Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Joanne Shaw Taylor - Heavy Soul

As an indicator of where Joanne Shaw Taylor’s music is at these days, the title Heavy Soul is pretty accurate, as I’m sure she knows.  As with her previous album Nobody’s Fool, Taylor has put together a collection of songs that’s strong on classic soul vibes and catchy choruses - a good fit for her husky voice – but given a more muscular slant by her sharp and bluesy guitar work.
Fr’instance, the title track may not have the most interesting tune on offer here, but the pair of tough, stinging solos that Taylor knocks out add an extra dimension to its snapping backbeat and her insistent, rhythmic vocal.  Later on, ‘Devil In Me’ takes the axe aspect a step further, with
Black Country girl Joanne Shaw Taylor
Pic by Stacie Huckaba
some urgent blues-rock riffing á la ‘Mudhoney’ and a zinger of a solo to kick things up a gear.
Those two shots of adrenaline stir things up nicely, but Heavy Soul still rubs along very happily when the material is more easy-going.  ‘Sweet ‘Lil Lies’ makes for an appealing opening, with its nagging, Morse Code guitar motif and chunky bass and rhythm guitar – the latter developing an ear-grabbing fuzzy twang during the pre-chorus.  There’s a good hook that bears repetition, Taylor’s vocal catches the soulful, and as it progresses there’s a rising sense of agitation in the bigger chords, the punchier drums, and Taylor’s second solo, to justify its 5 minute length.  ‘Black Magic’, contrastingly, is a loose and finger-snapping pleasure.  How can such a simple rhythm be so damn good?  It takes a ‘Nutbush’-like melody and swings along in über-relaxed fashion.  To be honest, I’ve no idea what Taylor is singing about half the time here, but she flexes her voice in such liquidly melodious style that it really doesn’t matter – something I often used to think about her fellow West Midlander Robert Plant, as it happens.
‘Wild Love’ combines a rolling riff and eerie waves of organ to create a fresh, evocative mood for a crisp tale of an illicit relationship, and though it may not be the steamiest song you’ll ever hear it still conveys the temptation and guilt of forbidden fruit pretty convincingly. In fact of the original material, only the more languid ‘A Good Goodbye’ raises any doubts.  It’s a decent song, and well put together, but . . . it just seems a little too familiar, formulaic maybe, suggesting our Jo needs to be careful she doesn’t repeat herself.
There are three cover versions along the way.  The readings of Joan Armatrading’s ‘All The Way From America’ and Van Morrison’s ‘Someone Like You’ are both sensitively done, and fit in well even if she goes down the respectful route rather than trying to put her own stamp on them. But then so they should, as they’re both great songs.  I could live without her rendition of Gamble and Huff’s ‘Drowning In A Sea Of Love’ though – nothing wrong with it except it feels too safe, too nice, notwithstanding the spangly guitar solo.
But the last word goes to the closing ‘Change Of Heart’, a bright and positive slice of soul with a cracking hook, Taylor dropping guitar licks in seamlessly to produce an uplifting finish.
Heavy Soul isn’t a blockbuster album, but it does add to the impressive array of soul-driven material Joanne Shaw Taylor has at her disposal. Arguably though, she could do with finding more opportunities for her guitar playing to take flight.  A bit more rock to go with the roll next time, perhaps.
Heavy Soul is out now on Journeyman Records, and can be ordered here.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Troy Redfern - Invocation

He keeps surprising me, does Troy Redfern.  Being honest, every time he pops up, I get ready to write him off as just another one-dimensional latterday heavy metal thunderer.  But then I give something a listen and think:  “Actually, that’s quite good.”
And so it goes as the opening three tracks unfurl on his new album Invocation.  ‘The Strange’ bursts into life with trampolining drums’n’bass and Redfern’s swooping slide, and after easing back for the first verse, crashes into a not ‘arf catchy chorus.  Redfern adds a zinging slide solo, and a subtle (sorta) bridge adds some extra gloss.  Nice work, gang.  A rattle of drums announces ‘Getaway’, and then it explodes into life with a cracking riff – subterranean and seismic, then punctuated with a couple of splashes of colour.  It’s elevated by another earworm
Troy Redfern - not cast in The Hobbit
Pic by Jason Bridges
of a chorus, given a lift by a couple of neck-snapping delayed chords, while Redfern’s screeching solo is rammed home by the piledriving combination of Dave Marks’ bass and Paul Stewart’s drums. Then ‘Van Helsing’ arrives, with just chiming guitar under the verse apart from some sporadic, crunching chord interjections, in readiness for another belting hook.  I’m telling you folks, it’s “Bop-along-with-Troy time”!
There are a couple of points worth underlining here.  First, underneath all the stürm und drang, Redfern has quite the pop sensibility going on between his ears, reminding me now and then of the tunesmithery of Supergrass, say.  And secondly, the bass playing of producer Dave Marks doesn’t just bring power, it elevates matters with its harmonic qualities.
And so things progress with the moody, dynamic ‘The Calling’, which in places – like Redfern’s intriguing, spacey slide solo – brings to mind the off-kilter vibe of Muse.  ‘Native’, with its American-Indian rhythm (at least as we’ve learned it from the movies) goes even further down the crepuscular atmospheric route, and is really all about the vibe, until the churning crescendo through which Redfern’s slide cuts like a butcher’s knife.
Stewart’s tub-thumping drums bring a glam-rock undertow to ‘The Fever’, with its pleasing staccato riff, and then, right on cue – yes, handclaps!  There should be more of ‘em, Troy – and a bleedin’ cowbell too!  But still, that “Holding me, you’re holding me down” hook does burrow its way into your noggin.  And the same is true of the simple but effective chorus on ‘All Night Long’, a turbo-charged rocker which pretty much strips down the riff to Whitesnake’s ‘Sweet Talker’ and then hits the gas pedal.
‘Blind Me’ is, blimey, an almost romantic slowie.  It has an aching chorus on which Redfern adds some pretty savvy vocal overdubs, and some slide playing that, just for a moment, reminds me of Blackmore in its tone.
The thrash-along ‘Voodoo Priest’ is the only track here that’s a bit below par.  But ‘Take Me High’ gets things back on track, a bluesier affair with a surging stop-time riff and another airy chorus trying to escape from the firestorm of Redfern’s guitar and Marks’ bass, and the herd of buffalo that is Stewart’s drums.  Then ‘The Last Stand’ rounds things off in measured style, its throbbing guitar, pulsing bass and behind-the-beat drums creating an evocative mood, topped off with Redfern getting even more Blackmore-esque on a haunted slide break.
Troy Redfern’s voice is, to be fair, a bit of a limited instrument, ranging from a rasp to a bark with little more than volume shifts in the way of variation, but he still goes at it with creditable conviction. In fact everything is invested with that same conviction – and producer Dave Marks has done a fine job of harnessing that.
So yeah, Troy Redfern has made me think twice. With his saturnine appearance he may look ready to audition for the role of some outcast prince in a Tolkien movie, well suited to a core sound resembling siege artillery, but the brighter strands of rock'n'roll DNA in the veins of Invocation make it well worth a listen.
 is out now, and can be ordered here.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Toronzo Cannon - Shut Up And Play!

Oh yeah.
Toronzo Cannon is back, with an album that shows a modern master of Chicago blues at work. On Shut Up And Play! you get 12 songs spread over 52 minutes, there ain’t none of ‘em below par, and the end result is even better than his last album The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp - and that was hot stuff itself.
First up among the reasons for this – the guy writes real, modern, sharp songs.  Whether it’s social commentary, emotional reflection on personal relationships, or good ol’ fashioned blues boogie fun, the Cannonball hits the nail on the head.
Second, his singing and playing are up there with the best of ‘em.  His voice is resonant and assertive, with a bit of a rasp on top when he wants it, and he knows how to make a lyric convincing.  And he has his own guitar “voice” too, a tone all his own as he delivers scintillating licks and breaks that catch the ear and demand nods of appreciation.
Toronzo Cannon - blues is his business, and business is good
Pic by Roman Sobus
Third thing.  What a goddamn band he has playing with him. Hats off to bassist Brian Quinn, Jason ‘Jroc’ Edwards who contributes drums on 10 of the tracks, and keys man Cole DeGenova, who all show their mettle and ensure the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
The album is bookended by ‘Can’t Fix The World’ and the title track, both of which offer a tart take on the experience of ordinary, and especially black, people. “Can’t fix the world right now,” sings Cannon, but he still has plenty to say about it, asserting that “We know the problem, right from wrong / But why does justice take so long?”, against the backdrop of a terrific funky bassline from Quinn, jittering clavinet from DeGenova, and his own punchy licks and his own expressive, fuzz-enhanced soloing.  Meanwhile ‘Shut Up And Play!’ is an ironic retort to those who would like musicians to do just that, rather than expressing an opinion, pulling together grinding, reverberating chords, organ that swells and swirls, and a ‘Hey Joe’-like rolling bassline as Cannon observes that there’s “No forty acres for my family, that America promised us when they set us free.”  And you’d better believe he delivers the goods on guitar too, with some powerful, serrated-edge soloing right out of the top drawer.
In between these two tentpoles there’s a different kinda positive protest twist, with the gospellated ‘Had To Go Through It To Get To It’, all handclaps and chiming piano as Cannon observes that his grandad “caught hell in Mississippi”, and how it took resilience to make a new life in the North and become a proud black man.
There are a couple of more soulful outings, the first being ‘Message To My Daughter’, a meditation on the reverberating impact of a marriage break-up, which tries to find positives alongside the pain and comes with more top flight bass playing to go with Cannon’s sensitively delivered vocal. Then later there’s ‘Guilty’, which contemplates our everyday sins, and all of us being open to judgement, decorated by some warm piano from DeGenova and pinging guitar fills from Cannon, who closes with a controlled, conversational solo.
Cannon peeks into a trio of different bluesy avenues with ‘I Hate Love’, ‘Him’, and ‘If I’m Always Wrong’.  The first is a slower sorta swing’n’sway, locked in behind the beat by Edwards’ drums, with Cannon declaring “I hate love, it’s just a made up word” amid more great bass playing, and keys that fill in around the edges brilliantly, while Cannon also gets down to business with a terrific, teasing and spinning solo. ‘Him’ is liquid funkiness full of fluid guitar work, with a winding, perfectly weighted final solo.  And ‘If I’m Always Wrong’ tells the story of a guy who’s fed up of being put down, with melodic, anthemic piano chords providing something fresh to go with the searing guitar.
And there’s plenty fun stuff too, like the snappy, witty ‘Something To Do Man’, a variant on the ‘Ice Cream Man’ of blues lore that swaggers and shuffles along, Cannon delivering a surging, irresistible solo backed up by rattling piano, culminating in the cocky affirmation that “This is a public service announcement: I’m here for you”.  ‘Unlovable’ is a chugging mid-tempo boogie, lit up by gritty slide licks and bright, trilling piano. ‘Got Me By The Short Hairs’ is a rock’n’rollin’ frolic about the ins and outs of shotgun marriage, with a cavalier Cannon solo and propelled by crisp, punchy drums.  And lastly there’s the slinky and funny ‘My Woman Loves Me Too Much’ is a harp and acoustic led slowie – slow because our hero is worn out by the demands of his baby, who started “acting all frisky, ‘bout the age of 45”.
I’ve banged on about the whole kit and caboodle to make it damn clear that while electric blues may be Cannon's business, he gives it diversity with his fresh, smart songwriting, and no matter the style the execution by him and his buddies is right on the freakin’ money.
I'll wager Shut Up And Play! will be the best straight-up blues albums to land this year.  And for me Toronzo Cannon is the natural successor to Buddy Guy – accept no substitutes.
Shut Up And Play!
 is out now on Alligator Records.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown - Electrified

I’ve never quite been able to make my mind up about Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown.  There were good things on their 2022 album Shake The Roots and last year’s Dirty Work EP, especially on some of their down home rootsy outings. Now and then too, they demonstrate the ability to rock like bastards. But every so often they just seem to let themselves down with a song that misses the target. So does Electrified live up to its title?
‘Snake Oil’ certainly makes it clear that they can do the biz when it comes to toting some heft.  It’s hard-hitting but fluid, with some roll to go with the rock, good quiet/loud dynamics, while Bryant rat-a-tats the vocal and adds a wiry solo. And ‘Shake You Down’ is a breathless, fuzz-blasted rocker, drummer Caleb
The Shakedown - all revved up and ready to party
Pic by Zack Whitford
Crosby sounding like he’s in his happy place as he puts the hammer down to propel the tumbling riff and some screaming guitar from Bryant.
The strutting and swaggering ‘Dead To Rights’ hits the mark too, doing something different with subterranean, fuzzy bass setting the tone for Bryant’s accusatory vocal, some slippery riffing, and a squeaking, slithery solo. Then ‘Mona’ is a gripping, grinding thing, with a palpable sense that they’re getting into it. Crosby shows off his drumming power on the nagging, insistent tempo, while Bryant and Graham Whitford chuck around ringing, fuzzy guitar chords.
And yep, they get rootsy to good effect too, when they put their mind to it.  Larkin Poe turn up to lend a hand on the blues-tinged Americana love song of ‘One And Lonely’, Megan Lovell in particular adding some swooning lap steel to go with the satisfyingly romantic melody.  They follow that with ‘Movin’’, a relaxed, loping, all-join-in back porch ramble reminiscent of Mungo Jerry.
But when they explore a Western-style, cowboy blues vibe, the results can be more mixed.  Opener ‘Between The Lines’ has its moments, with its oddball rhythmic intro, cheese grater slide guitar and brisk choruses. But the bass plods, and Bryant’s penchant for having the melody follow the guitar line doesn’t do it for me.  The cowboy leanings are more acute as the following ‘Crossfire’ gets going, with desert-haunted harmonies, but this time they find a fresher sound as the harmonies progress into Plant-esque, wordless “aah-aah-aah” segments. A spooky guitar break leads to them kicking things up a notch or two, to good effect, and they get bonus marks for the adventurous squiggly ending. But I can’t get excited when they go down this kinda path a third time, on the more downbeat ‘Happy Gets Made’, with it’s pulsing, twangy guitar and plunking kick drum, and some backing vocals from Ruthie Foster too low in the mix to make a difference.
There are also a couple of tracks where they head for Southern rock territory á la Blackberry Smoke. ‘Trick Up My Sleeve’ has an Americana ballad-like opening, and a good hook, but when they punch it up it all gets a bit predictable. The same is true of the closing ‘Carefree Easy Rollin’, but in reverse as a gutsy, pounding intro dissolves into a clichéd melody and “just like my daddy did” lyrics. Still, at least that gritty riff reappears now and then to liven things up.
Okay, so it’s not the Shakedown’s fault that I can’t abide some of the tropes of Southern rock, but they’ll never win me over with ‘em.  They can still rock hard though, and with some style. And I like it when they get in the right kinda roots vein too. So I live in hope that one day they’ll make an album that does the business for me from start to finish.
 is out now on Rattle Shake Records.

Friday, May 31, 2024

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats - The Hits Keep Coming

They kid on a bit, do Rick Estrin & The Nightcats. The cover of The Hits Keep Coming has the quartet striking a larky pose, putting up their dukes in boxing fashion.  And opening track ‘Somewhere Else’ underlines that light-hearted image, bringing together Estrin’s gritty harp, a tasty bass groove from Jerry Jemmott, and Kid Andersen’s steely, rock’n’rolling guitar in a funky, amusing “kiss off” song – as in “Good luck somewhere else”.
There’s more in an upbeat vein as the album progresses, with the likes of the Muddy Waters tune ‘Diamonds At Your Feet’ and ‘911’. The former is a bit of old-fashioned sounding fun, with
Rick Estrin & The Nightcats - more than just a barrel of laughs
Pic by Steve Jennings
skipping drums, tootling harp, and gospel undertones, while the latter is a rock’n’rollin’, swinging hoot about a sexy woman inducing a medical emergency, with zippy harp and guitar solos from Estrin and Andersen.
But there’s a dark side lurking behind the musical bonhomie.  The bopping and bouncing ‘The Circus Is Still In Town (The Monkey Song)' may sound exactly like its title suggests, right down to some fairground-like organ from Lorenzo Farrell, but the lyric is a subtle lament about addiction.
This more downbeat tone extends across the title track, on which Estrin bemoans “one more messed up year” against a warped and swampy backdrop, reinforced by the dark backing vocals served up by The Sons Of Soul Revivers, and the intriguing folkish blues of Leonard Cohen’s bleak ‘Everybody Knows’, which the Revivers embellish with some doo-woppish harmonies. Truth to tell, Estrin’s voice is now better suited to these contemplative outings than to fun and games, having become rather more shaky and querulous since the last Nightcats album to cross my path, 2017’s Groovin’ In Greaseland.
His now wavering tone works well, too, on the woozy blues of ‘I Ain’t Worried About Nothin’’, catching the undercurrent of doubt from a character trying to convince himself he's not lonely. And if his semi-spoken delivery on ‘Time For Me To Go’ at first seems to be painting a picture of closing time in his local bar, the sense that it’s a reflection on impending mortality becomes more stark as he observes wearily that “most of the folks I used to know, split the scene a while ago”.
There’s tongue in cheek humour in the closing ‘Whatever Happened To Dobie Strange’ though – Dobie Strange being a former Nightcats drummer from yesteryear. It’s a slinky, funky groove with offbeat, bumping bass, and a wah-wah solo from Andersen, while Estrin’s semi-spoken vocal recounts in droll style, some of the dumb or predictable things that fans have said to him over the years. Did someone really imagine, I wonder, that he was actually former Nightcats band leader Little Charlie Baty, and had changed his name?
So yeah, Rick and the boys can produce some hip-shaking and some laughs.  Now and then it can feel a bit lightweight, and the mood may be more persuasive than melodies at times. But still, The Hits Keep Coming is deeper than it might seem at first listen. In the best moments here Estrin & The Nightcats convey the sense of becoming aware, out of the corner of your eye, of the lengthening shadows.  Makes ya think.
The Hits Keep Coming is out now on Alligator Records.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Quickies - Gun, and FM

You could call this a Rock of Ages reunion of Quickies reviews, since both Gun and FM go back more than a few years, to my hard rock following twenties.  Yet here they are again, many moons later, both serving up new albums for consideration.
Gun – Hombres
When Gun burst onto the scene in 1989 with their debut album Taking On The World, then followed up with Gallus, they sounded fresh and convincing, and had a clear identity of their own. Success didn’t last back then of course, but they’ve been back for a while now, and with Hombres they show that they’re still capable of sounding fresh.
Opening track ‘All Fired Up’ is typical hard charging Gun riffing, with thumping drums from Paul McManus and some twirling guitar garnish on the side. It may not be wildly original, but it’s
Gun - All fired up and stuck in a lift
delivered with conviction, and sonically has a modern sheen to it. And that’s pretty much the template for what follows.
‘Boys Don’t Cry’ may have a grinding rhythm and jagged riff, but those elements are complemented by a melodic chorus with a pleasing hook, and some airy harmonies.  Then ‘Take Me Back Home’ leaps into headbanging hard rock territory, but adds a coat of gloss and a Lizzy-like guitar interlude – plus a weird effect that sounds like the roar of a velociraptor.
So it continues with the mid-paced stomp of ‘Fake Life’, spritzed up with a bucket of melodic rock leanings.  ‘You Are What I Need’ brings and air of romance, with its swaying backing and higher-pitched vocal from Dante Gizzi, leading to a singalong chorus.  And ‘Never Enough’ may have a stuttering riff and rasping vocal, but again the end result is gleaming and catchy rather than roughcast, with a screaming guitar solo downshifting into a melodic bridge.
There’s also a sense on the closing pair of tracks, ‘Lucky Guy’ and ‘Shift In Time’, that the Gunners are allowing some space for broader influences to get in the game.  ‘Lucky Guy’ throbs into life with guttural bass from Andy Carr and a simple kick drum beat, blended with a drawling vocal and shimmering backing vocals, then it explodes into life and jabs away like a boxer as it reaches for a chorus reminiscent of Bryan Ferry’s take on ‘The Price Of Love’, topped off with a siren-like guitar solo. Then ‘Shift In Time’ deploys acoustic guitar to back a melody with a Fab Four ‘A Day In The Life’ vibe. It expands into anthemic mode, spiced up with what some synth-like twiddling, on the way to a swaying, singalong chorus enhanced by soaring female backing vocals, and a piercing guitar solo of a Brian May tonal quality.
Gun are just as direct as in their original incarnation, but seem to have developed an extra layer of subtlety, finding a few extra ingredients in the back of the cupboard to liven things up. It’s good to have them back, and in fine fettle.
Hombres is out now on Cooking Vinyl.
FM – Old Habits Die Hard
Weirdly, I have no recollection of FM’s early days, even though their launch in 1984 was right in the middle of my Sounds-reading, hard-rock-listening early twenties. None. I have no explanation for this.
Listening to tracks such as ‘Don’t Need Another Heartache’ this seems like a shame. Pitched somewhere between Foreigner and Bad Company, it comes with bubbling keys, gutsy chords,
FM - Steve Overland fails to read 'shades' memo
Pic by Paul Stuart Hollingsworth
guitar harmonies, and a general air of blues rock grit. ‘No Easy Way Out’ also impresses, with more echoes of Foreigner in the intro, a good hook and soaring harmonies.
The quasi-epic ‘Black Water’ adds some drama to the mix, a slowish tune with an atmospheric undercurrent of dappled keys from Jem Davis, melodic bass and shimmering guitar, leading to a chorus with a bit of punch, and a squealing guitar solo from the hands of Jim Kirkpatrick. And later on ‘Leap Of Faith’ has satisfying heft in the form of its somersaulting, tumbling riff, making it rock as well as roll.
Then again, opening track ‘Out Of The Blues’ is a song where the whole is, for my tastes, a bit less than the sum of its parts. Sure, there’s an interesting African-type rhythm thing going on over the steady beat, Merv Goldsworthy’s bass rumbles away pleasingly, and there are some neat, tasteful guitar licks and soloing. Too neat really – the overall result is very AOR, á la Toto, or late period Doobie Brothers, and that’s too smooth for me. ‘Whatever It Takes’ is similarly a bit too slick and shiny.  Meanwhile ‘Cut Me Loose’ may sound like it’s been cut from Mike & The Mechanics cloth, but curiously enough it works rather better.
‘California’ is bright and engaging, as sunny and driving-with-the-top-down as its title suggests, and with a couple of zinging guitar solos to boot.  ‘Another Day In My World’ is edgier, and with its rhythmic quirks and driving guitar, plus Davis’ squirreling keys, it too hits the target.  Then to close there’s ‘Blue Sky Mind’, on which a strong melody is given the right kind of glossy but propulsive treatment, the guitar work elegantly ear-catching.
FM have obviously got the musical and songwriting chops. To really be my cup of char though, they could do with a bit more spit and a bit less polish.
Old Habits Die Hard is out now on Frontiers Records, and can be ordered here.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

His Lordship - Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh, 17 May 2024

I’ll make this quick, just like this breakneck one hour set delivered – that’s “delivered” like a hail of bullets – by His Lordship.
What these guys assault you with is a tornado of punk-ish rock’n’roll, right the way from the machine gun rat-a-tat of opener ‘I Live In The City’ to the suitably scorching encore ‘Red Hot’, a turbo-charged cover from 1955 that its originator Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson would surely struggle to
James Walbourne - pinball wizard
Pic by Stuart Stott
 recognise as it whizzes by in blur.
Sure, they dial it down a tad here and there.  ‘The Way I Walk’ is a lurching grind, on which James Walbourne delivers a lip-curling Elvis-like vocal and a dentist drill guitar solo.  And ‘The Repenter’ is like a warped, creepy 60s rock’n’roll ballad, replete with swooping backing vocals from drummer Kristoffer Sonne and touring bassist Dave Page.  But for the most part they go for your throat in full throttle mode.
‘All Cranked Up’ may give a cursory nod to the Stranglers’ ‘Go Buddy Go’, but only as it pays demented homage to Chuck Berry, without whom Buddy would’ve been going precisely nowhere.  ‘Jackie Works For The NHS’ is a crunking garage rock “fuck you to the Tories”, as Walbourne puts it, with reverb-laden vocals, a screeching guitar line, and a Clash-like bass line from Page.  Meanwhile ‘Buzzkill’ sounds like it’s mashing up M’s one hit wonder ‘Pop Muzik’ with the squeaking guitar riff from The Vapors’ ‘Turning Japanese’.
Walbourne and Sonne clearly know their rock'n'roll history, and echoes like these put me in mind of lines from the glorious self-titled glam’n’garage rock
Kristoffer Sonne whips it good
Pic by Stuart Stott
homage by Boston's The Peppermint Kicks  – “I write the songs that try to please you / Something stolen, something borrowed”.
These guys know that showmanship doesn’t require pyrotechnics, not least when Sonne steps out from behind the drums (Page deputising) to take the lead vocal on ‘My Brother Is An Only Child’ in send-for-a-straitjacket fashion, climbing on the bass drum, whirling the mic like a helicopter blade, and generally coming over like a certifiable character from the League of Gentlemen.  And Walbourne is a whirling, pinballing presence throughout, his stylish coiffeur soon becoming matted with sweat.
They do a couple of new tunes.  The slowish instrumental ‘Farewell Paddy’ is a tribute to Shane MacGowan, full of lyrical, bendy guitar.  The following ‘Be A Winner’ is more typical fare, jerky and spiky and propelled by a weightily fuzzy bass line from Page.
The hurtling, irresistible ‘Joy Boy’ is another highlight, with its quirky falsetto chorus and a howling, teeth-gritted solo from Walbourne.  But if that seems hectic, it has serious  competition from the galloping instrumental ‘Cat Call’, a slice of manic guitar frenzy into which Walbourne slips a snatch of Edwyn Collins’ ‘A Girl Like You’ just for extra fun.
As a celebration of rowdy, intense, off the handle wreck’n’roll, an hour in the company of His Lordship is a red hot proposition.  Don’t miss ‘em.
His Lordship are on tour until 30 May, details here.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse - Hot Nostalgia Radio

Me and Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse have been like ships that pass in the night over the years.  I’ve clocked their name, and heard a few things from time to time, but I’ve never really sat down and got properly acquainted with them. Well that’s all over now, baby blue.
Lately I’ve been getting into raucous garage rock kinda stuff, and when the Beaux Gris Gris combo whack into opening track ‘Oh Yeah!’ they hit the goddamn motherlode.  Robin Davey’s guitar riff is a pile driver, Greta Valenti squawks her tongue-twisting vocal like a maniac, Sam Robertson’s pulverises his piano, and the bass’n’drums of Stephen Mildwater and Tom Rasulo are well and truly turbo-charged. With 
Robin Davey and Greta Valenti contemplate rock'n'roll apocalypse
Pic by Kaelin Davis
Davey cranking out a sparks-flying solo as the cherry on top, it’s like ‘Devil Gate Drive’ gone nutzo.  It’s trashy, technicolour, and abso-fucking-lutely terrific.
A few songs later they strike another seam of R’n’B-infused garage rock gold, with the run of ‘Told My Baby’, ‘Middle Of The Night’, ‘Sad When I’m Dancing’, and ‘All I Could Do Was Cry’.  With ringing guitar, swirling Wurlitzer, and Valenti’s gasping, pouting vocals, I can visualise Stockard Channing’s Rizzo from Grease slouching around the dance floor to these tracks, all the while chewing gum and being snarky to all and sundry passing by – and god love her for it.  Across these four tracks the tempo gradually slows from the Diddley-esque stomp of ‘Told My Baby’, through the steaminess and honking horns of ‘Middle Of The Night’ and the mirrorball-dappled soul of ‘Sad When I’m Dancing’ until reaching full-on torch song mode with the teen heartbreak of ‘All I Could Do Was Cry’.
Along the way there are a coupla more generic blues-rock outings with ‘Wild Woman’ and ‘Satisfy Your Queen’, though the latter has a bit more quirky personality, and Davey comes up trumps with some scrabbling, screeching guitar work.  But in the second half of this 14-song collection they cast off the garage rock stylings and throw some different shapes to show their range.
If ‘All I Could Do Was Cry’ is something of a tongue-in-cheek rock’n’roll ballad, ‘The Runaway’ is a more mature, straight-up retro-soul slowie, Valenti’s vocal now grown-up and sweetly regretful.  ‘Harder To Breathe’ follows that by leaning into something of an Americana-soul vibe, with what sounds like lap steel guitar twanging gently in the background.
‘Don’t Let Go’ is straight-faced Sixties pop with throbbing guitar, bubbling Fender Rhodes piano and fairground Wurlitzer organ, and another melancholic vocal from Valenti.  ‘Penny Paid Rockstar’ is similarly mournful, with a tune that recalls Springsteen’s ‘Factory’ (they've covered his 'I'm On Fire' in the past) but inclining towards a country-ish vibe, with more of that weeping lap steel commentary from Davey.  ‘Marie’ is a cleverly constructed tune, with overlapping vocal parts creating something different.  Then with ‘Let’s Ride’ they turn their musical compass towards New Orleans – Valenti was raised in Louisiana – with Robertson strapping on an accordion to hint at zydeco over Rasulo’s skipping beat, while Davey gets into very low-twanging territory on guitar.  The closing ‘Mama Cray’ ups the cajun ante, foregrounding the accordion and the syncopated drums.
Really, you get two albums for the price of one with Hot Nostalgia Radio, with the rock’n’rollin’ freshness of the first half, and the roots music maturity of the second.  Pay your money and take your pick, you’ll be satisfied either way, because it’s clear the Beaux Gris Gris crew have the musical savvy and chops to deliver the goods.
But I’ll hang my hat on that “Side 1” stuff.  The nights are getting warmer, and it won’t be long till the summer comes, and you’re cruising down to Dino’s bar’n’grill with the windows wound down, and the rock’n’rollin’ sounds of yesteryear coming over the airwaves courtesy of Hot Nostalgia Radio.  Oh yeah!
Hot Nostalgia Radio is released by Grow Vision Music on 3 May, and can be ordered here.