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CD Reviews - June 2007

Duke Garwood - Emerald Palace
Butterfly Recordings
Review by Andy Hall

More Dada than Delta? We first saw Duke Garwood play back one wintry night in November (one of the Blues in London nights - Ed). He had a heavy cold, but fueled by Lemsip, cigarettes and armed only with a battered £5 charity shop guitar, he managed to lay waste to the room with his wonkily individual take on the blues.

We caught up with him more recently, opening for Robert Belfour at the Spitz Festival of Blues back in April. This time with the added element of electricity and a vibe pedal, he held the audience rapt with his strange, atmospheric guitar-scapes. Somehow he deftly managed to keep his guitar teetering on the brink of atonal feedback chaos, or at least that's how it seemed anyway. Plus, he de-tunes and re-tunes his guitar throughout, after almost every song! Yet he had captured the audience so totally, we were more than happy to endure the short pauses.

Emerald Palace, his latest recording, is acoustic in nature, and this time Duke is aided by ex-Verve and Good, Bad & the Queen guitar player, Simon Tong, and percussionist Paul May. When I first put the disc into my laptop, iTunes decided the genre was 'unclassified', now either that's intentional, or the classification robots just went "what the f**k!" when they heard it...

 

 

Either way, somehow that 'unclassified' tag is a kind of compliment, because Duke is a truly original artist who defies easy pigeon-holing. Which in turn makes this review really hard to write... yes, there's spastic country blues in there, but also free jazz, atonal droney type horns, Waits-esque clanking percussion, and beautifully minimalist abstract vocals.

If any of those sound like your thing, and you're not put off by a blues record review that mentions free jazz or the bloody Verves, then Duke Garwood just might be your man. If you're not convinced, get out and see him live. It obviously comes from somewhere deep within, but Garwood delivers very charged, almost trance-like performances which are quite mesmerising.

Just in case I haven't made myself quite clear enough, this is a great record. Totally wonky, abstract and weird, but great. Go and buy it immediately.

 

 

Matt Schofield – Ear To The Ground
Nugene Records
Review by James Whitehead

Schofield’s finest work so far, bursting with flair and groove. The second studio album from the trio has followed quite a buzz that's been building up around the Manchester born guitarist, and his bass-less trio. Featured in Guitarist and Music magazines internationally, and being touted as Top Ten British Blues Guitarist of all time, there was quite a lot expected from the new album. However I am glad to say that it doesn't disappoint in the slightest.

Right from the off, you're hit with that infectious New Orleans funk that Schofield and his band do so well, one is instantly reminded of the meters in their heyday. 'Pack It Up' by Freddie King is one of only two covers on the album, yet the arrangement is so personal to the band that it's hardly your stereotypical filler material. In fact the closing number 'When it all Comes down' by B.B King, is one of the strongest tunes, thanks to the superb gospel-laden organ playing of Jonny Henderson.

Produced in Holland, the new record definitely has a clearer, warmer sound than the first one, 'Siftin’ Thru Ashes', the band are a real tight unit now, with Schofield's playing getting better and better, everything is more professional. Put up against the latest offering from U.S star John Mayer, for example, 'Ear To The Ground' holds it own, without losing the musical honesty and emotion the band have in spades.

For me, the stand out tracks on the album are the storming shuffle 'Someone', and the title track 'Ear To The Ground'. The later showing a real maturity to Schofield's songwriting, great dynamics, rhythm, melody and harmony, with some fretbord pyrotechnics to boot. 'Someone' is just one of those feel-good blues shuffles that are so easy to kill with needless guitar-related egotism, Gary Moore anyone? The drums, organ, and guest Harp by Pete van der Pluym bounce along at the perfect tempo, with Matt providing just enough vigor, both vocally and guitar wise, to make it a real treat. Watch out for the kicker half way through, The Meters would be proud.

The tracks in between are a mixture of up-tempo jazz shuffles, with some impressive command of the linguistic range of the guitar on shown, along with some truly emotive slower numbers. Robben Ford, The Meters, Albert Collins, throughout Matt and his band divulge these influences into a flowing musical experience, not putting a foot wrong, leaving you with something you don’t get very often these days, the feeling that your money has been well spent.

 

Nathan Maxwell – Happiness in Time
Hoodoo Music
Review by G.P. Bennett

Ah Good! – Something fresh from a Country Influenced artist. Admittedly, Maxwell's influences are bubbling at the surface of this record, but with a clean production, some competent song writing and that little bit of patience that all albums deserve, it works. Ranging from Black Crowes-ish rock, through Stones tinged drawling and ending up with some Jayhawk country harmonies (there may even be a little bit of Wilco hidden in there too), it's a nod to the past but deserves to stand on it's own in today's struggling blues scene.

The arrangements are authentic enough, with some solid guitar work, punchy Drums and some often essential piano lines, all complimenting each other. Maxwell's vocals are reminiscent of Wild Horses era Jagger, but avoiding the indecipherable slurring, and with a slightly lighter delivery.

The album is pretty upbeat throughout and is a nice antidote to the low down and dirty stuff I'm usually listening too. Is it Blues? To be honest, who really cares, it's got some blues influences without doubt, but there are no 12 bar romps here (thank god) and on an even happier note, there are no wild Gary Moore-esque guitar forays spoiling it for everyone. Probably the strongest song on the album, Stepping Stone, has a blues guitar solo as it should be played, melodic, thoughtful, funky (a hybrid of Albert King and BB, but much more understated) and most importantly, short!

Some of the lyrics could maybe do with a bit of attention - album closer "California Star" spouts lines about "Wind that blows" and "Sun that Shines"... no shit - but  he get's away with it with some perfectly placed Pedal Steel (Russ Pahl) answering his vocals. This album should get enough people to notice his talent for hook-writing and obvious enthusiasm for his music. You can see that one killer song could launch a lucrative career in the US, and I think a second album would be well worth a listen.

Available from Hoodo Music: www.hoodoomusic.com

 

The Freemonts feat. Mighty Joe Milsap - Mighty Crazy
Review by David Atkinson

Wearing their influences proudly on their sleeves, The Freemonts have crafted a refreshingly old school album with Mighty Joe Mislap on vocal duties. Their sound is robust but there is still heaps of space on the record. It is economical insofar as they make all the notes count; clearly rhythm is king in Freemont country and there's room for everyone to get down. There are some great cuts on here; the title track is especially good and would be better in the first half of the album, I think. There is a lot to boogaloo to on the way to it though: Come To Mighty Joe had me strutting about at one point, which impressive considering I was sat at my desk at the time. Like at lot of things, this is perhaps best enjoyed slightly too loud.

Available from CD Baby

 

 

Underground Ballroom - Contradictions
Review by David Atkinson

Featuring some of the baddest-assed Hammond sounds I've heard since the New Mastersounds debut, Contradictions fuses the Brit blues-rock MO with some wonky jazz. Deep Purple or Zeppelin-style wig outs have been goosed by four chaps from Lancaster. About time too, if you ask me, but perhaps they should have gone even further. Grooves like this require space to stretch out so most of the tracks are quite long, which is great if you like that epic feel but it is diametrically opposed to Mighty Crazy - it just shows how broad the church is. The snappy title track stood out for me and highlights how sound their idea is. I love funk as much as the next man in a mauve suit but just like blues I know it is only better for having some dirt in the mix. Contradictions gives that often leaden blues-rock dinosaur some funky new shoes.

 

 

Michael Powers - Prodigal Son
Review by David Atkinson

From the title Powers seems to be suggesting he is some sort of unrepentant wastrel. This may be so; on an album that includes covers of Goin' Down, It's A Bloody Life, Voodoo Chile and Train Kept A Rollin', you immediately know that it's guitar chops that Powers inherited. Is he wasting them?

I reckon so. Guitarists struggle to overcome the 'awesomeness' of their instrument; like paintballing the electric guitar can very easily bring out the worst in people. These are by no means bad covers versions - they are all really good and the album is excellently produced - but they detract from his own strong song writing and arrangements, which are good enough to stand on their own. I prefer the originals versions and probably you will too but if you can forgive the excesses of Prodigal Son then you'll probably enjoy the rest.


 
Willie King - One Love
Review by David Atkinson

Album opener Sweet Potato Man clocks in at 6:38 and the next three tracks are all over six minutes. Don't worry though, track five, Writing In The Sky, is nine and a half minutes long. You get a lot of boogie for your money with Willie Brown. Like John Lee Hooker's 70's albums (Endless Boogie and so on) there ain't no use resisting, you just go with it. There are few surprises on One Love but Willie's drawl is as much of a pleasure as the loose vibe of whole album. In fact, when I got to the ten minute long title track, its Staple Singers-style groove was just washing over me like it should and I felt mighty fine. Nice one Willie.

Available from CD Baby