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Reviews August

SHERMAN LEE DILLON
State of the Blues
Wepecket Island Records W1-012
Genre – Real Country Blues
Star rating – 9/10

 

 

This record was a real surprise – Sherman Lee Dillon is a completely new name to us- it turns out to be a gem of a record by a gem of a performer. This is the real deal, blues how its supposed to be –great vocals – economical guitar that solos within the context of the song – a swinging rhythm section always right there in the pocket and on the back-beat– it’s very good indeed. It’s called ‘State of the Blues’ and judging by this the blues in Mississippi are in a very good state, both in terms of quality and geography.  Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta is Sherman’s home state and he doesn’t seem to travel much outside of there; he’s a local name and involved in all sorts of projects designed make sure that kids are educated about America’s great musical heritage. He’s apparently also involved politically. His vocals are liberally sprinkled with those phrases Y’all and ‘Lord have mercy’ and it fits. He takes on several old classics here – the opener ‘Stack O Lee’ after a lengthy intro on resonator he does it as a blues; Then we have ‘Little Red Rooster’ and a laid back groove that really brings out the sexual innuendo that’s in the lyric. What follows is a quality re-arrangement of ‘Spoonful’ a new and faster groove for this one; and then our favourite track, a roaring hoe-down country version of Chuck Berry’s timeless classic ‘Maybelline’- complete with some honking sax. Next we’re into ‘Rock me Baby,’ now that can be a tired old tune often replete with endless guitar – here Sherman, like a true blues master, steps back and allows the song to come through, economical, laid back and a really sensual groove; it’s great to be reminded what this song is supposed to sound like.

It’s amazing, we’re sitting hearing songs that we’ve heard many times before, yet we’re grooving, tapping our feet, it’s almost like the guy is sittin’ right down and playing to us and we’re hearing them for the first time. There are more standout tracks to come – a great version of   ‘Trouble in Mind’ and a favourite song of this team ‘On the Road Again’, so good to hear this again. There are some good originals including a fascinating semi-talking blues ‘Mississippi Highway 3’ which contains a vivid description of what it’s really like on a Mississippi gravel road, ‘Way Cool’ is about a lady of stunning sexual attraction. On the final track Sherman plays banjo, guitarist Mike Higgins joins him the McCoy Brothers’ roots standard ‘Jackson Stomp’. One of the team was playing that in the office recently-yeah this is a cool office- but now we know how it’s actually supposed to sound. It’s that sort of record – makes you want to play along – we have a fiddle player here and she went right ahead got the fiddle out and played along. The album has a very informative booklet with it as well– so we say Lord have mercy y’all – and highly recommend you to look up this album – real down home blues and roots music as good as you’ll ever get – it’s made by people who love the music and the love shines right out.
Review Team

 

IAN SEIGAL & THE YOUNGEST SONS

The Skinny

Nugene Records NUG1101

Genre – Swamp Blues / Roots / Hill Country Blues

Star Rating 7.5/10

 

We are of the opinion that Ian Seigal is the major talent on the UK roots & blues  scene- a talent that expresses far too much for him to be labelled as just a blues artist. When we saw him at a recent gig he said ‘We don’t usually do much blues…but we’ll do some tonight’. His music incorporates the whole range of R&B, City Blues, Country Blues, Country music, Swamp rock, rock ‘n roll –to put it simply he is 100% a rock ‘n roll man. He’s a consummate guitarist but his real strength is that voice, so rich and powerful and expressing a very original lyrical style. On this album he is joined by a galaxy of young talent, Cody Dickinson, Carry Burnside, Robert Kimbrough and Rob Bland – each one the youngest son of a famous father – hence ‘Youngest Sons’ , along the way Alvin Youngblood Hart and others joined in at various places.

 

The album is produced by Cody Dickinson and recorded at Zebra Ranch, Mississippi. According to Ian, interviewed recently by Tim Aves’ on his Saint FM radio recently the sound of the record pretty much reflects it as it was. So in sitting back and detaching ourselves from all of that information and appraising this as an Ian Siegal album what do we find? Well, as a record of Ian with the Youngest Sons it works – the problem for us is that Ian’s enormous talent is somewhat obscured, there is at times too much going on, Ian’s voice and his guitar are not allowed to come through enough to the fore. It’s easy to see how that would present a problem for the producer with all those players in the mix.

 

The result of all this is a very good album, but isn’t the best Ian Siegal album. He really shines, either solo or with his trio. As an example the best song on the album is ‘Hound Dog in the Manger’, We’ve heard it live in trio format and it is a classic swamp rock sound with Ian using drop tuned guitar. The album version falls short of that. Other good tracks are ‘Stud Spider’, ‘Moonshine Minnie’ and the best track is the ten minute closer ‘Hooper Blues (Blues for Dennis)’ where Ian comes right to the fore. The lyrics are humorous and enigmatic throughout. The title track is OK, a good groove but we can’t get at quite what ‘The Skinny’ is actually about (might just be us – too much Real Ale maybe). So in conclusion this a good album and a very listenable collection of swampy sounds, but its not quite the five star Ian Siegal album that we anticipated.

Review Team

 

 

PETE BROWN & PHIL RYAN

Road of Cobras

Proper PRPCD055

Genre – Soul / Funk / Blues

Star rating 7.5/10

Pete Brown is the guy who wrote the lyrics to several of Cream & Jack Bruce’s biggest hit songs. Phil Ryan is a composer and arranger best known for his work with the band Man. On this album Pete Brown Sings lead vocal in a highly individual style and also plays percussion – Phil plays keyboards. The pair are joined here by a galaxy of names – Mick Taylor, Clem Clempson, Rietta Austin, Maggie Bell, Jim Mullen and several others. The artwork is pretty surreal and features several small lizard like creatures wearing headphones and zipping around – it made us suspect that the title ‘Road of Cobras’ is a joke – if you can’t figure that one then ask a Chinese person.

Musically it’s a pretty good album and it’s been a while in the making mainly because of Phil Ryan’s commitments due to family illness. We’d describe it loosely as soul – there are plenty of Memphis style horns – lots of nice funky guitar and lots of breathy backing vocals to give a good sound. We found the drumming a tad ‘on the beat’ which made it feel a little heavy in places but in general it was a good sound and feel. The question is how do you receive Pete’s slightly surreal and quirky lyrics being served in a soul salad? As is typical there are some mad titles like ‘Klip on Wierdness Kit’ and ‘The Ballad of Phsycho and Delia’ it does mean you have to listen to the lyrics. Track 1 ‘Flag a Ride’ is a cooking little slow jazz flavoured tune, with a nice hook, well constructed with no flab. ‘Living on the Edge’ allows Pete to demonstrate his full vocal range he touches some nice high peaks and is obviously a non-smoker. We found track 3 slightly difficult – it’s a nice medium paced ballad, almost a duet between Pete Brown & Maggie Bell, we were, however, unconvinced by the synching of the vocals here, we don’t imagine that with players of this experience this could be accidental – possibly it was to facilitate a looser feel – it’s a matter of taste whether it works or not – but it didn’t quite work for us. It’s a shame as it detracts from an excellent song. ‘Klip on Wierdness Kit’ is unusual – it’s a lyric that stylistically harks back to the style of Pete’s 70’s songs. It’s laid over a funky backing that comes close to reggae and the backing singers sing ‘Klip-on. klip-on, clip on weirdness kit’ in typical soul backing vocal style – it’s a little surreal in the way that a David Lynch soundtrack is surreal, in fact we could imagine Mr Lynch doing a video of this. The strongest track is ‘Tell Me’ a catchy soul funk tune with an occasional harmonic echo of Steely Dan, good track this. The rest of the album maintains a good standard and will benefit repeated listens to get into Pete’s lyrics.

 This is a good value album with well over an hour of music – excellent musicianship – lyrics to make you ponder –it’s not over-produced and it’s a welcome antidote to the anodyne lyrical mush that is so prevalent currently.

Review Team

PETE BROWN

White Rooms & Imaginary Westerns

Pete Brown

JR Books 2010 296pp

 

 

This book is subtitled – ‘On the road with Ginsberg, Writing for Clapton and Cream – An Anarchic Odyssey’ that summarizes its content neatly enough –its Pete’s account of his personal journey; his life – and it has been a very full and entertaining one.

 

There are three songs that above all others secured Pete’s place in the Rock ‘n Roll writers’ hall of fame and probably helped his pension plan. These are songs and sounds are always redolent of a particular period – the late 60’s. It was soon after the British Blues / R&B revival and the time when Eric Clapton had blown us all away with his stunning performances with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Eric left to form Cream – they produced a strange first single ‘Wrapping Paper’, not quite what we all expected – but soon after that they produced the single ‘I Feel Free’ this encapsulated one of the defining strands of their style and of the period – high toned ethereal harmony vocals floating over a very earthy rounded bass sound an it also had intro that was straight out of classic Doo-wop and lyrics by Pete Brown that spun on an irresistible hook line. Fast forward a while – Cream’s second album – ‘Disreali Gears’, track 2 ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ was the instant killer track– a grinding riff that’s been a staple of guitarists in the 44 intervening years – and the lyrics ‘It’s getting near dawn, when lights close their tired eyes…’to the final hook ‘In the sunshine of your love’; again, by Pete Brown – their third classic song with a Pete Brown lyric is ‘White Room.’ It’s on the third Cream album ‘Wheels of Fire’. The account of how those songs came about is a small part of the story, but Pete’s working relationship with Cream’s Jack Bruce continued long after the band’s demise. It’s the most detailed one in the book and he reveals how a thirty year relationship came to rather sad end. I would surmise that at the root of it Jack was always the one in the position of strength; that always created an invisible barrier and in a nutshell Jack never respected Pete as much as Pete respected Jack. That reads as a rather deflating experience for Pete but it also highlights his great resilience.  It’s one of several relational threads that run through the book – Graham Bond, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Phil Ryan are three of many. Those were working relationships that blossomed, bore fruit – yet the book is also about so many more that didn’t blossom, projects that didn’t go-ahead or stalled just as they neared fruition – it’s about some talents reaching fulfilment against the odds –and its about triumph and tragedy – the loss of such great talents as Graham Bond & Viv Stanshall far too young.

 

Pete truly appreciates that with Cream he was blessed to be in the right place at the right time – as he describes the summer of 1967 ‘There was never to be another window where the artistic met the commercial, and creativity was fully financed. You could actually meet powerful people who could help you, and they were even sympathetic.’ This was also the period when Pete forswore drugs and alcohol. Those twin demons of alcohol and substance abuse appear throughout and in this odyssey they claim many victims both directly and indirectly. Pete escaped that fate quite early and quite young – although he imbibed more than most in the early years- he’s remained teetotal and an abstainer from drugs for nearly forty years. That’s left him with a very sharp memory and vivid recall, in fact at times the detail and list of names is bewildering – my one criticism is that the work would have benefited greatly from an index; so that you could follow the characters right through (second edition Pete?). That said it’s a good read and we’ll read it again under less pressured circumstances.

 

There is plenty in the book about Pete as a poet, but no examples of his poetry. That’s a slight drawback for those of us who don’t get too much into poetry for various reasons, we can relate to his descriptions of music much more easily, Pete is obviously a fine poet but there doesn’t seem to be much in print that’s easily accessed by anyone who doesn’t follow poetry closely. He’s also an observer of humankind with all of its foibles and having seen more than most he’s pretty tolerant. Again, he is a musician – a self disparaging musician but one who has been involved in numerous projects and has achieved a fair amount against the odds. Pete also writes about his Jewish background – he’s not to hot on the religious side of it – but he leaves us in no doubt about his Jewish base.

This is a book to be read through once, very quickly, then a second time at leisure so we can fully enjoy the humour that abounds – there are some killer quotes in here, Pete is withering and very funny about the 80’s, Punk, and Stock, Aitken & Waterman and laments the general drop in standards. Pete says that in life his purpose is to provide honest alternative entertainment to those unable to do it themselves – not sure about this – some of us here are well capable of doing it ourselves – and we found Pete’s book very entertaining. We think that anyone with an interest in the 60’s / 70’s scene and beyond will find this a stimulating, informative and fun read; on that basis we strongly recommend it.

 

Review Team

 

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