I admit it; I’ve been really lucky this year. I’ve been to loads of gigs featuring bands and artists across a range of musical styles and I haven’t seen a bad one; fifty-two weeks of great gigs and now I have to pick out my five favourites. It was never going to be easy and the gigs that made this list were truly special for many different reasons. So, in no particular order, here we go.

Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul – Indig02 October 2016

little-stevenLittle Steven, Steven van Zandt, Miami Steve, Silvio from The Sopranos. This is someone who’s had a huge impact on popular culture as an Asbury Juke, an E-Streeter, an actor and the man who wrote the anti-apartheid anthem “Sun City”. If you grew up loving The Boss and Southside Johnny (and I did) you knew and loved this man. When I heard about this gig, part of the BluesFest at the O2, my only concern was to get a photo pass. Despite pulling every string I could, there was no joy, but I wasn’t giving up, so I borrowed my wife’s camera (a Nikon Coolpix P530 for the record) to try to grab one good shot of the main man. The thirteen-piece band (with horn charts written by fellow E-Streeter and Juke Ed Manion) was stunningly good as Steven ran through a set of his own songs, blues covers and old soul classics. There wasn’t a second’s respite and there was even a guest appearance from Richie Sambora. And I got the photo. What a night.

Underhill Rose @ Green Note

02-eleanorI’d been looking forward to this one for months, ever since I missed them at the same venue in April because of other commitments. After a lovely meal with Plus One, we made our way to the venue a fashionable fifteen minutes after doors open, only to find that the doors were still firmly closed and there were no lights. Power failure? Not a problem; the Green Note team lit up the venue with dozens of candles and Eleanor Underhill, Molly Rose Reed and Salley Williamson decided to play a genuinely unplugged set. The setting was perfect for the band’s beautiful melodies and glorious tight harmonies and created a level of intimacy that even Green Note doesn’t achieve very often. During the interval the power was restored, but Eleanor, Molly and Salley decided to carry on with a second completely acoustic set. A magical night.

Pete Wylie/The Mighty Wah @Water Rats 09/11/16

pete-wylieAs memorable as the previous gig but for very different reasons. I was a big fan of Pete Wylie in the eighties, but somehow managed to avoid seeing him live. This was the chance to find out what I’d been missing. Water Rats is a room at the back of a pub in Kings Cross; cosy but with a great atmosphere. The last time I was there, there were three people watching a band; me, the band’s manager and the sound engineer. This was different; ten minutes after the doors opened, it was rammed; not only that, but rammed with fans, people who wanted to see Pete Wylie. In that atmosphere, failure wasn’t an option. Pete has put together another powerful incarnation of The Mighty Wah! and their playing throughout was spot on; subtle when necessary and thunderous for the anthems; and there were plenty of those. It was a night of passion, humour and power with a performer who knows his worth and an audience who know their music. It wasn’t just a nostalgia trip either. He featured a stunning new anthem, “I Still Believe”, from his upcoming album titled, with typical Wylie moxie, “Pete Sounds”. The will to survive’s come back.

Martin Harley & Daniel Kimbro @St Pancras Old Church

Martin Harley scrollerRewind to the beginning of the year as musicians start to emerge after their short hibernation and the lovely St Pancras Old Church (lovely if you aren’t a photographer). It was gloves, woolly hat and brass monkeys looking for welders weather, but inside the church a full house was waiting for Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro. This was one of those intimate gigs where two incredibly accomplished musicians play material they love to play with a passion that the audience taps into, leaving everyone with a warm glow. Playing mainly Weissenborn (Martin) and upright bass (Daniel) the two wove complex textures that sometimes had you wondering where all of the other musicians were hidden. The two voices worked perfectly together and the interplay between songs was sometimes hilarious with Martin’s ‘Englishman Abroad’ persona as the subject of Daniel’s dry observations. Good news is they’ll be back next year. This was the only gig this year where I actually wanted to hear a bass solo (and I wasn’t disappointed).

Michael McDermott @Twickfolk, The Cabbage Patch, Twickenham 04/12/16

08-michaelI waited until seeing this gig before selecting my five favourites of the year. After hearing Michael’s two superb albums released this year (the “Willow Springs” solo and “Six on the Out” by his band The Westies), I wasn’t going to miss this performance. It was a solo show, using guitar and keyboard (and the inevitable harmonica) to create different textures and settings for the songs. Stripping away the full-band arrangements allowed the audience to focus on the quality of the writing and the raw emotional roar of Michael’s voice. The first half of the show, featuring songs taken mainly from the 2016 albums was an intense experience, emotional, sometimes harrowing and primal, songs punctuated by monologues which were surreal, often hilarious and sometimes tinged with sorrow. The second half was less of a roller-coaster but still packed with great songs. Michael McDermott provokes the same sensation I had when I listened to early Springsteen for the first time; there’s poetry, passion and a grim and gritty reality in his work that grabs you by the lapels and stares you straight in the eyes; you know that he’s lived the life. This is for real.

High Fives? Is it that time already? Another year gone, loads of gigs attended and some pretty good pics, if I say so myself. Looking through this year’s galleries, it’s really obvious that it I have to claim two entries for the feature again, one for male artists, one for female; well, they do it at the Oscars, why shouldn’t MusicRiot do it as well. So, in no particular order, here we go. Click on any of the thumbnail images to expand the photo.

Southside Johnny @The Picturedrome, Holmfirth April 2016

05) JohnnyThis is dedication to the cause. I’ve been a fan of Southside for a long time. Only two gigs in the UK in 2016, and one of those on the day I flew back from Thailand. That was never going to happen, so I went for the next best thing, the following day in Yorkshire. Jet-lagged and bone tired, I drove 250 miles to the gig and then the same distance back home but in a snowstorm. No photo pit at the gig and (very unusually) some very uncooperative punters (and I’m very polite, before you ask). So, not the best position, but I was pretty chuffed with this attempt at giving Southside a blue rinse. See the full gallery here.

 

Crispian Mills (Kula Shaker) @The Roundhouse February 2016

03) Crispian MillsIn February of this year, I discovered that Riot Squad favourites Black Casino and the Ghost were supporting Kula Shaker on a European tour that included a gig at The roundhouse in Chalk Farm, a venue I’ve never visited; before you could say ‘Photo pass’, I was there, in a very busy photo pit which was actually very civilised (no dailies represented obviously). The stage lighting was up to eleven during Kula Shaker’s set creating some really contrasty situations which were crying out for black and white treatment. This is one of those. See the full gallery here.

 

John Fairhurst @The Borderline October 2016

01-john-fairhurstIt was a lovely surprise to discover that John was supporting The Eskies in London on their tour to promote their first album. I’d seen John before at Rich Mix in Shoreditch with his electric band, but this gig was a solo stint with a resonator and stompbox. Electric or acoustic, it really doesn’t matter, he’s equally convincing either way, and well worth seeing. Having photographed John before, I was looking out for facial expressions and watching his hands. This time the hands won. Having a chat later, I discovered that John and The Eskies (also very good) were old friends from a time when they used to busk in Dublin. See the full gallery here.

David Ryder Prangley (Sister Witch) @ The Unicorn, Camden July 2016

10) DavidSister Witch is an alt-London supergroup featuring DRP, Lux Lyall and Lilygun members Anna Christina and Belle Star, so this was a great night to meet up with some musicians I hadn’t seen for a while. It’s fair to say that each member of the band is worth photographing in their own right, but the honours on the night went to David, strutting his stuff with a six-string instead of a bass and looking every inch the underground legend that he is. This is someone that doesn’t need to play a part; he is a rock star. See the full gallery here.

 

Gareth John of Stone Foundation @Under the Bridge, Chelsea May 2016

07) Gareth JohnIt’s sometimes a huge advantage as a photographer if you know the songs well. I love Stone Foundation and I’d go to Chelsea to see them, even if I’m normally with Elvis Costello on that one. It’s a bit of a hike home from Chelsea, so I’m normally poised at the bottom of the stairs at UTB, waiting for the dying notes of the encore before I peg it over to Fulham Broadway to jump on the Tube. As the second encore started, trumpet player Gareth John and keyboard player Ian Arnold emerged from backstage and I knew that they were about to play “Old Partners, New Dances”, a smoky (and very short) jazz instrumental and Gareth would take centre stage, playing a flugelhorn, which somehow makes it even more romantic. I just managed to get a camera and lens assembled as the song started and was rewarded with this. As my Dad used to say ’Never take your eye off the ball’. See the full gallery here.

blinding-lights-scrollerIf you like a bit of raw energy and drive in your music, then this one should hit the spot. The Blinding Lights are brothers Callum, Theo and Jack Lury (piano/vocals, drums and guitar respectively) and bass player Will Lord. Their influences are hugely varied, although early Springsteen and various E Streeters crop up regularly. Strangely enough, the overall sound of “I Can’t Get Enough” reminds me much more of Bruce’s old Asbury Park compadre Southside Johnny, particularly in the way the horns are used from the first chorus onwards. There’s a hint of Dexy’s Midnight Runners in there as well.

The song’s driven along through the verse by a pumping one-note bass and a piano motif that’s echoed later by the brass as the song powers on like a juggernaut, running red lights and terrifying pedestrians to get to the girl (OK, it’s a bus really, I just got carried away with the image). The structure’s a lot like an old R’n’B thing where there’s a countdown (say, Edwin Starr’s “25 Miles”) and a breakdown before rebuilding and powering through to the end. Callum’s great rock’n’soul voice (maybe a bit of Steve Winwood in there) rides the rhythm with ease as his story of a lustful encounter builds to a climax.

It’s a thrill-ride from start to finish.

“I Can’t Get Enough” is released on November 4th, meanwhile you can have a look at the video here:

Matt Andersen ScrollerYou barely make it past the intro of the album’s opener, “Break Away”, before it hits you; Matt Andersen has a phenomenal voice. It’s a rich baritone from the same mould as the great Paul Carrack and it’s the perfect vehicle for this set of songs harking back to the glory days of Stax and Atlantic. Matt’s previous work has been filed under blues, but there’s no doubt at all that this is a soul album (with a few detours into reggae rhythms and a hint of seventies rock). The album has a lot in common with last year’s Southside Johnny classic “Soultime!” in that they’re both inspired by the glory days of sweet soul music; you can find little references to all sorts of artists and styles throughout the album, but it’s ultimately held together by that superb voice.

The album opens with the Hammond-led gentle reggae feel of “Break Away” which hints at “Graceland”-era Paul Simon and The Staples’ “Come Go with Me”, moves into the slow and subtle soul of “The Gift” with its beautiful cascading guitar before the title track throws a whole bunch of influences into the blender. “Honest Man” opens with a riff that’s not a million miles from “Crossroads”, develops with some Memphis Horns-style brass (including the trademark rasping baritone sax) and drops into a chorus with backing vocals which could have been inspired by Don Henley’s scathing “Dirty Laundry”.

So, you get the picture; the album pulls dozens of influences into the blend without ever sounding derivative. “All the Way”, with its hint of a reggae beat, languorous vocal and wah-wah guitar has a hint of seventies Clapton, “Last Surrender” has echoes of Sam Cooke and “Who Are You Listening To?” suggests late seventies Bob Seger, both musically and lyrically. It’s a celebration of some of the classic stylings from our musical history combined with a bunch of well-constructed contemporary songs.

There are a few political and social references, but the songs cover a variety of lyrical themes including love and friendship. “I’m Giving In” is a haunting piano ballad with an intimate, late night vocal while the album’s closer, “One Good Song”, describes the things that a songwriter would suffer to create the one song that makes an audience stop and listen. It’s fair to say that he’s done that a couple of times on this album with the title track and “Last Surrender”. “Honest Man” is a joyous piece of work placing a superb soul voice in settings which demonstrate its quality to perfect effect.

Honest Man” is released on True North Records (TND612) on April 1st.

 

NightlifeOK, so just to save a bit of time, we all know about Eddie Manion, yeah? Whaddya mean, no? Where have you been for the last forty years? You really should get out more. If you want the whole nine yards, check out his Wikipedia entry, but, just for the moment, his first major gig was with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and since then he’s played with Dion, Dave Edmunds, Diana Ross, The Allman Brothers, Willy De Ville, Keith Richards and Bob Dylan and many, many more. He was part of the E Street Band for Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” tour and, more recently, he’s been touring Europe with the Light of Day Foundation raising money for Parkinson’s Disease research. His motto is ‘Have Sax, Will Travel’.

Eddie Manion plays tenor and baritone sax (mainly baritone when working as part of a horn section) as well as having a pretty good voice, which you can hear on his first solo album, “Follow Through”, released in 2004. At the end of the gargantuan “Wrecking Ball” tour, Eddie started work on his second solo album “Nightlife”, opting this time for instrumental interpretations of standards and not-quite-so-standards, rather than his own compositions. It’s a double-edged sword. Both ways you’re going to be judged; one way you’re compared with others’ songwriting, the other way you’re compared with previous versions of the same songs. So how does “Nightlife” shape up?

I guess it’s natural for anyone who’s spent their entire adult life as a professional musician to want to do their own thing once in a while. Eddie Manion’s spent a lot of time playing in horn sections in big bands where nuance isn’t always too high on the agenda, so when the window of opportunity opened, he pulled together a superb bunch of musicians to make an album placing his sax playing firmly stage centre against a backdrop that allows him to interpret songs with style and subtlety. From the album’s opener, a gorgeous version of the theme from the 1961 movie “Town Without Pity”, with its piano triplets and wah-wah trumpet, to the closer “”The Only One, from Roy Orbison’s final album, the album demonstrates Eddie’s ability to create flawless interpretations of jazz standards such as “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Stardust” whilst also combining Springsteen’s “City of Night” in a medley with King Curtis’s “Soul Serenade”.

Throughout “Nightlife”, Eddie Manion combines a jazz-styled finesse with a rawer rock edge to create a satisfying and varied set of instrumentals that embody great musicianship and sympathetic arrangements. If you value musical skill and the ability to pick a good tune, then you’ll love this; Eddie’s a superb player and he’s surrounded himself with like minds to produce a real musician’s album. As an added bonus, Eddie’s also a very good photographer and the CD packaging includes some of his own fabulous photos taken mainly on the “Wrecking Ball” tour; it’s the icing on the cake of a lovely album.

You can order it here.

 

Ronnie TitleThere’s a couple of interesting tours coming up in late November/early December that we really thought we should share with you. First up is a tour by the absolute legend Ronnie Spector with her “Ronnie Spector Sings the Fabulous Ronettes” tour, featuring the greatest Ronettes hits, including “Me My Baby”, “Baby I Love You”, “Do I Love You” and “Wallking in the Rain”, plus Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich/Phil Spector originals that became hits as covers, such as “I Can Hear Music” (Beach Boys) and “Chapel of Love” (Dixie Cups). The tour follows the release earlier this month of “The Very Best of Ronnie Spector” on Sony Music.

As if that wasn’t enough, Ronnie’s also working on her new album “English Heart”, a set of covers of songs by the sixties British invasion bands including The Beatles, The Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Animals which is scheduled for release in April 2016 on 429 Records. If you want to see the greatest hits tour, Ronnie’s doing the following dates:

November 28                    Philharmonic Hall            Liverpool

November 29                   Royal Concert Hall          Glasgow

November 30                   The Sage                             Gateshead

December 1                        Town Hall                           Birmingham

December 3                        The Barbican                      London

December 4                        Colston Hall                       Bristol

In early December, the European leg of the Light of Day tour comes to the UK. The Light of Day Foundation is a charity raising funds for research into Parkinson’s and related degenerative diseases, which originated in New Jersey in November 2000 and has been supported by many performers including Bruce Springsteen (whose song gave the Foundation its name), Michael J Fox, Southside Johnny, Darlene Love, Willie Nile, Jakob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Badly Drawn Boy and Gary ‘US’ Bonds.

The headline band for the UK tour this year is Joe D’Urso, Vini ‘Mad Dog’ Lopez, Eric Bazilian, Ed Manion and Jake Clemons. If you want to see some incredible musicians and donate some cash to a very good cause, then you can catch the Light of Day tour on the following four UK dates:

December 4                                        Oran Mor                                            Glasgow

December 5                                        TAPE Arts Centre                               Colwyn Bay

December 6                                        The Musician                                      Leicester

December 8                                        The Half Moon, Putney                  London

You should catch both of these tours if you can, and maybe we’ll see you at The Half Moon for the Light of Day gig.

Bob Malone TitleWe’re big fans of Bob Malone here at MusicRiot so when I got the chance to meet up for a chat on the final night of his UK tour it was a bit of a no-brainer. Bob’s been in the UK for three weeks touring in support of his “Mojo Deluxe” album and the “Mojo Live” DVD and The 100 Club gig was the climax of a hectic tour schedule. So a very noisy 100 Club dressing room is where we got the chance to talk about old pianos, New Orleans and Southside Johnny, among other things:

 

Allan – So it’s approaching the end of the tour and we met on the first night in Southend. How has it been since then?

Bob – It’s been great; a few funky gigs, a few spectacular gigs and we’ve worked hard. We had a couple of nights where we didn’t have gigs but we still had a radio show or a long drive; we’re a hard-working group.

Allan –Have you had any particularly good gigs?

Bob – This one’s definitely gonna be a good one and Keighley Blues Club, that was a really great crowd and Scotland as well, and we also played on the Isle of Wight.

Allan – I remember when we met in Southend you were talking about Italian audiences.

Bob – They’re full on, right out of the box, from the first song.

Allan –Do you notice any differences in the audiences around the UK?

Bob – Well it sometimes takes three or four songs here. The north is different from the south, as you know. I didn’t until I did these long tours here; England was just England like people think America is just America but here it’s five different countries with completely different cultures.

Allan – Have you played The 100 Club before?

Bob – No, but its reputation precedes…

Allan – How does that feel?

Bob – It feels good. I was soundchecking with the grand piano earlier and the sound engineer had footage of Paul McCartney playing that same piano.

Allan – I think it’s great to see it with the lights up and look at all those great photos around the walls of the people that have played here in the past.

Bob – I love places with history like this; you feel like you’re part of a continuum.

Allan – You’re promoting the Mojo Deluxe album at the moment. What kind of a reception has the album had?

Bob – I think it’s the most press and radio I’ve had on anything I’ve done and it’s my twentieth year of making records, so I’m happy with that.

Allan – After doing what I think of as the day job with John Fogerty, how does this compare? It must be a huge culture change.

Bob – It’s different. I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years; this is what I do, and I’ve been playing with John for almost five years now. With this, so long as the sound man is competent I’m happy. Everyone thinks it must be weird to go from small crowds to big crowds, but it really isn’t. As long as it’s a good musical experience and you’re connecting with an audience; that’s why we play. You can’t really control the size of the crowd and also when I do this it’s a mission; when I play with John it’s his gig. I’m lucky to be there but it’s his gig. I get my solo but other than that, it’s all about him and I’m just in the background.

Allan – Trying to avoid the pyrotechnics…

Bob – Trying not to burst into flames during “Fortunate Son”, exactly.

Allan – So when you’re out doing your own stuff, here and in the States, what would be your ideal band line-up?

Bob – The ultimate, when I’m not touring; when I’m LA, and I don’t have to put people in hotel rooms would be a nine-piece band. I just did a DVD, which I did the way I would like to do it and I had three female background singers, percussionist, drums, bass and guitar. I do a lot of stuff with horns as well, for years I had a horn section, so it would be a nine to eleven piece band and a second keyboard player would be great, to play the organ parts. (If you’re really paying attention, you’ll notice that the total number of musicians is only eight, but there’s a slide guitar player on there as well. I hope your heart isn’t broken by that omission Marty Rifkin.)

Allan – On your own tours, particularly in the UK, you rely on the venue providing the piano. Have you had any horror stories with that in the past?

Bob – Well, usually I carry a digital piano for when there’s no real alternative, but most of the places I play now, if there is a real piano, it’s usually in good shape, but I’ve been to places that had a hundred year old upright and some of the keys didn’t work but I kind of like to play those anyway, just for the challenge. It’s like going in the ring with this old piano and fighting it to see who wins. I love real pianos because they all have personality; the digital ones are handy and they’re light and they don’t go out of tune, but they don’t have much of a personality. They get the job done.

The one in Southend, that’s got some issues. It’s got some broken strings; it’s one that I fight to the death but I like playing it because it’s an old Bösendorfer.

Allan – I did notice a few problems at the soundcheck that night…

Bob – It needs a rebuild, but still I’m glad to see it.

Allan – You’re classically and jazz trained; was there any one thing that turned you into a rock/blues pianist?

Bob – The rock thing came first. One of those things was hearing “Sergeant Pepper” for the first time, so it’s you guys, it’s your fault. Then I heard Billy Joel and Elton John and not very long after that the New Orleans thing, which blew me away, and then Ray Charles and I became a huge student of that stuff but the rock stuff was always there.

Allan – Were you singing right from the start?

Bob – I started singing when I was fifteen probably. I started singing because I wanted to impress a girl I had a crush on. I just played classical piano but “Your Song” by Elton John was the first thing I ever sang in public; I thought ‘She’ll love me if I sing this song’. I was a terrible singer, some people still say I am, but I learned to work with what I have.

You write songs and there are obviously lots of people with better voices than me but when you write songs you have a story to tell and people always respond to the story and sometimes you’re the only person that can tell it.

Allan – We’ve had “Mojo Deluxe” this year, so what’s next on the agenda.

Bob – Well, I’ve got this DVD coming out and the audio from that was so good, we’re thinking of putting that out as a live record next year and I’ll make another new record, so I’ll probably get the live one out next year and in 2017 I’ll have a new studio album. I’ve got to get realistic about this; I’ve got about half the songs I need for another record.

Allan – I interviewed Southside Johnny in July 2014 in London…

Bob – Southside Johnny was also one of the big things in my youth and I should mention this because growing up in New Jersey, we all knew Southside Johnny. This was the 80s and you couldn’t hear that kind of music on the radio at all and so my first real exposure to r’n’b, blues, horn section kinda music was Southside and I learned from that and went back and figured out all the other stuff. He was huge for me.

Allan – When I interviewed him at Shepherds Bush Empire last July, we spoke about his new album “Soultime!” and he said they were aiming to get it out for Christmas 2014 and that finally came out in August this year.

Bob – Yeah, that’s about right. I toured here last year and I had half of “Mojo Deluxe” out as “Mojo EP”. We had finished recording and it was half-mixed and there were some problems and we couldn’t get the other half mixed in time and the promoter said ‘The whole thing is you have a record out for this tour; we can’t get any press without a record’ so we had half a record out as an EP, just in the UK for the tour.

Allan – And that worked really well as a sampler for the album.

Bob – And by the end of last year the whole thing was done but then we needed a three month ramp for the release date to get it publicised and I was touring through the spring, so we just put the whole thing off and it came out almost a year later. That’s how it works. There are so many factors; if you have a lot of money involved, you can get things done a lot quicker. On a limited budget, you still need time to publicise, so you often end up delaying.

Allan – One final question; do you have one song that tears you up and gets you really emotional?

Bob – Yeah, “One for my Baby”, the Sinatra song; that one kills me every time. It depends on the day; it could be something else on another day.

Allan – Thanks very much, Bob.

And there you go; a private audience with the great Bob Malone, who was as entertaining offstage as on. Since we spoke, I’ve had a chance to watch the “Mojo Live” DVD and it’s superb, capturing the magic of a one-off performance absolutely perfectly. It has great performances from all of the musicians and it’s a whole load of fun; keep an eye out for it.

Soultime TitleIf you’re looking for something that’s easy on the ear to use as aural wallpaper for your commute or as background music for a dinner party, then stop right here; this is proper music. Southside Johnny has been making music with various Asbury Jukes for over forty years and compromise isn’t something that he’s about to start now. The quality of the songs, the playing and the arrangements is what it’s all about; always has been, always will be. Southside had fraught relationships with his various labels in the days when bands signed to a label and hoped that the label would make them successful but it hasn’t worked that way for a while now so Southside has moved on to a completely different way of working; he has control over the creative and business processes. ‘When’s the album being released? When it’s ready’. And “Soultime!” is well and truly ready. It’s taken a while (the last album “Pills and Ammo” was released in 2010), but Southside’s a very busy man these days; not only is he trying to keep an eight-piece rock and soul band in line, but he’s also working with his Americana project The Poor Fools, comprising various Jukes and some of the extended Jersey shore family.

Through the various incarnations of The Jukes, Southside has always had a collaborator helping with songwriting and musical director duties; Steve van Zandt moved on to the E Street Band as Springsteen went up through the gears and Bobby Bandiera took on the ‘safe pair of hands’ role with Bon Jovi on his seemingly endless world tour. Which, after an overlap with Bobby, left Jeff Kazee, keyboard virtuoso with a great high tenor soul voice, as the partner in crime. And, as much as I love the work of Little Steven and Bobby Bandiera, the Jeff and Johnny combination is producing some stunning results as Southside takes more credit for his songwriting contributions and Jeff Kazee adds his voice to the mix as well; it’s a potent combination.

In 2001, Southside released “Messin’ with the Blues”, an album of songs illustrating his love of blues, but also demonstrating the variety of styles within blues music; fourteen years later, “Soultime!” applies the same template to a cross-section of soul styles. It’s not too difficult to identify the influences, but the quality of the writing and the performances ensure that this is an album to be judged on its own merits.

The opening track “Spinning” throws all the ingredients into the blender to create a manic Stax feel. Everything’s there, from the horn fills to the breakdown, building back up with John Conte’s bass, Jeff Kazee’s Hammond and Glenn Alexander’s guitar, to the call and response vocal and the big horn finish. There’s barely time to get your breath back before “All I Can Do” the mid-tempo Johnny/Jeff duet. The two voices combine perfectly and a sweet tenor sax solo from John Isley is the icing on the cake. “Don’t Waste my Time” could be early Jukes, musically and lyrically as Southside tells the ‘my girl done me wrong’ story supported by backing vocalists Elaine Caswell, Layonne Holmes and Catherine Russell before Neal Pawley steps up for a trombone solo.

Looking for a Good Time” is the album’s defining song. The inspiration for the album came from hearing “Superfly” in the booze aisle at the supermarket and watching how the shoppers reacted. “Looking…” captures the upful mood of Curtis Mayfield in 1970 perfectly; if anything ever made me wish I could dance, this is it. The namechecks in the lyrics say it all, really: ‘Isley Brothers and Curtis and Sly and Bobby Womack too’; it’s perfect. “Words Fail Me” is a mature love ballad with very tasteful backing (even drummer Tom Seguso is reined in), muted horns and a lovely flugelhorn solo from Chris Anderson; Johnny’s voice is sublime and it would melt a heart of stone. “Walking on a Thin Line” has a faintly menacing Latin feel evoking Isaac Hayes, The Temptations and The O’Jays but still totally Jukes.

What comes next is a very rare thing indeed; an instrumental on a Jukes album. “Klank” is the love child of “Soul Finger” and “Third Stone from the Sun” with harmonica and tenor sax solos; they’re allowed to have fun as well, you know. Carrying on with the levity, “Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness” is a bit of light-hearted fun with a cast of Damon Runyon characters and a nod to “Check Mr Popeye” from way back when, which takes the intensity down a little bit before the final three songs.

I’m Not That Lonely” totally nails the Motown sound (Four Tops, anyone?) while “The Heart Always Knows” harks back to a much earlier time (Sam Cooke, or maybe The Cascades). It’s a slow, gentle ballad with some nice pizzicato strings courtesy of Jeff Kazee and acoustic guitar from Glenn Alexander and it takes off the heat for a few minutes before the final offering. “Reality” takes its influence from the psychedelic soul of the late sixties/early seventies with some interesting synth sounds and John Isley’s flute (and is that bass sax on there as well?), strings and muted horns; it gets kinda busy in there at times.

Southside Johnny set out to evoke a certain era of soul with this album; he wanted to make us feel good, the way we did when we first heard all of the great artists who influenced this album, and it’s an unqualified success. The arrangements perfectly capture the feel without sounding like The Faux Tops; he and The Jukes have created a perfect homage to music that was the soundtrack to the sixties and seventies. Over forty years down the line, he still has that raw, emotive voice that cuts through Hammond and horns and straight to the heart. Working with Jeff Kazee and the latest incarnation of The Jukes, he’s turned out a modern soul classic.

“Soultime!” is released on September 1 on Leroy Records.

Part One

It’s unbelievable, really. We’re already halfway through 2015; how did that happen? Well, however it happened, there’s been an awful lot of it. At the start of the year, we made a few predictions about bands and artists to keep an eye on in 2015 and this seems like a pretty good time to have a look at how they’re getting on and maybe add a few more to the mix. So why don’t we start at the beginning because, apparently, that’s a very good place to start.

BWB Hockley ScrollerThe first of our hot picks to shake some action in 2015 was the Billy Walton Band with “Wish for what You Want”, their first release on American independent label Vizztone in February 2015 after a series of self-released albums. We’ve been watching Billy Walton live since 2010 and he’s been steadily edging up the rankings. The band’s increased in size as well, from a power trio to a six-piece on the latest UK tour and the addition of sax, trombone and keyboards has emphasised their awesome live power while allowing them to move in new directions. Like his fellow New Jersey artists Springsteen and Southside Johnny (Billy has toured as an Asbury Juke in the UK a couple of times), Billy’s fond of taking the show in unexpected directions and these guys are easily good enough to follow him. They should be back in the UK later in the year, so watch out for them in your area.

DSC_0007Dean Owens is another artist the Riot Squad has been following for some time; well since the release of his 2012 album “New York Hummingbird” anyway. Dean has deservedly been acclaimed by those in the know (including Irvine Welsh) for some time now as a singer/songwriter but hasn’t ever managed to get the wider attention he really deserves; it looks like his 2015 album “Into the Sea” on Drumfire Records may have changed that. It’s generated a huge amount of media attention including a Bob Harris interview and live session for Radio 2 and an appearance on the cult BBC Radio Scotland football show “Off the Ball” presented by Stuart Cosgrove and Tam Cowan. The album’s probably his best yet with some highly personal lyrics and memorable melodies backed up by a great group of Nashville musicians.

Kennedys Gallery ScrollerNext up was The Kennedys; Maura and Pete Kennedy are also from the East coast of the USA; New York City is their adopted home. They decided to celebrate their twentieth anniversary by releasing not one, not two, but three albums this year and to tour in support of the albums. Two of the albums have already been released, The Kennedys album “West” and Maura’s solo album (with lyrics from poet B.D. Love), “Villanelle” and they’re both exceptionally beautiful pieces of work. Still to come (in September) is Pete’s long-awaited solo piece “Heart of Gotham” a suite of songs inspired by New York City and its inhabitants. Pete’s poetic sensibilities, huge knowledge of the history of American music and quiet mastery of his instrument (or more accurately, instruments) make this another one to look out for.

04) Gary RollinsWell that’s the story so far, but there’s more to come later in the year. Stone Foundation were obviously on the way up in 2014 when we reviewed their album “To Find the Spirit”, but 2015 has seen them providing the title track for the wonderful short film “Beverley”, trekking across Europe, signing record deals in Japan and the USA and recording the superb “A Life Unlimited” album which is released in the UK on August 7 this year. There’s a UK tour to promote the album, followed by a Japanese tour and some festival appearances over the summer. Pre-sales on the album have been very impressive and this looks like the year that Stone Foundation finally become an overnight success. Keeping the faith seems to finally be paying dividends.

Part Two coming soon…