The extended periods of pandemic lockdown in the UK took their toll on most bands, but for Kent-based blues rockers Big River, that period of instability between 2020 and ’21 was particularly tough. Despite releasing their debut album ‘Redemption’ in 2019, they were still heavily reliant on regular live work to keep up momentum. Without access to venues and audiences, they were in danger of losing traction. The band suffered a further knock back in March 2021 when it was announced that long-serving vocalist Adam Bartholomew would be leaving the fold. For many, his big presence and big waistcoats had been a vital part of the Big River live experience.
Right from her big US breakthrough in 2011, Samantha Fish has been one of those artists who could often be relied upon for a quality product. Carving out a niche in dirty blues rock on her earlier albums, the guitarist/vocalist often sounds more interesting than the plagiaristic Joe Bonamassa and more charismatic than many blues performers. Moving forward, she branched out into R&B (2017’s ‘Chills & Fever’ and 2019’s ‘Kill Or Be Kind’) and even a bit of country (2017’s Belle of The West’). At her very best, her work sounds like a homage to the bluesiest side Bonnie Raitt colliding with early ZZ Top – a fiery concoction that allows for some brilliantly impassioned vocals and hefty slide playing. Even at her worst, occasionally phoning in blues rockers with more balls than brains, her sense of presence and a strong vocal style is enough to maintain interest.
This live release from 2022 will certainly please fans who’ve not been quite so enamoured with Sam’s softer side and musical curveballs in the few years leading up to its release. A seven song set recorded without an audience, the prosaically titled ‘Live’ presents seven tracks from ‘Kill Or Be Kind’ in a very natural state. The lack of overdubs allows the material to breathe, and the one-take recordings more than show Fish’s vocal talents at their absolute sharpest.
Keyboard player Peter Bardens first achieved wide recognition as a member of UK prog band Camel, but prior to their formation in 1971, he had already taken major steps towards a full time musical career. He was first a member of Peter B’s Looners – a blues and soul band that eventually became Shotgun Express and featured future megastars Mick Fleetwood and Rod Stewart – before joining Irish rhythm and blues band Them in time to record their debut album. By 1969, he’d become a member of the short-lived band Village, which also featured future Sutherland Brothers & Quiver bassist Bruce Thomas, later to achieve genuine stardom as a member of Elvis Costello’s Attractions. For anyone with a keen interest in the history of British R&B, these musical ventures would be enough alone to secure Bardens a place within a pantheon of cult musical figures.
When a band places a bottle of Makers Mark rather prominently in one of their earliest promotional photos and advertises themselves as a blues band, chances are, you’ll get no big surprises when it comes to the kind of sounds they make. For Dr Chris & The Redeemers, the big twist comes from their location. This band comes well versed in the Texas blues, but deliver their rootsy grooves and Stevie Ray Vaughan inflected riffs straight from the heart of Adelaide. In terms of all round authenticity, though, they hit everything absolutely square on. Their debut album is a great release which doesn’t so much present itself like the sound of 2021, but a brilliant throwback to 1990.
Over the couple of years before the global pandemic forced everything into lockdown, UK blues rock band Big River found their profile steadily rising. The release of their debut album ‘Redemption’ showcased a band who were much better than their early singles – all huge riffs and overtly macho lyrics suggested – when mixing their grittier elements with a few more AOR-centric rockers and a couple of soulful rock ballads.