Thursday, April 25, 2024

Quickies - Albert Cummings, Gary Cain, and The Paddy Boy Zimmerman Band

Rolling up some albums from various quarters today, with a couple that have already escaped into the wild, and one that’s coming very shortly.
Albert Cummings – Strong
Albert Cummings is an exponent of straight up and down electric blues, and a good one at that.  He’s got a rich and resonant voice, and enough classic blues guitar chops to start an academy.  Here he’s put those components together in fine fashion, with a string of satisfying songs on his recently released album Strong.
Albert Cummings enjoys some noises off
The opener ‘Emmylou’ gets the ball rolling in winning style.  The tale of a nudging, winking, heartbreaker of a diner waitress, it kicks off with crunching chords, then rattles along merrily in a similar vein to John Hiatt’s ‘Tennessee Plates’.  But it also folds in a cunning key change to bring an extra dimension to the first of Cummings’ many sharp solos.
There’s more fun to be had on ‘Fallen For You’, which underlines the fact that the sound on Strong is great, packed with oomph right down to Cummings’ fuzzy guitar tone. It’s got a good-time, upbeat vibe, with solid, pumping bass and chiming piano filling in around the edges, and if Cummings’ solo isn’t something of sparkling originality it’s still totally convincing, with plenty of vim.
‘Bad Reputation’ carries heft too, but with some dynamic tension.  A taut bump’n’grind, it comes with sock it to ‘em, cymbal splattered guitar chords and sideswipes of organ, to which Cummings adds a hollering vocal and a stinging, jabbing, scrabbling solo. It is, without  doubt, good stuff.
The good stuff extends in different directions too.  There’s the rolling, atmospheric acoustic guitar picking and strumming of ‘Just About Enough’, which brings to mind Whitesnake’s ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry No More’ and swells post-chorus, with piercing guitar highlighting the sentiment of teeth-gritted resilience.  There is, too, the toe-tapping, swinging, “Gonna get what I want” shuffle of ‘Get Busy’, to which Cummings brings sharp guitar lick interjections before cutting loose on a closing solo.
The “please write my mama, tell her the shape I’m in” slow blues ‘Goin’ Down Slow’ is classy stuff, Cummings’ soulful vocal displaying good feel, with cool bluesy piano underlinging the mood.  Maybe Cummings’ guitar solo is a little overwrought – maybe.  But for my money it stills feels like a stronger outing than the more modern, sultry slowie ‘Let It Burn’.
There are other good moments too, including the entertaining, lick-strewn shuffle of ‘Lookin’ Up’,
Gary Cain is puzzled by some noises off
Pic by Candice Cain
the Bad Company-like moodiness of ‘Lately’, and the guitar-grinding, stomping cover of the Beatles’ ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’.
All in all, in fact, Strong has enough consistency and originality to live up to its title.
Gary Cain – Outside The Lines
Ironically, It’s clear from ‘Ain’t Got The Blues’, the opening salvo on this album by Canadian-born, Austin-based guitarist and singer Gary Cain, that the guy has plenty blues sensibility.  Doubly ironic really, since the lyric is about Cain’s perception of frowning rigidity on the part of some gatekeepers of the blues world.  All the same, the tune is bluesy-funky, with a tripping, skipping rhythm and a stuttering riff to go with its decent hook. Cain’s trilling solo slows then speeds up, and then he doubles down on a fiery outro for good measure.
In case you didn’t get the message, on the later ‘Blues Enough For You’ he reiterates his resistance to the “blues police” and their strictures, all while he lays down a wodge of bubbling funkiness that develops into a scurrying solo that’s certainly impressive, if a bit jazzy for my taste in places.
Cain is right to insist that he’s not defined by his blues roots though.  ‘Attitude’ is a chunk of grooving melodic rock, all chunky, bristling, stop-start riffing over a driving rhythm and bustling bass.  Cain’s voice isn’t a standout, but it’s got enough punch and musicality to hit the target, and his sizzling solo here shows that he’s in a higher league on the guitar front. In fact if hummingbird-quick picking is what floats your boat, then Gary Cain should definitely be on your radar, though for me he sometimes – sometimes, mind you – demonstrates skill more than heart.  All the same, when he sings that “You don’t like my attitude,” my instinctive response is “But I do Gary, I do.”
That’s a view confirmed by the shimmering, scintillating instrumental ‘Far From Home’, with its semi-psychedelic passages, light and shade, and melodic/anthemic segment, while the drum’n’bass components do an impressive rhythmic turn too. In this context it’s worth noting that Cain is responsible for all of the instruments in evidence here, plus MIDI programming – and whether the drums and bass are analogue or digital in nature, he’s done a pretty snazzy job with them across the piece.
There’s a Hendrix-via-Philip Sayce vibe to the charging riff on ‘Lie To Me’, with gutsy stop-time chords over rumbling drums, demonstrating that Cain can lay on the power, and then back it up with a fizzing solo.  But the closing ‘Keep On Walking’ is even more impressive, with big chords laden with bruising bass, and a reverb-heavy vocal.  Ripped out shards and squalls of guitar set
up a mind-bending epic vibe, and though that subsides as Cain defaults to a bit of speed-freakery he gets back in the gripping, atmospheric groove soon enough to close the deal.
Gary Cain was a new name to me, but on the strength of Outside The Lines he's certainly a name to watch.
Outside The Lines
 is released on 3 May.
The Paddy Boy Zimmerman Band – The Paddy Boy Zimmermann Band

In case the name has you wondering about his origins, let’s make it clear that singer and guitarist Paddy Boy Zimmermann hails from Germany rather than Ireland, as do his bass and drums pals Rupi Schwarzburger and Jan Wienstroer.
The Paddy Boy Zimmermann Band go for the ZZ Top look
Pic by Markus Herzfeld
There are some interesting things going on across the nine tracks on offer here. But at the same time I gotta say that Zimmermann’s vocals are something of an acquired taste. His singing voice, in fact, is not that tuneful. Now, as I’ve observed before, that isn’t the end of the world if you know what you’re about and can invest your performance with some personality. In that sense Zimmermann sometimes just about gets away with it. But we’ll get back to that.
After the underwhelming opener ‘From Your Blood’, ‘Brick Wall Boogie’ is a bit of low slung rockin’ à la Magic Sam, maybe, with flickering licks in the margins and a surging guitar solo, appealing enough to stir the senses.  The following ‘Spaghetti In The Night’ is more intriguing, a slow ‘un that mashes up a slow burning blues groove with some Hendrix-infused twang’n’trill, while Zimmermann essays a semi-spoken vocal. It’s quite well done, but as with several tracks here, it outstays its welcome a bit.
‘Alive Shuffle’ serves up some down-on-the-porch acoustic musings, one of a few tracks that show Zimmermann can handle an acoustic guitar, his slide guitar break bending and warping nicely.  Meanwhile his vocal may drone, but it still has a certain appeal in a way that suggests he’s paid attention to how Dylan has groaned and creaked his way through life. So it’s no surprise when the acoustic, quasi-talking blues ‘Streets’ also comes with a Dylan-esque nasal drawl.  Whether the Lou Reed-like sprechgesang of the sparse ballad ‘Way Too Soon’ works any better is an open question.
That flat Dylan twang also shows up on ‘Platform Two’, but with some positive distraction in the form of SRV-like blocky riffing and a spiralling turnaround, while Schwarzburger pitches in with some busy bass to push things along.
‘Green Boots’ shows some spark to close proceedings though, starting off mellow then turning Jimi-like with a tightly wound ascending riff, and a fluttering solo that feels like it comes from a less blues-based source, while Zimmermann’s conversational phrasing gives his vocal some character. It is, I reckon, the best thing here.
Like I said, this debut album has its moments. But it would be better if there were more of them, and in particular if there was some stronger songwriting that enabled Zimmermann to give his voice a more expressive turn.
The Paddy Boy Zimmerman Band
 was released on 22 March.

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