Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Quickies - Evan Nicole Bell, Robby Krieger And The Soul Savages, Harpo Walker

Evan Nicole Bell – Runaway Girl EP

Twitter-using blues listeners may be familiar with the name Evan Nicole Bell.  She’s the young thing from Baltimore who shares videos of her sitting outside on the steps in the sunshine, playing covers of blues songs.  Armed with just her guitar, some loops and rhythms, and her honeyed voice, she comes across as something fresh and charming, and has garnered millions of views.
Somewhat disappointingly, her first proper release comprises just three tracks, plus a radio edit of the title track.  But still, what has young Evan got for us?
Evan Nicole Bell - playing on a front step near . . . Baltimore
Opening track ‘Burn’ has a vaguely Latin feel, and if there’s something sunny about the relaxed sway of it, the lyrics are a bit more downbeat.  After a minute drums arrive to pep up the clicking rhythm a bit, but overall the vibe remains a bit too nu-soul, a bit like Sade but without the sleek froideur.
It’s a handbrake turn from there into ‘Catfish Blues’, which Bell launches with a flurry of trilling guitar notes en route to the riff being delivered with Hendrixy fuzz over a steady beat and stutters of bass.  Bell’s vocal ranges from reflective to sultry to hints of raunch, while she saddles up on guitar to deliver a couple of tasty breaks before wrapping up sharpish in three short minutes.
‘Runaway Girl’ itself is the strongest offering here, though some way off what could reasonably be described as blues.  At its core are stop-start piano chords over a lazy beat, while Bell manipulates the interesting melody into a rattle-and-pause vocal.  For a while it sounds like the skeleton of some modern R&B chart-directed tune, but it gets more impressive as Bell’s vocal gets more agitated and soulful, culminating in a guitar break of needle-sharp wiriness.
The Runaway Girl EP is little more than a toe dipped in the water from Evan Nicole Bell.  A full assessment of her talents will have to wait for a more substantive outing.
The Runaway Girl EP is out now.
Robby Kreiger And The Soul Savages – Robby Krieger And The Soul Savages

I think it’s safe to say that I’m not really the target audience for this all-instrumental album from one-time Doors guitarist Robby Krieger.  Whereas the Doors came up with a string of great, distinctive songs that I could absolutely get behind, the Soul Savages offer up a sleek brand of jazz-fusion that doesn’t do much for me at all.
The musicianship is certainly high-level, focused largely on the interplay between Krieger’s
Robby Krieger - not such a savage soul
guitar and the keyboards of Ed Roth, but the chops of bassist Kevin Brandon and drummer Franklin Vanderbilt are also self-evident.  The trouble is that they’re collaborating on material
that, despite their name, lacks any real soul.
For example, there are interesting things going on in the opening ‘Shark Skin Suit’, from the funky bass groove to some queasy, oddball keyboard fills, and low-bending guitar picking up the main theme before Roth and Krieger get busy on an organ break and a more upscale guitar solo respectively.  But the whole doesn’t really sum like even the sum of its parts.  And could ‘A Day In LA’, with its laid grooves, form the background to a movie scene involving beautiful people messing around on a sun-kissed West Coast beach?  Or is it just elevator music?
‘Contrary Motion’ is interesting in so far as it’s built around a theme – nothing so vulgar as a riff on display here – that sounds maddeningly familiar.  Is it a facsimile of something from Colosseum II’s Variations, or an echo of some 60s/70s movie theme?  Whatever, Krieger adds some interestingly warped guitar play, and Roth some pseudo-classical organ, but it all feels rather like an exercise in cleverness, without any emotional content.
On ‘Bouncy Betty’ it feels like Betty isn’t so much bouncy as a bit coquettish, fluttering her musical eyelashes.  Meanwhile ‘Richochet Rabbit’ has neither the zing of a ricochet nor the scurrying energy of a rabbit, comprising largely inconsequential noodling.
I’ll give ‘em some credit for ‘Blue Brandino’, on which an intriguing opening groove is interrupted by peremptory bursts of twiddling guitar and organ, in a manner vaguely redolent of Paice Ashton Lord’s ‘Ghost Story’.  Krieger adds a more muscular guitar solo, and late on there’s aheap of phasing going on to maintain the attention, but that’s about as good as it gets.
Tom Walker plays invisible harp
I have visions of Fagen and Becker sitting in the control room while some session guns for hire doodle away for a few minutes at the end of a recording session, and Fagen saying:  “Yeah, well we don’t need any of this shit, do we?”  “Hell no,” replies Becker.  But like I say, this really just isn’t my scene, man.
Robby Krieger And The Soul Savages is out now on The Players Club/Mascot Label Group, and can be ordered here.
Harpo Walker – Bruised Heart Blues

This is one of the more interesting instances of “ones that got away” from last year – kept meaning to write about it, but never quite managed it.
British singer, harp player, guitarist and songwriter Tom ‘Harpo’ Walker emigrated to Australia a couple of years before the pandemic, and shortly afterwards rediscovered his musical mojo after walking into a Sydney pub and tripping over a blues jam.  And so here he is with Bruised Heart Blues, covering a few blues bases, mostly in a laid back kinda vein.
A couple of tunes carry hints of JJ Cale, the more convincing of them being the opener ‘I’m A Fool’, with its groaning vocal, sporadic moans of harp and squeaks of conversational slide guitar.  A couple of others explore a folkie-pop groove, ‘Nothing Worth Knowing Comes Easy’ is warm, mellow and acoustic-driven, and if the melody is a bit thin, it’s still nice enough, while ‘Don’t Stop’ is a jaunty little outing with echoes of Stealer’s Wheel.
Two of the most pleasing tracks feature guest appearances from British blues chanteuse Dani Wilde.  ‘Ride On’ centres on a very ‘Smokestack Lightning’ riff, but it’s Wilde’s smoochy vocal that catches the ear, forming a nice contrast with Walker’s more gravelly tones, while Ewan Lund adds pleasing spurts of pinging guitar.  Then Wilde reappears to get all breathy on the dreamy, Ray Charles-like soul of ‘Start Again’, with Lund contributing some more tasteful solo-ing.
‘Time Bomb’ brings a smoky groove and some wheezing harp to a decent, rolling tune.  Meanwhile ‘Tearing Me Up Inside’ approaches Wily Bo Walker’s ‘Voodooville’ territory, with a noir-ish, characterful narrative atmospherically delivered by Walker overly a Latin-tinged groove, to which Lund this time adds some biting guitar embellishment.
Bruised Heart Blues comes over like an easy-going session in the back room of a pub on a sunny afternoon, with a few beers and some enjoyable chat in friendly company.  If that sounds like your kind of thing, then get a round in.
Bruised Heart Blues was released in May 2023 on Big Rock Records.

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