Presence and Gain
British Blues Rock is Still Alive and Kicking
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when Keith Howe got in touch a week before Christmas and asked if I would be interested in reviewing his bands new album. Thankfully he included a link to a YouTube video and as it was coffee break at RMHQ I pressed play. The song wasn’t two minutes in, when I replied by e-mail that ‘yes’ I’d love to hear a full album.
Although the opening track is called Crank It Up! It owes a lot more to the Blues Rockers of my teens like Free, Thin Lizzy and even early Status Qua than the likes of Lemmy, Sabbath or the Anthrax’s. A pretty damn heavy bass line hold the song together as lead singer and guitarist extraordinaire, Howe nearly melts his strings as he belts it out ala Paul Rogers.
As you’d expect from musicians of a ‘certain vintage’ they hardly put a note wrong; but it’s the quality of the songwriting that has impressed me more than anything – especially the driving ballad One Step at a Time and the fist pumping, headbanging Too Little, Too Late which would have been a floor filler at Stanley Youth Centre when I was a lad.
Obviously this type of no-nonsense Blue Rock is best heard live, after a few pints; but this particular album will stand the test of time as an album on its own merits. I can certainly imagine myself; sticking the disc into the car stereo on a sunny day and rocking down the M1 to Right Side of Wrong and the Southern Rocker Suds n Crow.
Blacktop Deluxe are far from just being one trick pony, Boogie Merchants as the delightful ballad Man Down proves. The guitars are a bit more restrained here and the piano comes to the fore as Howe; cleverly name checks several of those classic Rock songs that inspired him and me and you; in our youth and the thoughts of all those stars now burning in the sky; keeps getting him back on stage night after night.
As I sit here I can’t help feeling that albums like this have the habit of depressing me. Don’t get me wrong; Blacktop Deluxe from the Cornish Delta are individually fine musicians and can write a rocking Blues tune as well as anyone at the moment; but they would probably make a much better living calling themselves Creme or Free’d or something just as inane; and just churning out 70’s classics for people who don’t really like music. Instead; on this their second album, they have decided to continue ploughing the lonely furrow of the itinerant musician; and in Presence and Gain they have created an album that stands tall, proud; and certainly flies the flag for British Blues Rock in all it’s glory. It would be a huge shame if it was to get lost and ignored by Rock fans who actually love songs like these.
Released Autumn 2015