Shall we get the rant out of the way first? There were two things that really ground my gears about this Paul Rose gig at the Jazz Cafe. First, is it impossible to get 300 people to come out on a Wednesday night in London to see and hear a jaw-droppingly good guitar player (not to mention the other members of a stunning live band)? Second thing; I hate it when people make a lot of noise when performers are trying to work and it’s even worse when those people are with a band who have just finished their set.
Jack Moore and his brother Gus were the victims of this particular type of moron at the Jazz Café, trying to compete with the rudest crowd I’ve ever seen outside of a corporate hospitality area. Their very short, blues-tinged acoustic set showed some really promising signs; they both sing well and Jack is a very good player. I’ll certainly make a point of going to see Jack Moore in a better environment as soon as I can; the songs I heard were strong and the playing was excellent.
The Paul Rose All-Stars are aptly named; the rock-solid rhythm section of Kenny Hutchison and Jim Drummond is augmented by guitarist and singer Randy Jacobs and two wonderful guest singers, Sweet Pea Atkinson and Terry Evans. This tour is in support of the new album “Double Life” and the set is divided pretty equally between the new material and Paul’s established crowd-pleasers. The two singers get to do their stuff with “Dark End of the Street”, “Let’s Straighten it Out”, “Ball and Chain”, “Uphill Climb”, “Just a Little Bit” and (eventually) “Cold Sweat”. As I expected, the songs sound even better live, particularly “Dark End..”. I love the James Carr version of this song, but I think the live Terry Evans version actually surpassed that.
The band mixes up the new material with a selection of older originals and covers and there are a few highlights here as well, including a funky version of the Robert Johnson classic “Crossroads”, the wonderful instrumental “Home” and a storming version of the Was (Not Was) song “11 MPH”’ not to mention a storming version of the “Get Carter” theme. If that’s not enough, there’s an encore of “All Along the Watchtower” as well.
If you read my review of “Double Life”, you’ll know that I described Paul Rose a virtuoso and this performance confirmed that. Most guitarists playing live these days use a battery of stomp boxes to beef up their sound but Paul Rose has a guitar and an amp; everything else is technique and he has a phenomenal mastery of his instrument. I’ve seen many great rock guitarists, but I’ve never seen anyone with so much technical ability.
This tour is very much about the band as well as Paul Rose, and the 2 singers Sweet Pea Atkinson and Terry Evans are outstanding soul/blues singers as well as being incredibly charismatic frontmen. Randy Jacobs spends most of the show taking a back seat to Paul Rose but, when he takes centre stage, he shows why he’s such a respected player (and singer). I would pay to watch any of these guys fronting up a band but playing together in this set-up is something else; all of their abilities are channelled into the songs and the end result is a stunning show. I smiled all the way home.
If you only ever listen to chart radio (and maybe watch “Later” every week) then the chances are that you won’t have heard of Paul Rose. I can’t imagine that you would hear him on 6 Music either. You might just get lucky with Paul Jones on Radio 2 on the right night. Paul Rose, like many other incredibly gifted players here and in the US, is a blues/rock guitarist and, from a commercial point of view, that’s a really difficult place to be at the moment. There’s a small but knowledgeable and enthusiastic live circuit in the UK and mainland Europe, but almost no chance of mainstream radio exposure or shelf space in the few remaining record shops. You have to admire the commitment of the musicians who carry on playing that circuit and releasing albums; they aren’t doing it for the Ferrari.
Paul Rose has released 11 albums before “Double Life” and has built up a reputation as a powerful live performer whose style is basically blues/rock with elements of jazz and soul and maybe a hint of country; this album shows hints of all of those styles. What’s certain to me is that he’s a guitar virtuoso and that always brings its own little set of problems, which I’ll get to a bit later. The album is a set of blues/jazz standards performed almost live in the studio over 15 days by a group of incredibly talented and experienced musicians including Randy Jacobs (rhythm guitar), Richie Morales (drums), Kenny Hutchison (bass) and Tio Banks (keyboards). The singers featured are Terry Evans, Raffia Ford, Bernard Fowler and Sweet Pea Atkinson. Now I’m not doing all the work for you here, but Bernard Fowler has been the Stones backing vocalist for as long as I can remember and Sweet Pea Atkinson was the singer with my favourite incarnation of Was (Not Was).
So, how does it sound? It sounds great actually; the band work together well through the variety of styles on the album from the riff-based rockers “Cold Sweat” and “Honey Hush” which open the album through the mid-tempo, soulful “Let’s Straighten it Out” and “Drowning in a Sea of Love” (with a bit of a Robert Cray feel), the soul ballad “If Loving You is Wrong I Don’t Want to be Right” to the slow blues of “Stormy Monday” which closes the album. There are plenty of reference points and influences; “If Loving You is Wrong…” has a Stones feel with the intertwined guitar intro, while “Just a Little Bit” reminds me of the Albert Collins song “Conversation with Collins”.
Most of the songs here have been covered so many times that you shouldn’t expect to hear any truly novel interpretations, but that isn’t the aim of the album. It’s about a group of musicians playing songs they know and love, having fun and producing a record that’s great to listen to while showcasing the musicians at their best. And that leads us on to my only little criticism.
When you can play as well as Paul Rose (and I did use the word virtuoso earlier), it’s easy to miss the line between great playing in the service of the song and technique for the sake of technique. On “Stormy Monday”, the slow blues style lends itself to guitar fills at the end of each of vocal line, which works really well for most of the song but, for me, becomes a bit intrusive at times, particularly when Paul uses violinning. As always, this is completely subjective and I’m prepared to be shot down in flames if loads of you contact us and say I’m talking out of my elbow.
With that very minor exception, I think this is a very, very good album. The quality of the playing is exceptional throughout, the arrangements are superb and each of the singers is perfect for the songs they do. If you like blues, then you should have this album in your collection and even if you don’t, you should give it a listen. If you want to know what they band’s live show is like, keep an eye on MusicRiot next week when I’ll be reviewing their London Jazz Café gig.
“Double Life” is released on Mita Records on Monday May 29.