Posts Tagged ‘ Bluesrock ’

My video interview with Jared James Nichols

Last month, I had the opportunity to interview thumb guitar virtuoso Jared James Nichols for the Aquarium Sessions, an initiative of Gitarist magazine. Nichols had drawn my attention with his debut album ‘Old Glory & The Wild Revival’, initially with the cool blues rock vibe of his song material, but I later find out he had a rather interesting right hand technique that is closer to fingerstyle than anything else really. The result can now be seen on the YouTube channel of the Aquarium Sessions. Definitely worth seeing if you want to know more about Nichols’ signature Blackstar amplifier, his Epiphone Old Glory or his playing technique.

Album of the Week 47-2018: Navarone – Salvo


Despite working with pretty much the same team as on its predecessor ‘Oscillation’, Navarone’s fourth album ‘Salvo’ is a completely different beast. Instead of releasing another carefully arranged production full of subtle intricacies that slowly reveal themselves over repeated spins, the quintet opts to focus on their live energy. Understandable, because that has certainly been one of the band’s biggest strengths throughout the last decade. The result is a record that may not have as many surprises as ‘Oscillation’ did, but with the set of powerful rock songs the band came up with this time, that should hardly be a problem.

With ‘Salvo’ being the kind of “live in the studio” record that many seventies hardrock bands excelled at, Navarone is more focused stylistically as well. That does not mean that all the songs sound similar – giving every song its own character is a specialty of the band – but it does mean the majority of what you will hear consists of uncomplicated, riff-driven hardrock with strong choruses that are memorable without exception. There aren’t even any ballads. The dark, minimalistic southern blues of ‘Fire’ – one of the album’s most experimental tracks – is probably the thing that comes closest to one.

Occasionally, ‘Salvo’ is reminiscent of the better work that Slash did with Myles Kennedy in recent years. Not just because Merijn van Haren en Kennedy are among the very few excellent rock singers of this era or because of the massive Gibson sound of Kees Lewiszong and Roman Huijbreghs, but also because of the fact that the songwriting has similar sensibilities. ‘The Strong Survive’ has that typical energetic feelgood vibe that the opener on a powerful rock record should have, while the grinding, moore moody ‘Waste’ is one of those deep cuts that could just develop into a classic over time.

Navarone was never about blindly copying their influences though. ‘Another Way’ has a fairly unique approach in its combination of classic and contemporary rock styles, not to mention an awesome build towards its chorus. It’s the one song that would have made sense on ‘Oscillation’ as well. The fairly accessible ‘SøReal’ sounds like a nineties rock radio hit without directly sounding like any of the songs that actually were, while the crushing riff work of ‘Mind’s Eye’ is borderline metallic in nature. Sure, the Black Sabbath kind of metal and the overtones are more contemporary rock than anything esle, but that only contributes to the unique nature of that excellent track.

Most amazing is the fact that Navarone brings all these elements together in a manner that does not sacrifice any of their catchy, recognizable songwriting. ‘Salvo’ has a very pleasant flow, likely more so than any of their other records. Many of the younger rock bands notably try to appeal either to old schoolers or the modern rock crowd. What Navarone proves once again on ‘Salvo’ is that it’s perfectly possible to have a multi-generational appeal if you just write and play the right songs. Highly recommended to anyone who mopes that all contemporary rock is inferior to the classic stuff.

Recommended tracks: ‘Mind’s Eye’, ‘SøReal’, ‘The Strong Survive’, ‘Another Way’

Album of the Week 32-2018: The Magpie Salute – High Water I


Volatile fraternal relationships are nothing new in music. What is quite unusual, however, is that one brother goes on to do something which is at least on par with what made them famous in the first place. The Magpie Salute may just turn out to be one of those instances. After a legal dispute between Chris and Rich Robinson lead to the unfortunate dissolution of The Black Crowes, the latter sounds more focused and inspired than he has in a long time on the first studio album of The Magpie Salute, which also features ex-Crowes Marc Ford and Sven Pipien.

Without Chris Robinson’s hippie mysticism influencing the overall sound, Rich Robinson’s compositions really get the chance to shine. What helps is that singer John Hogg is a revelation. He has a powerful, versatile voice that sounds quite unique during the introspective parts and somewhat reminiscent of Kelly Keeling in his more powerful moments. The music itself is quite reminiscent of The Black Crowes – how could it not? – but more concise and powerful. As a whole, ‘High Water I’ does feel like it rocks a little harder than most of the Crowes’ recent work, but it is every bit as versatile.

Guitar-wise, there is a great deal of respect between Ford and Robinson on ‘High Water I’. They never get in each other’s way and really give each other the chance to excel in their respective specialties. For slide master Ford, the rootsy rocker ‘Take It All’, the acoustic americana of ‘Hand In Hand’ and various moments of pedal steel-like beauty are the obvious moments to shine, while Robinson is more of a master of strong melodic content. The latter was never a showy player in the first place; it is quite obvious that he just wants what is best for the songs.

‘High Water I’ has a remarkably pleasant flow. While each song is different from the others, the sequencing is sublime. That does not mean there aren’t any highlights, of course. ‘High Water’ sounds like it could have been inserted into ‘Led Zeppelin III’ without anyone noticing, as it is acoustic, yet extremely powerful. Closing track ‘Open Up’ works its way from a brooding acoustic riff to a gorgeous climactic harmony in the chorus, while ‘For The Wind’ is a powerful, dynamic epic, ‘Send Me Omen’ is a strong rocker and ‘Sister Moon’ is a gorgeous minor key pop song.

It is too early to tell whether The Magpie Salute will be as good as The Black Crowes, but ‘High Water I’ can certainly be compared favorably to ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ and ‘The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion’. It is basically the album I have been wanting the Crowes to make for at least twenty years with a much better singer to boot. The more concise songwriting certainly contributes to my joy listening to this album, but the greater degree of focus certainly works miracles as well. Sure, it kind of sounds like the Crowes, but definitely on one of their best days.

Recommended tracks: ‘High Water I’, ‘Open Up’, ‘For The Wind’

Album of the Week 21-2018: Dana Fuchs – Love Lives On


Not unlike Beth Hart, Dana Fuchs has both the fortune and the misfortune of kind of sounding like Janis Joplin. In fact, both of them were cast to play Joplin in the musical ‘Love, Janis’. The comparison is a compliment, but also sells them short. Fuchs’ new album ‘Love Lives On’ is the ultimate proof of that. Musically, the album is much more reminiscent of the great southern soul records put out by Stax Records than any album Joplin ever was a part of. ‘Love Lives On’ is not a hollow exercies in nostalgia though; this is beautiful, timeless music.

Fuchs’ backing band on ‘Love Lives On’ features a a couple of soul veterans, among which drummer Steve Potts and organist Reverend Charles Hodges. They certainly add to the album’s authentic soul vibe, but what really makes the whole thing work is the excellent songwriting courtesy of Fuchs and her long-time guitarist Jon Diamond. While a lot of contemporary albums in this style rely heavily on the grooves and musical interaction, every song on ‘Love Lives On’ stands out and will stick to your memory. Fuchs’ smokey, raw-edged, yet highly melodic vocals are the icing on that delicious cake.

Another thing that makes ‘Love Lives On’ a pleasure to listen to is its nearly flawless flow. It makes you want to listen to the album all the way through. There are a couple of more americana-tinged songs grouped together near the end of the record that, while good – ‘Battle Lines’ is gorgeous – would have worked better if they were distributed more evenly across the album. The rest of the tracks vary nicely in tempo and intensity, moving pleasantly between upbeat soul tracks like opening track ‘Backstreet Baby’ and powerful ballads like the purring organ-based gospel of ‘Faithful Sinner’.

Traditional soul tracks like the horn-heavy ‘Callin’ Angels’, the euphoric ‘Same Sunlight’ and the relaxed ‘Sittin’ On’ would not have sounded out of place on one of Otis Redding’s records. Fuchs even made Redding’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ her own completely. Standout tracks for me are ‘Sad Solution’ and ‘Sedative’, both of which are built upon an insistent, almost dangerous, yet not too propulsive groove. It is possible that the underlying sense of anger appeals to the hardrocker in me. The supreme build-up from its subdued verses to its triumphant chorus turns ‘Ready To Rise’ into a highlight as well. So does its guitar solo.

‘Love Lives On’ is slightly less “rocky” in approach than ‘Love To Beg’ and the blues influences aren’t as pronounced as on ‘Bliss Avenue’, but that should not be a turn-off. This is one of the best soul albums released in many years. It has simply everything you could wish for if you like the genre. Each song features spirited grooves, intensely passionate vocals and a musical interaction that is of complete and total service to the well-written songs. Anyone who longs for the late sixties and early seventies records of Stax and Hi Records should definitely give this excellent record a spin.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sad Solution’, ‘Ready To Rise’, ‘Sedative’

Album of the Week 35-2017: Living Colour – Shade


With ‘Shade’ only being the third album in the 17 years since Living Colour reformed – and the first in eight years – expectations were high. What exactly I expected, I don’t actually know, but it certainly wasn’t an album that sounds as raw and “live” as ‘Shade’ does, as ‘Collideøscope’ and ‘The Chair In The Doorway’ were both albums with a notable emphasis on the production. This shift in approach has pros and cons, which makes ‘Shade’ a bit of a confusing record, but it is a fact that Living Colour hasn’t made a record this lively since their early nineties heyday.

There is a bit of a drawback here, as the looser arrangements sacrifice a bit of memorability of Living Colour’s earlier work. None of these choruses will stay with you as long as ‘Cult Of Personality’ did. In addition, some of the songs are just too long. The bluesier tracks ‘Invisible’, ‘Who’s That’ and the Robert Johnson cover ‘Preachin’ Blues’ in particular outstay their welcome, all of which would have been fine tracks had they been a minute and half shorter. Especially the unlikely marriage of New Orleans music and grooving heavy metal riffs on ‘Who’s That’ is interesting enough.

However, ultimately ‘Shade’ is a successful album. There are not many hard rock bands that groove as mercilessly as Living Colour does, as evidenced by songs like the excellent ‘Program’ and the Notorious B.I.G. cover – no, seriously – ‘Who Shot Ya’. ‘Come On’ seems to successfully blend the visceral live feel and the more produced nature of the previous two records and ‘Always Wrong’ sort of shifts back and forth between a psychedelic rock song based on a driving bass line by Doug Wimbish and a power ballad. Again, the combination of styles seems unlikely, but works miraculously well. And that is, of course, Living Colour’s trademark.

Moreover, the album takes an interesting turn about halfway through. There are a bunch of really cool experimental tracks on the second half of the record, starting with ‘Blak Out’, which seems to have developed from a dubby jam of Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun until Vernon Reid’s massive guitar riff takes over. Reid also really shines on the dreamy, almost spacey closing track ‘Two Sides’. And to keep that part of the album from losing itself in experimentation, there are heavier tracks like ‘Pattern In Time’ and ‘Glass Teeth’ to restore the balance. The latter in particular is an awesome track, even with its borderline silly chorus.

In the end, there is an excellent 40 minute record in ‘Shade’. The only problem is that it is almost ten minutes longer. The performances are as good as you would expect from this group of geniuses. Corey Glover still sings as good as he did on ‘Vivid’ almost three decades ago and Vernon Reid has a surprisingly bluesy, melodic approach here. It’s amazing how much he still sounds like himself even without all the atonality he has extensively toyed with. Avid fans of Living Colour can blindly purchase ‘Shade’. Casual fans may want to give it a listen before purchasing.

Recommended tracks: ‘Blak Out’, ‘Two Sides’, ‘Glass Teeth’

Album of the Week 31-2017: The Joe Perry Project – Let The Music Do The Talking


Guitarist Joe Perry is often seen as the one who guards Aerosmith’s musical integrity next to Steven Tyler’s showmanship. Anyone with some in-depth knowledge about Aerosmith knows that grossly oversimplifies the band’s complicated dynamic, but it is a fact that during the Perry’s time away from the band, Perry released two excellent albums with The Joe Perry Project while Aerosmith released one mediocre record. And while sophomore album ‘I’ve Got The Rock ‘n’ Rolls Again’ of Perry’s project may have higher peaks, ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ is one of the most consistently engaging bluesrock records of the early eighties.

First off, the title of the album is not without meaning, of course. It could be interpreted as a provocation towards Aerosmith, but it could also just represent the fact that Perry burned all the bridges behind him and decided to just focus on what he likes doing best in the first place: making music. Regardless, Perry sounds like a man unburdened on ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’. There is a spontaneity to this debut that some of the late seventies Aerosmith albums lacked, no matter how good they were. The songs sound raw and energetic, but not underdeveloped.

Another reason why ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ sounds so fresh and spirited is the fact that Perry put together an excellent band. Nowhere is this more obvious than during the short, high octane instrumental ‘Break Song’. Drummer Ronnie Stewart and bassist David Hull are perfectly in sync with each other and Perry, ending up sounding positively on fire. The upbeat, uptempo closer ‘Life At A Glance’, the massive and somewhat dark ‘Shooting Star’, the swinging boogie of ‘Discount Dogs’ and especially the powerful, catchy title track that opens the record profit from the tight, spirited interplay of The Joe Perry Project.

In addition, adding a lead singer to his project was a great idea from Perry. His own voice is cool and a perfect fit for the dark, bluesy ‘The Mist Is Rising’ and the sarcastic tone of the strong rocker ‘Conflict Of Interest’, but his range is not particularly wide. The higher, more powerful registers of Ralph Morman are the perfect fit for songs that demand some more vocal prowess. His clean voice has a slight raw edge, which really lifts songs like ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ and the otherwise somewhat mundane ‘Ready On The Firing Line’ to higher level. His duets with Perry work remarkably well too and should maybe have been featured more prominently here.

Without the big budget and the business acumen of Aerosmith’s management, ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ never quite took off the way it should have, but the album is still available and very much worth checking out. Somehow, the record still sounds fresh today and I suspect that Perry’s drive is largely to blame for that. It may be a cliché, but the debut album of his Project – capital P – does actually let the music do the talking. There may be some bitterness in a few of the lyrics, but it does not dominate the record. The strong bluesrock songs and excellent performances do.

Recommended tracks: ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’, ‘Life At A Glance’, ‘Break Song’

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’