ‘Hill Country Jam’, a lengthy but structured instrumental that evolves from its loose, conversational opening full of neat guitar harmonising into a funky strut that’s the cue for a pumped-up organ solo from Lewis Stephens, building until they downshift into a breezy section. There’s fine guitar work and clever shifts in pace, with swinging drums and grooving bass from Doug Byrkit, culminating in several minutes’ worth of bass and drums showcases – some of which is even quite interesting.
More pointed is the bitter, teeth-gritted slow blues ‘You’re Gonna Burn’, on which Castiglia observes convincingly that “I don’t get mad but I get even, if it takes me a hundred years”, and adds a fiery guitar solo to live up to the title.  And ‘Bag Me, Tag Me’ is a burst of heads down, no nonsense rock’n’roll, like Chuck Berry hopped up on amphetamines, fit to make you to dance like no-one is watching.
Which just leaves two tracks that didn’t feature on the studio outing.  Firstly there’s a laid back rendition of Zito’s atmospheric, swaying ‘Gone To Texas’, extended to accommodate guitar harmonies and counterpointing that eventually resolve into the theme from ‘Jessica’ – a trick that’s become a cliché nowadays, but I’ll let ‘em off on this occasion.  And then they close by laying waste to all and sundry with a pulverising, guitar-scrambling, neck-snapping take on ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ that does justice to Neil Young’s frothing rage.
In short, Blood Brothers – Live In Canada is 78 minutes of electrifyin' bluesifyin’ from two of the good guys, and you need it in your life. But check your insurance, because it may indeed blow your bloody doors off.
Blood Brothers – Live In Canada is out now on Gulf Coast Records.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Robert Connely Farr - Pandora Sessions

We’re talking down and dirty, people.  And I don’t mean some kind of greasy boogie.  I mean a corner of some juke joint you’ve stumbled into after losing your way in the dark, and losing your boots too, god knows how; and there's no floorboards and you can feel the dust messing up the soles of your feet; and there’s some guy over there with a guitar groaning like he needs a doctor. That kind of down and dirty.  And yeah, that fella with the battered six-string may well be Mississippi-born Robert Connely Farr.
I mean, there is a groove to the cheerfully titled opener ‘Everybody’s Dyin (Oh Lord I’m Getting Old)’, but it’s a primitive sounding thing, chugging and rattling and wheezing along while Farr growls his despair until it eventually expires.  And I’ve described Farr’s guitar sound as “warped” before, when reviewing his previous album Shake It, but it’s still a good fit for the bent and
Robert Connely Farr and Jay Bundy Johnson - sharp dressed men
Pic by Tyler McLeod
twisted notes that struggle to mesh with the dragging rhythm laid down by Jay Bundy Johnson on ‘Prowler’, while Farr drawls spooky musings about heading to Chattanooga and Vicksburg.
These guys’ modus operandi is very much less is more – as Farr puts it, “you set up, start playing, and the songs come”.  Now, you could call that jamming, but it sounds more organic, like that ol’ Zen poem: “I fetch water. I break sticks. Miracles happen!”  Or not, maybe, when the instrumental ‘Runnin Hidin Jam’, with its clanking percussion and abrasive guitar, sounds less like the path to enlightenment than scratching your head with a cheese grater.  In a good way, mind you.  And ironically, considering its title, ‘Take It Slow’ is also relatively upbeat – relatively, I say – with its spiky guitar and stop-start drums combining in a lurching groove.
On the other hand, ‘Gettin Tired Of Gettin Old’ is contemplative, with low down, slowly spiralling guitar notes and prickly chords as the foundation for Farr’s world-weariness.  Meanwhile ‘Night Train’ sho’ ain’t no James Brown cover, with stuttering, twanging guitar over the pattering drums sketching out a loose rhythm.  Similarly ‘Train Keep Rollin’ bears no relation to the Yardbirds or (heaven help us) Aerosmith, but features some geezer riding the rails who “Ain’t got nowhere to go”, to the accompaniment of Farr’s guitar looping and scrabbling like barbed wire tangled across no-man’s land.  And if you think the bonus track ‘Go Cat Go’ might be a bit of rock’n’roll then think again, because it finds Farr moaning “I bet I’m gonna walk now I bet I’m gonna Go Cat Go” over stumbling drums and fuzzy guitar, sounding trapped and ever more frustrated, like a prisoner on Death Row willing a pardon to turn up before the clock ticks down to midnight.
Less is more, like I said, and on Pandora Sessions Farr and his drummer/producer Johnson pretty much dispense with the bass that gave an extra layer to earlier albums.  Hell, they scarcely bother with drums on the bleak, droning ‘Where I Come From’, while ‘Oh Lord’ is boiled right down to a rolling guitar line and a plaintive, moaning mantra from Farr.
So sure, Pandora Sessions is nobody’s barrel of laughs.  And being honest, a few tunes are just a bit too under-nourished to latch onto.  But let yourself fall into it, follow Farr into its heart of darkness, and even if you don’t like it there’s something you’ll recognise.  It’s the blues, Jack.
Pandora Sessions is out now.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Bernie Marsden - Working Man

When Bernie Marsden died back in August, at the age of 72, it felt to me that it was untimely, that he’d gone too soon.  The fact that he’d just completed this album of new material earlier in the summer underlines that feeling.  He was still, in the words of the album title, a working man – still making music.  So it’s sad to be thinking of him in the past tense when getting to grips with this collection.
His name has always been associated with blues and blues-rock, but don’t come to Working Man those styles to dominate.  In fact just two of the 12 tracks on the album walk in the shadow of the blues, as it were.  The mid-paced opener ‘Being Famous’ strides in with a crunching riff  
Bernie Marsden - a working man with tool of his trade
Pic by Adam Kennedy
and some wiry lead lines, announcing a strong tune about the high life lived by rock stars back in the day,
Bernie’s punchy vocal backed up nicely by female voices.  Is it startlingly original?  No, it’s not – but it is very satisfying.  And so, later on, is the strutting, edgy ‘Bad Reputation’, with its piercing solo.  It’s a song to make you wish David Coverdale, with his stronger vocal muscle (in his better days at least), had still had Marsden’s skills at his disposal all these years.
These may be the only out-and-out blues-rockers on the album proper, but if you want more in the same vein, then grab the limited first pressing which comes with a bonus album of ten tracks.  Here you’ll find a couple more rockers in the shape of ‘Look At Me Now’ and ‘Who’s Fooling Who’, which both come with tough, gutsy riffs, especially the latter.  Bernie knocks out an effortlessly classy solo on ‘Look At Me Know’, and on ‘Who’s Fooling Who’ leaves room for a powerful, surging organ solo, which I’m guessing is delivered by Bob Fridzema.
Back on the main album, Marsden goes down a more melodic, AOR-ish road on several tracks, such as ‘Midtown’, ‘Invisible’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’.  The first of these starts out acoustic-led, and when it changes gear suggests Toto as much as anything bluesy, with lots of backing vocals (male this time) giving it an extra sheen.  ‘Invisible’ has a thumping beat, a swaggering riff, and some squealing lead guitar notes, and with guest vocalist Jaime Kyle at the mic comes over like something by Pat Benatar.  Meanwhile ‘Valentine’s Day’ is romantic but upbeat as Bernie urges “Stay with me darling, hold onto my hand”, and gives the song a little twist with a harmonised guitar break.  And on top of these, the title track has its own lush, melodic rock vibe to go with to with some sympathetic story-telling about a character experiencing “hard times for a working man”.
There are also a couple of brief instrumentals exploring different vibes, with ‘Steelhouse Mountain’ going down a folkie/bluesy road leaning on shimmering acoustic guitar and some pinging lead, while ‘The Pearl’ is a more fluid, mellow affair, like a soundtrack of waves rippling on a beach.
Back on the bonus album meanwhile, the most interesting departures are on the closing three tracks, comprising fresh readings of the Whitesnake tracks ‘Til The Day I Die’ and ‘Time Is Right For Love’, and the Robert Johnson classic ‘Come On In My Kitchen’.  On all of these Tom Leary contributes violin to a largely stripped back sound.  So ‘Til The Day I Die’ acquires an occasional Celtic air, dreamy rather than brooding, while ‘Time Is Right For Love’ lopes along gently, and on ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ the scraping violin and reverb-tinged vocal create an eerie feel over the top of the subtle rhythmic groove.
Over the course of the two discs there’s nearly 90 minutes of music to get your ears around, and yes, the quality dips a little in places.  But there’s still plenty to demonstrate the quality of  Bernie Marsden’s songwriting, guitar playing, and ability to interpret songs in fresh ways.  The man may be gone, but he’s left lots of music that lives on.
Working Man is released by Conquest Music on 8 December.

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 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.

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.