Posts Tagged ‘ Blues ’

Album of the Week 29-2017: The Meters – Rejuvenation

Within the funk idiom, The Meters are the prime representatives of the New Orleans sound. Not as angrily defiant as James Brown, not as dirty as the Ohio Players and not as crazy as Parliament-Funkadelic, the band focused on swinging, relatively relaxed grooves, which landed them a job as the backing band of New Orleans greats like Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. Their own material is worth hearing as well though. ‘Rejuvenation’ is their first album without any instrumentals, which were part of their charm, but the record is so full of inspired grooves and memorable melodies that it hardly matters.

On their first three albums, The Meters specialized in laid-back funk grooves, often making their songs sound like they belong on the soundtracks of one of the Blaxploitation films that were so popular at the time. The shift to predominantly vocal tracks on this album’s predecessor ‘Cabbage Alley’ may have raised some eyebrows at the time, but it is a fact that ‘Rejuvenation’ is full of excellent songs, some of which – most prominently the typical New Orleans rhythm of ‘Hey Pocky A-Way’ – sound like they could have been on one of their earliest records, except that these songs feature singing.

At other times, ‘Rejuvenation’ features the band leaning heavily towards more contemporary funk. Opening track ‘People Say’ has a suprisingly propulsive, stomping beat that nods strongly towards the harder funk that was gaining popularity at the time, while ‘Just Kissed My Baby’ is as close as The Meters ever came to the slinky, sexy grooves of the Ohio Players. ‘Jungle Man’ and the excellent closing track ‘Africa’ are great examples of the band adapting the sparse, prominent grooves of Sly & The Family Stone to their New Orleans background and bridging the gap between several types of funk in the process.

The album’s centerpiece, however, is the massive, 12 minute track ‘It Ain’t No Use’. This masterpiece of a song starts out like a blues track with some excellent stinging guitar fills by Leo Nocentelli, which are strongly reminiscent of Clapton during his best days in Cream. Art Neville’s passionate vocals are incredible as well. After the more song-oriented part is out of the way, a long, inspired funk jam starts, during which every member gets a chance to shine. Especially the rhythm section of drummer Ziggy Modeliste and bassist extraordinaire George Porter Jr. is beyond incredible here. Its jamtastic nature makes it stand out from the relatively concise material on ‘Rejuvenation’, but that’s not a problem.

‘Rejuvenation’ is the ultimate proof that The Meters could handle any kind of funk. As such, it is one of the most versatile and varied funk records released to date, as its styles range from the highly poppy ‘Loving You Is On My Mind’ all the way to the hard driving ‘Africa’. And The Meters tackle all of these styles with equal enthusiasm and inspiration. The album is definitely where the musicianship and the songcraft of The Meters is in perfect balance. Which is great, because as much as I love their contributions to the records of all these New Orleans legends, making their own music is really what The Meters do best.

Recommended tracks: ‘It Ain’t No Use’, ‘Africa’, ‘Jungle Man’


My Eric Bibb interview in Gitarist

It has been in stores a while already, but I would still like to inform you about this month’s issue of Gitarist. I have had a very nice interview with Eric Bibb about the recordings of his fantastic new album ‘Migration Blues’ and the concept behind the record. It was a very pleasant and insightful interview and on top of that, Bibb is a very kind guy. I am also happy that Gitarist used one of the photos I took of him at his show at De Flux in Zaandam.

There is plenty more to enjoy. Tons of gear and album reviews for instance. Or more practically: a 10 page chord special. It is in stores now, so enjoy it while it still is!

Album of the Week 50-2016: Chris Rea – The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes

More than three decades after his biggest successes, Chris Rea only does whatever he wants. Freed from the shackles of label pressure and being given a second chance after pancreatic cancer nearly took his life, Rea went back to the blues that has inspired him since he started playing guitar in his early twenties. Often employing a theme as the framework for his later records, ‘The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes’ is a tribute to the importance of the relatively cheap Hofner guitars for the development of British sixties music. The music, however, is pure, unadulterated Chris Rea blues.

Rea was always too much of a songwriter – and a really good one at that – to be taken seriously by fans of the delta blues that influenced him strongly, but that’s also what makes his music so interesting. Sure, in the eighties, producers often smoothed his sound to the point that there was more pop than blues, but his slide guitar playing is full of bluesy soul. And then there’s the voice. His sandpaper vocal cords are instantly recognizable and therefore, it’s difficult to categorize ‘The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes’ as anything else than a Chris Rea record.

However flawed it is as a period piece – save for the Shadows-like instrumentals of the fictional group The Delmonts – the songs are amazing. That’s also where Rea’s songwriting comes in: these aren’t just vehicles for live jamming, a considerable amount of effort has gone into the structure, atmosphere and attention span of these songs. Especially when Rea and his rhythm section of Colin Hodgkinson (bass) and Martin Ditcham (drums) adopt a somewhat more laidback approach, like they do in ‘I Will Be With You’ and ‘The Shadow Of A Fool’, something magic happens. It’s almost as if Rea whispers incantations.

‘Blues For Janice’ is the album’s highlight. In essence, the song isn’t that much different than some of Rea’s eighties hit songs, but the rawer approach gives the song an air of sincerity that you don’t often hear anymore. It’s great how the rawness of Rea’s guitar enhances the dreamy atmosphere of the song rather than clashing with it. Other songs, like ‘Legacy Blues’ and ‘Don’t Give Your Ace Away’ have a rhythmic drive that is a trademark of Rea’s later work. It’s remarkable how much variation there is on the record; there are elements of blues, rock, jazz, pop and soul throughout the record, but the unique sound never really becomes one of each.

Whether you get the trimmed down version on one cd or the huge audio book version where The Delmonts can be heard on one cd and the Hofner Bluenotes on the other – in case it wasn’t clear, it’s all Rea, Hodgkinson and Ditcham – there’s enough variation and good songwriting going on to keep any listener interested all throughout its length. Like any of Chris Rea’s latter day albums, ‘The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes’ is full of great, blues-inspired music that doesn’t care if it’s marketable or if it fits any category. That’s how the best records get made.

Recommended tracks: ‘Blues For Janice’, ‘The Shadow Of A Fool’, ‘Legacy Blues’

Album of the Week 47-2016: Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation – Mighty ReArranger

“My peers may flirt with cabaret / Some fake the rebel yell / Me, I’m moving up to higher ground / I must escape their hell”. Sure, these words may come across a bit arrogant, but they’re very true first and foremost. Not a single member of any legendary group had a solo career that has been so consistently focused on constantly reinventing himself the way that former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant does. Not even George Harrison and Paul Simon. Hungry to discover folk music from all the corners of the world and determined to stay relevant, Plant’s solo output is consistently amazing.

What is it that makes Plant’s discography so good? Mainly that he stubbornly refuses to repeat himself. Whether he does a contemporary take on the Zep sound (‘Manic Nirvana’) or immerses himself completely in different styles (‘Shaken ‘n’ Stirred’), he is convincing rather than embarrassing. ‘Mighty ReArranger’ manages to be both extremes at the same time. There are big, beefy Zeppelin-esque riffs and Plant’s voice is of course one of a kind, but the textures and rhythms borrowed from Middle-Eastern, American and North and West African folk music give the record a clear identity of its own, not to mention a layered approach that slowly reveals its secrets over repeated listens.

Plant was in his late fifties when ‘Mighty ReArranger’ was recorded, but his backing band The Strange Sensation consists of people with indie, jazz and trip hop backgrounds, while guitarist Justin Adams grew up in Egypt and produced Mali’s mighty Tinariwen and brings a knowledge of the African music that Plant loves so much to the table. All these influences blend in a way that shouldn’t work, yet it does. Songs like ‘The Enchanter’ and the brooding ‘Tin Pan Valley’ sound like Massive Attack jamming with Led Zeppelin, while ‘Takamba’ and ‘Somebody Knocking’ have distinct desert blues leanings.

Another asset of ‘Mighty ReArranger’ is that a lot of attention has been spent on its flow. This isn’t just a collection of songs, it is designed for a listener’s maximum attention span. It builds up from the acoustic-based ‘Another Tribe’ and the accessible rocker ‘Shine It All Around’ through some more experimental moments like the folky ‘All The Kings Horses’, the Byrds-inspired hippie rock tune ‘Dancing In Heaven’, the aformentioned ‘Tin Pan Valley’ and the subdued, yet rhythmically throbbing ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’ until it ties all ends together in the title track. And the bar boogie Ray Charles tribute ‘Brother Ray’ is a nice epilogue.

Despite the consistently high level of Plant’s solo output, ‘Mighty ReArranger’ is the record I revisit most. Possibly the presence of an actual backing band gives Plant a solid basis to work with and as a result, it’s about the music as much as it is about his performance. It speaks volumes about his versatility that everything sounds equally convincing, no matter if it touches upon hardrock, blues, indie, folk or world music. If you’re into one of those genres, you will do yourself a favor by checking this record out. You’ll probably end up liking the others as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Tin Pan Valley’, ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’, ‘Freedom Fries’

In Memoriam Leon Russell 1942-2016

Why the media haven’t quite gotten to this sad death of another musical icon is beyond me. Leon Russell was a presence to be reckoned with. When he sat down behind the piano with his long white hair and beard, often with a hat, you just felt there was someone there. His broad musical output, which touches on folk, country, blues, rock, soul and jazz, speaks for itself. His woeful tale of heartache known as ‘A Song For You’ has been covered by over 100 artists, but even so, he was more known as a studio musician for the likes of Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra and the Rolling Stones.

Leon Russell was – along with Dr. John – my favorite white piano player. The Oklahoma born pianist had a way of combining styles from a young age; his early band The Starlighters, which also included J.J. Cale, was one of the creators of what would became known as the Tulsa Sound, which combined elements of country, blues, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll. As a result, Russell was often invited to studio sessions by people looking for that sound, even after he moved to Los Angeles. Not just on piano, by the way; he was a proficient guitarist as well.

During this time, Russell had also proven himself as a highly successful songwriter. It was in this capacity that he was introduced to Joe Cocker, who recorded his song ‘Delta Lady’. Russell eventually became the band leader for Cocker’s ‘Mad Dogs & Englishmen’ tour, of which a popular concert film was made. Meanwhile, Russell was already working on a solo career. His self-titled debut was released in 1970 and included classics like ‘Shootout On The Plantation’, ‘Hummingbird’ and his own version of ‘Delta Lady’. And ‘A Song For You’, on which Russell’s performance may not be technically perfect, but it’s an intense emotional experience.

His contribution to George Harrison’s ‘The Concert For Bangladesh’ in 1971 is likely what brought him to public attention. Besides playing the piano and bass, he also sang the Rolling Stones classic ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and The Coasters’ ‘Young Blood’. During the rest of the seventies, he would keep steadily releasing albums either under his own name or his country alter ego Hank Wilson. I personally consider the dreamy, jazzy and occasionally bizarre ‘Carney’ to be his best solo studio album. ‘Magic Mirror’, ‘Tight Rope’, ‘This Masquerade’, ‘Roller Derby’ and ‘Manhattan Island Serenade’ are all masterpieces. Dutch listeners may recognize the latter as the basis for the 1981 Amazing Stroopwafels hit ‘Oude Maasweg’.

After the seventies, Leon Russell slowly faded into obscurity. He would continue releasing albums and playing live solo or backing artists, but it would take until 2010 before the duet album ‘The Union’ he recorded with ardent admirer Elton John brought him back to the public eye. The album is a masterclass in both piano playing and songwriting and shines with an unbridled joy for making music. Both Russell and John simply hadn’t sounded that great in years. Russell’s last studio album ‘Life Journey’ was released in 2014.

Even though he kept on playing live right until the end of his life and was even talking about tour dates in 2017, the many health issues that plagued Russell in recent years have ultimately prevented him from doing so. He was recovering from heart surgery when he died in his sleep at age 74 yesterday. And so, the in memoriam I had hoped not to write in a while is a fact. I will miss Russell’s adventurous musical spirit and urge everyone to dig into his sizable discography as a tribute to this musical mastermind who may not have gotten the public praise he deserved, but could count on undivided admiration from his fellow musicians.

Album of the Week 23-2016: Sven Hammond Soul – The Usual Suspects

When Sven Hammond Soul started out, they were a Hammond organ-based (don’t tell me that surprises you) instrumental Soul band reminiscent of Booker T. & The M.G.’s and maybe The Meters. Through a sort of horn-filled Soul revue approach, they eventually became the best Rock ‘n’ Soul band in the Netherlands. As a result, the band eventually dropped the “Soul” from the name, but this last record under the original name is where the shift towards more song-oriented material first happened. Having an amazing singer (Ivan Peroti) in the line-up and a Rock oriented producer (Tony Platt) may have influenced that, but whatever the case, the album is amazing.

‘The Usual Suspects’ has a distinct late sixties and early seventies vibe, but still sounds rather current. Platt’s clear and vibrant production helps a bit, but even moreso, the band knows how to write a good song without trying to get too caught up in becoming a period piece. There’s hints of Blues and Pop, larger parts of Soul, Funk and Rock and most impressively, those influences blend together seamlessly in a way that should please fans of any of those genres. It certainly feels like these songs came together without much concern of what genre it fits and the whole record profits from that.

It was the (almost) title track of this record that definitively won me over for the band. ‘The Usual Suspect’ has some nice riffs that don’t overpower the composition, a great vocal melody from Peroti and an amazing chorus. Try to imagine a mixture of The Black Crowes more concise songs and Tom Jones’ most Soulful material. But it’s hardly the only highlight on the record. ‘Happy People’ is nice and funky, ‘Children Of The Dark’ works towards the perfect climax that is the moving chorus and ‘Pussy’ compensates for its unfortunate title by being an instrumental track with all the band members firing on all Funk cylinders.

Although ‘Good Home’ is primarily a Funk track, drummer Joost Kroon seems to be channelling his inner John Bonham in a main section that is highly reminiscent of ‘Immigrant Song’, which pleases the Led Zeppelin fan that I am. ‘Heaven’ and especially the sparse closer ‘My Name’ give Peroti all the room he needs to prove his excellence as a singer. Guitarist Tim Eijmaal has plenty of moments throughout the record, but the relatively heavy Blues riff that ‘Bad News’ is built upon deserves a special mention. That simple, but brutally effective lead is pretty awesome too!

Even if you’re not primarily a fan of Soul music, you’d still do yourself a favor checking ‘The Usual Suspects’ out. It’s an extremely well written record featuring a band that takes full advantage from the fact that it consists of five top class musicians. Don’t be fooled though: Sven Hammond – with or without Soul – doesn’t get its kicks from blowing your mind with their technical prowess. Instead, they use their skills to give each and every song the treatment it needs to shine. The results are stunning.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Usual Suspect’, ‘My Name’, ‘Happy People’

Album of the Week 35-2015: Imelda May – More Mayhem

Most Rockabilly revival artists are charming and entertaining, but so exclusively driven by nostalgia that they lack any relevance in the contemporary music industry. Imelda May avoids this pitfall with a more versatile approach to her – admittedly strongly old school – style. There’s a lot of Rockabilly, of course, but also hints of Jazz, Country and quite a healthy shot of Blues. In addition, miss May isn’t just a great singer, she’s a fantastic songwriter as well. All of this contributes to the fact that ‘More Mayhem’ – a reissue of her best album ‘Mayhem’ – manages to stay interesting all throughout its running time.

Why ‘More Mayhem’ then, you may ask? Why not just ‘Mayhem’? Well, first of all, ‘More Mayhem’ has ‘Road Runner’. With its driving rhythm and May’s irresistible lower register vocals, it is easily one of May’s best and most vibrant songs. The slow Blues ‘Blues Calling’ has a distinct New Orleans vibe that sets my heart on fire as well. Also, I might enjoy the remix of ‘Inside Out’ just a little more than its slightly slower original. So now we’ve only talked about the bonus tracks and we’ve already discussed three of the album’s highlights. That’s why!

Among the original album, there are quite a few moments of absolute brilliance as well. Quite a few of those are outside of May’s supposed comfort zone. ‘Proud And Humble’ doesn’t exactly sound out of place in terms of atmosphere, but the acoustic guitar parts seem to pay more tribute to May’s Irish heritage than her Rockabilly fascination. ‘All For You’ in all its sultriness and seduction sounds like it could have been one of those Jazzy show tunes from the 1930’s – and that roar in the chorus induces goosebumps. ‘Too Sad To Cry’ almost sounds like a funeral dirge, but May’s hertfelt delivery makes it beautiful.

Early on, ‘Let Me Out’ became one of my absolute favorites of Imelda May’s entire oeuvre. It rocks relatively hard; had it not been for Darrel Higham’s distinct reverb-drenched Rockabilly sound and the shuffle rhythms, it could have been a Gov’t Mule song. Higham churns out a great guitar solo as well. The song builds toward its amazing chorus fantastically. Also, May has been known for a number of fantastic covers of songs from the fifties and sixties. On this album, she comes close to Gloria Jones’ original of ‘Tainted Love’. Not as good as the original, but definitely the best cover of the song I’ve heard so far. ‘Pulling The Rug’ and ‘Mayhem’ are more familiar territory for May, but executed extremely well.

Lately, retro styles have been quite popular, but what makes a really good artist is to take the musical legacy that comes with your tastes and turn it into something of your own. Imelda May has understood that and although elements of her sound are extremely familiar, she consistently refuses to paint a musical picture that’s just true to nature, opting to go for something a bit more timeless instead. It has so far resulted in three good to incredible albums, with this one being the most allround satisfying listening experience.

Recommended tracks: ‘Let Me Out’, ‘Road Runner’, ‘All For You’