“Twang” – The James Oliver Band

4 stars (out of 5)

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“Twang”; simple, it does what it says on the tin. OK, front cover, but you know what I mean and, actually, it does quite a lot more than it says on the tin. The twang is certainly present, but there’s a lot more to this album than Dick Dale influences. “Twang” is much more than surf or surf-punk. James Oliver pulls in many more guitar influences including Elmore James, Chuck Berry, Link Wray, Mick Green, Wilko Johnson and George Thorogood. And that’s before we even mention the legendary Dave Edmunds, whose collaborator Paul Riley mixed “Twang”. If you want another Welsh guitar connection, James is from Blackwood, home of the Manic Street Preachers – all part of the service.

The album’s opener, “American Cars”, is a humorous swipe at the role of the car in rock ‘n’ roll music and the conspicuous absence of the American models in the Welsh Valleys, in a similar vein to Billy Bragg’s “A13, Trunk Road to the Sea”, but with more guitar; loads more guitar and plenty of piano as well. It sets the scene for the album; the musicianship is cracking, it’s one hundred miles per hour and there’s a lot of humour running through it.

Did someone mention Link Wray? The instrumental, “The Missing Link” is the surf equivalent of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of “Little Wing” as James runs through the various techniques of surf guitar, demonstrating his complete mastery of the genre (and more besides); and just like SRV’s piece, it’s a masterclass.

There are a couple of Big Joe Turner covers, “TV Mama” and “Honey Hush”, where James pulls in a few other references as well; “TV Mama” hints at Dave Edmunds’ 1970 No. 1 cover of the Dave Bartholomew classic “I Hear You Knocking”, while “Honey Hush” hints at a Phil Spector  production, which Dave Edmunds also emulated for a while in the early seventies.

The James Oliver Band is much more than a simplistic tribute to sixties surf music. The stylings are complex; there are multiple tempo and rhythm changes throughout, particularly on “The Missing Link” and “Clean House” and the album’s closer, the Dick Dale classic “Misirlou” winds down with a bottom E string being gradually de-tensioned as the tune winds to a close. These are all examples of a musician with technical expertise and a clinical understanding of how a song is put together.

With the death of Cavan Grogan earlier this, maybe it’s time for James Oliver to make his breakthrough; after all, sixty-five years down the line all Chuck’s children are still out there playing his licks.

“Twang” is out now via The Last Music Company (2REV101).

Here’s a little video clip for you as well: