Cedric Burnside Jumpin’ Hot Club Newcastle Feb 15th 2019
Because of our respective shifts at work I’ve hardly seen Mrs Magpie this week; but still I had to go to see Cedric Burnside at the JHC in the recently re-aligned basement of the Cluny Newcastle. Opening the show where Scott Taylor and Michael Littlefield from The King Bees performing an all too rare acoustic set of Blues standards with a few rarities thrown in for good measure. They opened their set with Sonny Boy Williamson’s Good Gravy and closed it with the great man’s Keep It To Yourself; and in between Scott huffed and puffed his way through 7 different sounding harmonicas and Michael gave the guitarists in the packed room a free lesson in sweet….. no, sublime acoustic guitar playing on songs and tunes from Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, Magic Sam and Big Bill Broonzy too. They alternated lead vocals, and it’s fair to say Scott has now ‘grown into’ a charmed voice that belies his young age. With no break to speak of, Cedric Burnside too a minute to tune his acoustic guitar and simply nodded for the houselights to be turned down and away he went with Love Her Til I Die. I’m not aux fait with his music so guessed at the titles of songs; so don’t get mad if I get them wrong; but tonight obviously wasn’t just about hearing his songs, it was about taking part in the ‘experience’ of seeing Cedric Burnside live on stage where he makes the Blues exciting again. “Well! Well! Well!” Can this guy play a guitar? His fingers are lightning fast across and along the strings and he looks like he’s having a spasm as he inhabits many of his songs too. This certainly felt like everything I’d heard about his performances from friends; Burnside is not just charismatic on stage but hypnotic too….. you can’t take your eyes off him; even though for the first few acoustic songs he just sits on a chair. With a big smile of thanks and his catchphrase “Well, well, well!” when the appreciative audience went ballistic as each song ended, Burnside hardly spoke all night, save retelling one of his Dad’s favourite jokes. But we weren’t here for chit-chat, we wanted to hear music and oohhee…. did he deliver! His short solo acoustic set ended with the slow and sultry Feel Like Going Home, on which he gave us some sublime bottleneck guitar solos. Side kick Brian Jay appeared from behind a curtain and strapped on a Les Paul for a ghostly rendition of Hard To Stay Cool, from his latest album of the same name. Then Jay got behind the drums and the night took a completely new direction, starting with a Blues Chant of Voodoo ethnicity and followed that with a song full of staccato guitar and pounding drumming, which actually moved the bass drum 6 or 7 inches and (with hindsight) started the disintegration of the bass pedal! From my vantage point I could see Jay doing quick running repairs on the pedal during the next two songs, a mighty shuffle followed by a sexy and seductive version of Give It To You, which was less than subtle in tone. After this one the duo switched instruments with Cedric taking over on drums, much to his fans delight. *My notes say ‘a very technical drummer with a knockout punch’ on Don’t Leave Me Girl; which proved very apt as the bass drum moved forward again and the drummer actually snapped the pedal, much to his and our amusement. As he tried to fix it Brian Jay watched like a hawk, but regaled us with some mesmerising work on his Les Paul. After a few minutes, Michael Littlefield from the support act mysteriously produced a spare drum pedal that he keeps in his bag for such occasions (eh?) just as Venue manager produced a second pedal from a store cupboard above the stage! A quick adjustment from Cedric and just by making eye contact….. WOOMPH! The duo roared into whatever song it was they were meant to play (Ain’t Gonna Take No Mess?) ; and the drummer took out his frustrations in the only way possible…. boom, bang, pow….. but always on time and in tune. This, dear reader is why Live Music is the way forward; you don’t get this on Spotify! I guess they were originally meant to finish the set at the end of that song; but the ‘band just played on’ for well over half an hour, and way past the curfew; and by this stage I had to put my notepad away and just immerse myself in the magic music that this duo were emitting from the stage a couple of feet away from me. I’ve told my regular readers that I lost my ‘mojo’ over a year ago, and had virtually stopped going to gigs; but tonight Cedric Burnside (and the King Bees lads) revived whatever was lying dormant in my Soul. Two amazing Blues duos ripped ‘a new one’ into what can sometimes be a dusty and reverential genre, in a packed and sweaty basement…… plus there was even 10 or 12 people ‘idiot dancing’ at the front by the end of the evening. …….. what’s not to like?
Enough Blood, Sweat and Tears To Make Your Heart Pump and Your Feet Twitch.
Can it really be three whole years since Keith sent me a copy of his band Blacktop Deluxe’s album? Apparently so……where does the time go? Although still with Blacktop Deluxe and after 17 years slogging around the back-roads of Southern England with them and another band called Blue on Black; he’s finally decided to make his first ever Solo Album…. and this is it. The first thing that struck me about the first song Dice Will Roll (The Blues Will Follow) is that it has a much bigger and fuller sound than that prev band album; there’s not just a brass section in tow but sexy sounding female backing singers too, making this cracking attempt at a Chicago Blues tune very special indeed. Howe makes no attempt to adopt an American accent when he sings; but after years on the road he’s evolved a distinctive singing style that belies his Cornish roots; and is perfect for the imagery he creates on Dust Off The Rust and Old Crow Road, which have the romanticism we normally associate with bands from the Southern States as opposed to England’s most Southern county. Sitting here listening again; this very much a classy album in the vein of Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago Transit Authority; but with a modern slant on Blues Will Roll and/or Living With Fragile Things, but I could say that about 90% of the songs here too. I still think it’s brave for guys like Keith Howe to tread their very own path in Rock Music; as it’s all too easy to fall back into the Covers Circuit to make a living; but when you can write songs like the punchy Got It and Gone or Blue Horizons, you really should have the self-confidence to still shoot for the Stars. This album ticks a lot of boxes for me and if Keith Howe came from London or Memphis the national press in both countries would be falling over themselves to praise Put Me In My Place or the slow and dirty All You Millionaires to the high heavens; but Howe comes from the ‘sticks’ in Cornwall so he can’t be any good, can he? HELL YES HE IS! Which brings me to the RMHQ Favourite Song, Ace In The Hole which made me hark back to the glory days when you could see Dire Straits or Graham Parker & The Rumour or for me in Newcastle, White Heat The Eastside Torpedoes or Arthur 2 Stroke in a bar for under a quid and have the time of your life. Quality and Class never go out of date, which is why this album will never age, even if it’s roots are in the 70’s and 80’s it’s perfect for 2019 and beyond……. and I can only imagine the effect these guys will have if they get to play the Festival Circuit this Summer!
Manchester’s Northern Quarter via Beale Street and Orange Street.
This album download arrived with a minimum of fuss and, it’s fair to say…… a minimal approach! Two photos, a link to a YouTube video and a Dropbox of the album…… no press release or any other info. I don’t want anyone else to do it this way; but I was intrigued enough to reply and ask for some more info. He’s from Manchester! That was about it. So; let the music do the talking I suppose. Ye-gads…. opening track Could Have Been is electrifying, and shows where Mat Walkgate is coming from…… a bit of Muddy, a dash of BB, a smidgen of Booker T and a whole dollop of Little Walter the way he tries to blow out the reeds of his harmonica; and the self-penned song ain’t too shabby either. While this all goes under the moniker of singer/harp blower Mat Walklate it’s very apparent guitarist extraordinaire Paolo Fuschi is a key player in proceedings too; supplying some excellent guitar riffs and solos throughout, as well as co-writing most of the good stuff. As per all the greats before him Mat manages to make ‘being miserable’ sound exciting on The Sun Never Shines, which not only showcases Walkgate’s harmonica playing but Tom Attah’s dexterity on the National Steel too and the painfully beautiful So Deep In Trouble, which both sizzle and shimmy just like you need to hear when you are feeling that way too. There’s only one ‘cover’ here and it’s a gloriously raw rendition of Rivers of Jordan that bleeds into People Get Ready which is just Walklate’s rough baritone and wailing harmonica; and even though he and his song were born and bred in Manchester; if you heard it by accident, you’d presume it could easily have been a field recording from a Baptist Church somewhere South of the Mason Dixon Line. For my Favourite Track here; I’m going for an instrumental, with a cheeky title but a track that deserves a much wider audience than it will probably ever receive…… Playing With Myself Boogie, which finds Walklate overdubbing a variety of harmonicas on three minutes of absolute Blues Heaven that just might resurrect the Soul of Little Walter. Now I’ve played this a couple of times, I love the fact that these guys ain’t no Retro/Covers band; they very much tread their very own, but being prepared to bravely turn left, right and proudly marching forward at the crossroads, introducing a a flute on Answer Your Phone, and giving Modest Man and Dubbed & Burning a bit of a Ska meets Egyptian Reggae feel; without ever sounding out of step with Walklate’s Blues and Soul spine.
John Fusco & The X-Road Riders Self-Titled Checkerboard Lounge Recordings
It Comes From The Swamps and Ends Up In the Heart and Soul of Chicago!
The album cover and band name meant nothing to me when this arrived a couple of weeks ago; but the ‘stable’ it came from is full of thoroughbreds and rarely, if ever lets me down……then I spotted the names Cody and Luther Dickinson! As I played the album I skimmed through the Press Release to see that John Fusco is not just a singer and musician, but an Award winning filmmaker to boot; his last film was the Woody Harrelson/Kevin Costner movie The Highwaymen but his first screenplay was for the bio-pic Crossroads way back in 1986, so whatever this is, it’s got to be worth a listen. Opening track Rolling Thunder is some multi-layered and intense Blues Rock of the ilk we’d normally associate with Stevie Ray Vaughan, but without the hysterical guitar solos and a singer with a voice so rich you’d swear his larynx was gold coated. Everything here, bar their exquisite and original reworking of Crossroad Blues which closes things in glorious fashion with Luther Dickinson supplying some sublime slide guitar and a Memphis Rapper called Al Kapone adding a verse and not sounding even a little bit out of place, is from Fusco’s pen and vivid imagination. If this is meant to be a bobby or side project; God knows what Fusco and Cody Dickinson would create if this was their day job! They make the joint swing like crazy on Poutine with Fusco sounding sassy as anything and Cody playing the part of his ‘wing-man’ with consummate ease on geetar behind him. The duo (and friends) are even cooler still when they slow things down a’la The Allmans on A Stones Throw and especially Hello, Highway which features Dickinson’s sizzling guitar again as Fusco shows us his Leon Russell side not just with his grizzly vocals, but on Hammond Organ too. I don’t think I’m getting the best from this music either; as it’s a cold and wet February night as I type……. give it another three or four months and Can’t Have Your Cake and the diamond of a song Boogie on the Bayou will really come alive for me, as the sun bakes the back garden. There’s not a bad song here, with a couple of genuine crackers tucked away in the shadows; Once I Pay This Truck Off conjures up all kinds of romantic imagery for a poor boy from Northern England and I Got Soul has all the hallmarks of the last song of the night jam; and in another lifetime would be covered by Rod Stewart and make the writer a small fortune. But one song in particular has caught not just my attention, but my heart too……… Track #2 Drink Takes The Man; at first it’s a cool Blues groove but sooner or later the song, and especially the chorus will catch your ear and you will know someone close to you that it could be about. Obviously a very personal story to John Fusco (or he has one helluva imagination!) and to me; it’s a ‘once in a lifetime’ song for a songwriter. 10/10 With the Delta and for good measure, Chicago at its Roots this album by John and Cody takes us on a right royal roller-coaster ride around the back-roads and highways of Bluesville, before tipping us out on the side of the road bruised, battered, dusty, sweaty and dying for more….. lots more.
Willie Farmer The Man From The Hill Big Legal Mess
Cool, Raw and Truly Authentic Blues From Duck Hill MS.
I’m sorry in advance, but this guy’s name…… Willie Farmer made me giggle like a pre-pubescent teenager; ‘Willie’ Farmer? Geddit? Never mind. Farmer is one of those guys that just has The Blues running through his veins, buying his first guitar out of the proceeds from picking cotton; yet has just kept his singing and mean guitar playing as a bit of a hobby for the last 40 years or so, as he’s kept a roof over the family’s heads by owning his own auto-repair shop in Duck Hill MS. If we delve a bit deeper his Dad occasionally played harmonica for RMHQ Favourite Leo ‘Bud’ Welch and his Uncle ran a Juke Joint before getting killed in a dispute ‘over a woman’. There’s a song in there somewhere. Willie only recorded his debut album I’m Coming Back Home three years ago; and now the follow up The Man From The Hill, is getting a much wider distribution and promotion via the great Big Legal Mess record label. OooooohhhhhhEEEEEE the rumbling guitar that introduces first song I Feel Good sent a shiver down my spine; and when Farmer’s worn and tattered voice enters the fray I knew I was listening to something really special indeed …….. authentic and Raw Blues that is intended to refresh both the heart and the soul. It’s pretty apparent early on that our man has listened to a lot of different playing styles over the years as he’s honed his very own, distinctive playing and singing style that incorporates a bit of everything from Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy through to BB, Freddie and Albert Collins too, and even a bit of righteous Johnny Winter in Fistful of Dollars for good measure! This album is primarily about his songs stories; and what songs they are too……. there’s a glorious Gospel inspired At The Meeting, but Break Bad and Daddy Was Right are from the downright low down and mean mistreated dirty end of the Blues spectrum; and then he makes I Am The Lightning and Shake Baby Shake simply sizzle with sexual tension! This guy has a foot in every camp and performs each and every one with class and precision too. Then of course there is the title track The Man From The Hill, which is a case of ‘keeping the best for last’ and ticks every box I have when it comes to loving Blues Music; a cool story sung by a cracking singer and more than enough fiery and funky guitar playing to make my heart skip a beat! Willie Farmer hopes that the release of this album means he can finally ‘give up the day job’ and make a living from music……. I hope so too; as he is the Real Deal and certainly has the talent and good taste to bring joy to the masses all over the Western World.
Music? Doncha just love it? It can make “you laugh, sing, dance and just about any old thing” to paraphrase Rod and the Faces; but someone somewhere hundreds of miles away from you can also have the ability to tap into your rawest emotions and make you realise that you aren’t ‘alone’ after all. Over the last few days I’ve been corresponding with Vicky Martin from the Delta Ladies who was politely asking if we/I would give her band’s latest release a listen, and gave me a bit of background. Nothing odd in that, as we get offered review albums every day … 24/7 yet nothing prepared me for the haunting/passionate/cracked opening track Thieving Boy! Technically and in spirit, it’s Folk Music……. but Folk Music like I’ve never heard before! I’m not doing it any justice if I say it’s two fiddles (one acoustic and one electric) plus a keyboard and Vicky Martin’s warmly mystifying vocals on a song that will eventually unravel in a way I doubt I’d ever expected. This is followed by a 46 second banjo instrumental lament, called Redcar Steel Blues that I wanted to last an hour. Yes, you read that correctly…… BANJO INSTRUMENTAL, but Delta Ladies say more in that short time than feted journalists have managed for years about the death of the steel industry in the North East. This duo? trio? band? ensemble? (and their friends) are so smart and clever they even include two versions of the same song (others tempos are also available), Rock of Ages and although they share the same words are polar opposites! The first version is Gospelish in essence with some staggering violin playing and a harmonica that will set your hair on end; and the second is a ‘Trance’ version which is bizarre to the Max; yet totally captivating; especially when heard on headphones. Even when Delta Ladies go wandering off into Hippyland on Seventh Day Blues they kept my interest such is their mesmeric way with a tune and a random set of acoustic instruments. The nearest to a ‘Commercial’ track here Devil’s Work Today, is a twist on the ‘Crossroads’ theme with some very modern and scary lyrics. The title of RMHQ Favourite Track has been a tussle between the fabulously sloppy Blues Jam Praise The Lord and the 11 minute epic Hear Me Calling which closes the record; and I’m probably plumping for the latter as it meanders and twists and turns like a river, occasionally rolling along but always with a sense of fear and menace in the background. By far and away this album isn’t for everyone (I’m hiding it from Mrs. Magpie, that’s for sure!) but for those of us who adore challenging music that doesn’t follow the straight and narrow path it will never be far away when we need a dose of beautiful misery. Cleverly mixing traditional Folk Music with hints of Rootsy American and snippets of World Music as the whims suit them, this ever expanding trio from the *Norf Landin Delta take us on a tour of the darkest recesses of our broken hearts and tortured souls, but leave us feeling thoroughly cleansed and more peaceful as the last notes fade away.
#This will mean nothing to 99% of you; but the band that instantly sprung to mind when I first played this was String Driven Thing, a Folk Rock band from Glasgow who flirted around the outskirts of Prog in the 1970’s and whom I fell head over heels with; and still adore 40 years later.
Watermelon Slim Church of the Blues Northern Blues
Chicago Blues is Alive and Well and In Safe Hands.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned this album to a mate, who could go on Mastermind and choose The Blues as his Specialist Subject; and his non-plussed response was….. “Never heard of him.” The conversation ended there and then. Possibly more than any other genre, Blues Fans live in the past and refuse to admit anything remotely interesting has been recorded since 1979 turned into 1980! As I prove most months……how very, very wrong they are! This is 69 year old Slim’s 13th album, with the first being released in 1973 (the follow up game 29 years later….hahahaha.) and I guess not a lot has changed in the intervening years, as he certainly has a golden handle on the Classic Chicago sound, of which a few glorious covers litter this album in-between his own red hot songs. Church of the Blues is an apt title; especially as the first song is titled St Peter’s Ledger, a cover that I’d never heard of but sets the seal here quite perfectly; as Slim sounds like a bit of a rascal as he tries to wangle his way past the Pearly Gates; and boy oh boy can he make his electric slide guitar sizzle and squeal! There’s a fascinating mix of covers here with three songs that blew me away when I first heard them as a teenager; albeit not by the originators. I first heard Smokestack Lightning on 5 Live Yardbirds; and Watermelon Slim’s take is more of a shuffle than that or any of Howlin’ Wolf’s recordings. The dust is blown right off Muddy’s Gypsy Woman by Slim’s wailin’ harmonica and soul shaking voice; then on Highway 61 Blues; as Johnny Winter once said about something entirely different; “Now we’re gonna get low down and dirty,” which Slim does like any of the greats of old did, ‘back in the day’. Alongside the Gene Barge song Me and My Woman and Allen Toussaint’s Get Out of My Life; the cover versions are really just appetisers for Watermelon Slim’s own songs; with Holler #4 and Mini Wiconi (The Water Song) and That Ole 1-4-5 showing what a great and divergent talent this guy is. Slim’s other songs swing, shimmy and make the sweat run down your back (even in January) with the ultra-cool Post-Modern Blues, the sinister and self-depreciating Halloween Mama and the dancetastic yet politically astute Blues For My Nation proving that The Blues can still be both Classic AND Contemporary, without sounding dusty or Heavy, Heavy, Heavy. Choosing a Favourite Track wasn’t as hard as you’d imagine; as it’s another song that helped shape my musical tastes when I first heard Rory Gallagher sing it acoustically on the OGWT, and subsequently when he put blisters on the verses when played with the band on Irish Tour ’74; but today Watermelon Slim gives it an exciting shimmy and a swagger that make it sound like it was recorded round about midnight in a Mississippi Roadhouse back in the late 1950’s. Damn! This is what the Blues sounds like for me. I doubt I will ever see Watermelon Slim play these songs live; which is a shame, but the way he plays and sings shows that the Blues is Alive and Well and in safe hands.
I’ve professed many times on here my love for The Blues and when it comes with a bid splosh of Rhythm too……. my heart just goes bippitty bop; and that’s how I’ve felt each time I’ve played this fabulous second album from New Yorker Will Vincitore! I have no idea why her 2016 debut album BETTER DAYS never got reviewed here; but it’s still on the office shelf and gets dusted off every couple of months; but ……. and here’s a ‘spoiler alert’ ….. her follow up is even better; in a grown up and ‘been around the block’ kinda way. Opening track Just Ain’t The Same bubbles, boils and simmers as Willa pours her heart out on a sizzling break-up song about an affair with a very controlling man……. yowza…… what a way to start an album! Not for the first time this year I’ve got an album that straddles the Blues and Soul divide with style and panache; Willa gets low down and sad on the late night Bluesy ballads Choices, It Is What It Is and the delightful These Days, which even features some sweet George Benson style guitar too. But, no one trick pony, Willa Vincitore can get her Funky Soul on when she wants too with the feisty I Love You Baby and Bite Me with both showing a woman who’s not to be messed with; but the type who draws you to her like a moth to a flame! There’s one cover here; Annie Lennox’s Money Can’t Buy It, which I don’t recognise but that doesn’t matter as it fits in seamlessly and could easily have come from Ms. Vincitore’s pen anyway. Choosing a Favourite Track isn’t as easy as I’d hoped; as the first few times I played the album the Power-Ballad Need a Little Help stood out; as it reminded me of Aretha circa Who’s Zoomin’ Who? with it’s punchy (and danceable) melody and super-cool liquid guitar from Karl Allweier but now I’m being drawn back to the rinky-dinky Everything Hurts on which Willa lists all the ailments that she’s going through now ‘she is middle-aged and caught the flu’ but, bizarrely she makes it all sound quite sexy! HA HA HA HA. But there’s also the touching These Days, with it’s neo-political thread weaving through a cool vibe; and shows Willa really has a great way with words and a melody; so I’m going for These Days with it’s wailing saxophone solos, as it’s a song that could and should be an anthem for people everywhere. So, in conclusion Willa Vincitore is a fantastic songwriter who uses melody’s like a switchblade and has a soulful voice that can go way, way down low and also hit notes that only dogs can hear…… what are you waiting for; go buy it!
Danny Lynn Wilson Peace of Mind SwingNation Records
The Roots Swamp Has Turned Up Another Classy Singer-Songwriter.
Santa has only just been and there are still chocolates and mince pies to be eaten, yet here I am typing out my first review of 2019; because the reviewing world never stops revolving, does it? Choosing the first RMHQ Album of 2019 wasn’t ever going to be easy; but the name Danny Lynn Wilson caught my attention weeks ago; primarily because the cover art is eye-catching and one of our favourite British singer-songwriters is called Danny Wilson; he of Danny & The Champions, Grand Drive and latterly Bennett, Wilson, Poole; plus the stable this arrived from has given us some cracking Blues albums over the last couple of years. Then I played first track When Will The Loving Start, with its opening lines delivered by a droll and world weary voice; “The world is no place for a man with a heart Drag you down, tear you apart Turn you ’round, turn you out” I knew immediatly I was in the presence of a very special talent indeed. This ain’t what I was expecting at all; it sure ain’t the Blues as I recognise it, but what it is is excellently crafted Roots Music with a nod of the head in the Folk with a side-turn at the Blues corner. The accompanying bio is quite vague, but it appears that this is Wilson’s fourth album in a long and lofty career playing every juke joint from Beale St. to Brooklyn via Banff, Bakersfield and Baton Rouge. All of that experience on the road comes across in every line of every song; especially the well crafted High Water and Peace of Mind; which can only have been written after a lifetime of ‘experiences’ on the road and indeed in life itself. Like the best of songwriter’s Wilson finds subject matter and metaphors in the unlikeliest of places; but when he does, as with the well crafted rockers Arkansas Trotter and Too Many Hounds he is as sharp as a razor; making me scribble down notes as I was stopped at traffic lights so as not to forget my initial feelings. Our man’s long and varied background comes to the fore on the Olde Time Swing of the cutesy love song Fuss ‘n Fight and the charming Galway Bay which closes the album in the most delightful of manners. In these days of political turbulence all over the world Danny Lynn slips in two very subtle but politically astute songs that deserve some intense listening; Sympathy For Your Man and Middle Class Blues will both touch the hearts of the working men and women like me and you that don’t know what this or next year will bring us. In some or indeed many ways this is a ‘crossover’ album as Danny Lynn Wilson seamlessly flits between several Roots styles; but never letting them jar which is why selecting my first Favourite Song of 2019 has been difficult; as both the introspective song about a dwindling love affair Shine Is Off and the heartfelt and touching Love Only You are both worthy of the title; but I will go for the former as it is somewhat of a cornerstone for the whole album; and captures the magic of Danny Lynn Wilson’s songwriting a little bit better and cleverer than the latter. Surprise, surprise…….. Roots Music in 2019 is shaping up to be every bit as good and exciting as the last three years of RMHQ have been and I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year than introduce you to Danny Lynn Wilson and his songs.