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.