“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:

Keegan McInroe ScrollerKeegan McInroe seems pretty relaxed about the whole process of touring, in fact he seems pretty relaxed all round. If you listen to his latest album, “Uncouth Pilgrims”, you’ll know that he’s travelled extensively and used his experiences to create some great songs. It’s obvious from the moment you open the door of The Lighthouse on Battersea Park Road that it’s not the ideal gig for a singer/songwriter. It’s Friday night, noisy and full of the ‘few beers after work’ crowd, but Keegan doesn’t seem too bothered; it’s a gig he’s done since his first tour here in 2004 even though the pub has changed hands and function since then. Having a quick chat before the gig, he’s remarkably unfazed by the audience, explaining that he’ll just play a few more covers than usual and some of the songs from the new album.

And that’s just what he did. His own material, mainly from the new album, was slotted fairly evenly into the two sets and included “Lumberjack Blues”, “Give Me the Rain”, “I Got Trouble”, “Flower Song for Barefoot Dancers”, “Nikolina” and “Lay Down”. The stripped-down versions worked beautifully live and the audience didn’t distract too much; there was even a fair smattering of applause around the room.

As for the covers, well, he didn’t put a foot wrong; he even played a couple of unexpected old favourites of mine. There were songs by the songwriting giants (Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and a tribute to Merle Haggard) and a few less predictable choices. Only three songs in, he made the brave choice of tackling Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia” and, despite a fairly noisy crowd, he made it work. The more esoteric song choices added the spice that made the evening unique; Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Life by the Drop” and Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita” (both stories of addiction) introduced an element of pathos, while Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer” and Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” (which closed the second set) gave Keegan the chance to demonstrate his blues licks.

If this gig had been in an established ‘listening room’, the audience chatter would have been hugely distracting, but it was a free gig in a local pub and Keegan took a pragmatic view of the situation, playing to the people who were interested and tuning out those who weren’t. His own songs are well crafted and worked perfectly in the stripped-down format. He’s also a really nice guy.

Uncouth Pilgrims” is released on Friday May 27th

Simple LifeWe’re continuing our European journey into 2015 with a blues band from Hungary who write and sing in English and take their inspiration from the legendary Keb’ Mo’, who also makes a guest appearance on one song. The album, “Simple Life”, is the fourth from T Rogers, following “Driven by the Blues”, “Wear your Soul”, and the live album “Live from Home”. The band has been together for about ten years with a core of Bélá Baráth (drums), Ferci Kovács (vocals, guitars), Pál Sturmann (guitars), Zsolt Szatai (bass), Vince Széil (percussion) joined in 2010 by Canadian Stew Hay (harmonica). The album has been available for almost two years, but the lovely people at Cable Car Records have sent me a copy, so it would be rude not to tell you about it.

The first three tracks, “Far and Slow”, “Weary Road” and “Gotta Go” kick things off reasonably well with nice harmonica and guitar solos; “Gotta Go” taking its inspiration from “Sweet Home Chicago” and ”Dust My Broom” and featuring solos with some of the cleanest picking this side of Albert Collins. But it’s only after this opening trio that things start to get really interesting.

“Angelina”, a Keb’ Mo’ cover, featuring vocals and acoustic slide from the man himself, seems to bring out the best in the entire band, from the stuttering acoustic intro to Stew Hay’s manic harmonica solo. While “Weary Road” shows hints of something other than blues, “Something Human” moves into rock territory with a hint of that uncertain late sixties/early seventies era when blues, via the power trios and The Yardbirds, was morphing into rock. The uptempo shuffle of “The Regular’s Blues” is more of the harmonica and ice pickin’ interplay with one of the most clean, laid-back blues solos you’re ever likely to hear, leading into a noisy guitar/harmonica duet.

Sun on my Back” and “Mood for the Day” are both acoustic, country blues, but that’s where the similarity ends; “Sun on my Back” is a rattling upbeat, uptempo piece with harmonica and acoustic guitar solos but “Mood for the Day” is much slower and builds layer by layer from an acoustic and tambourine intro to a full band and massed chorus finale. There’s even a trucker’s gear change coming into the acoustic solo; what more do you want?

“It Hurts me Too” is a fairly straightforward Elmore James cover, and “Sunshine Cold” opens with a funky guitar riff and verse before moving into a straight rock chorus and then we close with the title track of the album. “Simple Life” is the album’s ‘message song’ and the message is a very clear ‘let’s get back to basics with our lives’. The song ebbs and flows using volume dynamics, acoustic and electric instrumentation and tempo changes to keep the interest level high and is the perfect choice to close out the album.

If you’re a blues/rock or blues fan, there’s definitely something here for you; it’s mainly influenced by traditional country and Chicago blues, bypassing the sixties and seventies interpretations and it’s played with a lot of skill and a fair amount of style. I’m guessing that this would be a great band to see live.

“Simple Life” is out now and is self-released.