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August 2012

RECORD OF THE MONTH AUGUST 2012

 

BENOIT VIELLEFON HOT CLUB
Live at the Quecumbar

Jon Jon Records JJR-CD-005
Genre – Vintage Swing and Jazz
Star rating 9/10

 

 

Benoit Viellefon and his Orchestra are one of the most successful up and coming acts on the London scene; this highly entertaining album of swing and jazz is Benoit’s second album, it has a classic vintage sound. Bandleader Benoit sings and plays guitar, he was involved in the London blues scene and with various bands. Success has come through focusing his lifelong love of vintage styles into his own band. For this second album he switches to the sound and style reminiscent of the legendary Hot Club of Paris which famously starred Django Reinhardt and Stefan Grappelli. He has called it Hot Club and made some minor alterations to the line-up including the addition of Pedro Velasco on guitar.

 

 

The album is recorded at the Quecumbar a London venue specializing in gypsy jazz. The venue is already close to legendary status, being one of the few venues in Europe dedicated to such music. The recording successfully sets out to replicate the way the original Hot Club was recorded and to invoke the ambience of their shows. All of the instruments were acoustic with two condenser microphones placed in front of the stage. There is no mixing and the sound is an exact replication of what the gig sounded like. The result is an excellent record of a memorable evening. The heart of Benoit’s equation is ‘style and entertainment’ – this is music with a big smile on its face that communicates directly to the audience; the resulting chemistry is something extraordinary.

 

 

Benoit draws on the music of Django, Duke, French chanson and the classic American songbook and also nods to other European influences. The opener sets the tone; ‘Douce Ambience,’ a Django classic; it sets the feet tapping and for the keen listener Benoit plays a lovely chromatic chord run-down late in the song. The album continues through Benoit’s own ‘Mon Amour’, and on into a classic French valse musette ‘Coeur Vagabond’ – this tune stirred the memory of some of our team – a wonderful melody remembered from the days when such music was played on the radio.

 

 

Track 5 is one of the album’s highlights; Duke Ellington’s classic ‘Caravan’ – this is seven minutes of swing heaven and everybody is obviously having a ball. The music runs on – classics like ‘Daphne’, ‘Whispering’, ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’ (another highlight) and for us the best of all ‘Flambee Montalbanaise’ another classic Valse musette that features some truly scintillating guitar. There’s a surprise a swing version of ‘The Godfather’ it works very well and everybody lets their hair down. Benoit’s own ‘My Dog is a Gypsy’, the Hot Club classic ‘Minor Swing’ lead to a riotous closer: it’s an eleven minute version of ‘Dark Eyes’. It concludes what was obviously a great evening. Congratulations to Benoit and his musicians for producing an album of great music with the word ‘entertainment’ at the heart of it. This is highly recommended and we’re going to search out more of that wonderful French music – there are great treasures to be mined and Benoit has opened the door.

Review Team

 

 

Here’s some video of Benoit playing the French classic ‘Mon Amour

 

 

 

 

JOE BONAMASSA

Driving Towards the Daylight

Provogue

Genre Rock / blues

Star Rating 7/10
This is Joe Bonamassa’s thirteenth album in twelve years and continues his meteoric rise from small clubs stadiums and larger venues continues. Someone in our team referred to Joe as the Ghengis Khan of the blues; conquering all, dominating all. Stand in one the main supermarkets such as Tesco or Sainsbury and the look at the magazine rack, the music section, guitar magazines etc, Joe seems to be ubiquitous all pervasive.

 

 

The huge advertising budget obviously pays dividends. So what do we have to say about this album? People in our team are ambivalent towards Joe; on the one hand he has obviously encouraged many youngsters to take up a guitar, and is also brought this particular style of blues rock to the attention of many who may otherwise not have heard it. On the other hand he does seem to represent the corporate face of the blues and it is arguable whether blues was ever meant to be a corporate product. What other impression can we get when an album comes in such lavish form? There is a 72 page booklet – in the booklet, and in associated videos we get the full story of every detail of this album. It used to be that an album became noted as a classic before we got the full story behind it.

 

 

This is supposed to be the ‘blues’, but this ‘corporatism’ has led to the blues being emasculated – it has become the plaything of rich white boys, of weekend roadsters. It is difficult to blame Joe though he could say ‘enough’ – but the end result is sadly inevitable; typically when the corporate ‘thing’ take hold of a product it is watered-down smooth over and made palatable for mass consumption all risks removed.

 

This record has been produced by Kevin Shirley: and his style is clearly on it. Trademarks such as sound wash opens the album and pops up periodically, the drum sound, the cleanness of the overall sound are all there.

 

The opening track, “Dislocated Boy” was written by Joe and that is precisely here that we find what is unconvincing; the song consists in a heavy signature minor key riff. The problem is in the lyrics, sorry but we just don’t believe lyrics such as “I’ve had these blues since I was six years old”, or “carrying my heavy load”. The song is an effective if slightly unimaginative effort but it is really amounts to just a few lyrics on a riff. The lyrics reek of ‘this is what blues songs are supposed to sound like and they don’t convince. Track 2 is the Robert Johnson song “Stones in My Passway” it’s acceptable enough and stands comparison with the many versions of the song but this version doesn’t add anything. Track 3 the title track is the truly FM friendly niig stadium ballad and draws comparison to Steve Shirley’s work John Hiatt last year in fact the song has numerous echoes of Hiatt’s work both melodically and harmonically. The album continues with a Howling Wolf cover “Who’s Been Talking”, this is okay but it is difficult to do anything new with such a seasoned song. A Willie Dixon song “I Got All You Need” follows and the rest of the album includes tunes by Bernie Marsden, Bill Withers, and Tom Waits.

 

There were a couple of points during the album when we were reminded of Led Zeppelin in terms of rhythm and harmony but the music and the sound lacked the excitement of that great band. That really highlights the problem with the album, it’s superbly played, the sound is excellent, but it lacks the single factor: that pzazz which makes you go back and listen again. In a nutshell it is bland, we hesitate to criticize such a name as Kevin Shirley but all of the excitement and edge seems to have been cleaned up and taken out. What we are left with is a rather bland supermarket friendly blues/rock album, it won’t offend anyone and it didn’t excite anyone, not on our team anyway either. Sorry Joe, but maybe you and the guys should just get in a room with a tape recorder get down to some real blues.

Review Team

 

 

 

RORY GALLAGHER-Rory Gallagher: Deuce; Live! In Europe; Blueprint;Tatoo; Irish Tour ‘74

Capo Records/Sony Legacy (Rory Gallagher reissue series)     

 

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Rory Gallagher’s solo debut his first six albums re-released in re-mastered format with bonus tracks. The project was overseen by Rory’s brother Donal Gallagher who also contributed liner notes. Rory’s eponymous solo debut came after the split with Taste; that split was reported to be somewhat acrimonious. Taste with Rory at the front had built a huge following playing support slots to many major acts and graduating to headlining. Their repertoire was mainly blues with ‘Sugar Mama’ as a regular’s showstopper.

 

It is apparent on listening to Rory’s eponymous debut album ‘Rory Gallagher’ with fresh ears that once let loose on his own he was to move far outside the regular 12 bar format. The opener ‘Laundromat’ starts with a boogie pattern and then the vocal line moves outside the blues line. Tracks like ‘Just the Smile’, ‘I’m Not Surprised’, ‘Sinner Boy’ and Waved Myself Goodbye demonstrate influences from folk rock barrelhouse & swing. There isn’t a standard blues until the bonus track ‘Gypsy Woman’ the Muddy Waters tune. It’s a notable debut at the sound is really fresh.

 

The second album ‘Deuce’ was highly popular and developed more of the same but the development of Rory’s vocal style was marked-a strong mid-upper range and very distinctive gravelly sound. Standout tracks include ‘In Your Town’ which was to become a live staple ‘Don’t Know Where I’m Going’ and the hard rocking ‘Crest of a Wave’.

 

Despite the success of his solo albums Rory Gallagher’s reputation rested primarily on his dynamic live performances. He was a truly dynamic guitarist with powerful impassioned vocals and his remarkably modest personality meant that Rory became a truly loved performer. His third album ‘Live! In Europe’ cemented his reputation and built it even further. The opening track ‘Messing with the Kid,’ the Junior Wells classic was pure dynamite and remained a  main-stay of his live shows. Album highlights include the acoustic ‘I Could’ve Had Religion’ and a stomping hoedown ‘Going to My Hometown’, but the album’s classic is the closer ‘Bullfrog Blues’ a frenetic stomping and swinging version of the Canned Heat tune. This is Gallagher at his best wild, edgy, unrefined and loving every moment of being on stage. It’s a classic live album and you can sense the atmosphere of being there, it sounds great and you wish you could see the great man all over again. This is a wonderful reminder of a magical time and a magical performer.

 

 

The next album was ‘Blueprint’ it was is a personal favourite of some of our team out of the studio albums. For this album Rory introduced keyboard player Lou Martin. The album has some killer tracks, the opener ‘Walk on Hot Coals’, ‘Daughter of the Everglades’, ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’, and the storming ‘If I Had a Reason’. It’s great stuff and Rory’s guitar explores the fringes of jazz, funk and improvisational styles, it is inventive exciting and double edged. There are two bonus tracks ‘Stomping Ground’, and ‘Treat Her Right’, the Roy Head US smash hit, a rocking cut. Great album – great sound, and it is this album which to us really highlights what we have lost with modern recording techniques, this sounds like a bunch of guys having a great time in a great sounding room – it is real live music.

 

It kept getting better, Rory’s next album ‘Tatoo’ was exceptional – he continued to explore blues and rock styles adding melodic influences and harmonic structures from a range of styles. Standout tracks include the opener ‘Tattooed Lady’, ‘Cradle Rock’ and ‘A Million Miles Away’. As we say nowadays; it’s all good and it is topped off by a stonking bonus track the Link Ray song ‘Tucson Arizona’. Good to as it was this the best was yet to come.

 

The six album in the series Irish Tour ‘74 is the best. You can almost smell the atmosphere and feel the expectation of a huge crowd waiting for the local hero to return; he steps on stage to a huge roar – and the opening guitar of ‘Cradle Rock’ – the guitar introduction here is almost unmatched for its power and cutting-edge-as he goes into the song you feel the whole place lift off. He moves into the power blues of ‘I Wonder Who’ and you can sense the crowd swaying as he burns up on his Fender; this slow Delta influenced blues is extraordinary in its power; it is a truly remarkable performance, tracks like ‘As the Crow Flies’, ‘Walk on Hot Coals’, and ‘Who’s That Coming?’ move on at stratospheric level, but the two closing tracks ‘Back on My Stomping Ground’ and ‘Just a Little Bit’ lift the performance even higher and leave the crowd ecstatic. This was a great performance and it produced a wonderful album – it catches Rory’s visit to a troubled nation at a troubled time and it obviously gave a huge and emotional lift to those who were there.

 

In summary each one of these first six albums is excellent; the sound quality presentation and liner notes are of a high standard throughout. We would recommend any or all of these albums but ultimately if you really want to know what Rory Gallagher is really about then the live albums stand out. For us ‘Blueprint’ is the best of the studio albums but each one has something to commend it. Donal Gallagher and co have done a great job in sound and presentation and these are a fitting memory of a great artist; Rory Gallagher who lives on in his timeless music.

Review Team

 

 

 

 

GARON FRITH
Away from the Bright Lights
Skiffler Recordings SR01
Genre – blues based singer songwriter
Star Rating 7/10
Garron Frith is a from Manchester; he is steadily building up a reputation as a good live performer and a songwriter of originality. In recent years he has performed headline shows across the UK and his opening slots have included Peter Green, Madeleine Peyroux, Jack Bruce & Robert Cray. This is his second album and was recorded by Simon J Alpin producer and multi-instrumentalist who recorded Teenage Fanclub, Devendra Banhart and Badly Drawn Boy. (Alpin was also at one time a member of The Willard Grant Conspiracy).

 

Despite the ironic groan that always fills the air when we say ‘singer-songwriter’ Garron Frith avoids most of the clichés and pitfuls that bedevil the genre. He’s mainly based in the roots / blues  bracket and avoids for the most the ‘meaningful words with cracked high voice’ caricature. This is a pretty good album with an opening track that has a very European almost ‘café’ style of sound: following some mood setting train sounds it’s in 3:4 time and is rather good.  Track 2 ‘Not the Man’ is a nice country blues riff with a gentle swing and track 3 ‘Pretty Penny’ is a vocal /harmonic footstomping worksong; Track 5 ‘Rock ‘n Roll Band’ is a lilting country rock song with a good hook and a catchy melody. The rest is a nice mix of gentle roots/ blues and country songs.

Overall the influences are clear; with the likes of Van Morrison, Stephen Stills, Ry Cooder and John Martyn and others of that era. The ten songs were written by Frith with one co-write with Simon J Alpin. Garron plays acoustic & slide guitar, banjo, and harmonica. The backing musicians include such notables as Simon Edwards (Fairground Attraction, Kirsty McColl) on bass, Nick Simms (Cornershop) on Drums, Dennis Cronin (Lambchop) trumpet, Seymour Milton on keys and Simon J Alpin on mandolin, electric & lap steel guitars.

 

All in all this is a nice mellow album – and yes we’d probably put it on again.

Review Team

 

 

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