Every year we seem have another ‘death of the album’ story as the established music business struggles to keep up with (or buy in to) services trying to maximise profit for the industry at the expense of the artist. But this year something strange has happened; sales of vinyl and record decks have risen dramatically. OK, the baseline’s still low but as CD sales plummet, it’s a good sign that people are investing in the hardware to play an analogue album format. Meanwhile, thousands of artists and bands are ignoring the established music business, funding their own recordings and using whatever methods they can to get their music out there. All of my High Five albums this year have been self-funded by artists who are making music because they believe in what they do and hoping that they can find an audience. I had seven albums on the shortlist for this selection, so there are a couple of honourable mentions as well.

A Life Unlimited Title“A Life Unlimited” – Stone Foundation

It’s been another good year for Stone Foundation. They’ve signed up to a couple of overseas labels, toured Japan again and released “A Life Unlimited”, an album that moves their search for the new soul vision onward and upward with hints of jazz, house and Latin disco (and even guest vocal performances from Graham Parker and Doctor Robert). Songwriters Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby have produced another set of classic songs while the band line-up has evolved with the permanent addition of congas and baritone sax replacing trombone in the horn section to give a slightly harder sound. This album (like its predecessor “To Find the Spirit”) is all about a group of musicians working together to create a very British soul sound; no egos, no big solos, just a bunch of guys pumping out perfect grooves. You can read the original review here.

Soultime Title“Soultime!” – Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

You have to admire someone who’s been singing for over forty years, come through some difficult times and still gets fired up about recording and performing songs. Since cutting his ties with the corporate music business, and setting up his own label around fifteen years ago, Southside Johnny has undergone a creative renaissance, becoming more involved in songwriting (with co-writer Jeff Kazee) and exploring new musical areas (including Americana with his second band The Poor Fools). “Soultime!” is the work of an artist who isn’t bound by a release schedule and a cycle of album and tour. This album is inspired by some of the soul and rhythm and blues greats of the sixties and seventies, and evokes the era joyously without ever becoming a pastiche. It’s an album that’s great fun to listen to and sounds like it was fun to make. It’s essential listening and you can read the original review here.

Pete_Kennedy_4PAN1TAPK_FINAL_outlined.indd“Heart of Gotham” – Pete Kennedy

This is an album that had a long gestation period. Pete has been working on it for about ten years and there are a couple of reasons why the album took so long to make. Pete and Maura Kennedy have a very busy schedule with their other projects but, more importantly, this album could only be released when everything was absolutely perfect. “Heart of Gotham” is a song cycle about Pete’s love for New York City, delving into the city’s history, geography and ambience against a backdrop of Pete’s outstanding musicianship (playing all the instruments on the album) and some beautifully-realised arrangements. Pete’s multi-layered guitars and gravelly vocal delivery create an atmosphere that’s unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. You can read the original review here and you should also read Pete’s contribution to this year’s High Fives, which links in to the album.

Hannah Aldridge Title“Razor Wire” – Hannah Aldridge

This was a debut album with instant impact. Hannah puts together all of the classic singer-songwriter elements perfectly; she has a powerful, clear voice and she sings intensely personal songs with conviction and emotion. Everything on the album is inspired by life events, apart from “Parchman”, the story of a woman on death row, who has no regrets about the crime which put her there. There are songs about jealousy, revenge, addiction and inappropriate relationships, but there’s also a counterbalance, particularly with the nostalgia of “Black and White”. The album visits some very dark places but there are enough positive moments to create balance between the dark and the light. Hannah’s always been inspired by Jackson Browne; I’m sure he’d be pleased to hear the fruits of his influence. You can read a live review from Hannah’s Green Note gig in July here.

Black Casino Scroller“Until the Water Runs Clear” – Black Casino and the Ghost

Black Casino and the Ghost (can we just say BCATG from now on) are a four-piece based in London and Essex and “Until the Water Runs Clear” is their second album. They’ve been Riot Squad favourites since their first album was released over two years ago. It would be easy to focus on the stupendous voice of singer Elisa Zoot and the guitar virtuosity of Ariel Lerner, but bass player Gary Kilminster and drummer Paul Winter-Hart play their part as well, with Elisa’s keyboards adding even more possibilities. “Until the Water Runs Clear” has drawn in many influences from sixties pop to trip-hop, mutated them and thrown them in the blender to create something that alternately sounds familiar and completely original. There’s also a lyrical dark side that runs through the album, creating sinister undertones and a hint of paranoia; maybe you shouldn’t skin up before listening to this one. The end result is an album which keeps you guessing; you’re never quite sure where it’s going, but you don’t want to miss a second of it. You can read the review here and see a few photos of the band at The Finsbury here.

And there are a couple of honourable mentions for the Dean Owens album “Into the Sea”, which was recorded in Nashville and packed with memorable and very personal tunes, and Bob Malone’s “Mojo Deluxe” featuring some keyboard virtuosity and a bunch of great tunes across a wide range of musical styles.

 

Bob Malone TitleOn February 8 2015, Bob Malone performed most of his superb new album “Mojo Deluxe” at The Grand Annex in San Pedro, California in a one-off performance supported by Mike Baird (drums), Jeff Dean (bass), Chris Trujillo (percussion), Bob Demarco (guitar, banjo), Marty Rifkin (slide guitar) and Lavonne Seetal, Trysette and Karen Nash (vocals). As well as a live performance, this was recording for the DVD “Mojo Live”, so there was absolutely no pressure at all on the band to turn in a great performance. If you’ve read what we’ve said about Bob in the past, you won’t be surprised to hear that they nailed it, start to finish.

If you’ve seen Bob touring the UK, his band comprises two Italian musicians (guitar and drums) and a British bass player. They’re great musicians and they gel perfectly as a band, but many of the songs on “Mojo Deluxe” have big arrangements, which a four-piece just can’t deliver, no matter how good they are. So Bob’s solution was to bring the gig to the audience rather than the audience to the gig (apart from the lucky ones who were in the Grand Annex on the night).

What you get on the DVD is a group of superb musicians playing a set that was meticulously prepared and played, with all of the verbal sparring that goes on between songs, including a bit of faux-snarky husband/wife dialogue to spice things up. From the raucous opening of “Don’t Threaten Me (with a Good time)” and the instrumental “Chinese Algebra” (which works perfectly as a solo  piano piece or with the full band) to slow closers “Paris” and “Gaslight Fantasie” everything is played to perfection. There’s even the obligatory version of the Faces classic, “Stay with Me”, giving all the band an opportunity to trade licks with Bob, and just generally have a good time. There’s even some excellent still photography on there as an extra.

If you get the chance you go and see Bob Malone live, but this is something a little bit special. It’s unlikely that this show will go out on the road; this is the only chance you’ll get to see this and you really shouldn’t miss it. It’s a great record of great show and the only thing missing is the smell of spilt beer and soggy carpet; you can probably manage without that. Good Christmas present? I think so

Out now.

Bob Malone TitleWe’re big fans of Bob Malone here at MusicRiot so when I got the chance to meet up for a chat on the final night of his UK tour it was a bit of a no-brainer. Bob’s been in the UK for three weeks touring in support of his “Mojo Deluxe” album and the “Mojo Live” DVD and The 100 Club gig was the climax of a hectic tour schedule. So a very noisy 100 Club dressing room is where we got the chance to talk about old pianos, New Orleans and Southside Johnny, among other things:

 

Allan – So it’s approaching the end of the tour and we met on the first night in Southend. How has it been since then?

Bob – It’s been great; a few funky gigs, a few spectacular gigs and we’ve worked hard. We had a couple of nights where we didn’t have gigs but we still had a radio show or a long drive; we’re a hard-working group.

Allan –Have you had any particularly good gigs?

Bob – This one’s definitely gonna be a good one and Keighley Blues Club, that was a really great crowd and Scotland as well, and we also played on the Isle of Wight.

Allan – I remember when we met in Southend you were talking about Italian audiences.

Bob – They’re full on, right out of the box, from the first song.

Allan –Do you notice any differences in the audiences around the UK?

Bob – Well it sometimes takes three or four songs here. The north is different from the south, as you know. I didn’t until I did these long tours here; England was just England like people think America is just America but here it’s five different countries with completely different cultures.

Allan – Have you played The 100 Club before?

Bob – No, but its reputation precedes…

Allan – How does that feel?

Bob – It feels good. I was soundchecking with the grand piano earlier and the sound engineer had footage of Paul McCartney playing that same piano.

Allan – I think it’s great to see it with the lights up and look at all those great photos around the walls of the people that have played here in the past.

Bob – I love places with history like this; you feel like you’re part of a continuum.

Allan – You’re promoting the Mojo Deluxe album at the moment. What kind of a reception has the album had?

Bob – I think it’s the most press and radio I’ve had on anything I’ve done and it’s my twentieth year of making records, so I’m happy with that.

Allan – After doing what I think of as the day job with John Fogerty, how does this compare? It must be a huge culture change.

Bob – It’s different. I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years; this is what I do, and I’ve been playing with John for almost five years now. With this, so long as the sound man is competent I’m happy. Everyone thinks it must be weird to go from small crowds to big crowds, but it really isn’t. As long as it’s a good musical experience and you’re connecting with an audience; that’s why we play. You can’t really control the size of the crowd and also when I do this it’s a mission; when I play with John it’s his gig. I’m lucky to be there but it’s his gig. I get my solo but other than that, it’s all about him and I’m just in the background.

Allan – Trying to avoid the pyrotechnics…

Bob – Trying not to burst into flames during “Fortunate Son”, exactly.

Allan – So when you’re out doing your own stuff, here and in the States, what would be your ideal band line-up?

Bob – The ultimate, when I’m not touring; when I’m LA, and I don’t have to put people in hotel rooms would be a nine-piece band. I just did a DVD, which I did the way I would like to do it and I had three female background singers, percussionist, drums, bass and guitar. I do a lot of stuff with horns as well, for years I had a horn section, so it would be a nine to eleven piece band and a second keyboard player would be great, to play the organ parts. (If you’re really paying attention, you’ll notice that the total number of musicians is only eight, but there’s a slide guitar player on there as well. I hope your heart isn’t broken by that omission Marty Rifkin.)

Allan – On your own tours, particularly in the UK, you rely on the venue providing the piano. Have you had any horror stories with that in the past?

Bob – Well, usually I carry a digital piano for when there’s no real alternative, but most of the places I play now, if there is a real piano, it’s usually in good shape, but I’ve been to places that had a hundred year old upright and some of the keys didn’t work but I kind of like to play those anyway, just for the challenge. It’s like going in the ring with this old piano and fighting it to see who wins. I love real pianos because they all have personality; the digital ones are handy and they’re light and they don’t go out of tune, but they don’t have much of a personality. They get the job done.

The one in Southend, that’s got some issues. It’s got some broken strings; it’s one that I fight to the death but I like playing it because it’s an old Bösendorfer.

Allan – I did notice a few problems at the soundcheck that night…

Bob – It needs a rebuild, but still I’m glad to see it.

Allan – You’re classically and jazz trained; was there any one thing that turned you into a rock/blues pianist?

Bob – The rock thing came first. One of those things was hearing “Sergeant Pepper” for the first time, so it’s you guys, it’s your fault. Then I heard Billy Joel and Elton John and not very long after that the New Orleans thing, which blew me away, and then Ray Charles and I became a huge student of that stuff but the rock stuff was always there.

Allan – Were you singing right from the start?

Bob – I started singing when I was fifteen probably. I started singing because I wanted to impress a girl I had a crush on. I just played classical piano but “Your Song” by Elton John was the first thing I ever sang in public; I thought ‘She’ll love me if I sing this song’. I was a terrible singer, some people still say I am, but I learned to work with what I have.

You write songs and there are obviously lots of people with better voices than me but when you write songs you have a story to tell and people always respond to the story and sometimes you’re the only person that can tell it.

Allan – We’ve had “Mojo Deluxe” this year, so what’s next on the agenda.

Bob – Well, I’ve got this DVD coming out and the audio from that was so good, we’re thinking of putting that out as a live record next year and I’ll make another new record, so I’ll probably get the live one out next year and in 2017 I’ll have a new studio album. I’ve got to get realistic about this; I’ve got about half the songs I need for another record.

Allan – I interviewed Southside Johnny in July 2014 in London…

Bob – Southside Johnny was also one of the big things in my youth and I should mention this because growing up in New Jersey, we all knew Southside Johnny. This was the 80s and you couldn’t hear that kind of music on the radio at all and so my first real exposure to r’n’b, blues, horn section kinda music was Southside and I learned from that and went back and figured out all the other stuff. He was huge for me.

Allan – When I interviewed him at Shepherds Bush Empire last July, we spoke about his new album “Soultime!” and he said they were aiming to get it out for Christmas 2014 and that finally came out in August this year.

Bob – Yeah, that’s about right. I toured here last year and I had half of “Mojo Deluxe” out as “Mojo EP”. We had finished recording and it was half-mixed and there were some problems and we couldn’t get the other half mixed in time and the promoter said ‘The whole thing is you have a record out for this tour; we can’t get any press without a record’ so we had half a record out as an EP, just in the UK for the tour.

Allan – And that worked really well as a sampler for the album.

Bob – And by the end of last year the whole thing was done but then we needed a three month ramp for the release date to get it publicised and I was touring through the spring, so we just put the whole thing off and it came out almost a year later. That’s how it works. There are so many factors; if you have a lot of money involved, you can get things done a lot quicker. On a limited budget, you still need time to publicise, so you often end up delaying.

Allan – One final question; do you have one song that tears you up and gets you really emotional?

Bob – Yeah, “One for my Baby”, the Sinatra song; that one kills me every time. It depends on the day; it could be something else on another day.

Allan – Thanks very much, Bob.

And there you go; a private audience with the great Bob Malone, who was as entertaining offstage as on. Since we spoke, I’ve had a chance to watch the “Mojo Live” DVD and it’s superb, capturing the magic of a one-off performance absolutely perfectly. It has great performances from all of the musicians and it’s a whole load of fun; keep an eye out for it.

Bob Malone TitleRight, we’ve just got time to remind you about this. One of the Riot Squad’s favourite keyboard players is coming back to the UK with a tour which starts this Friday in Southend-on-Sea. He’s promoting the brilliant “Mojo Deluxe” album (which we reviewed earlier this year) and you should really make the effort to get out and hear Bob rip it up with his own unique blend of rock, blues New Orleans r’n’b. We may even see you out there.

Here’s the itinerary:

Friday October 9                     The Railway Hotel, Southend-on-Sea

Saturday October 10              Boogaloo Blues Weekend, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

Sunday October 11                The Navy Club, Maryport

Wednesday October 14          Dusty’s Blues Club, High Wycombe

Thursday October 15              The Green Hotel, Kinross

Friday October 16                   The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen

Sunday October 18                Hope Tavern, West Lindsey

Tuesday October 20               Blues Café, Harrogate

Wednesday October 21          Railway Venue, Bromley Cross, Bolton

Thursday October 22              The Jam House, Birmingham

Friday October 23                   Keighley Blues Club

Saturday October 24              Catholic Club, Peterlee

Monday October 26                The Bullingdon (Haven Club), Oxford

Tuesday October 27               The 100 Club, London

Wednesday October 28          The Jazz Café, Cardiff

 

MojoDeluxeCover TitleYou would never guess that “Mojo Deluxe” is Bob Malone’s seventh album; granted it’s packed with the kind of accomplished playing, tipping over into virtuosity, that you would expect from seasoned players, but there’s a vitality and freshness here that wouldn’t be out of place on a debut album. There’s another magic ingredient as well; fun. There’s the odd studio comment left in on an intro or outro, but it’s more than that; this album sounds like people having a good time; the kind of fun you have when you’re doing what you do best, with a bunch of musicians who are tuned in to what you do.

Just like the “Mojo EP”, a sampler for the album released in the UK a year ago, “Mojo Deluxe” kicks open the doors with an electric piano riff and pounding bass on “A Certain Distance” that say ‘Go on, just try and ignore me’. Don’t even try; just surrender to the rhythm and enjoy the ride. You might be willing to forgive a jaw-droppingly good keyboard player with a classic gravelly blues voice if he just phoned in some lyrics to fit the great tunes but, guess what, Bob Malone has that covered as well. “A Certain Distance”, “I’m Not Fine” and “Rage and Cigarettes” all tap into the malaise that afflicts gifted musicians confined with others like themselves on tour; you’re locked into a dysfunctional world where you come to hate your travelling companions, but you hate outsiders even more. It’s not as snarky as Donald Fagen, but then what is?

But, there’s more to life than snark. “Paris” is a gentle love song, overturning the clichés with the message that Paris is all very well, but doesn’t mean anything if your lover’s somewhere else; there’s even the irony of an accordion solo. “Toxic Love” is a love song in its own brooding, menacing way with slide dobro and sinister hissing vocal; it’s an affair you wouldn’t expect to turn out too well. There’s a couple of blues covers as well, the Ray Charles classic “Hard Times”, which gets a very clean modern workout with a punchy guitar solo, and a lo-fi, piano-led version of Muddy Waters’ “She Moves Me”. The instrumental, “Chinese Algebra” is a demonstration of Bob’s piano technique which works equally well with the band arrangement or the solo version that you can find all over YouTube; it’s another one of those bits of fun that spice up the album.

“Looking for the Blues” and “Don’t Threaten Me (With a Good Time)” are both uptempo blues numbers with all the trimmings including horns and backing vocals (even a funky clavinet on “Don’t Threaten Me…”); great fun again. “Watching Over Me” and “Can’t Get There from Here” both have a world-weary gospel feel and bring the album to a satisfactory if slightly melancholy close. And that’s it for “Mojo Deluxe”; it’s an enticing stew of Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Dr John and mainly Bob Malone. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll be coming back for more.

Bob will be touring the UK with his superb band later this year. Go and see him at any of these venues and see what all the fuss is all about:

Friday October 9                     The Railway Hotel, Southend-on-Sea

Saturday October 10              Boogaloo Blues Weekend, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

Sunday October 11                The Navy Club, Maryport

Wednesday October 14          Dusty’s Blues Club, High Wycombe

Thursday October 15              The Green Hotel, Kinross

Friday October 16                   The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen

Sunday October 18                Hope Tavern, West Lindsey

Tuesday October 20               Blues Café, Harrogate

Wednesday October 21          Railway Venue, Bromley Cross, Bolton

Thursday October 22              The Jam House, Birmingham

Friday October 23                   Keighley Blues Club

Saturday October 24              Catholic Club, Peterlee

Monday October 26                The Bullingdon (Haven Club), Oxford

Tuesday October 27               The 100 Club, London

Wednesday October 28          The Jazz Café, Cardiff

“Mojo Deluxe” is released on August 21.

Federal CharmSo, on to the second part of our mid-term report, and it kicks off with a band that the Riot Squad saw live a couple of times last year. Federal Charm released their debut album in 2013 and have been on the circuit trying to reach as many people as possible with their melodic blues/rock. This year they’ve also been recording their second album which is ready for release in the Autumn to coincide with a major support tour with Joanne Shaw Taylor in September and October. We’re looking forward to reviewing the new album and the live shows will definitely be worth seeing.

Phil Burdett

Phil Burdett

Phil Burdett’s album “Dunfearing and the West Country High” (again from Drumfire Records) was another MusicRiot favourite last year. It was the first part of Phil’s “Secular Mystic” trilogy, and a work of rare beauty. The second part of the trilogy, “Shaky Path to Arcadia”, is due to be released in late summer/autumn 2015 and based on the songs that the Riot Squad have heard so far at a couple of gigs in Southend and Leigh-on-Sea, this is shaping up to be another classic. There’s also the first part of an acoustic trilogy which may be released later this year, but we’ll tell you more about that later.

 

Southside 26 JohnnyDid we feature anyone from New Jersey? We did? Now that’s a surprise. Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes have a new album which should be released later this year and that’s always something we look forward to here at Riot Towers. The album’s called “Soultime!” and the band has been previewing some of the songs at shows over the summer in the States; apparently they’re sounding pretty good. The one snippet we’ve heard from the live shows, “Spinning”, sounds like The Jukes at their very best with the band cooking on gas and the horns blowing up an absolute storm.

Bob MaloneBob Malone’s also from New Jersey, although he lives in California these days. We reviewed the “Mojo EP”, which was a sampler for his “Mojo Deluxe” album, last year. After a year of touring the States with John Fogerty and Europe with his own band, “Mojo Deluxe” is just about ready to go and he’ll be touring the UK later this year in support of the album. If the album lives up to the standards set by the EP, it should be a little bit special. As for the live shows, you really should get along to see one of those; we’ll give you some dates later in the year.

That’s it for the bands we featured in the predictions for 2015 and so far it’s looking pretty good for all of our selections. In the third and final part of the report, we’ll bring you up to speed with some of the great bands and artists we’ve seen for the first time this year who we think you’ll be hearing a lot more of.

NY2015 titleSo that’s 2014 well and truly put to bed. We’ve had great fun telling you about an interesting and varied bunch of albums and gigs and we’ve even thrown in a few photos as well. I suppose you want to know what delicacies MusicRiot has lined up for you in 2015; well, we’re only five days in so far, but we’re starting to get an idea of some of the music we’re looking forward to this year. Just bear with me a second while I clean the fingerprints off this crystal ball; I knew it was a mistake going for the touch-screen version.

Okay, a couple of predictions to start with. Two very different bands that we love at Riot Towers, Stone Foundation and Federal Charm, are continuing their march towards world domination. Both bands are currently demoing new albums while taking every opportunity to play live as well. Stone Foundation, following the success of the album, “To Find the Spirit”, tours of the UK and Japan and heaps of radio play last year are taking their brand of small town soul to Europe this April with gigs in France, Germany and The Czech Republic. There’s a British tour as well, which will probably feature some of the material from the new album. Federal Charm, after a hectic year supporting the likes of Ian Hunter and Rich Robinson are focussing on studio life for a while but I guess we can look forward to hearing more from them live later in the year; they just seem to get better with every tour. Another of our old friends, Maura Kennedy, is working on a solo album this year as well, although we don’t know about release dates for that one yet. I suspect we also have a new Southside Johnny album this year as well.

As for albums which are definite releases for this year, we’re quite excited by a few of those as well. Our live favourites The Billy Walton Band have secured a deal for the release their album “Wish for What You Want” and that should be coming out in February. Drumfire Records have new releases in the spring from Dean Owens and Phil Burdett (who also has an acoustic album coming out this year. We reviewed Bob Malone’s “Mojo EP” as well as a gig last year and we’re really looking forward to the release of his “Mojo Deluxe” album, probably in April this year. And that’s before we even start on John’s picks for this year.

Keep an eye out here or like or Facebook page to keep up with all of our news this year.

 

We reviewed Bob Malone’s excellent “Mojo EP” earlier this year and a couple of months later we sent Allan out to the badlands of Southend-on-Sea to see the final show of Bob’s UK tour. We were so impressed that we asked Bob to contribute to this feature. Here’s Bob’s festive favourite five:

‘Tis the season, and all that sort of thing; I can’t lie -- I get radically sentimental about the holidays. For most of the year, I bash pianos, sing songs of alienation and heartbreak, and knock out one-nighters like the road warrior that I am, but come Christmakuh, don’t come around here looking for any of that action -- I’ll be busy baking cookies, bitchez! These five records mean a lot to me, and they are what I think of when I think of this time of year.

Vince Guaraldi Trio“A Charlie Brown Christmas” -- Vince Guaraldi Trio Vince was one of the great jazz pianists, with a magical, melodic, understated style all his own. This music is the perfect companion to what was probably most perfect Christmas TV special ever made. You’ll smile, you’ll reflect quietly, you get a little melancholy, and you will dig that swinging rhythm section every year for the rest of your life. Oh, and I have this record on green vinyl -- you know you want one. Timeless.

 

 

The Spirit of Christmas“The Spirit Of Christmas” -- Ray Charles This record is so good, you don’t even have to wait for the holidays to put it on. Crazy hip arrangements, and Ray singing his ass off and playing a sweet, sweet Fender Rhodes throughout. He even manages to make “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” sound badass. There will never be another Brother Ray, so bow down and dig. I should note, however, that this record has the widest bad-album-cover-to-great-music spread ratio ever. A book definitely not to be judged by its cover.

 

A Very Special Christmas“A Very Special Christmas” -- Various Artists This mid 80s collection sold gazillions and is full of great tracks -- Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band doing the great Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby” (way cool, but not as good as the 1977 bootleg of Bruce doing “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” which just can’t be touched -- I’m from New Jersey -- this shit is IMPORTANT!), Chrissie Hynde’s snow-meltingly sexy version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and Madonna totally nailing “Santa Baby” -- and I frigging HATE Madonna -- but credit where credit is due. Most importantly, though, it’s got Run -- D.M.C. doing “Christmas In Hollis” -- which just might possibly be the greatest thing ever… “It’s Christmastime in Hollis, Queens, mom’s cookin’ chicken and collard greens…”   Yes, Indeed. Oh and speaking of Charles Brown, everyone needs to own “A Very Special Christmas II” just for the recording of his duet with Bonnie Raitt on the aforementioned “Merry Christmas Baby.” It’s the kind of thing Top-5 lists were made for.

 

Baroque masterworks“Baroque Masterworks for The Festive Season” -- Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Betcha didn’t see this one coming! Before I discovered rock and roll and the blues, and Return to Forever, and the New Orleans piano professors, and “The Chronic” -- I was an 11-year-old classical piano prodigy and this was one of the first records I ever bought with my own money. It’s got the Pachelbel Canon, and the Torelli Christmas Concerto on it. Just get it. It’ll make you weep.

 

 

Mary chapin carpenter“Come Darkness, Come Light” -- 12 Songs Of Christmas” -- Mary Chapin Carpenter A dozen original Christmas tunes by one of our great songwriters -- not the normal celebratory, sentimental, or breezy types of things you hear this time of year, they are instead reflective and realistic. When you have that seasonal melancholy, and you need to dig deep -- this is the one you need to hear.

Title picSo Southend-on-Sea on a Sunday night and what’s happening? Well, the Bob Malone Band is playing at the Railway Hotel, that’s what. So you obviously want to know what’s so special about the venue and the performer, don’t you?

Southend has a thriving local music scene and the Railway Hotel is positioned firmly at the centre of that scene, featuring local talent and artists touring the UK. The venue isn’t a highly-polished chrome and mirrors palace; the priority here (apart from the excellent food) is live music. If you want anything else, then you’re in the wrong place. The management team excel in putting together a varied selection of live acts and providing a performance environment which is perfect for artists and audiences.

So, Bob Malone time. Bob has been working as a professional musician for around thirty years since graduating from Berklee, playing keyboards for a very impressive list of rock names while doing his own thing, touring with a small band and releasing six albums (and counting). The UK tour which ended at the Railway Hotel was in support of a UK-only EP which is a sampler for the upcoming seventh album.

The stage at the Railway is about the same size as a postage stamp, which makes for a cosy performing environment, particularly when most of the stage is occupied by a Bӧsendorfer grand piano, but the multinational band (Paul Carmichael on bass, Stefano Sanguigni on guitar and Marco Breglia on drums and backing vocals) just got on with it, although Paul Carmichael had to play most of his superb basslines with his back to the audience.

From the opening chords of “Why Not Me?”, Bob’s engaging manner between songs and his blues growl have the audience eating out of his hands, and that’s before you hear his superb piano playing, particularly on the skewed ragtime of “Chinese Algebra”. You can find any amount of versions of this on YouTube, but the live performance with a good band is something else. The set was split between material from the new “Mojo EP” (including “A Certain Distance”, “I’m Not Fine” and the audience favourite “Rage and Cigarettes”), older original material and a few high-profile covers. Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” is the first of the covers and the set ends with a version of The Faces classic, “Stay with Me”. It’s the end of the set and the end of the tour and the guys (particularly Bob and Stefano) are having great fun trying to be even looser live than Rod and the boys were in the 70s. I could happily listen to Bob on his own doing the New Orleans piano, voice and stomp box thing, but Paul’s fluid, funky bass, Stefano taking a few solos and Marco supplying the beat and some lovely backing vocals are the icing and the candles on the cake.

I’m only guessing here, but I suspect that Bob Malone could live quite well on the proceeds of the day job, playing live and in the studio with people like John Fogerty, and living in the bubble created by that lifestyle. Instead he chooses to do his own thing, recording his own work and taking his live band out on the road, driving a white van from town to town and playing in venues where the equipment’s held together by gaffer tape. I have the greatest admiration for anyone who chooses to step between those two worlds to pursue their own musical vision, whether it’s financially viable or not (the fee for the night at The Railway was a bucket collection from the audience). As long as some performers are true to their own vision and keep doing gigs like The Railway, we’ll all know that individualism lives on and the corporate monster hasn’t got complete control. I can’t wait for the new album now.