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Black Country Communion

Black Country Communion 2

www.mascotrecords.com

Supergroups can deliver or disappoint. It’s hard for a real music fan to pass by a venture that includes a musician or singer that he or she rates highly. For example, every Bowie fan will have bought the two Tin Machine albums, whether they admit it or not ! About half the tracks on those two studio lp’s were pretty good but with some real clinkers lurking around in the running orders. A live album was slightly more even. Back in the day, three blues artists got together to make an album called Triumvirate and initial sessions went badly. Ego’s settled and the trio of Mike Bloomfield, Doctor John and John Hammond set about cutting a record that strangely sounds better now than it did then. Eventually quality performers will bring out the best in each other. But not always.

The irresistible magnet here for this writer is the presence within Black Country Communion of one Glenn Hughes. Strangely, I have never met him BUT I have loads of his records and love his voice and understanding of soul as well as rock and blues and as for his cool bass playing…..well he leaves fantastic spaces which make  every other instrument playing sound terrific. Paul Kantner of Jefferson fame can do this on rhythm guitar, Morris Jennings the American drummer with Ramsay Lewis and countless others has the gift and the late jazz keyboard genius Larry Young ( Lifetime, John McLoughlin etc) had that ability. Hughes always swings and his singing is a heady rush of fresh air.

Photo by Mike Prior

Any band would love to have Derek Sherinian of Dream Theater aboard, in many ways he is the ultimate ensemble player. Every now and again his playing evokes the style of the late John Locke of L A rock eclecticists Spirit though I imagine one of his early influences would have been Keith Emerson, who I often saw in small clubs in my youth sticking knives into and grappling with his Hammond.  Drummer Jason Bonham is of course the son of John who was touring with Tim Rose the great US singer / songwriter not long before Led Zeppelin formed. Big shoes to fill if you play the same instrument as yer dad, but it never seems to have phased Jason at all. I suppose he has always hung out with major stars. Fourth member of BCC is guitar hotshot Joe Bonamassa, who had already gathered a large gang of admirers even before the passing of Gary Moore seemed to leave him as axeman of choice for those who like loud and heavy blues based rock riffing. To be frank, I have always found Bonamassa to be technically able but more flashy than soulful, most of the time.  Can Hughes steer him away from his occasional musical excesses ?

Mention must be made of producer Kevin Shirley as I think he has left his mark on the shape of this record, put down at East West Studios in Hollywood. Proper songs need a bit of developing to capture the individual assets of each selection. Shirley had doubts about the aggregation’s staying power due to personality foibles, but voicing them seem to have helped the group turn a corner and loosen up and play. Above all, readers – let’s remember that these guys don’t HAVE to do this, they must WANT to.

A cracking opening pace is set by ‘The Outsider’ with Glenn singing up a cyclone. The immediate feel is the ‘Burn’ era Deep Purple, rich organ chording et al. Guitar and keys trade speedy solo’s, they sue know what their audience want do these blokes! Riff heaven and leading into second cut ‘Man In The Middle’ with its jaggedy rhythm and spooky Sherinian keyboard tones and with an atypical Hughes vocal-led bridge. Out comes the acoustic guitar for ‘The Battle for Hadrian’s Wall’ which could be an outtake from Led Zep 111 in its ingredients. When the song heavies up, Bonham does sound incredibly like his father with his harsh but puddingy drum sound under the toppy delayed slide figures. This sort of sound&fury stuff was bound to be part of BCC’s canon…

Derek Sherinian shines on ‘Save Me’ and Hughes’ mountain-top floating voice glides across the mix. It ain’t long before The Riff kicks in though and it’s a Pagey job, for sure. The frantic ‘Smokestack Woman’ is another piledriver of a number, tricksy guitar figures  busy under the plaintive singing. It’s just like Hughes old band Trapeze !

The tremeloed guitar intro to the eastern-tinged ‘Faithless’ reminds me of something and will nag my brain til I recall it…

‘An Ordinary Son’ is easily the best effort as a crafted song included on this set, they seem to forget about sounding important and portentous and let the Free-style song roll its natural course. Hughes’ wonderfully-paced bass is stately and simultaneously organic giving a fine bed for the piano runs. Anyone else sensing a Steve Marriott-tinge on this particular one ? ‘ I Can See Your Spirit’ is a bit paint-by-numbers ‘eavy rock after this and ‘Little Secret’ too Gary Moore but the moody ‘Crossfire’ is much more like it. ‘Cold’ truly chills the close of this album, ambient synth clouds adding a fusion wash as Hughes sings out his despair as only he can.

Well, Black Country Communion are sounding more like a group now and most of this is listenable, some of it is brilliant. Bonham though is a pure rock drummer and no Clive Bunker or Mitch Mitchell, sometimes a jazz or latin slant would have provided some variety. Bonamassa works thoughtfully but seems to need to play too much at times. Sherinian is classy throughout and Hughes is his splendid self. If you are new to Glenn’s work, seek out his set with Pat Thrall called ‘Hughes Thrall’ where powerful songs rule or better still his ferocious and funky burn-up of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Was Made To Love Her’ which is on one of funk guitar ace Steve Salas’ albums. You will thank me !

Ah yes !! got it  – the squeezed-tone guitar on ‘Faithless’ is very like that on Taj Mahal’s ‘Do I Love Her’ on his ‘Taj’ album – that’s saved me a few sleepless nights…

Pete Sargeant      www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Shelby Lynne

Live at Cadogan Hall, London

Publicity photo by Randee St. Nicholas.

www.shelbylynne.com

Economy with words can be a wonderful thing. Many of Shelby Lynne’s songs give a succinct picture or situation and tell what is happening to or has befallen the characters involved – by dint of telling phrases, seemingly offhand statements, clipped bitter diatribes or other lyrical bullets that strike home. Never formulaic, Lynne has traits of the very best songsmith / raconteurs and has much more in common with Randy Newman, Tom Waits or (especially) John Prine that other more feted country / roots princesses. Whether her reputation of having a short fuse when stressed has any substance at all I cannot say. I can say that in concert she provides a musical journey through emotions with few equals.

The American writer Hemingway was once challenged to create The Ultimate Short Story and came up with : ‘ For sale – baby boots, never worn ‘…..perhaps six words better imbued with intrigue than any others one could ever suggest. Surely Lynne would approve.

Is Lynne a Country artist ?  You could say so. I prefer the term ‘roots songwriter’ as her subject matter can run far and wide.  The ultimate country song would after all touch on the basic themes of family, pets, religion and tragedy – which means that it should be ‘ My Granny’s dog drowned in a pool at Lourdes ‘. But Shelby Lynne doesn’t always take a defined stance, her protagonists might be as much victim as aggressor, as right as they are wrong, as doomed as they are favoured.

Skilful songwriting deserves refined and sensitive delivery, so as Lynne takes the stage at this historic ( and mainly classical music) venue it is pleasing to note that her right-hand man for this set of dates is guitar maestro John Jackson. Switching between a butterscotch Tele and a tobacco brown resonator type guitar through a Fender amp and what looks like a Line 6 FX box or similar, Jackson picks and occasionally slides through a choice set of tones and reverbs around the steady acoustic played by Lynne. Sometimes he plays soft harmonica lines with the help of a rack.

If Ann Peebles can claim the ultimate pithy line-plus-payoff in her song “I Didn’t Take Your Man’  ( next line, with a scarcely-disguised sneer ‘ You GAVE him to me…’) then Shelby Lynne runs her a close second with some of her lyrics. But the grittier songs are evened out with lighter-hearted numbers like ‘ Why Didn’t You Call Me ?’ a brisk, Beatlesque item, here giving Jackson a solo that was pure George Harrison.  Lynne is missing her dog Junior she mutters and heading home to the States next day but she made this performance memorable. As she remarks, she writes songs about he good and bad things in life. Just the sort of stuff we citizens relate to and relate we do.

Happily for your scribe, she includes a song she has recorded with a man I was delighted to meet and interview some years ago -Tony Joe White – ‘ Can’t Go Back Home’, as sultry and atmospheric as you could want. When she includes a nod to the late Johnny Cash with ‘Johnny & June’ it’s a heartfelt as a hard-bitten gal can attain.  Randy Newman’s ‘Walls Too Thin’ is dispatched with guile and underplay – yeah, just right.

Jackson’s slide figures on ‘Life Is Bad’ have the cracked whine of a John Hiatt vocal but the precision of heyday Cooder.

Songs featured are from all over her recording career. ‘If I Were Smart’ is the ruefulness song to end them all but still somehow working on another level, as if she is addressing the actual or inferred accusations of acquaintances with disdain . Whilst ‘I’m Alive’ knocks Gloria Gaynor’s  big show number flat on its back. Possible highlight of this intense but warm night might have been ‘Jesus On a Greyhound’ from the ‘Love, Shelby’ album – as  affecting as was ‘Killin’ Kind’ and its desolate, bittersweet feel. It was worth attending to hear the winsome ‘Where Am I Now ?’.

Two musicians creating a spellbinding set and the star bothering to talk to the audience – would that all major performers played for us, not at us

Pete Sargeant      www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Jenners Field

Live at the 100 Club London

jennersfield.blogspot.com

(c) Sam Atkinson Photography

The era of the so-called New Romantics here in the UK ensured that ever since then it has proved wise to approach ‘fashion’ bands with extreme caution. So many of the acts emerging then put looks above musicianship, posing above composition. Not only that, they were often supine in the hands of trendy producers who piled on the tinny guitar timbres, squeaky keyboards and hideous gated and harsh drum sounds, rendering a lot of recordings of the time pretty unlistenable – then and now.  So how come an absurdly young London group fronted by a male model can produce a splendid debut single and launch party to match ?

Make no mistake, this four-man outfit Jenners Field have a lot going for them and the turnout for what really is a private party crosses all demographics, both sexes, all ages. I don’t think anyone there can have left unimpressed, the band’s potential is almost tangible.

If at first glance they might be taken for a ‘Ninety-minute make up, ninety-seconds tune up’ crew, any of the songs performed tonight knock that notion into touch. Jenners Field might look good and singer Laurie Belgrave might be newsworthy lens fodder BUT he plays a crisp Telecaster rhythm guitar and sings like the offspring of LeBon and Sylvian. Hence the group are much closer in sonic impact to, say, heyday Talk Talk as opposed to this month’s Visage.  A lot of care has been taken over the backing vocals, principally the achievement of sturdy bassist Grant McNeill who steams through the set.  Guitarist Danilo Borgerth   spins out chords, spiky lead runs and many tones, some verging on spooky yet just right for each song.  Drummer Jed Kellett is an absolute powerhouse, equal parts skill and ferocity. He sounds as though it is New York bands like Television and Talking Heads that have influenced him most, the frantic ‘city’ attack is pretty evident from what he plays tonight.

Right, the new release  – it’s called ‘Drunk Drive’ and it’s the edgiest single I’ve heard in ages. The drums thunder out of an ambient synth cloud and don’t let up for a moment, dark guitar and bass spark out a staccato tempo, sometimes veering off into the old Mel Torme four-descending chords figure found on “Coming Home Baby’ and the later Spencer Davis ‘I’m A Man’ but here thrown into the maelstrom as a hook. The more I play this record, the more I hear the stamp of Thom Yorke on Belgrave’s vocal but this is no RadioHead  rumination, it’s a rush of a rock song, crashing into an abrupt ending.

When the current pop charts remain full of anodyne ‘r & b ‘ tunes that go nowhere, how does a young group that often sound like Duran Duran being chased into a Black Hole by Hawkwind fit in ? They probably don’t, but all the more reason to savour and encourage them….

The first selection is ‘S.O.F’ – ‘Soul On Fire’ ? – all plucked guitar and plaintive singing, delivered in semi-darkness and featuring a solemn falsetto crescendo, ‘Brave’. ‘Camberwell Grove’ and the flamboyant ‘Lifehouse’ establish the Jenners Field sound, intense drumming to the fore. The young females are dancing in front of the stage, the rhythm section sounds more and more comfortable and the guitar sounds keep exploding. The singer’s mini Korg is used for keys interludes and riffs. ‘Frozen’, ‘Hope There’s Someone’ and the ace composition ‘Sail On’ woo the crowd whose enthusiasm is maintained throughout the show, Then after the catchy and stabbing ‘ 1980’s ‘ is spat out, the single gets a tuneful hammering.

The encore ‘Wolf Like Me ‘ sees all traces of self-consciousness vanquished, the whole band opens up and roars through the song like a supercharged Talking Heads. A fabulous rendition.

Very minor carps :  the moody intro number works well but 90 seconds is the most you can run at that tempo for maximum impact when a show starts, so maybe better to slot a faster song early into the first  number and then come back to ‘ S.O.F’ ?  also they might think about a call&response vocal passage in one of the songs to harness the audience’s energy. Needn’t be a corny anthem or ‘ AgaDoo ‘ type song, but a crowd likes to sing sometimes, so let them.

If Jenners Field can sustain their energy and keep writing good songs, they will be a huge asset to the London and hopefully national music scene, probably internationally successful in time

Pete Sargeant     www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Jamie Cullum

Solo Live at Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2011

Photograph: Marilyn Kingwill for the Guardian

www.jamiecullum.com

When you’ve been off the road, holed up at home looking after a new baby, it’s a tall call to head out and perform without your band at a major event in the west of England, even when you have been closely involved in the artist selection and organisation of the festival. AND when it’s in Cheltenham, an English town / city justifiably renowned for stiff and unresponsive audiences – many a comedian will close eyes and sigh for 40 seconds at the mere mention of the place…

By the way, we watch this show at the London I-max, one of 75 cinemas throughout Europe carrying a live-as-it-happens relay with a giant screen and superb sound. This means that Cullum cannot hear the quality of the capital’s audience singing to choruses under his direction, something of a pity as it’s better that the lacklustre efforts of the staid Cheltenham concertgoers.

Springing onto the stage comes Jamie in his customary jeans, black jacket and matching tie ( Paul Smith of course, the picture quality is that good ) over white shirt and suspiciously new-looking tan shoes. He looks anxious to play and somewhat unnerved by having to have a bunch of chord and lyric sheets which constitute ‘the setlist’, as he never works with one. He promises us some familiar and unfamiliar selections, a bit of a ragbag but structured to be payable on his grand piano and supplementary loopers which he uses to layer percussive sound and vocals via a hand mike. No guitar tonight. Cullum made plenty of time to talk to the audience, explaining the origins of songs (one written the day before !), writer crediting, reasons for choices but also a jokey fake technical fault is slipped in as he sings soundlessly to approximate a connection fault and alarm the cinema audiences. His overall manner is not far from an enthusiastic teacher running a class when he splits the crowd into sections and constructs a minor chord variation note by note into a cluster.

He plays with great energy and more than enough jazz improvisatory flair (most notably on a spikey and almost harsh version of Jimi’s ‘Wind Cries Mary’) whilst his voice has its customary blending of smooth croon and soulful rasp, best heard on the Radiohead number ‘High & Dry’. Strangely, the last live version of that heard by your scribe was by US country band Lady Antebellum…. what makes Cullum an outstanding artist is simply his musical skill and awareness of his roots ( nearly all American and World, I hear not a trace of English heritage in anything he does) plus a sense of adventure and fun. He knows he is a quality act but as he knocks around with jazzers he is equally accepted by the likes of Pharrell Williams. The Rhianna hit ‘Don’t Stop the Music’ is played with attack and clear  presentation of the lyric plus an adlib verbal passage or two given that Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine and this guitar player’s favourites Pat Martino and Grant Green were never snobby about reinventing pop songs of their day, Jamie is ‘traditional’ in that sense.  It would be a shame if these days Cullum just had to pump out smooth versions of ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ or ‘Starlight’ though one fears that the Parkinsonesque audience at the venue would have been more comfortable with the same. Even if Cullum suspected that was the case, he didn’t come back for the second set with a different approach at all, the rest of the show being just as vigorous and  experimental chordally as the first tranche.

As for the selections, there is a godawful and unreleased end-of-the-world song (inspired by Madonna, as he discloses) that he performs for the first and hopefully last time. Servicable tune but atrocious wordplay. A very engaging ‘All Over It Now’ is familiar to the fans and crisply put over. An unusual standard or two are included eg ‘Don’t Wait To Love’ which clearly connects with Jamie’s psyche given its thoughtful reading. In style and pace it’s similar to “Little Things Mean A Lot’.   His own ‘All At Sea’ sounds fresh as a daisy. A few soft female sighs can be heard during ‘Everybody’s Lonely’. More than a touch of the early Jack Jones in Cullum’s delivery here…

Almost apologising for the obligatory ballad, he digs out the tender ‘But For Now’ for an airing. He rescues Candi Staton’s ‘ You Got The Love’ from the tuneless screeching inflicted upon it by Florence & Her Machine ( in any given rendition, Florence has more keys than a jailer’s belt ), imbuing the piece with a quasi-gospel zip. A Ray Charles flavoured “Hard Times’ rolls into a new song ‘Need More Pain’, as punchy and bluesy as anything played tonight. He ought to visit the Bobby Bland songbook and try ‘It’s Not the Spotlight’ !

By later in the set he has ditched the shirt and tie and is down to t-shirt and jeans, more and more at ease but still it seems running on adrenalin.

By the encore, being his film theme song ‘Gran Torino’, Cullum looks somewhat fatigued   but also relieved he has steered himself through the evening in one piece. You cannot doubt his bravery, you cannot doubt his commitment to music. But his number one skill as displayed on this night is as a communicator.

Pete Sargeant       www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Evi Vine

..and so the morning comes

www.evivine.com

After the Saturday morning Brazilian Lounge compilation I’ve been playing this sunny morning to get myself in easy active motion, this set sends a chill through the soul. Mind you, the bleached out haunted face of our artist on the cover does give an immediate Blair Witch tone to the record. Having featured on vocals with The Eden House, Ms Vine now presents this collection being ten new compositions.

Evi has in recent times played in all sorts of places – including Glastonbury, Latitude and Secret Garden Party festivals but also cafes in Paris and folk-oriented venues in Italy and Germany. When the guys that did work on visuals for ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Fight Club’ hear your music and are immediately inspired to create videos based thereon, you are not just looking good but sounding cool as well…

Aided by Steven Hill a band colleague, Vine has crafted these songs, layering up sounds and often on an experimental basis and with Evi playing most of the instrumental contributions. The result is thoughtful set of numbers and no slick attempt at stadium glory. These cuts are perfect for radio 6 late-night mellow shows, though with more live shows coming up there’ll surely be an effort to play at least some of these compositions live ?

‘For the Dreamers’ opens the album, a murmer of quasi-orchestral legato tones building to a solemn guitar..yes, it does put pictures in the mind. Dark forests and mist, mainly. Then a soft and almost breathy vocal set against keyboard twinkles and coasting cello’s. Kate Bush without the early days overkill ?  ‘Down’ is again reflective, slightly throatier singing and again against an ethereal sonic backdrop. ‘Inside Her’ has a curious keyboard tone figure and gentle strumming. A totally conspiratorial vocal delivery, almost a whisper but a gorgeous melody and chord progression, so haunting it almost aches. It slips into a  somewhat brighter arpeggio’d passage, a bit of a gem this one.

A harp brings in “Colours of the Night’, Vine singing in pure folk vein here with a hint of a quaver phasing into falsetto and still in the overall dreamy vibe of the set ; ‘For You’ has an icy insistence and another soft and catchy melodic pattern that has distant echo of Judy Collins the early Elektra American folk goddess especially on the middle-eight with its neat double tracked but still held-back vocal. ‘Kiss’ caresses your ears at a slumber of a tempo and has easily the best singing on the record, you can tell she has her heart and soul in the lyric. You just want to hug her !  ‘In This Moment’ runs it a close second as a touching tale, if this stuff is autobiographical, Vine has spent time in Pain Central….

The most relaxed vocal is on “How Time Flies’ with a ripple of a backing and steady rhythm, not a trace of the self-consciousness that sometimes occurs on other tracks. I’d play this to a listener as a taster, maybe it’s a potential single ? ‘All The Beauty’ sees the record out in spaced-out childlike fashion and a wintery backdrop. Well, she was never going to break out the banjo and washboard for a jolly singalong finale, was she ?

A dream in sound form and subtle in its vocal execution, this album’s glacial fragility may be difficult to present live on stage, I think. But the record attains what it sets out to do, so all credit for that.

Pete Sargeant      www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Paul Rodgers

Live Radio Show Recording

Under the Bridge, Stamford Bridge

If friend and respected figure of this site Mr Rodgers fancies doing a radio show Q&A in London with some acoustic live music thrown in, would you say no to an invite to attend ? We certainly didn’t, what an honour to be asked …but first, the venue itself deserves a review. There are some monied professional football clubs here in England and the owner of ‘The Blues’ ( well that’s appropriate here ) Chelsea FC has added a plush nightclub venue named ‘ Underr The Bridge ‘ to the facilities at the club’s Fulham base known as Stamford Bridge. Mr Abramovich doesn’t do things by halves and has laid out a mint to get this place exactly as he and his designers and contractors envisioned it. The lighting and layout (latter not unlike the Comedy Store near Piccadily Circus) are first-class ; the bar service and staff attention very impressive ( London prices though!) and there is an absolutely wonderful collection of literally hundreds of rock star photo’s from many decades displayed on the walls. It is worth coming to Under the Bridge just to view these pro shots of Oasis, Beatles, Yardbirds, Rolling Stones et al.  But there’s also four-metre high waterfall, personal booths with TV screens and a hydraulically-operated stage !   Here the club’s players can relax and do what pro footballers do when they’re off duty, without any unwanted paparazzi getting indiscretions  on film. But the Russian multimillionaire is also letting the £ 20 million venue be used for musical events, there is a Blues Festival coming up with Dr John, Booker T and other major stars appearing.  On this occasion, Planet Rock the London based rock music station gets to  host the afternoon and to broadcast the event a few nights later. Everything gets under way pretty much on time and as planned ; earlier your scribe runs into PR’s presenter Nicky Horne and his clipboard of questions assembled for the artist to ponder and respond.  “ Ask him when he’s going to make an album with Jeff Beck, Nicky !” I offer. Horne nods approval. “ Shall I put that in ?” he muses. “ Better not “, I concede – “ Paul will know damn well who asked it…”. ( This will make more sense as an exchange if you read the interview we did with Paul Rodgers some time ago, do have a look not least for a great Joe Walsh story ).

Under the Bridge Venue

With a major tour coming up and plenty to plan and think about, you couldn’t have blamed Paul for getting this over quickly and coldly.  Not a bit of it, Rodgers smiles as he is welcomed to the stage and remains good-natured, almost TOO open in his answers to queries and even finds time to say hello to the writers, friends and punters after the session. You can often say of Paul “ He doesn’t have to do that “ – on special events, charity work and gigs, being courteous to fans etc – but time and again, he will. The lovely Cynthia ( Mrs R ) is on hand to warm the occasion and spend time talking with us writers as well as with friends and followers, all with good grace, patience and a generous spirit.

Nicky Horne deftly nixes any jokes about his height by getting in first and introduces Paul. The twist is this tail is that the Planet Rock listeners who had suggested questions to be put to Paul were distilled down to the best whereupon the query originators were all invited with a guest to come to the taping and be greeted by Rodgers as the listed questions were put to the singer. A nice touch and fruitful in that the room was full of true fans as well as the label folk and the press/ photographers. The queries were of good quality, centering on work with Free, Bad Company, The Firm ( with Jimmy Page of course ), Queen ; we also learned the origins of the song ‘Feel Like Making Love’ AND heard it played acoustically !

One listener wrung from Rodgers the promise of another Blues album, a notion warmly received given that most of the ‘ Muddy Waters Blues ‘ album is very good indeed. Beck appears on that release, but I like the Rodgers/Beck version of ‘On Broadway’ which was included in a cowboy film soundtrack. I’m the only person to have heard it, talking to other musicians ! Also discussed, the relative merits of composing on guitar or keyboard and current band members – Jason Bonham is drumming on this stint, with Howard Leese from Heart on guitar and Lyn Sorenson on bass.  HOWEVER, Paul is most animated and expressive when talking about OTHER artists, such as Sam Moore ( Sam and Dave ) and his original heroes The Four Tops. Rodgers was invited to attend an anniversary show by the Tops, not realising at first that he was required to sing. Sounds like it meant the world to him, respect from contemporaries cannot be taken for granted. I always think that if you stay a fan even when you yourself are successful and feted, you will make better music throughout your life. Just think of those that start believing their own publicity and whose feet start leaving the ground….Rodgers won’t ever join that set, I hope.

The music choices for the set were interesting to say the least – the Free days gem ‘Soon I Will  Be Gone’ ( oh for a Nick Clegg cover ) received a forceful strumming and loping cadence that carried the vocal really well  ;  the number for Queen ‘Take Love ‘ sounded fresh as a daisy after spring rain, Marcus Wolfe on 6 and 12 strings adding to the performances. Did I mention the grainy harp interlude by Paul on ‘Feel..’ ?   The early Bad Company reflective piece ‘ Seagull ‘ seems to have grown on Rodgers since he wrote it for late inclusion in the debut album as he features it is many shows now.  Oh and when asked if filling F Mercury’s ( singing ) shoes had been difficult, Paul admitted that the leotards had posed more problems…to hear the same wry humour from Rodgers over forty years since I first talked to him at a Free gig is no bad thing…

Pete Sargeant      www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo

Cotonou Club

www.strut-records.com

All powerful eh ?  This is the first studio recording by the legendary band from Benin and everything is here – plentiful and steady drums and percussion, blaring horns, James Brown influenced rhythms, deep bass runs, impassioned singing and those spirited dancing and at the forefront interweaving guitar jangles. Opener ‘Ne Te Fache Pas’ has neat reverbed guitar solo rolling over the horns like a surfer on a wave. ‘Pardon’ commences with a guitar and keys pattern of almost conspiratorial quality worthy of Funkadelic/ Bernie Worrell.  It’s easy to see how this type of music influenced the likes of Talking Heads. It could fit on any mixtape alongside anything by David Byrne or Kid Creole.

‘Von Vo Nomo’ has a voodoo atmosphere and declamatory vocal with synth overlays, this is proud music but with a rhythmic subtlety that gives the tight horn figures all the more impact.  Find me crisper sound than the Salsa-soaked and wah-guitared ‘Koumi Dede’ and what a great lead vocal, joyous and forceful. A  tropical treat. Story goes that the band were annoyed at only being heard outside their territory on their ancient records and were anxious to issue more recordings sounding as they do now, hence the session in Paris to cut these selections.

Angelique Kidjo the regal African vocal queen guests on ‘Gbeti Madjro’ and her rich voice sounds ace in this setting, a jagged guitar-driven pacer. Try keeping your toes still while this is playing ! ‘Tegbe’ sounds like a film-opener, delicious horn passages and swaying beat ; reflective track ‘Ma Vie’ has sprinkles of electric guitar that make it sparkle like a sun-splashed lake as a hesitant rhythm edges in.

Finally, two of Franz Ferdinand guest on ‘Lion is Burning’ which starts with edgy synth figures and a jungle-bound rhythm a la ‘Remain In Light’. Sounds like a natural set-closer. Slide guitar by Karsten Hopchapfel (caught my ear and I looked it up).

A pat on the back to Sparkle Studio for capturing a big multi-layered sound so well. Must be one of the best recent African band releases and as colourful as you could wish for

Pete Sargeant     www.fairhearing.co.uk

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The Musgraves

Lost In Familiarity EP
Midlands-based outfit working in the pop/folk field, here with a four-track which one must assume typifies their sound and approach.  Singer Matthew Bennett has an enviable full-on attack which stays tuneful so immediately they have chance of radio play, all down to the tunes. His voice reminds me of someone I can’t readily name, it will come to me…
Lead cut ‘So Sofia’ which is pretty much a descriptive love song is sprightly and pretty infectious, acoustic guitars to the fore, splashy cymbals and puddingy tom toms..it’s like the Gypsy Kings playing Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ in vibe.  Hmm..it’s a very young Cat Stevens that the lead vocal evokes….the brisk handclap overlay only helps the catchiness and nice piano figures. No joke, but this would do well at Eurovision, it has real Mediterranean atmosphere and insistence.
Next up – ‘Back To Me’ is a piano-led head-nodder with another clear lead vocal and brilliant use of clapping polyrhythms, strong chorus. A strong pop sensibility at work here, all very focussed and a synth-string arrangement sliding in. A good time of year to release this and I suspect this material could be well-received at festivals or anywhere the sun is shining.   ‘Discover Me’ is plaintively-delivered, but to be frank a bit Neil-Finn-by-numbers. Never a crime to have influences ( I rarely play shows without SOMEone mentioning the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield afterwards) but the sprinkles of banjo give it a bit of character.
Last number ‘Fortune Teller’ is confidently delivered with neat stops and that early Van tinge, busy strings and lively piano ( a good feature of this collection, whoever is playing it).
So, good pop act, nice singer, radio-friendly, have to wish them well
Pete Sargeant        www.fairhearing.co.uk
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Francis Macdonald

Maculate Conceptions
Not content with drumming for Teenage Fanclub and managing Scottish outfits such as the aching pulse music act Attic Lights, Camera Obscura and current hopefuls The Vaselines, Mr Macdonald is not averse to the off special ‘own’ project. Here, he and his Garageband programme on a mac put this together whilst on tour as an album of solo instrumental pieces. Here they are, twelve of them in all and all names after places he visited. Curiously the pictures put in the listener’s head may not evoke the nominated city Francis intends ! But this is individual response  to what one hears and doesn’t devalue the project. Rather it makes it all the more intriguing…
Take the opener, titled ‘Bremen’ with it stately buildup and orchestrated nobility. It does go on a little too long, but if just played the piece for reaction I’d have sworn it was an outtake from the soundtrack of the Dirk Bogarde bleak-but-beautiful film ‘Death In Venice’. It is truly emotional and exquisite.   Next cut ‘Aaarhus’ with its ‘Locomotion’ rhythm and reedy organ makes me think of a 60’s pop music cabaret club in, say, St Tropez, whatever Macdonald was intending.
As a quick aside, I have collected a series of city-based compilations on Petrol where the idea is to give a sonic snapshot of that place. It’s called ‘The Sex the City The Music’ and I especially recommend ‘Berlin’ and ‘Barcelona’. Can’t find ‘Mexico City’ though, damn it…
Back to ‘Maculate Conceptions’ and ‘Oslo’ has a cool jazz vibe, sounds like someone being followed late ar night down dark streets in a film noir ; ‘Paris’ is pure McSatie ! An 80’s cars type guitar-synth tread represents ‘Helsinki’ ; whereas ‘Croatia’ with its insistent accordian figure and kids-tv-adventure melody has a curious lope and electronic effects.
The most evocative piece is ‘Malmo’ which sound so very Dutch canal to me..so what do I know ??
With no lyrics the musical creations speak for themselves, all said and done it’s accomplished and a fun, gentle listen.  Playing a friend some of the cuts and asking them to nominate country and city would be pretty amusing, I’ll give ya that idea for nothing, Francis !  He’s doing a talk or two about the album so maybe he should spin some cuts to the audience and get their thoughts….
Pete Sargeant     www.fairhearing.co.uk
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King’s X

Live Love In London
Very often I get into deep conversations with other musicians on the merits of rock bands down the ages. Having seen many, with all their good points and flaws I usually have a view, but it’s only my view. I don’t think the depth and soul of the original Whitesnake has yet to be bettered by Mr Coverdale, the original Santana had a verve and power that has only rarely been touched on by subsequent lineups, early Thin Lizzy shows were notable for Lynott being as interested in eying the female members of the audience as playing the right bassnotes, Led Zeppelin had wonderful basslines and guitar bursts but patchy songs and singing and generally OTT drumming with none of the subtlety of Appice/Cassidy/Bunker/Mitchell ( before you start spluttering I did see the original LZ twice). HOWEVER I am most thanked for recommending a listen to King’s X. They are to rock what Taj Mahal is to the blues and R&B. The songs are fantastic varied and well-crafted, they use atmosphere and dynamics better than any ensemble I know, they all sing (!) and for my money they connect better than almost any current rock band or artist.
The most common remark by any listener new to King’s X is usually is that they sound very fresh. Doomy at times, desperate at others, confident but not cocky. All this plus stunning solo’s with none of this Slash same-tone-all-the-time nonsense.
Hence it’s good to report that this stylish and powerful trio have released a ‘live in London’ double album – what a souvenir of an accomplished outfit.
Selections here include the insistent and choppy ‘Lost In Germany’, the blast that is ‘Black Flag’, the weird but somehow natural-sounding ‘Dogman’, the gorgeous and evocative arpeggios of ‘Summerland’, fan favourite ‘Over My Head’ and the strident ‘Pleiades’. If you know King’s X you already want this record. Is it a good intro to the trio ? I’d say yes, by virtue of the song selection. It’s hard to pick a setlist when you’ve made many records, but it’s hard to fault what’s picked for inclusion here.
Moments I like : Ty Tabor’s grinding guitar on opener ‘Groove Machine’, Jerry Gaskill’s Cactus-like drum attack to ‘What Is this ?’ , the stabbing Dug Pinnick’s bass on ‘Pray’…..the paced nobility of ‘Julie’, how many ‘rock’ bands have this tenderness ? ‘We Were Born To Be Loved’ has a battering approach that is pure heyday Sugar, most bands can’t do this kind of number and stay in control of the electric surge within. Moments later they spin out the stately intro to ‘Goldilox’, a tricky piece…then the audience does all the initial singing, what a moment.
A real treat and not just for established followers, well done King’s X

Pete Sargeant     www.fairhearing.co.uk

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