Ok, life lessons for music lovers part two. First, don’t just turn up to watch the headline band; not all support bands have paid to get on a tour, some of them are actually there because the headliners like them or just because they’re good. That was certainly the case with Sound of the Sirens (that’s the temptresses who play enchanting music, not the minor third you hear before an emergency vehicle knocks you down) at The Half Moon. Second, if you’re watching bands at smaller, independent venues, buy something at the merchandising stall. The band’s probably playing for peanuts (if they’re being paid at all) and buying their CDs or memorabilia means that they actually get some kind of income and, let’s face it, they probably need it a lot more than you do.
So, rant over, what were the bands like? Brilliant, thanks, I’m done. What, more specific? Ok, bloody brilliant.
No seriously, Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood (Sound of the Sirens) are from Exeter and they claiming they’re stalking Mad Dog Mcrea on tour. Abbe plays guitar and mandolin, Hannah plays guitar, both sing beautifully and it’s all underpinned by kick drum and stomp box percussion. They shift the mood from happy to sad and back again through the set and they sound equally at ease with the slow, reflective songs and the barnstorming foot-tappers. What they also have is a gently charismatic stage presence; there’s a lot of self-deprecation but it doesn’t hide the fact that they’re very, very good. The playing is spot on and two voices complement each other perfectly whether they’re singing harmony or counterpoint. There you go, I’m happy and the headliners aren’t even tuning up yet.
I’ve heard some really good things about Mad Dog Mcrea, I love “Almost Home”, and I’ve been looking forward to this gig, but how do you follow a support band after they’ve put in a storming shift like Sound of the Sirens have? Well, you could have most of the band starting up on stage while the singer makes an entrance through the audience banging a bloody great drum. That would do it; we’re off and running, but how do you describe what happens when Mad Dog Mcrea hit the loud pedal?
Well, at the risk of repeating my colleague Klare, I think a teamsheet might help. The team is Michael Mathieson (guitar and vocals), Dan Crimp (whistles, flute and vocals), Jimi Galvin (bass), Dave Podmore (banjo, bouzouki and vocals), Pete Chart (drums and percussion) and Nicki Powell (fiddle). The instruments hint at a folky, Celtic feel and that’s part of it but there are an awful lot of other elements in there as well. You can hear jazz, gypsy and eastern European, klezmer, bluegrass, country and bit of straightforward rock and pop all mixed together and marinated in bootleg hooch until its effects are wildly unpredictable. Now that sounds like my kind of night.
It’s no surprise that there isn’t a setlist; the band likes to respond to requests and shift direction if that’s what the audience needs so what we get is a selection of songs from “Almost Home” (the tempo-shifting “Heart of Stone”, the banjo-led “You Can’t Find Me”, the infuriatingly catchy “Cher” with its clever lyrical references, “Almost Home” , “The Sound” featuring Suzie Mac on backing vocals, and the Rory Gallagher cover – not that Rory Gallagher – “Mad Dog Coll”) and a few old favourites like “Raggle Taggle Gypsy”, “Climb a Hill”, “Little Black Fly”, “Am I Drinking Enough?”, the Richard Thompson cover “Bee’s Wing” and “Pikeys Killed my Goldfish”.
But even that isn’t eclectic enough because, on top of all the musical references that are dropped in, there’s a cover of “The Devil Came Down to Georgia” showcasing Nicki’s fiddle playing (with a sneaky reference to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) and a medley starting with “The Bare Necessities”. After ninety minutes of that, the band and the audience are drained and you can see why the band have built up such a fanatical following; the audience don’t know what’s coming next but they know that the band will give everything until the show’s over (and way beyond if we didn’t have music curfews), night after night.
This was easily the best headliner and support I’ve seen in ages. Just don’t ask me how I felt when the alarm went off at 5:45 this morning.
“Sound of the Sirens” CDs and downloads available here.
I’ve been hearing a lot about Rosco Levee over the last six months, so I was pretty chuffed when this review copy arrived a few weeks ago. “Get it while you can” is the second album from Rosco Levee and the Southern Slide, following 2012’s “Final Approach to Home”. Coming straight out of the heart of the Medway Delta, Rosco, with Andy Hayes (guitars), David Tettmar (drums), Simon Gardiner (bass) and Lee Wilson (keyboards) play a joyous blend of blues, rock and country with a healthy dose of 1970s southern American rock, but more about that later.
If you want great blues and blues/rock guitar players we seem to have dozens of them at the moment (here and across the pond) but, personally, I’m really fed up of hearing about the new Clapton, the keeper of the faith and the guardian of the flame. There’s no denying that Rosco Levee is influenced by the Allman Brothers and the Rolling Stones (and a few more), but there’s such variety on this album that it stands way above the work of the purists and the one-trick ponies. More importantly, it sounds like the musicians are having a great time.
Before getting really stuck in to this one, I have to say that, on the first listen, I wasn’t too keen on Rosco’s vocals; maybe it was too early in the day. There’s a lesson here; never review anything that you’ve only listened to once because you’ve almost certainly missed something. After a few more plays, the lead vocals became original and distinctive with a hint of Freddie Mercury on early Queen albums or perhaps Squeeze singer Glenn Tilbrook.
So the album starts the way great albums do, with a statement of intent in the blistering “Some Angels Fall”, which throws in everything from a big dirty guitar intro to a huge chorus with a horn section and a couple of kitchen sinks thrown in for good measure. The next two songs are similarly uptempo, the shuffle beat, keyboard-driven “Gambling Man” followed by “Howitzer Eyes”, powered by a bass riff and twin lead guitars before the first hint of a change of tempo.
The next three songs feature Rosco’s acoustic guitar work, “Back to the Banks” adds a bit of piano and has a strong feel of the Stones’ “You Can’t Always get what you want”, “Whiskey Blues Goodnight” starts with acoustic slide and builds into a blues stomper while “My Gospel” has a strong feel of Rory Gallagher’s acoustic sets; the structure of the song’s very simple and it relies on great guitar and vocal performances.
“When the Band Starts to Play” is a slow blues with an impassioned vocal building up to a huge finish with loads of backing vocals, while “I Got my Own Plan” is pure swamp rock. The final three songs, “Redemption Calls”, “Look Out Moses” and “Southern Belle” run through country, spaghetti western themes, Mexican brass arrangements, call and response, tempo changes and varied dynamics.
This album quite clearly displays its influences, but it never feels derivative. The arrangements are hugely varied, from vocal and acoustic guitar to full band with keyboards and horn section, and it all works. It was even recorded direct to analogue tape in the studio by a bunch of people who just want to make great music. So what’s not to like?
Released January 27 2014 on Red Train Records UK (Cat 427002).
Here’s the first of our guest contribution for this year from someone whose album “Home” was a Riot Squad favourite this year. We were also lucky enough to see Aynsley support Joe Louis Walker at The Garage in Islington this year. You’ll probably notice that, in time-honoured “Spinal Tap” fashion, Aynsley takes the High Fives concept and goes one higher.
This is a great ‘feel good’ album; it’s got a kind of jazzy feel to it with Caro’s voice and certain instrumental nods but it’s got some very clever elements and twists that bring it bang up to date. The grooves are hypnotic and the songs have some great hooks and melodies, very well written and put together. I regularly have it on when I’m cooking!!
I first saw this concert when I was about fourteen and learnt all the songs and guitar parts note for note. Of course I moved onto other things and got into other guitarists and it wasn’t until recently that I watched it again for the first time in years. It made me feel the same as it did back then; it’s still probably the best live concert I’ve seen. Rory’s playing is just so melodic and tasteful and he never plays the same thing twice: plus his guitar tone is the best ever. It’s mainly a three piece band on this and they’re as tight as it gets….. but when Mark Feltham joins on harmonica for a few songs there are moments that are just killer: “Aint No Saint” and “Off the Handle”. Brilliant
Freddie King – live footage compilation (Rare DVD’s given to me by a friend)
I always listened to Freddie on my dad’s stereo but I’d never actually seen any live footage of him until recently. I was at a friend’s house and he put it on… It completely stopped me in my tracks! Watching the guy perform is a whole other thing to just hearing it on a stereo. He just had this amazing conviction and tremendous stage presence. He could hit one note and that’s all he needed, not to mention his singing which had an emotive intenseness that was easily up there with his guitar playing. Truly inspirational to watch; blues how it was meant to be performed!!
I got into this series a couple of years back but sometimes I’ll just put it on for the music they used during the episodes. It’s all the music I remember growing up hearing on my dad’s stereo; stuff like The Sweet, T-Rex, Free, Cream, Thin Lizzy, Audience etc. I just love that late 60’s / 70’s vibe… before people spent months in studios making albums perfect with all the technology that’s around these days. This stuff just sounds earthy and real.
This is such a moving film and Jamie Fox really was the only guy who could have pulled this off. Very cleverly put together, it tells his story very well indeed. I’d always liked many of his songs and love his voice but it wasn’t until I saw this that I learnt so much about the man behind the music. I always find it interesting to learn about the actual people and what I got from this was that unlike so many artists out there, Ray Charles was a man who knew his worth and could stand on his own two feet.
I love any band-themed film and have seen most including the obligatory Spinal Tap but for me, this goes one better. It’s so much more believable on every level – the idea of a band that were once ‘almost famous’ getting back together after two decades apart. There’s the inevitable friction between certain members, the various ailments that old age has brought about etc. The really cool thing about this film is that it focuses on the personal lives of all the band members and there really are some classic moments: the bass player who is constantly on the run from a woman believed to be from the Inland Revenue, the lead singer’s ridiculous but believable pre-stage ritual – brilliant! I’ve probably seen it five or six times now!
If anyone’s paying attention you might have noticed that I wrote about Marcus Bonfanti earlier this year when he did an unplugged gig in the very un-blues setting of the Hippodrome Casino where he previewed some of the songs from his album “Shake the Walls” which is released on Monday June 17 on Jigsaw (SAW4). The acoustic preview was a bit like a pencil drawing of painting; it gave a hint of the big picture but a lot of the colours and textures were missing. With his classic blues band line-up of bass (Scott Wiber), drums (Alex Reeves) and Hammond organ (Paddy Milner) on the album, the arrangements are filled out perfectly, with the exception of “The Bittersweet” which was written as a solo acoustic piece and works perfectly in that format.
The album starts in the way I like albums to start, with a statement of intent. “Alley Cat” opens with a rising guitar riff before the band kicks in followed by Marcus’s full-throated blues growl and we’re off and running with “Cheap Whisky” next up in a similar vein. The album covers a wide range of blues styles from the electric high-powered blues of “Jezebel” to the acoustic “We All Do Bad Sometimes”, the country-styled “Blind Alley” and the solo classic “The Bittersweet”. “Shake the Walls” demonstrates the full range of Marcus Bonfanti’s instrumental and vocal abilities from all-out raucous electric workouts to acoustic ballads and all stops in between. The sequencing of the album is absolutely spot on as well; after every couple of stompers, there’s a change of pace with to an acoustic blues or something with a gentler country inflection.
If you wanted a perfect showcase for Marcus Bonfanti’s work, then this it. He’s perfectly convincing as a player with all of the styles on the album from the opening riff-based electric songs to the solo acoustic album closer “The Bittersweet”. What sets Marcus apart from the many great blues players around at the moment (and there are a lot of them out there) is the quality and power of his voice. It works over the whole dynamic range of the album and he can do it live as well. If you wanted a comparison for this album I think Rory Gallagher at his peak, in the “Calling Card” era, is about right.
The only thing that I’m not sure about on “Shake the Walls” is the quality of the lyrics. I know that blues at the moment is much more about the poetry of the playing, but a lot of the lyrics here are the old blues clichés of whisky and bad women. The chorus of the opening track starts with the lines “She got the claws out like an alley cat, she got the impact of a heart attack”. It’s not quite as bad as Duran Duran’s “serious as a nuclear war”, but it’s going down that same highway. But I guess if you wanted clever, meaningful lyrics you would all be listening to Jackson Browne albums and not British blues.
Anyway, it’s a small criticism because I love the playing, the arrangements and the dynamics of the album. It’s not just one for the blues purists; there are lots of different musical styles on offer here. Get the album when it’s released on Monday but, even better, go out and see Marcus and the band on tour from Thursday June 20. You can get the dates and even a free download of “Cheap Whisky” from his website.
Stoneface Travellers are a three-piece outfit in the power trio tradition comprising Andrew Thornley (bass), Micah Woulfe (drums) and Emile Gerber (guitar and lead vocals). Apart from a change of drummer, it’s the Emile Gerber Band as reviewed here 3 months ago live at The Finsbury. The band have been spending some time in the studio with highly-respected producer Brad Kohn, who has produced a set of tracks which will form the basis of an EP to be released later in the year. The lovely people at Bandhouse Promotions have given us an exclusive sneak preview of 1 track from the sessions, “I Don’t Really Love You”, which you can hear on Soundcloud .
The song opens with an overdriven slide riff and harmonica (played by the drummer even) before the rhythm section kicks in to drive the song along with a loping swamp-blues feel. Emile is a very good blues guitar player (I think I might have just said that before) but what makes him such a unique performer is the quality of his voice. It’s an unusual delivery in that he sings in the same sort of range as Neil Young with a little bit of vibrato at the top of the range, which emphasises the emotion of the vocal. The solo towards the end sounded just like mid-70s vintage Rory Gallagher and I really don’t know if that makes me feel old or young; maybe both.
This is a great little sample of what Stoneface Travellers are capable of in the studio but, until they get the EP and then the album together, you really should try to get out and see them live; you won’t regret it.
I may have said this before, but I love an album that opens with a statement of intent and “House in the Woods” does just that. The title track opens with a huge guitar riff backed by a smoky Hammond and you know exactly what you’re going to get, particularly when the lead vocal drops in on top of the guitar/organ interplay. The arrangements on this album lean quite heavily on the late 60s/early 70s power trio tradition of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and even Rory Gallagher with guitar riffs and fills punctuating the vocals; the addition of the Hammond of Moritz Fuhrhop to this powerful mix offers extra textures and another layer to the sound.
There’s one thing which makes this album stand above the rank and file of blues/rock albums and that’s Henrik Freischlader’s voice; it’s raw, powerful and, at times, incredibly emotional. Normally you expect singer/guitarists to excel in one discipline, but Henrik Freischlader is a great guitar player and a great singer and he’s equally convincing in all of the styles on offer here. “House in the Woods” and “Sisters” are blues riff-driven, while “Nowhere to Go” and “1999” are much more funk -influenced, but the first real revelation comes with “Breaking My Heart Again” where Henrik’s voice, rather than his guitar work, dominates for the first time. The first time I heard this song, I was convinced that it was a Paul Carrack lead vocal, and that’s not a comparison I make lightly. There are thousands of guitarists who can belt out high tempo blues tunes but, for me, the real singers are the ones who can perform well on the slower, more laid-back tunes as well. Henrik Freischlader is one of the real singers.
The second half of the album carries on in the same vein, with the funky “Take the Blame” and riff-driven “Hear Your Talking” leading into the ballad “Two Young Lovers” before the brooding menace of “With the Flow” and the closing slow blues of “Won’t You Help Me”. The album is a well-rounded collection of songs from ballads to fairly hard blues riff-rock; the band sound convincing throughout, but the vocals really shine on the two ballads “Breaking My Heart Again” and “Won’t You Help Me”.
If you’re into the great blues-rock players like Gary Moore, Johnny Winter and Joe Bonamassa, then you’ll love this album; the playing is always superb and there’s a song for everyone here, whether you want a heartfelt ballad, a riffmonster or something with a backbeat, they’re all here. Listen to this in the car at maximum volume.
“House in the Woods” is out on February 4 2013 on Cable Car Records.