“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:

383849_4pDigiDifficult one, this.

This is a very likeable album. The title track, for a start. Just the title defines a bad day at the office.

Given the fact that the guy is from Texas, is quite old, plays Texan country-tinged bluesy rock n roll, has got a beard and has a song on the album about a Buick you are dragged kicking and screaming towards the conclusion that this is going to be infused with more than a tad of ZZ Top, sold as seen, if you like. And indeed there is.

But it isn’t quite that simple.

The album leaps out of the box with the incendiary “Three Fifty Seven”, a snarling ‘death row’ blues with raw chunks of harmonica from Dan Moser, just one of a number of damn fine players featured on this album, which is as bitter and scary in the lyrics as it is raw and jagged in the playing. “Power in the Snake” has lyrical nods to Steve Earle but for me, you could hand that song to George Thorogood and the Destroyers tomorrow and they’d do a job on that for you.

He does a tidy line in ironic lyrics as well, with “The Wages of Sin” sounding quite ‘churchy’, on the surface, but actually, not. “Pestilence and Locusts”sounds a bit like a Crazy World Of Arthur Brown B side as song titles go but actually it’s a rather sad, rather bitter ditty about what happens when ‘the thing you love most becomes the thing that drags you down’.

And ‘Big Ol Buick’ does what it says on the tin and is an enjoyable listen.

And already you can sense a ‘But….’, right?

So what stops this from being the kind of album you ring up your mate and say ‘you’ve REALLY got to hear this…’ always assuming your mate is into that sort of ‘Americana’ thing, which in my view all right-thinking people should be.

Well, conveniently for me, Mr. LeMasters has been asked to review his own album by his PR man. And this is what he says.

‘I write songs with the intent that they will be songs that I perform at my shows. If ever I write a song which is good enough and it gets heard by the right person, some big-time singer might record it…’

And at this level, this all works just fine. You could take this bunch of songs out on the road in the good ol’ US of A in the bars, clubs and roadhouses and they’d work perfectly fine with the voice of Dick LeMasters doing the honours. The album has some very fine new songs, the songs are extremely well played (there is some really nice guitar and harmonica work on this, it really is a joy in places; I mean, “River Blues” is really rather special, for example) but his voice really is an adequate tool for carrying the songs and nothing more. So, and by the guy’s own admission, this works pretty damn well as a demo for his songs, a shop window for ‘big-time’ singers to check out his wares. And for his sake and for the sake of an extremely enjoyable if not exactly fashionable music genre, I hope someone does. At the very least he deserves a round of applause for not deciding to spend the rest of his life knocking out ZZ Top covers when no doubt he could.

But there’s your problem. Well, his, anyway – and the reason why this is a tough one to review.

Apart from the fact he’s already written his own review with candour and accuracy.

3.5 Stars out of 5.

Self-released and out now.