Nine Below Zero
13 Shades of Blue
White Knuckle Rollercoaster Ride Around The Blues.
Well! I wasn’t expecting that….or that or, indeed this; as 13 Shades of Blue opens with a sizzling slice of Funk; albeit with a Bluesy back bone, but Funk none the less. Don’t Lay Your Funky Trip On Me was probably the last thing I’d have thought Britain’s foremost R&B Band would open an album with; but why not? They have treading the boards since 1977 and have evolved from the ‘four to the floor’ ‘sweaty bar-band’ that won my heart at the legendary Riverside Club in Newcastle that year.
Now I’ve got my head around the completely diverse tracks that make up the album, Track #1 makes a lot more sense with Dennis Greaves distinctive voice serenading his wife Helen on backing vocals and harmonies as Mark Feltham trades harmonica licks with Adam Davey and Tom Waters on Alto-sax and Jeff Brown’s soulful trumpet. There’s a lot going on; but every second is pure magic.
The band go on to shimmy and glide through every Blues format known to man (apart from Delta Blues) with the greatest of ease, with friends aplenty adding an array of instruments not normally associated with not just the band; but da’ Blues itself.
Although not as raw as their legendary live performances, the band do include several Blues tunes with a hefty dose of Rhythm. Greaves guitar sparkles on You’re Still My Woman and his vocals could be straight out of Chess studios and later My Woman Is Good To Me sees Feltham blowing the reeds out of his harp, just like the fans love to hear.
My head was spinning by the time I first heard their cover of Allen Toussaint’s Hercules; as it’s a song I associate with the Jazz-Funk of my early 20’s but Nine Below Zero keep the beat, but add a late night Bluesy vibe to this beautiful song.
Although I don’t know the original but It’s Your Voodoo Working, makes a delicious accompaniment to that dish, with the brass section swinging like a leaf in a storm.
(Nice) Surprises like that come thick and fast, with John Mayall’s toe-tapping Crawling Up a Hill being dragged out of the cupboard and getting a new lease of life as the band pay homage to the Godfather of British Blues.
Surprises? What about Glen Tilbrook from Beat-Combo The Squeeze adding sitar to the normally standard R&B ballad That’s What Love Will Do For You? Who knew it would work, but it does, turning an above average song into a barnstormer.
I definitely love that opening track; but the title of RM ‘Favourite Track’ is a tie between the smouldering duet Don’t Play That Song (You Lied) between Dennis and Helen, with the band, and again harmonica player Mark Feltham in particular showing the world why the Blues is as sexy as Hell!
The other song, oddly enough is an instrumental…The Toddle. Here Feltham gets to shine in the spotlight, as he takes us on a cool shuffle that will have even the most boring among us shaking a tail-feather….baby.
It did take three or four plays to get my head around 13 Shades of Blue; but that was only because I had pigeon-holed the band who are actually, so, so much more than an average Blues Band churning out hits and classics to ever dwindling audiences. Nine Below Zero have grown and evolved over the last 40 years (how long???) and this album showcases their talents in all of their glory.
Released September 30th 2016