22 Aug 2019

Tone Tanner: Duels

If you have been a blues 'fan' for more than five minutes, you will by now have discovered that the blues 'Broad Church' really is the Gift that just goes on Giving. Like most of the creative arts, you continually find corners, strange stuff, mad stuff, original stuff which grabs you by the lapel and demands your attention while you hear its story.
You will also find that often it is those very artists - who are independent spirits, not crazy about the rules and conventions, who are the ones who catch your eye and your ear. They are invariably masters of their art, be it poetry, drama, painting or music, but their priorities are slightly different. They all tend to push boundaries and break rules because, as musicians in particular, they are constantly searching and refining ways in which they can express to an audience the road they are travelling.

Tone Tanner is one of those musicians. His new album 'Duels' is a modern blues-based album put together by a fine creative independent musician who, by the way, as well as supplying vocals and guitar also plays bass, keyboards and percussion. He also builds his own guitars - of course.
It comes as no surprise to find that this well travelled artist brings along with his solid blues guitar base, influences bouncing between Prog, Trance and Frank Zappa - with respectful nods to Hendrix, Rory and Son House on the way. You will find that Our Tone doesn't do Easy Listening. He plays as much as he can on the live circuit and his set lists can often contain both personal takes on covers as well as complex original works with loops and delays, slide resonator and acoustic. 
Through the thirteen tracks on this album his substantial technique lets him play across half a dozen styles which fit the engaging and wry lyrics hand in glove. The lyrics range from smart political (Kill the Party), smart comic (Sort Ur Life Out) and there is terrific funky piece (Read to The End) which has some superb vocals from Rachael Medhurst alongside some very tight guitar work.

Tone Tanner's last album 'Shot' was a well received 'concept style' single story piece. What is so attractive about 'Duels' is that this time he has brought his huge repertoire to the table on one album, a smorgasbord of individual and interesting styles and skills. This is a listening record. Buy it, sit down and listen to an original talent.
Tone Tanner is playing at the Mini-Muni at the massive Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival this week-end. Put his gig on your 'must watch' list! 

21 Jun 2019

Half Deaf Clatch: Beelzebub double album

In the yet-to-be written "Handy Hat Book of How To Do Nearly Everything Brilliantly" under the chapter 'Most Reviewers Are Rubbish', there will be a piece called 'Brilliant Weird Stuff'. This is where I will look at the work of Bjork and Ivor Cutler and analyse the Beatles backwards bit at the end of 'A Day in The Life'. I am now convinced that Half Deaf Clatch and his writer collaborator Richard Wall will be very comfortable in such curious company.  Some time ago, I wrote a (thankfully) much-shared piece about my intense dislike of that annoying habit of music lovers of shoving stuff - (for some reason this is a particular fad of the blues community) - into a 'Genre Box'. Once again, I am pleased to confirm that Clatch would not fit into any box, however hard you tried.

I have been listening to and writing about Half Deaf Clatch for a good few years now and after hearing this totally absorbing recently released double album, I fear, that like a character from a weird Flan O'Brien or William Burroughs novel, parts of Clatch may well be taking over parts of my frail body and making me look at the world through some very odd distort glasses. I should probably issue a health warning at this point for those people who are heavy-duty Clatch Addicts, Too much Half Deaf Clatch will seep into your brain bits in a very unsettling way and you will begin to believe that his concept creations are actually all quite normal.

As with his fine album "The Life and Death of A.J Rail", Clatch has again liberally applied his huge talent as a story-teller. Whereas Rail was a chancer and a dreamer riding his luck, Beelzebub Jones doesn't have any regard for luck. Clatch's lyric-writing and tale-spinning throw a web over the listener. He writes lyrics that you have to listen to - no verse-hopping, no flicking forward. You pay your money and you are here for the full ride, astride his music, headlong to the last note. The whole Clatch musical repertoire is employed - including banjos, resonators and even a snake appears, courtesy of a beautiful Ry Cooderish slide interval....and oh yes, of course....there are those compulsory abandoned desert chapel bells...

These two discs, Beelzebub Jones: A Good Day To Be A Bad Guy and Beelzebub Jones: The Forsaken Territory are the first two of an album trilogy that takes us into the evolving dystopian and disturbing half-world of the central character. Importantly, we are aided on our journey by two fluently written and crafted story-books by author (Fat Man Blues) Richard Wall. Together, they have quite literally created a dark and deadly Wild West where even the bad guy's horse gets up off the ground - despite the serious handicap of already being shot very dead!

The powerful playing from Clatch is both evocative of the wasted landscape and intensely atmospheric for the story development. It is the perfect sound to accompany us into the wilderness the authors have created. Their concept is about a very edgy, cynical, driven and soon-to-be dead cowboy on A Mission. He is definitely not the guy in the White Hat. Revenge is his only friend.
Despite his occasional flash of black humour, there is no question that Beelzebub is a Seriously Bad Bastard with few redeeming features....he loves his horse and at one point he tells us he is looking for Redemption. However, by the end of the second album we are still guessing as to whether retribution or salvation are waiting round the corner.  Clatch helpfully even provides us with a map of his dark forsaken territory but nevertheless, sometimes we could well be in the middle of a bloody Tarantino movie with Ennio Morriconi in full spaghetti western mode on stand-by just down the road. Working for the Devil ain't what it's cracked up to be.

This is a fascinating and well constructed piece of work where fine musicianship and writing combine to give you what is actually a terrific piece of musical theatre. It is high drama. Last year, the guys at the prestigious Great British
 Rhythm and Blues Festival rather shrewdly gave Half Deaf Clatch the space to perform with his very personal one-man style. He played to a packed and hugely appreciative audience. I do hope that when the third of this trilogy is released there will be someone out there prepared to give Beelzebub the chance to run riot in the future. He well deserves some theatre space.
Meanwhile, get your boots on and get hold of this beautifully packaged double chunk of musical story-telling. Jonesy's day begins with Nicotine, Liquor and Blasphemy and doesn't get much better, Do scuttle down to the Crossroads and ride with a really interesting Devil.

(To find out how to get your music listened to, check the 'How I Review' tab above.)

8 Apr 2019

Kyla Brox: Pain and Glory

The last line of the last listed song on this monster album is “If you want a winner, I'm your girl”. How appropriate for someone who has just scooped up the award for winning the prestigious European Blues Challenge. This album just confirms that the international judges, in their wisdom, got that dead right.

Let me paint you a picture. Imagine if you will, one of those fabulous Big Band clips, where the stage is packed with the best musicians. As they swing from behind their music stands, those all-white spotlights syncopate around them, only stopping to hover as each takes a fizzing stand-up solo....a trumpet here, a valve trombone or a sax there, a killer harp, a rocking guitar, a huge Hammond or piano. Everyone gets a go. Then the bouncing spots gather together and stop centre stage and we see Kyla Brox in her Fabulous Frock sashaying into that pool of light. In two seconds flat, she gets that swinging, zinging audience dancing crazy. Offstage, you can just see The Duke and The Count fighting for her Agent's telephone number.

Ok? You are now sitting comfortably in the middle of Kyla's new album “Pain and Glory”.

It is a while since her last album – a beautiful personal commentary about a woman dealing with the blues - but, on this one, Kyla takes us to a totally different place, bursting with soul, jazz, a touch of torch and some spikey funk. Clearly, a huge amount of work has gone into the arrangements on every track. It shows. She has brought in a brass section, given a nod to Stevie Wonder with an artful clavinet contribution, often moves up-tempo and makes room for some inspired individual solo breaks which shake the mix - from classic harp to explosive Hammond. The usual pin sharp lyrics (mostly by Kyla and her two superb faithful guitarmen Danny Blomeley and Paul Farr), whilst still dealing with some poignant hurt, manage to throw a cheerier, more defiant and even occasionally sardonic take on some both tough and fun memories.

This album is yet another a example of how this 'bluesman's daughter' can, with a fine ensemble of top class musicians alongside her, deliver fabulous music in any shape, form or genre. For heavens sake, who else would throw a wonderful voice call and response (In the Morning) into a belting sax, full brass and Hammond number about adultery? Or manage to recall a moment of temptation (Devil's Bridge) over the top of a mix of some swirling keys behind a Santana inspired guitar break? Many of the tracks on here find Kyla in a positive mood - 'shake the worry out of my head' (Top of The World), 'I know I'll see you another day' (Sensitive Soul)...but for those who like their Kyla Brox puzzling wistfully about the cards she has been dealt, then you too will be very happy.

This is a big, beautiful, utterly professional, classy album. The joyful and smart 'Bluesman's Child' and the fine cover of 'Hallelujah' will undoubtedly grab some of the headlines but all sixteen songs are overflowing with vocal talent and lovingly crafted arrangements. I have only referenced a few of the tracks here but have no doubt, this is a collection to be proud of. “If you want a winner, she's your girl!”. Go Get.

(To find out how to get your music listened to, check the 'How I Review' tab above.)