My Black Arts TitleSo, here’s an interesting one; “My Black Arts” is the second album from The Dream Logic. The core of the band is singer and guitarist Charles Compo, bass player Jerry Brooks and drummer Camille Gainer but the album also features cameos from guitarists Eric Krasno (Soulive) and Vernon Reid (Living Colour). As far as trying to pin a genre on the band, I’m sticking to guitar-based at the moment.

The first track, “My Red Heart”, opens with some guitar and percussion noodling before dropping into a groove that echoes “Gaucho”-era Steely Dan (right down to a sprinkling of atonality in the guitar solo) with clean guitars and keys under Charles Compo’s very distinctive vocal, which has more than a hint of Sweet Pea Atkinson (more about that later). From here on in, the band takes on a variety of different disguises, as it tackles a range of musical styles.

“Cisco Kid” and “When I Go” have a bluesy feel, the first funky, and the second a slow blues with very clean picking in the style of Albert Collins before a coda which shifts to mid-tempo before a paint-stripping guitar solo. Drums and bass are fairly funky throughout and the songs “”Just Can’t Quit It”, “The Way That I Want It” and “Think I’ll Stay” stick fairly closely to a funk template.

“It’s Murder”, with its driving bassline, “I Hope It’s Real”, with a catchy guitar hook and guitar fills in the verses, the Southern swamp boogie of the single “Drunken Monkey” and the all-out driving tempo of “Headlights Into the Darkness” (with a hint of pastiche in the backing vocals) all help to establish the band’s rock credentials while “Don’t Judge” has slow 70s style soul arrangement with nice laid-back, almost jazz, guitar.

The remaining three tracks are the seasoning which gives the album its unique flavour. “Biznasty” (with a lyric about a music business sleazeball) is propelled along by Stones-style intertwined guitar parts with an added sitar to give the song its individual style. And then things get weird. “Trying to be a Buddha”, a slow piece which evokes 80s-era Prince meeting Tom Verlaine is almost a mantra, while the closing (and title) track, “My Black Arts” is a loose jam which perhaps made a lot more sense in the studio than it does here.

On the positive side, the playing is superb throughout, particularly when the arrangement is for two guitars. There’s a lot of variation; it’s never boring because you just don’t know what’s coming next and the band sounds fairly convincing across all of the genres they tackle. The negatives are that there’s probably too much material here (14 songs) and the title track, “My Black Arts”, comes over as a bit self-indulgent and aimed at the band rather than the listener. The band is obviously influenced by a tremendous variety of styles and the finished product here feels mostly like Steely Dan interpreted by Don and David Was (who also had a penchant for including half-finished jams and other bits of weirdness on their albums) with hints of many other styles. It’s not a bad album at all; it’s a good album which might have been even better with a tighter focus.

 

OK, I know I’ve already done my favourite five gigs of the year, but sometimes you see or hear something very special at a gig and it puts all of those cold nights on public transport or long drives to and from gigs into perspective; something which stops you in your tracks and makes you smile or cry or just amazes you.  I’ve seen a few of those this year and I thought it would be rude not to share them.  Once again, in no particular order, here they are.

Billy walton Magic MomentsBilly Walton is always likely to do something a bit special and he didn’t disappoint at The Buzz Club in Barnet in May.  During a guitar solo, he dropped seamlessly into the guitar riff from the Led Zeppelin classic “Kashmir” for a few bars before nailing the intro to one of my teenage favourites  “25 or 6 to 4”, recorded by Chicago before they discovered ballads.  In true New Jersey tradition, the band locked in instantly while Billy gave it his best “Yeah, I did just do that” grin.  Great fun and just a bit strange to hear a guitar solo featuring a fragment of a song that I loved when I was just starting to get into music seriously.  You go to a Billy Walton gig, you expect the unexpected.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPaul Rose is one of those blues artists who’s well-known within the blues community but virtually unknown out of it; he’s also a great guitar player.  He put together the Paul Rose All-Stars to record an album of standards and to tour the UK this year featuring a couple of ex-members of Was (Not Was), guitarist Randy Jacobs and singer Sweet Pea Atkinson.  As a fan of Was (Not Was), that alone would have sold it to me but there was more to come.  Towards the end of the set, the band launched into a storming version if the brilliant W(nW) Dallas motorcade song “11 MPH” played with much more attitude and venom than the original and it worked perfectly.  I always love it when a band stamps its own personality on a cover and this was a stunning example.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Kennedys show at Kings Place in London had a couple great moments.  I’ve already mentioned “Rhapsody in Blue” elsewhere but there was another moment which was much more personal.  Since reviewing The Kennedys album “Closer than you Know”, I couldn’t shake off Maura’s tribute to the late Alex Chilton, “Big Star Song”.  It pushes most of my buttons with the Byrds/Merseybeat sus4 chords and a great melody as well as being a moving tribute to a pop legend.  So, how pleased do you think I felt when they played the song?  Dog with two tails doesn’t even come close, but then it got even better.  Apparently The Kennedys don’t play “Big Star Song” live very often, so my experience was rare and special.  Thank you Maura and Pete.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI always love to see musicians having a good time and most soloists enjoy trading licks with another player; it’s a challenge and a crowd pleaser.  After playing a support set at the Garage in Islington, Aynsley Lister was brought back by headliner Joe Louis Walker to jam for a couple of songs and turned what had been a fairly standard back catalogue set into a highly entertaining sparring match between two players from different generations with a huge amount of mutual respect.  Both players were obviously having a great time and the momentum carried on through the remainder of Joe Louis Walker’s set.  The audience loved it and the musicians loved it; double bubble.

And finally, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  As much as I love Bruce’s music, I had never seen him live before, mainly because I hate stadium and arena gigs, but I finally succumbed this year.  Musically, the E Street Band have always been superb (just listen to the Hammersmith Odeon 1975 live album) but The Boss always keeps it fresh by throwing a few curve balls and there’s always a few bits of pure showbiz thrown in as well.  At Hard Rock Calling in London this year, he pulled out two memorable and genuinely surprising moments when he brought his mum on stage to dance with him on “Dancing in the Dark” and then brought his sister, Pam, on to join him at the end of the set.  These appearances were special because they were surprising and they emphasised the importance of family to Springsteen (including his extended Jersey shore family) and brought a couple of genuinely moving moments into the rock’n’roll circus.

You can keep your big screens, acrobatics, pyrotechnics and instrument smashing, it’s the prospect of moments like these that will make me jump on the train on a rainy Tuesday in January to go and watch a new band in 2014.