One thing you can guarantee with a Bob Malone album, it will be packed with musical talent. That starts with Bob Malone himself playing acoustic and electric pianos, organ, synth, glockenspiel, stomp box and tambourine; and he’s a pretty good singer in a raw rock/blues style. He’s classically trained, an accomplished writer and arranger and he has a day job (when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic) as keyboard player, accordionist and unwitting pyrotechnics target with John Fogerty’s live band. His solo work reflects his varied musical background, pulling in elements from classical, soul, blues, rock, funk and jazz into a glorious fusion that’s pure Bob Malone.

“Good People”, in common with a lot of recent releases is at least partly a lockdown project put together from recordings at various studios and has a couple of lyrical themes running through it; gratitude for the things that have seen us through the pandemic and a sense of loss for friends and family that didn’t make it through, for whatever reason. The latter theme is particularly important on “Good People”; Lavonne Barnett-Seetal of The Malonettes backing vocal team died in December 2020. Her stunning voice lives on and “Good People” is a fitting tribute.

There are eight original songs on “Good People” and three non-originals; I’m wary of using the word ‘cover’ after a conversation with the wonderful Galician finger-style guitarist, Iago Banet, who makes a powerful case for using the word arrangements instead. Either arrangements or interpretations would be more accurate for the three non-originals on “Good People”. The first reworking is a brave choice of the John Fogerty classic “Bad Moon Rising”. The menace of the original is emphasised by a piano riff that mixes “Come Together” and “Crossroads” and a slightly changed melody. Appropriately enough, it has a real New Orleans feel. Another brave choice is building the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac classic “Oh Well” around a turbo-charged piano riff replacing the guitar of the original. It’s a stunning response to everyone who ever told him that “Oh Well” was a guitar tune that wouldn’t work on the piano. And the final non-original, which closes the album, is the long-time live favourite “Tangled Up in Blue”, which is funked-up, rocked-up, Leon Russell-like, show-closing version of the Dylan classic that leaves plenty of room for piano and guitar solos – this studio version has solos from six different guitar players; yep, that’s right, six.

After interpreting the work of classic songwriters such John Fogerty, Peter Green and Bob Dylan, do the Malone originals match up? They certainly do. Bob’s songwriting on “Good People” reflects the times that we’ve lived through since January 2020. The message of the title song is really simple; there’s always reason for positivity because there are always good people around. In a turbulent year like 2020, particularly in the USA, it’s a message that many have forgotten; many thanks for the timely reminder, Bob. The beautiful ballad “My Friends and I”, with its sparse (mainly) piano backing, building up to a gospel choir finish, tells a story of loss that’s familiar to many of us over the last year. It’s an incredibly moving song.

As is “Empty Hallways”, stripped back to piano and strings. The pathos of watching someone slip away is emphasised by Bob singing towards the top of his range and it’s an emotional ride. The Malonettes backing vocals feature heavily again on “The River Gives”, a slow ballad about the danger of depending on unpredictable and dangerous natural resources; it might even be a metaphor for life itself. But don’t get the wrong idea about Bob’s own compositions; they aren’t all downbeat. The instrumental “Prelude and Blues” is an opportunity for Bob and the band to show their prowess in a gentle jazz/blues piece, while “Sound of a Saxophone” using the sax as a metaphor for jazz and music generally builds up to a big full band arrangement with strings and, of course, The Malonettes in full swing.

“Good People” is an album that captures the experience of the plague year perfectly and I think it’s his best yet. It’s a mix of remembrance, numbness, regret and, ultimately, recovery. It’s a bunch of songs that perfectly captures the experience of the last sixteen months and finishes on a note of pure defiance with joyous “Tangled Up in Blue” that you really need to see live. Until that happens, get your ears around this album and prepare for a treat.

“Good People” is released on Friday May 21st, until then here’s a little video for you:

Here’s Allan’s final set of photos for this restricted year. He’s saved the monochromes until the end this time and we think we can see why.

All but one of these photos were taken before the first lockdown (incidentally, using bodies and lenses that have all been replaced now, if anyone’s interested) and they’re examples of the different reasons for using monochrome processing. I started taking family snaps in the sixties using black and white 120 roll film and I’ve had a bit of a nostalgic soft spot for it ever since (I was way too young to know anything about the culture wars over monochrome/colour played out by the pros – there was just no way I could afford colour film at that time). Moving forward nearly sixty years, I’m enjoying monochrome photography again, this time as an option.

Will Sexton @AMAUK Showcase January 2020

Will Sexton is the musical and marital partner of Amy LaVere and they played as a duo at AMAUK in Hackney this year. One of my usual reasons for monochrome processing is bland stage lighting and that was the case here as well. However, as soon as I flipped from colour, the shot took on a whole new meaning. Will’s stage image took the shot back about sixty years and evoked Ronnie Hawkins and maybe Duane Eddy. From Hackney to Memphis with one toggle:

Roseanne Reid @AMAUK Showcase January 2020

Yep, that Roseanne Reid; daughter of Craig of The Proclaimers and a cracking writer and performer. This wasn’t a question of the monochrome processing as an option, it was a necessity because the lighting was horrendous. It took a bit of time to find the angle where the lighting worked, but it was worth it:

Hope Winter @The Bedford

Oh those happy days at The Bedford when you could wander round the entire venue without a mask and get up really close to the artists with a 35mm lens. There’s a lot of luck involved in this because I happened to be right in front of Hope when she dropped really briefly into this pensive mood with her long hair highlighted and the embroidered jacket picked out perfectly:

Nicole Terry @The Essex Arms Brentwood

This was only a few weeks before lockdown. I was with my mate, fiddle and mandolin player Steve Stott who was seeing Morganway for the first time. I love Morganway; I love the quality of the playing, the songs and the energy. Nicole is a ball of fire on stage so this shot is a bit uncharacteristic, but it shows a contrast with her usual frantic bowing and backing vocals in one of those serene and focussed moments:

Iago Banet @Luna Lounge, Leytonstone

Just a few weeks ago, but it seems much longer now. This was an Acoustic Sanctuary livestream with Foxpalmer from the basement of Luna Lounge (which is a great venue) that I was invited to shoot some stills for. If you get a chance to see Iago solo or with ColorColour, I recommend you take it; you won’t be disappointed. This was one of those gigs that had monochrome stamped all over it from the start. Iago’s fairly mobile on stage and it’s usually just a question of catching the right moment:

When you think that this is the year music went over the cliff (well, live music certainly) we’ve been pretty busy with album reviews as artists faced difficult choices about whether to release their material in a time when they couldn’t tour to promote it. Despite those difficult decisions, we still reviewed over thirty albums this year and we asked Allan to pick out five of his personal favourites.

I’ve always loved the MusicRiot ethos of reviewing; it’s not about trashing albums that we aren’t keen on, it’s about highlighting the albums that we really like and telling the world why we like them. We don’t review high profile albums, nothing we say will help Springsteen, Dylan or Young sell half a dozen more units, but we might actually help someone self-releasing their work, even if it’s only with a quote to use on their next press release. Now I’ve got that out of my system, I’ll tell you about five albums that I’ve had on high rotation this year. As always, in no particular order:

“What in the World” – Michael McDermott

Michael McDermott keeps cropping up in these year end lists, with good reason. He’s a great songwriter and he knows how to present his songs on record and live. “What in the World” was a bit of a departure for Michael; his focus has shifted towards protest songs. When Michael takes a pathway, he commits to it completely. The title song is “Subterranean Homesick Blues” for 2020; it’s a headlong rush through the final year of Trump’s presidency and pulls no punches – ‘It’s not hard to see The President’s a criminal’. While “What in the World” is one of only two protest songs on the album (the other is “Mother Emanuel”), its power and ferocity mean that it defines the album, although there are plenty more songs from Michael’s post-addiction and recovery space to make a great and varied album.

“Can You See Me” – Maya Rae

This one was very different from the MusicRiot staples. Maya Rae isn’t the kind of artist we usually hear about from our sources. She sent a demo tape to producer Steve Dawson (Black Hen Records) and he hastily put a band together to record the album in three days. Maya wasn’t even eighteen at the time and she had already been singing professionally for six years. The album’s fresh and zingy and full of the insights about young people’s lives that you can only get from a young person. The musicianship on the album is superb as the band step effortlessly from pop to sinuous funk. Try it, you’ll love it.

“Iago Banet” – Iago Banet

I don’t think I’ve ever featured an entirely instrumental album before in my High Fives, but I’d never heard “Iago Banet” before this year. Iago plays in a style that he describes as Galician finger-style from south, south, south, south London. If you haven’t seen Iago play live you would think that each song features at least two guitarists (a bit like Martin Harley’s Weissenborn playing), but only one track on the album features a second guitar and that’s the fun blues hybrid ”Octopus One”. Iago’s playing evokes pictures ranging from Greater London scenes (“Morning at Greenwich Park”) to more prosaic domestic scenes (“There’s a Mouse In my Kitchen”). And there’s also a wonderful swing arrangement of Van Morrison’s “Moondance”. What more could you want?

“Tangle of Souls” – Scott Cook

To paraphrase the Marks & Spencer advertising strapline, this isn’t just music. “Tangle of Souls” as a standalone album is a superb piece of work, but it comes packaged with a hefty booklet containing Scott’s writings, printed on had-crafted paper. It all adds to the experience, but the album stands on its own musical and lyrical merits. The album’s centrepiece “Say Can You See” is a political statement that isn’t partisan; it’s about not trusting anyone from the DC elite. The album has more of a political edge than some of Scott Cook’s earlier work, including an update of Dick Blakeslee’s “Passin’ Through”, which includes a reference to 1970s Chilean martyr Victor Jara. It’s an album that will make you listen and make you think.

“The Sleepless Kind” – Andy Fleet

This was another one that came out of left field. Andy is a musician who makes a living in the same way as a lot of musicians these days; a bit of performance, a bit of recording, a bit of teaching and a bit of anything else that comes along. “The Sleepless Kind” tells the stories of the musicians who entertain us in our clubs and bars every night (or did before the onset of this plague) and gives us a unique perspective on Soho through the eyes of an owl. It’s an album that rewards repeated plays and has an end of the day feel to it. You should probably listen while nestling a single malt in one hand.

And here’s a little bonus ball for you. I wouldn’t normally include a compilation in this selection, but this one merits a mention.

“The Man from Leith” – Dean Owens

This is a seventeen-song Dean Owens retrospective. I’ve followed Dean’s work for nearly ten years now and he’s a songwriter who writes beautifully about Scottish and global themes. There are songs about family, songs about friends, songs about events and even a sing inspired by Ronnie Lane. If you want an introduction to Dean’s body of work, then this is the perfect place to start. And whether he’s playing solo or with a band you should try to see him live as well.

It’s a logical progression I suppose. I’ve heard a few stripped-back lockdown singer-songwriter albums recently, usually the one voice/one instrument variety and they’ve all been very good. Iago Banet takes it one step further; just guitar, no vocal. Iago’s been playing live around the UK and particularly the south east for a few years now, solo and as guitar player with ColorColour (formerly Deep Blue Sea). With the band, he’s the Les Paul-toting, all the way to 11, rock guitar player and he’s a great player. The solo material’s also very good, but very different from the band dynamic.

For a start it’s all instrumental and it’s mainly acoustic; there are hints of influences from a huge variety of musical styles but it’s all built around Iago’s Galician finger-style playing, a combination of finger-picking, flamenco and soundboard tapping and slapping. And that’s the groundwork right there for Iago’s second album, “Iago Banet”. The album has nine tracks, eight originals and one very interesting (and brave) cover and it demonstrates Iago’s ability to evoke a scene or a feeling with his writing and playing. Here’s a quick run through a few of the album’s highlights.

Sitting right in the middle of the album is “Octopus One”, probably the least typical track. It has a much more jazz/blues feel than the rest of the album and it’s a load of fun – it’s the sound of a guitar player cutting loose and having a good time. Where Iago excels is in capturing and evoking a mood or a scene, whether it’s the slow, moody, delicate finger-picking and soundboard slapping of “Morning at Greenwich Park”, the frantic flurries of notes evoking the bustle and madness of “Rush Hour” in London or the Chet Atkins styling and jazz/country fusion of “There’s a Mouse in My Kitchen” capturing the movement of a mouse skittering across a kitchen floor. Which brings us to the cover version of “Moondance” – yes, that “Moondance”.

This cover demonstrates Iago’s range of techniques with percussive picking pulling out the bass, the melody and rhythmic chords and progressing to Galician finger-style, string slapping and harmonics. Like the Van Morrison original, it swings and it’s another bit of fun to end the album.

So there you go; nine tracks of guitar artistry. The guitar techniques alone make this a stunning guitar player’s album, but it’s the mastery of melody and rhythms and the ability to paint a picture of a scene that make this an album for everyone. It’s a perfect stocking-filler for the music lover in your life and you can get a CD copy here.

“Iago Banet” is out now on all platforms. And while we’re on the subject, Iago’s first album “A Sunset Wine” is also available on his website and I thoroughly recommend that as well.

When things get back to something resembling normal, you really should make the effort to go and see Iago live; you won’t regret it.

A producer, a photographer and two musicians walk into a pub. Sorry, there isn’t a punchline to this; it’s just what happened. A quick pre-Christmas beer with some music business friends to chew the fat; what do you think we talked about? As always with these semi-unplanned sessions something good came out of it. We’ll leave it to Graeme Wheatley, bass player and songwriter with the band Deep Blue Sea to tell the story, enhancing it with some music trivia. You might want to start this piece whenyou have about an hour to spare because it’s a bit addictive, especially after Riot Towers made a contribution,

 

Sitting in The New Cross House pub the other night with Allan McKay (something that could very easily become habit forming), we were talking about his series of guest articles “High Fives” in Music Riot – sign up now if ya haven’t already!

I’ve written a few before and always like rambling on about whatever, so I was happy to quickly volunteer to write one for this Christmas – even before Allan gave me my first pressie of the year – even if I had no idea what to waffle on about.

We were with Iago Banet, a guitarist from a band that I’ve heard are not that bad and we were talking about a gig we did a few weeks ago. Our singer, Dre Smith, had lost her voice and we were doing the gig as a 3 piece – playing songs we’d never played before. I proudly boasted that I’d sang the entire lyric to “Blinded By The Light” by Brucie without a single rehearsal. Allan asked if I liked Manfred Mann’s version or the original best, then Iago reminded me that after 3 attempts we’d had to abandon “All Along The Watchtower” because I kept getting the first line wrong!!! Pride comes before…

Anyway, this conversation led to the topic of this High Five.

Five covers that I think are better than the original.

Only my opinion here – but when I got to thinking about it – there’s maybe 20 or 30 I could muse about. So, I thought I’d kick it off with two people who I consider to be un-betterable – but concede that in these two occasions, they are bettered.

 

Song 1

All Along The Watchtower – Bob Dylan – Jimi Hendrix

OK, if you know me at all, you may have heard me at sometime mention the name Bob Dylan. He’s the cat, the verbal acrobat-tery, the lyrical dexterity and temerity in all sincerity. A couple of weeks ago we were playing Bude R&B Festival, which involved a good 4 hour drive back and forth. Amanda Dal, our wonderful drummer, asked me, unprompted, to play the three albums Bob recorded in 1965 that “invented Rock Music as we know it”. Much to Iago’s horror. So we had a great journey back and forth listening to Bob. It’s Amanda’s turn next, so I am going to get 4 hours of singer songwriter LP. The fact that she’s a ringer for Bob makes me favourable disposed to her from the get go – so – I’m ok with this!

Anyway, some people say (fools that they are) that any cover of a Bob song is going to be better than Bob’s version. BUT THEY ARE WRONG!!!! This has only ever happened once in the whole wide universe since the beginning of time. And only one person could a done it. Jimi. Y’know, I’d love to be able to wipe the tape and hear Jimi’s version of Watchtower again for the first time. Can you remember that moment? I can’t. But listen to it now. The swagger, the invention, the sass, the sheer coolness.  Four minutes of perfect cool. If Jimi hadn’t recorded it, would we remember the original? Was it just a fairly average track on a subdued and pared back album from Bob who might have been wondering at the time where he was going next. Recorded in 1967 after the “fall” it was a total turn away from the more blues inspired electric albums and a return to his more folkie side, but Jimi took this track, rocked it up, funked it up and delivery to my mind one of the greatest little guitar pop songs of all time.

Oh, BTW, the title of Bob’s album, John Wesley Harding. It was named after a Texan outlaw of that name – only they spelled it wrong!!! He was called John Wesley Hardin.

Compare and contrast:

 

Song 2

Nothing Compares 2U – Prince – Sinead O’Connor

I was a big Prince fan. Still miss the guy. He might have had demons and might have been just a tad obsessed but look at the catalogue of pop songs. Inventive, fun, joyous, rude, rock and raunch and lovesexy. He made pop a bit dangerous, a lot of fun and a lot of cool – combined a bit of Jimi, a bit of Marc, a bit of James Brown and a lot of genius. Until Sinead covered this song I would not have thought anyone could touch the little chap at his own game. I kinda thought Prince songs were indelibly stamped with Prince’s logo. You can’t touch this….

I wuz wrong. The frailty and fragile nature of the song fits Sinead and both somehow meld. She is the song, the song is her. That just doesn’t happen very often – if at all. That revolting phrase “you owned it” churned out on brain dead TV talent shows ad nauseam for once applies. You can’t think of the song without thinking of Sinead and vice versa. They might be so entwined that it overshadows her career.

OK, that’s two down and just to sum them up, nobody else has done a cover of a Prince song better than Prince and ditto Bob. Argue away, I’m not listening.

Compare and contrast:

Song 3

With A Little Help From My Friends – The Beatles – Joe Cocker

This is weird. The Beatles FFS? The greatest band ever. The greatest song writing partnership of the 20th century. The band that wrote the book (and the sequel). Have you heard some of the covers? “Hey Jude, Hey Bing”? Trust me, it was an album. My dad had it. Can you imagine the scene in our house? He was a jazz musician and I think he made this one attempt to be down with his son. He’d spent some futile time trying to tell me that all of this pop music stuff was nonsense and real music would eventually come into its own and Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington et al would be on Top of the Pops (Pops in this case being hep cat chat for Dads). Suffice to say most covers are cheesy in the extreme or just for shock value with nothing of value added. From Matt Monroe to Siouxsie Sioux. But, Joe? That voice. That presence. That simple honesty and stripped back truth. It’s a song, dare I say, that Paul didn’t really think was the Dog’s Bs so he suggested that Ringo sang it as a little bit of fun “What would you do if I sang out of tune?” and the whimsy fitted the feel of Sgt Peppers. But it was far from a stand-out track.

Now, fast forward a mere year or so. On stage at Woodstock and Joe says “the title of this song says it all”. The song is imbued with something more. A part of the hippy dream is captured in the performance. It’s a time piece. Oh and that voice? Come on. Just go have a listen. Band ain’t too bad either.

Song 4

Respect – Otis Redding – Aretha Franklin

Like Joe, this cover takes the song into places the original didn’t. Like the others too I guess. But with this one, you start pretty high up – with that voice, Otis. A voice that can quite easily make you cry. My Girl? Try A Little Tenderness? I Been Loving You Too Long? I’m tearing up now. And I’m a tough guy…

But Aretha takes a lyric that just might veer towards a bit misogynistic these days – y’know, man works all day – comes home to little lady cooking for him and expects a bit of R – E – S – P – E – C – T – and she makes it the first bona fide feminist mega hit defining moment of the decade. Oh yeah, and it was her major first hit after 10 years fighting against “the man”!!

What Aretha did changed the world. A cover version of a pop song changed the world? Yes, that’s what I said. Made a massive difference to the feminist movement and the civil rights movement. The impact of this little pop song can’t be ignored. That’s how deep my love is.

Oh, BTW, Otis didn’t really like the cover – but learned to live with it when the dosh rolled in – and also – listen to his version – most people think the lyric “R – E – S – P – E – C – T find out what it means to me” is part of the original.

Song 5

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Robert Hazard – Cyndi Lauper

For years I’d thought Prince wrote this especially for Cyndi. Someone told me some Fake News and I never questioned it. It’s a great song and it seemed believable. It’s my wife’s favourite “getting ready for Friday Night” song – so I had to include it for her.

There’s not a great deal to say about it other than, in Cyndi’s hands and voice, it’s perfect pop. In Robert Hazards? Well, have a listen to the song below. My main question is, How did Cyndi hear this very very average song and say “I can make this song a mega hit that will last generations and become Graeme’s wifes’ favourite “getting ready for Friday Night song” for all time”? I dunno the answer but one thing I will point out is, the song lasts 2 minutes and 30 seconds and the actual track lasts 4 minutes and 30 seconds. And by strange coincidence, when my wife says she’ll be ready in 15 minutes… you can fill in the rest.

Just before I trot off to have a mince pie, there were a couple of things I considered but rejected and hopefully some of these will incite you to invective 🙂

  1. Leonard Cohen covers – it’s easy to say other people sing them better than Lenny. That’s not the point. We can all say a photograph of a tree looks more like a tree than a Van Gogh painting of a tree. I don’t know where I’m going with that – other than Lenny is the Van Gogh of pop – funny, sad, dark, deep, tortured and Chaplinesque – there’s a crack in everything – that’s how Lenny gets in. I like his cracks. In his house there are many flaws – all of them interesting.
  2. Led Zeppelin – when you actually claim to have written all your covers yourselves – it doesn’t apply.
  3. Anyone covering Tom Waits with a gravelly voice – don’t be silly (Sir Rodney).
  4. Anyone covering Tom Waits with a lovely voice – as above.
  5. The Blues – it’s totally impossible to compare Crossroads – Robert Johnson to Cream. Both are wonderful in their own way – and I bet you can think of lots more examples. So, off you go, your challenge is now to name 5 blues songs that have brilliant originals and brilliant – but significantly different – covers.

Many thanks to Allan for allowing me to stop work for 3 hours to write this 🙂

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas, if the fates allow.

Cheers

Graeme

Written before the election December 2019 (I might not be in such a frivolous mood after that).

Sorry Graeme, but we need to have the last word here (not about the election, not even going there), especially after squeezing in two High Fives in one piece, but we did mention another song, which was a band covering their own song. Thin Lizzy’s “Nightlife” version of “Still In Love With You” should have pushed all the buttons as a duet between Phil Lynott and the wonderful Frankie Miller, but it was a bit of a mid-tempo plodder. Someone obviously worked out that it was a potential anthem, slowed it down, stuck a truly wonderful Brian Robertson solo in there and, voila, rock classic.