Recorded in a weekend, this EP comprises four tunes by retro/garage rock band The Greenhornes (best known for their association with Jack White and Brendan Benson) jamming with ex-Animals vocalist Eric Burdon.  Given Burdon’s prior love for keeping things a little raw and The Greenhornes naturalistic performances, the results are interesting.

My name’s Winston Churchill…and I’m having a fucking nervous breakdown” grumbles Burdon during the intro of ‘Black Dog’, as Patrick Keeler leads the band with a crashing entrance, before everyone settles into a classic blues groove that’s a dead ringer for Hendrix’s ‘Who Knows’ (from ‘Band of Gypsies’).  Backed by slabs of organ and fuzzy guitar lines, the aging Burdon lets his inner animal loose as he snarls and shouts, delivering each line with a real fire and defiant power; his loudest moments among the best a white blues growler can muster, while his quieter moments (of which are few) have an equally ominous presence.

With cleaner guitar and a very welcome electric piano, ‘Out of My Mind’ finds Burdon turning in a much more thoughtful performance, though never quite managing to eclipse Jack Lawrence, whose wandering basslines are very high in the mix and sound terrific throughout.  In the producer’s chair, Brendan Benson seems to have had the good sense to let everything happen naturally, doing very little himself – the “live in the studio” vibes are perfect for both The Greenhornes and Burdon.  ‘Can You Win’ pitches Burdon’s fearsome growl against a near funky bass and some reverb-filled guitar lines.  Burdon’s voice wobbles, caring not for anything remotely close to perfection, but placed against the quasi-aggressive guitar lines and loud drum parts, this appears to be a yet another perfect matching of musicians from different generations.  As they pull things to a close, it’s clear that this is their finest moment – one which you may wish could have gone on for longer.

After three blistering performances, expectations are set high for the EP to finish with a forth.  Sadly, the EPs closing track ‘Cab Driver’ is so bad – so offensively bad, even – it comes close to spoiling the good work that’s been laid down previously.  So, what’s so objectionable?  Over a tune with a distinctly eastern flavour – like a garage band jamming out bits of Sol Bloom’s ‘Snake Charmer’ music – Burdon adopts a cod Arabic accent where (amongst other things) he “sings” about having a tattoo removed that was anti-American, before claiming he has nothing against the English soldiers if they stay lying in their graves.  Christ.  How this was deemed to be okay in the 21st century is a mystery, considering other racially motivated pieces – such as ‘Doctor I’m In Trouble’ by Peter Sellers & Sophia Loren – are often viewed as being in bad taste.  Much in the same way his ‘PC3’ did forty years previously with its themes of police brutality and sexualising the monarch, was Burdon aiming for controversy here?  Yes.  Was it necessary? No.  Should this have been kept private? Certainly.

So, there it is – four tunes recorded in less time than it takes some bands to decide on a drum sound.  The off-the-cuff approach yields some excellent results from a great band sparking off an unquestionably edgy vocalist.  In places, it could even represent the sound of artists who’d been working together for years.  Now, if someone had the foresight – and possibly the guts – to tell Burdon that ‘Cab Driver’ was a bad idea, this EP would have been even better.

November 2012

THE FAULTS – Patients EP

On The Faults’ debut EP (a self-titled release from 2011) the band’s two members, Oli (gtr/vox) and Tom (drums) hammered their way through four reverb-drenched songs, sticking rigidly to the confines of the two-man setup.  While their work didn’t actually bring anything of a new slant to the garage rock genre, the tunes were played with absolute conviction and with a great energy.  Their second release, ‘Patients’ brings the keen garage rock fan much more of the same.

Beginning this second EP in a really unsubtle fashion, ‘Patience’ opens with raucous drums and hammered guitar, over which Oli wails like a man possessed by demons, his voice fuzzed up to create an extra level of intensity. While fans of garage-based noises are likely to dig this, be warned: the general looseness displayed means they’re in danger of sounding more like The Strokes in a slightly drunken stupor than The White Stripes or New York’s mighty Dead Exs at their best.  Much better, ‘Peace of Mind’ mashes an early sixties Phil Spector inspired beat with a guitar jangle that’s almost got a Mexicana vibe – like something from a spaghetti western played in a garage.  Between the disjointed pieces of music, the voice has a very strong presence, bawled with very little restraint. The combination of interesting tune and vocal forcefulness makes this one of the EPs better offerings.

‘Chivalry’ is a standard issue garage rocker where, between the crashing cymbals and the threat of a lead guitar break which never manages to surface, The Faults’ play firmly to their strengths.  Slowing things down and potentially becoming a touch more interesting in doing so, ‘Summer’ brings in a slight tone of sixties pop to the song writing. With the shift in pace, Oli’s voice gets a brief opportunity to stretch out on some longer, croony notes.  Despite a stronger focus on the voice and stripping back the drums, the general tone stays within their fuzzed up remit – yes, it may sound a little poppier in its construction, but everything still comes with a truckload of reverb…and if you’ve dug The Faults’ thus far, chances are, you’ll dig this too.  The strongest – and most easily accessible track – ‘Leather Jacket’ brings more of a trashy rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic to The Faults’ sound, all groove-led drumming and spiky guitar.  Think Jon Spencer Blues Explosion circa ‘Orange’ (though with Spencer’s drunken Presley-isms replaced by something less stylised) and you’ll know where this is headed.  Upbeat and sweaty, this is the Australian duo’s finest (almpst) two minutes.

Even though perhaps three of the five songs aren’t quite as instant as ‘Quarter’ from The Faults’ previous release, there’s some ragged fun to be had from ‘Patients’.  It is not as sharp as it could have perhaps been, but rest assured, it gets better with each play. ‘Leather Jacket’, meanwhile, is a killer track – certainly great enough to make up for anything potentially lacking elsewhere.

October 2012

THE DEAD EXS – Relovolution

Dead ExsBlending the attitude of The Stooges and Billy Childish with some traditional Howlin’ Wolf-esque blues grooves, The Dead Exs debut record ‘Resurrection’ was one of the finest releases of 2011. Since the New York duo’s fuzzy sounds have their obvious limitations, a follow up record ran the risk of just settling for more of the same, but thankfully, although it has many similarities, 2012’s ‘Relovolution’ takes the band’s talents and in many places pushes them to deliver a more mature record.

The title cut begins the album in style with a rallying cry before David Pattillo (guitar/vox) and Wylie Wirth (drums) throw themselves headlong into a stomper driven by furious slide guitar work and an aggressive reinterpretation of Johnny Cash’s “boom-chick-a-boom” rhythms.  In just under three minutes, these guys work up a real sweat as Wirth absolutely dominates with an unshakeable drum line, while Patillo’s heavily distorted voice cries out with carefree abandon.  Similarly, on the reverb drenched ‘White Collar Crime’ the duo adopt the subtlety of a truck as they crash headlong through a number which takes everything that made them great previously, turning everything up to eleven in the process.  It’s like experiencing Jon Spencer tackling Leadbelly’s ‘Rock Island Line’ while having his demons exorcised.

A largely unaccompanied vocal punctuated by two chords makes ‘Get Over’ immediately striking, and while this tune could have fit snugly onto ‘Resurrection’, with extra experience under their belts this performance sounds a touch more self-assured than The Dead Exs did previously. Wirth attacks his kit with the kind of energy befitting of a garage blues band, but occasional bass pedal moments hint at a more focused edge to his playing than before.   Tackling something a little more unexpected, on parts of ‘Let The Natives Loose’, Pattillo’s guitar mixes staccato rhythms and bigger, longer blues-filled notes in a way not quite experienced on a Dead Exs recording before. The more sophisticated approach to light, shade and subtler grooves suggest that these guys have worked very hard to ensure ‘Relovolution’ has elements which catch even their most staunch fans a little unaware.

While ‘Relovolution’ is a very consistent album, three of its most essential tracks are also its most commercial, relatively speaking.  Putting Pattillo and Wirth in pure blues mode with a strong ‘Little Red Rooster’ influence, ‘Paper Doll’ is tough yet lean, while ‘If You’ve Got The Time, I Got The Love’ owes a great debt to Stevie Ray Vaughan and his brand of Texan boogie blues.  Its main riff blends distorted edginess and very accessible blues tones in a fashion that is certainly far smoother than anything from The Dead Exs’ debut.  Although slightly sleazier, similar grooves sit at the heart of ‘Don’t Mess With The Girl From Texas’, a track which captures both musicians in a restrained mood, pulling the best from the kind of blues sounds which would suit Walter Trout, SRV et al. There’s enough grit on each of these numbers to avoid the band being labelled sell-outs by those members of their audience who prefer things a little more raucous, while the more accessible elements may help pull in a few unfamiliar listeners.

Like ‘Resurrection’, ‘Relovolution’ is a release that quickly grabs the listener and then refuses to let go.  Although a couple of bouts with the Texan blues and a few moodier numbers helps to ensure it isn’t a carbon copy of its predecessor, most people will be thankful of this album’s largely familiar nature.  There’s more than enough variety here to keep you listening… Join the “Relovolution” now!

September 2012

MICHAELA RAE – Blues With A Backbone

Every musician has an influence. In the case of blues musician Michaela Rae (aka Michaela Rae Knox), her love for Stevie Ray Vaughan couldn’t be any more obvious. However, for all she lacks in originality, she makes up for with passionate playing. And while you’d hope all musicians would bring such qualities to their work, the professionalism on display throughout Rae’s debut is made all the more remarkable by the fact that it was recorded when she was just thirteen years old. ‘Blues With a Backbone’ sounds surprisingly proficient for someone so young.

Throughout the Santana inspired slow burner ‘Sin Nombre’, Rae’s guitar lines are smooth and full of emotion. The accompanying bass and drums are nice and high in the end mix, giving a “live in the studio” vibe – each element of this soulful number works excellently. A Texan blues groove is the driving force behind ‘Big Easy Blues’ where Rae’s band pulls out all the stops – Matt Henderson’s drum shuffles driving the piece are energetic and Michael Olson’s bass lines are rock solid. Rae, meanwhile, lays down some confident but unfussy guitar on a number with a great all-round feel.

‘Trust In You’ opens with a fluid lead and a groove which would befit BB King’s latter day work. The music has drive and enough punch to grab the attention and then the album’s weak link presents itself. As Ms Rae begins to sing, it becomes painfully obvious she’s only fourteen. Her voice is high pitched and incredibly childlike and it’s certainly not meant to sing the blues. And when used to deliver lyrics like ‘I learnt about the planet / Learnt about the stars / Learnt about pollution that comes from cars’, it gives the air of a sophisticated blues workout performed for Sesame Street. Her vocal isn’t any better on the pounding Stevie Ray number ‘Phonebook Song’, but some scorching lead guitar soon leaves any vocal shortcomings in the shade. Throughout most of this six minute number, Rae’s guitar leads are amazing, full of reverb and vibrato and carrying enough feeling to make you realise she means business.
A cover of ‘Green Onions’ is workmanlike – not quite having the soul of Booker T’s organ-filled original cut, naturally – but Rae and band give it their best shot. The bass pumps things along and the drums come equipped with the required amount of swing. Rae doesn’t sound as comfortable here as she does on her own material; for the first half of the number, her playing is a little jagged, with a few notes having too much of a staccato quality.

Naturally, given her style, Rae sounds far more at home on a run-through of Buddy Guy’s ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’. Hearing Rae and co work their way through the number, it sounds effortless, almost like they’ve been playing it forever. Once again, most of Rae’s lead work is commendable and her band tight, even if the words sound rather trite when delivered in a young teen’s voice. ‘Backbone Blues’, another instrumental, brings nothing new to the table, but is certainly a highlight with regard to guitar playing. Here, Rae performs complex blues runs and solos with ease, during a performance which ought to entertain all but the most stubborn blues fan.

‘Blues With a Backbone’ features some great tunes and often superb guitar work. These elements should be enough for a blues/blues-rock fan to check out the album. Sadly, Rae’s vocal style really lets the side down. Her child-like vocal is completely at odds with such muscular, mature musical performances. I know a vocal maturity shouldn’t really be expected from a thirteen year old, but a it isn’t completely out of the question: one of her closest musical peers, Shannon Curfman, recorded her debut at a similar age (she was only fourteen), and her vocal is chock-full of grit and certainly a match enough for the likes of Bonnie Raitt.

It’s such a shame Rae wasn’t content with putting out a fantastic disc of blues guitar instrumentals, or hiring a more experienced vocalist for her recorded work. ‘Blues With a Backbone’ more hints at Michaela Rae’s potential…but shows she’s not quite ready just yet.

January 2011

THE TIN CAN .44s – The Speak Easy EP

The first thing you’ll notice about The Tin Can .44s is that they really don’t sound like a band from the London borough of Islington.  Bands don’t always need to be from a specific location to end up with a specific sound, though; Def Leppard have a hugely Americanized approach for a band which was formed in Sheffield and the overlooked Steamboat Band often sounded a lot like The Black Crowes for a bunch of lads from the Midlands.  No…above any kind of authenticity, it’s the songs which really count – and it’s a shame this London quartet don’t appear to have any.

This debut EP features blues arrangements which are so ramshackle there are times when the four musicians don’t even appear to be playing the same number. Combine that with a lead vocalist who mumbles and drawls – ultimately becoming somewhat irritating in the process – and you have a release that’s hard to get through in one sitting, despite a short running time of just over twenty minutes.

The opening guitar riff of ‘Bad Craziness’ is delivered with a busy style which has a hint of retro cool.  And then it’s drowned out by a harmonica.  Joseph Strouzer’s harp playing is pretty good, but it quickly becomes obvious he’s in a completely different key to the rest of band.  Once the song moves into the opening verse, everything is so sloppy it’s painful.  Even though it seems like a near impossibility, once Phil Overton begins singing, things get even uglier.  Imagine four guys in a rehearsal space bashing out a funky blues riff, with the bassist desperately trying to hold things together as the lead guitar and harp fly off in tuneless abandon (possibly playing two completely different songs) and you get the general idea. ‘Three Coats’ contains some half-decent bluesy runs on the guitar, but as before, the final arrangement is a more than little messy.  Musically, it sounds like an incomplete jam – a band warming up for something better.  They never really find their groove, even with a relatively simple arrangement. Meanwhile, Overton’s vocals amble through with a very unnatural sneer.  A few of the louder lead guitar parts have a good feel and occasionally a good tone, but that’s really not enough to carry the whole number.  Opening with slide guitar accompanied by subtle blues harp, ‘The Picket’ shows a little promise.  Rumbling drums and an occasional bass chip into the arrangement and Overton’s vocals have an almost spoken quality. There’s more of an atmosphere building here than on the previous numbers.  This disappears once the band opts for a more upfront approach; the vocals settle back into their not especially tuneful traits and the band cruise through what’s best described as a workmanlike arrangement.  The featured guitar solo is ugly – like a Grateful Dead freakout without any of the talent – and just as you think things are about to build to a more interesting climax, its back to the blues stylings featured in the intro.  All in all, it’s nothing too special.

‘After The Show’ has a twelve bar blues at its core and features a dominant harmonica.  Most musicians can manage this kind of straight up boogie reasonably enough, and while that’s also true of The Tin Can .44s, somehow they still fail to create anything listenable.  Overton’s vocal has the charm of someone’s dad taking over the mic to sing karaoke at a wedding and the rest of the band muddle through in a very pedestrian manner.  ‘Now They Know’ begins life as a lounge arrangement, with the guitars noodling almost aimlessly, while Joe Strouzer’s blues harp accompanies with a whimper, lacking any sense of style or purpose.  A slightly off-key vocal weaves in an out of what could only be described as a horrible, shoddy mess.  Things improve for the second half, once The Tin Can .44s settle into a more standard blues groove.  Aaron Berk’s drum sound could do with far more of a punch, but at least here he manages to keep time here as the band rumble through the next couple of minutes.  Listening to The Tin Can .44s hammer out their blues rhythms, it’s soon obvious that bassist Juju Adams is the only member of the band carrying any consistent talent.  Although relatively low in the mix, his playing is solid.  He really ought to think about taking his talents elsewhere…

‘The Speak Easy EP’ sounds like four guys who just aren’t musically ready for a recording career of any kind; it’s the work of a band which sounds like they’re performing at an open mic night.  Most of their arrangements are – quite frankly – an absolute mess. featuring precious little which is memorable even in the short term. Their music lacks the bite required to pull in the garage rock crowd, yet their wannabe bluesy leanings just aren’t sharp enough to be of any interest to any actual blues fans…and in terms of capturing a bigger market, that’s not so good.


July 2011