“Play the Game” – Brothers Groove

5 stars (out of 5)

3

Play the GameHow about that?  Less than a month into 2014 and I’ve just heard my first great album of the year; it’s by Brothers Groove, it’s their debut and it’s called “Play the Game”.  So what’s so great about this album then?  All of the songs are well-crafted, but the quality of the playing and the vocals push it way beyond run-of-the-mill British blues.  If you want to see how the band describe their influences, you can look at their website, but it’s only going to tell you part of the story; you can list the influences (and you can hear them from the first play), but the craft lies in the way those elements are blended together subtly and tastefully.

The beating heart of Brothers Groove is the interplay between Shaun Hill (guitar, vocals and main lyricist), Nigel Mellor (guitar and vocals) and Deano (bass and vocals).  On this album, they’re helped out by Wayne Proctor (drums and production), Bob Fridzema (keyboards), Bennett Holland (piano) and Sam Weeks (backing vocals), but the creative focus of the band is definitely the interplay between guitars and bass.

The band move effortlessly between the crisp funk of “Play the Game (Save your Soul)”, “What’s the Deal” and “Understand Me” (which wouldn’t sound out of place on either of Donald Fagen’s first two solo albums) and the slow, brooding blues of “Treat ‘em Mean”, “Another Girl” and “Will I See you There?”  And there’s the jazz-funk of “My Guitar” (a love song about a guitar), the psychedelic feel of “Never Gonna Happen”, the shuffle groove of “Duty Calls” and the soulful “Easy Found Love”, held together by some tasteful Hammond chords  and featuring a typically understated wah-wah guitar solo.

This is an album that doesn’t rely on big production techniques or guitar pyrotechnics to get the message over; it’s all about superb technical playing where the two guitars mesh perfectly in a way I haven’t heard since listening to Onnie McIntyre and Hamish Stuart of the Average White Band.  The resemblance doesn’t end there, either; the lead vocal sounds uncannily like Alan Gorrie at times and I’m definitely not saying that’s a bad thing.  Brothers Groove as players are so good that they make intricate inter-woven arrangements sound incredibly simple; they aren’t, it’s down to ability and dedication.  They have the confidence to play without pushing everything to the limit; the quality of the songs and the individual players’ techniques ensure that nothing sounds forced, from the opening guitar riff of the title track to ripple of Fender Rhodes at the end of “Will I see you there?”.  To complete the picture, lead and backing vocals are spot on throughout; I can’t find anything to dislike about this album.

The members of the band have obvious influences, but these are woven into the pattern so cleverly that they create something that’s fresh and contemporary.  Imagine Steely Dan without the snarky sarcasm or the Average White band without the horns and you’re pretty much there.

Out now on Shabby Toad Records (BRGROOV1).  Distributed by Cadiz Digital.