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June 2012

GORDON SMITH –LIVE AT THE PARSONS GREEN CLUB
Gordon Smith
Brooks Blues Bar CD BBCD001
Genre – Blues
Star rating 9/10

JOINT RECORD OF THE MONTH JUNE 2012

This record is a breath of fresh air – it’s the real deal, real blues and it stands firmly against the endless stream of rock / blues that is being presented as ‘blues’. Most of that stuff is really Rock and this record is really Blues. It was recorded live at Brooks Blues Bar under the auspices of Tony Bell. Tony, along with wife Ann has run Brooks Blues Bar for a good number of years at a number of venues; it is now comfortably entrenched at the Parsons Green Club.

 

Gordon Smith was once described by the late John Peel as the ‘foremost white blues guitarist in the world” that is a hefty epithet to carry around and potentially embarrassing to such a modest character as Gordon, but there is no doubt that he is a pretty mean player – he also has the advantage of a really good blues voice –it’s deep and dark, and you sense that he means it. In fact he means all of it – every note – he reverences the music and it shows as he displays the influences of the great originals – Rev Gary Davis, Lightning Hopkins and most obviously the great Lonnie Johnson. One thing we’re really not hearing among the modern (electric) fraternity is the jazz tinged melodic lyricism that Lonnie Johnson applied to his playing – that allied to his extensive use of diminished chords and scales is a rich source of inspiration to anyone who wants to find something fresh in their blues playing – or they could of course listen to Gordon Smith.

 

The album opens with a note perfect rendition of Rev Gary Davis’ ‘Cincinnati Flow Rag’ – it’s a tricky piece picked cleanly – not a hint of a muted note and that, under the pressure of a live recording situation, is the mark of a true master. The album continues with the Leroy Carr classic ‘In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)’ a song with lyrics that are a cornerstone of blues poetry. It’s at this point the band kicks in – Alan Glenn – harmonica, Jim Mercer – double bass, and Tim Penn on piano, and a lovely Otis Spann style of piano it is. Gordon continues with a solo Lonnie Johnson tune ‘Lonnie’ s Theme’ and the a long version of Johnson’s ‘Too Late to Cry’ the players take it in turns to solo and it moves along nicely. The tempo picks up with the tune associated with Alan Glen – ‘Stone Fox Chase’ which features his excellent harmonica and a nice country style piano solo in which we detected an echo of Floyd Cramer – great track this – and Alan Glen commits a hilarious and unintentional howler, describing Jim as playing bass guitar’ (that’s what wearing a Napoleon outfit does for you). The album continues through some slower blues and then picks up tempo to close on a high – ‘Dorothy Mae’, ‘Mojo Boogie’ and ‘Dust My Broom’. The soloing throughout is lyrical and economical – the players say what they’ve got to say without any excessive showboating. In a word it is blues with ‘class’.

 

Gordon Smith has stayed true to his musical roots and together with Alan Glen, Jim Mercer and Tim Penn given us an album that is a worthy addition to his canon. The recorded sound and mixing by Tony Bell is excellent and Steve Morrison has added to his growing reputation with a good job of mastering. This record is a quality slice of authentic blues and highly recommended.
Review Team

 

 

 

TOMMY WOMACK
Now What!
Cedar Creek Music – CCM005
Genre – Americana
Star rating 9/10

JOINT RECORD OF THE MONTH 2012

Oh yes indeed – this is a very refreshing record. Tommy Womack is an established singer songwriter from Nashville and this is his fifth solo album. He’s been variously described as – ‘Tom Lehrer with a Telecaster’, and ‘Nashville’s best loved musical eccentric’. He’s been around and done a lot – and we’d recommend a visit to www.tommywomack.net for a read, but we came to him completely afresh – this is the first record of his we’ve heard. To us it was a breath of fresh air – it’s good musically, brilliant lyrically and worth repeated listens. Its great quality, all too rare today, is humor – it is full of self deprecating, dead pan humor, in fact the whole lyrical content is shot through with irony –the humor runs through the artwork as well. It’s the sort of humor that fans of such as Biff, the Far Side, Python will probably enjoy. The humor has much of the quality of Biff – it is quite oblique – you’re not sure why it’s funny, but it is. That is particularly true of the cover art.

 

Musically there are echoes of classic C&W, 60’s R&B, Phil Spector / Buddy Holly (opening track) / The Kinks – it’s a very eclectic mix. The vocal riding on top of it all is a lived in voice – one that has seen a lot of ups and downs – a voice that expresses a man who is slightly baffled by the fact that he’s survived and is enjoying survival, but is aware that it’s very easy to fall again. Every track is good – but really outstanding is the opening Buddy Holly/Spector influenced ‘Play that Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick Play’ it also nods to the band ‘Cheap Trick’ and listeners will enjoy spotting that. ‘I’m too Old to Feel That Way Right Now’ – about love life in advanced middle-age is hilarious; ‘On and Off the Wagon’ about the nitty-gritty of dealing with drink problems is funny and encouraging especially to anyone who ever had a problem ‘getting it up’. Best of all is ’90 Miles an Hour Down a Dead End Street’ it’s very funny – especially if you’re a gigging musician. This recommended – and we also recommend ‘Tommy Womack’s Monday Morning Cup of Coffee’ a weekly video event. We’ve put a link below.
Review Team

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0NXJP7k1fc

 

 

BETTER SIDE
RON SAYER JR

Self released
Genre – funk / blues
Star Rating 8.5/10

 

Ron Sayer is another British Guitarist/singer/songwriter; he is new to us although he is a seasoned performer who has been around for some time. We’ve played this album a few times and the more we hear it the more we like it. Ron Sayer is at once a virtuoso guitarist (without ever being too self indulgent or heroic), and a soulful singer. He’s a sophisticated songwriter who composes neat and punchy songs played by a razor tight band they punch home immediately. This Album is about the songs…(and he sure gets some Wicked sounds out of his Telecaster!!) The album kicks off with the funky ‘Bad Thing’ with a powerful driving rhythm guitar intro from Mr Sayer that pricked up our ears immediately…followed on by the moody ‘I Aint Leaving’ …beautiful guitar work, great tone , soulful vocals and a well thought out song with an interesting angle on a well trodden theme. Track 3 ‘Dont Make me Stay’ starts with another funky theme played briefly on acoustic until the band kicks in hard…staying funky throughout with a great groove laid down by the excellent rhythm section of Paul Wooden on drums and Clive H Jones on bass who reeeaallly excells on the next track ‘Manana’…. phwoaaar..!! We found ourselves wanting to jump up and boogie this one is so funky..!(Steady On…!). The track is embellished by a blistering country rock solo with Albert Lee influences…this man could easily give Mr Lee a run for his money too…GREAT STUFF..!!

 

All this is not to mention Ron’s considerable talent as a songwriter …most of the album is self penned and here we have a selection of neat, unpretentious songs all of which get stronger the more you hear them…and they ROCK with soul…check out ‘Your Pleasure , My Pain’ a moody soul ballad which really draws the listener in…and could have maybe benefited even more from just a little extra studio production…the album was produced by Lee Jacobs and Ron Sayer and the sound is clean, well defined and sounds like much of it was recorded in one take…we’ve never seen Ron Sayer but next time he comes to play in our manor and we’re free we’ll be there for sure. We’re eagerly looking forward to more offerings from this band and maybe just a little extra production would make for something even better, but we believe they are looking for a sound they can reproduce on stage and they sure have done that…! Enjoy…!
Review Team

 

LINCOLN DURHAM
The Shovel [vs] the howling bones
Rayburn Publishing – 00TSVTHB-12
Genre – Roots / Americana
Star rating 8/10


For Blues and root fans this is something special -Lincoln Durham is a young guy from Texas, (he was a State Youth fiddle champion at the age of 10) he is a sort of one-man band- with resonator guitar – vintage acoustic guitars – fiddles –various items of percussion. He is gifted with a stunning voice – a sound that really harks back to the beginning – the album liner tracks list influences such as Son House and the legendary Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt and its no exaggeration, his voice is that good – gravelly, soulful, but it is also highly individual and instantly memorable.

 

The record was produced by the highly regarded Texas pair of Ray Wylie Hubbard and George Reiff. It is a driving hypnotic sound right from the opener Drifting [wood]. Durham’s emotive vocals mean the whole thing carries the ring of authenticity. The image is of a young man of the road who just stopped off to make a record – in fact I has something of the haunted quality of Robert Johnson and the hell-hound legend. The on the road imagery is heightened by the home made percussion he uses – cardboard box, bird feeders, suitcase, oil pans and hacksaws. On the album Lincoln Durham is backed by drummer Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites and Alissa Durham on backing vocals.

 

Standout tracks include ‘How Does a Crow Fly’, ‘Living this Hard’ and two truly stunning tracks – the ragtime flavored ballad ‘Clementine’ with a catchy and instantly memorable chorus and the closer ‘Trucker’s Love Song’ an atmospheric gem that talks of love lost a long way from home. The music is quite dark, but not quite as dark as the cover picture which recalls ‘A Clockwork Orange’ might suggest. A smiling Lincoln would have made more sense commercially.

 

The sound is stripped back with echoes of early rock ‘n roll and in terms of genre it encompasses blues, old-time, and alt country styles. Our only critical comment is that the bass drum is over loud – its much louder on the record than it would be if the man himself was  playing it – over-amplified bass drum is common on contemporary recordings and there are obvious commercial reasons for it – but it would have been good to have a natural balance – also the choir on track 10 ‘People of the Land’ felt a little contrived. But that said this is an excellent record from an exceptional talent.

Review team

Lincoln Durham – ‘Living this Hard’
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5QGl8PgUX8

 

 
MORGAN O’KANE
Pendulum
morganokanemusic
Genre – Americana/ alternative
Star rating 9/10

Morgan O'kane

You know that thing with banjo players? They can be a bit… well…“safe“, can’t they? Clean cut…polite, even…nothing whatever wrong with that. Polite is good, mostly. But whatever politeness is about, Morgan O’Kane’ and his Appalachian-rooted banjo are very, very, different.

 

‘Pendulum’ has fourteen self penned tracks – all are powered by O’Kane‘s banjo pyrotechnics, and often include Dobro, fiddle, cello, spoons, voices, thumps and bangs, and miscellaneous bits of startling inventiveness. There’s a flugelhorn in there too. And a fair bit of shouting, in fact It all knits together to make a remarkable confection. Maybe that’s down to eclectic producer and engineer Vic Thrill but it is probably mostly down to O’Kane himself. He’s a man with a mission as well as with awesome technique.

 

The opener, ‘Hello Soul’ establishes that he can play galloping, virtuoso banjo, and that we are in for surprises; its strong underlying percussive drive goes alongside minimal lyrics and Ezekiel Healy’s characteristic Dobro. Densely woven in is the tortured violin of Ferd Moyse, and it all works. The backbone of the album‘s sound is that seamless banjo, Dobro , cello and violin, and the mix is rich , convincing, and with many textures.

 

‘Remember me’ is wonderful, raw-throated poetry, delivered to the sound of someone seemingly beating their head on a largish barn door. He’s got the Appalachian roots, but without the usual wistful nostalgia. More often he’s angry. There’s the odd ambitious political treatise, the usual tally of Appalachian dead bodies, and there are love songs, (of a certain sort), such as the deceptively simple ‘Turkish Canal’. The lyrics are sometimes spare, sometimes evasive, and often mysterious, so the sleeve words can come in useful.

 

Occasionally he returns to the classic old themes of guns, murder and loss, as in the outstanding title track, ‘Pendulum’, or ‘Mary, Mary’. Here he doesn’t just sing about the deadly deeds, he sounds as if he has just put down the warm gun he did them with. Then he surprises us, as when he follows the ambitious political rage of ‘It won’t be long’ with a gentle move into the beauty of the instrumental ‘Penn Avenue’.

 

We soon gather that he is very seriously angered with the sort of mining company that comes along and displaces your community so they can slice off the top of your mountain to see what is inside. Late on, ‘Deep Mine’ and ‘Gold’ ram home the message, the former with minimal words and maximum emotional effect, and the latter as a virtual manifesto.

 

If you are a serious banjo player for the 21st Century, search this CD out. If you know little of the banjo the buy itanyway, because you may never think of the banjo or Appalachia the same way again. This is a marvelous piece of work, of which all concerned can be proud.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Review Team

NICKY SWANN
How Does Your Land Lie?
Opening Doors Music
Genre – Contemporary British folk
Star Rating -8/10

Nicky Swann is from Newton Abbott in Devon, and these self penned songs are about her home town. You might think that they would be of interest only to Devonians, but you would be wrong. These are thoughtful, intelligent and well crafted songs focusing on universal issues; they stand on their own merits.

 

Mostly what you get here is Swann and her guitar, in a cultured, quietly sung style; think Carole King, maybe. She is supported by the sparing input of six other musicians. It’s all intelligent and civilized, which will be its strength for some and possibly its weakness for others.

 

The melodies are instantly accessible, and are supported by well thought through arrangements. The lyrics are not over specific, lending mystery and universality, as in the opening track ‘Newfoundlands’. Here Katie Marie’s cool bass adds an ethereal touch to the breathy sincerity of the delivery. In the same way ‘Because of You’, a song about, of all things, the work of a Victorian Theatre designer, becomes charming and timeless. Here understated words are focused by the subtle cello and violin of Beth Porter and Tim Trewin.

Her songs are rarely lightweight; they invariably tackle serious subjects and universal sentiments, as when the sad ends of wronged young women are well and truly nailed in the bleak ‘One Track Line’- it is a a song that could stand alone anywhere.

 

Much of the CD is delivered in a quietly controlled manner. We asked ourselves can she widen the emotional range vocally, and how would this material fare live.  The few more up-tempo pieces are promising; on ‘Diving’, where Paul Caddick’s piano and some uninhibited singing promises a striking live act’ Likewise in ‘Union Babies’, where she relaxes into a fluid country blues style. On this song with the addition of Dobro and bass, she delivers very satisfactorily indeed. It might have widened the appeal if she had included more of that sort of thing.

 

She sings well throughout, even if on occasions the quality of the production does not disguise a certain carefulness in the sound. Despite the genuinely admirable quality and subtlety we wondered if the songs might have benefited from a stronger treatment; ‘Thomas Campion’ is a powerful statement, with its theme of social justice, and a strong martial beat. It could easily become a major part of a striking live set.

 

These are small niggles; this is a very good album by a genuinely talented, working artist who has achieved a lot already, and is on the cusp of bigger things. If you buy this or see her live you won’t be disappointed.

Review Team

 


Royal Southern Brotherhood

Ruf Records RUF 1180 LC01956
Genre – Rock / Blues
Star rating 5/10

ROYAL  SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD
There is a heavyweight  line-up on this record;  Cyril Neville-vocals / percussion, Devon Allman- vocals /guitar, Mike Zito –vocals /guitar, Charlie Wooton- bass, Yonrico Scott – drums. These are all pretty much household names for rock/blues fans; but sadly we found the record to be lacking in originality- it’s all rather predictable from the moody black and white cover pictures right through the music. The playing is technically fine the sound is good – but the end result is a rather predictable and sanitized FM friendly product (corporate friendly one might suggest). We’re sure that these guys could really blow up a storm on a live show – but those qualities- the swing, the funk the groove have been produced out of the recording. The opening line of the opening track seems to be taken directly from ‘Harlem Shuffle’ – it does go somewhere different – but immediately we heard it we said ‘Harlem Shuffle’. Musicians of this quality and with these resources should be producing something more interesting than this. Perhaps these guys should get back in the garage or get back on the old back porch – turn on the tape and let it run – then we might get closer to the true spirit of rock ‘n roll.

REVIEW TEAM

 

HAT FITZ and CARA
Wiley Ways
www.hatfitzcara.net
Genre – roots / blues
Star rating – 8.5/10

Hat Fitz and Cara
The mix of acoustic instruments with a strong percussive overlay is high fashion the moment. From what we’ve heard these guys from Australia have produced the best record yet and the best balance of instruments and percussion. They’re a husband and wife team growing in popularity and this record can only further their reputation. Cara Robinson has a voice of frightening power and a gift of unleashing that power to maximum dynamic effect – it’s the highpoint of the powerful opening track ‘Power’ – 1.32 in she raises a really potent yell – it lifts an already dynamic piece to a new high. Listening to the record also reveals a voice of great dynamic range – from powerful holler to a serene gentle lyricism.  The opening track is superb – apparently a live cut (it sounds as if there’s an audience clapping). It opens with a penny whistle playing over triples a bass drum and a catchy single string figure on the guitar. A bass-line augments the sound and it just takes off. If it’s not live then they’ve done a great job of producing a live sound.

 

A great opener is followed by a real killer cut – ‘Eliza Blue’ a memorably hypnotic and traditionally styled melody over a simple percussive beat and a blues figure on guitar. It’s a tale of the days of deportation and slave ships – very atmospheric and done with the simplest of means.

 

All the tracks are good but equally notable are the two closers – track 11 ‘Red Rattler’ features Hat Fitz on vocal and they really do kick up a percussive storm. Track 12 ‘Rusty River’ features resonator with a ‘Celtic’ influenced flute line played over. The song is a ballad with echoes of Irish traditional styling in the melody line. It is a peaceful and haunting closer and shows the gentle side of Cara’s vocal style; lovely harmonies, and unison guitar and vocal lines are among the highlights of this track.

 

This is a strong record and it draws together influences from American roots music – old-time-delta blues, and traditional Irish music (which was of course the root source of American roots). We commend this record as one which will repay repeated listening.

REVIEW TEAM

 

THE TWO MAN GENTLEMEN BAND
Two at a Time
Self production
BTR-001CD (www.thetwogentlemen.com)
Genre  Americana / Western Swing
Star Rating 8/10

This a very interesting recording – it’s in mono and produced on vintage equipment – live to monophonic tape with no edits or overdubs.  This applies to the artwork as well which was produced by traditional printing methods.  It was financed by the band’s own fans and supporters. The two gents in question – Andy Bean n vocals and tenor guitar, Fuller Condon on vocals and string bass have been playing the US coast to coast for many years – and the music on here shows the benefits of that work. Andy Bean will be known to UK fans of the WYOS with whom he toured last year.

 

The musicianship is superb as they weave around the tunes, and percussion comes from foot-tapping and other down-home means. The music covers the range of swing / Western swing / and the listener can hear the influences of Louis Jordan, T. Bone Walker, Bob Wills and every type of jazz style from the 20’s to the 50’s. Andy Bean ‘s playing is a virtual primer in swing-guitar styles – and any player wanting a quality intro to these styles would do n better than sitting down and listening to this (which is exactly what one of our team is doing).

 

The lyrics are quick fire and very humorous – on a live gig interspersed with their reported quick-fire patter this would be great entertainment. It’s a good listen with ‘Pork Chops’ and ‘Tikka Masala’ stand-outs on a first listen. Despite the immaculate quality of the playing the limited instrumental line-up means it all starts to sound a bit similar after a while – so it’s a record best dipped in and out of. That’s what we will do if we can get it back from the guitar player sitting in the corner.

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