17 May 2015

S - Z: Ron Sayer. Todd Sharpville. Dale Storr. Sean Taylor. Russ Tippins. Guy Tortora. Richard Townend. Wily Bo Walker. Wooden Horse. Lucy Zirins.

Ron Sayer - Hebden Bridge Blues Festival 2013

Some time ago, The Hat described Ron Sayer as one of the blues world's worst kept secrets. Even though he is well known to fans across the country, The Hat insists that he should be a household name both nationally and internationally. Here is a song-writer, a quite sublime and gifted blues man, a smooth operator who is able to throw some jazzy rock blues - even swing - into his set alongside crowd-pleasing modern blues - seemingly without effort - and he gave us the lot in this feelgood main stage performance. Intelligent and articulate music. With the talented Charlotte Joyce adding vocals and keyboard this was a tight smart set and it is no wonder that Ron is nominated in no less than four categories in this year's British Blues Awards.
* * * * * 

Todd Sharpville - Hebden Bridge Blues Festival 2012

The Festival headliner Todd Sharpville delivered everything expected and more. Playing with a group of absolutely top flight musicians in the shape of Paddy Milner on keyboards, Pete Clark bass and the astonishing Mark Teixeira on drums, he held the stage and our gaze for every second. He has great craic with the audience and you can see the rapport with his band players. There were some wonderful moments.When they played 'Everything will be alright', Paddy felt obliged to top and tail it with an outrageous dsplay of keyboard virtuosity; and Todd's version of 'I need you so bad' was taken from slow poignant brilliance to a no holds barred rip-em-up - and oh, what a delight to see a drummer get the opportunity to take a proper break and show his mind-blowing spectacular skills. Gifted musicians having fun is a no-brainer as a spectacle. How could you not enjoy Paddy doing some ostentatious double handed keyboard slapping on 'Red Headed Woman' and almost turn it into a square dance! And don't forget Genghis, Todd's dog, who is clearly a HebdenFest Groupie. Also The Hat is anxious to say how nice it was to hear Todd, who has a great line in stage chat, take time to thank the festival organisers and pay tribute to the vibe they have created in such a short time. Brilliant Band, Nice People. Hot Night. Wang Dang Doodle....
* * * * *

Dale Storr: Live  at the 2014 Hebden Bridge Piano Festival

In accord with The Hat's almost one-man campaign to get more
exposure for the great contemporary blues and jazz keyboard players, I recently took myself off to Hebden Bridge to listen to Dale Storr playing at the 2014 Hebden Bridge Piano Festival. Unlike the main stages where Debussy, Bach, Chopin and Mozart held sway, there was none of your Reverential Hush here – as Dale was playing in The Cafeteria to a wide and diverse audience of polite tea-drinkers ranging in age from eight to eighty. I last saw him playing to a standing-room only crowd of exhuberant fans. This was a rather different challenge!
A squillion years ago, The Hat used to play in pubs in Chelsea and knows well the train-crash that awaits you if you misjudge your audience. Although the piano was not best placed in the Cafeteria and many were reluctant to cross the shiny noisy floor for a better view, Dale nevertheless offered up a short master class, not only in stunning piano skill but in getting your agenda absolutely spot on. There was no microphone, no singing and not a lot of foot stomp but from his opening very cool 'Dance a la Negres' Dale took his unusual audience with him on a classic New Orleans piano journey.
In a set based largely on his live CD – 'New Orleans Piano' – he left it till a few numbers in to open up his kaleidoscopic swing version of 'Sunny Side of The Street' that had the teacups swinging with him. Once in his grip, he didn't let them go and when he finally broke out the boogie with the self-penned 'Radiatin' The 88s' it was a delight to watch young and old responding visibly to his blinding left hand. There was also a fun relaxed 'musos' moment at this point when Dale invited Daniel Smith – a terrific boogie pianist in his own right – to come and join him briefly at the top of the piano.
No such performance would be complete without an appearance from Fats Domino and after a stonking version of 'Blueberry Hill', Dale finished his set with a long and beautiful Booker style arrangement of 'A Taste of Honey'. It was a delight to see both young and old politely queuing to shake his hand and thank him for a wondrous entertaining hour or so. A real professional musician sharing his talent – and it would be nice to think that this could be the spark that will get some of those young people up and running and out there playing and singing, like Dr John, 'Oh, Such A Night, Such A Night'...
* * * * * 
Sean Taylor: The Only Good Addiction Is Love

I confess. These are not the usual words that The Hat would normally find himself writing into an album review but here goes...
This is one of the most beautiful, delicate and aesthetically interesting albums I have listened to for a long time. Sean Taylor, with 'The Only Good Addiction is Love' has produced a wonderful and carefully crafted commentary on the vicissitudes of love, full of subtle lyrics, literary and musical references and arrangements that combine to produce an extraordinarily atmospheric and romantic album. This is one that any lover, ex-lover, even would-be lover would want to have on their shelves.

Delightfully, he calls on 'poets and dreamers' to join him in his blues tinged reverie, variously calling up, amongst others, the spirits of Keruac, Lorca, Rothko, Klee and finally, the poet Yeats as he (taking you with him) tries to come to grips with his 'addiction'.You are taken from the title track, where we know we all stand up together and admit to our addiction, through the various nuances of love – red roses, fear, the stars, midnight kisses, the feel of flesh, the togetherness of mind - even pausing to add a beautiful sentimental spanish instrumental - to the final 'Rouges et Noir' where the tough truth of the extremes of love are laid bare – pain and passion, the Red and the Black. 'Flesh and Mind' will break your heart and its track neighbour 'We Can Burn' will have you straight back into the mists of previous love. There is not a weak track here. His voice and powerful lyricism remind you of that smart troubadour skill that the early John Martyn had of putting his finger on a nerve and not letting go or the anxious Jeff Buckley looking for answers.

Sean's guitar work is complimentary to everything, sometimes sparse, always skillful - and bringing into play to huge effect, some masterly support musicians, the album, even without the evocative word poetry, would be a terrific listen. However, the regular use of a wistful and weeping violin and some over-tracked electric and acoustic guitar, occasional keys, bass, drums and backing vocals meld together like a Lovers Banquet Of Sound. The arrangements with these high class musicians leave Sean's gentle romantic voice all the room he needs to whisper in our ear. Absolutely Magical.

If you ever hankered after writing a love poem and couldn't do it, don't worry, this will get a lot of air play...But...better still...go out and bulk-buy this superb album and then send a copy to everyone still in your heart and all those that you would like to remember you kindly. Tell them The Hat made you do it.  Released this week.

Russ Tippins - Hebden Bridge Blues Festival 2013

Sprint upstairs to see Russ Tippins (Ok, The Hat doesn't do sprinting – more
an elegant shuffle) playing to a full rocking room. I've said before that Russ should be playing big, if not huge venues (will some-one please book him!) as his playing totally commands the place and fills it from floor to ceiling. An extraordinary talented guitarist who seems to fit more notes into a number than most people can get into a gig and who makes well-bred ladies perspire, he can still confound his audiences by throwing in a perfectly pitched slow number, sung with grace and full of those beautiful spaces that only good musicians can leave. With John Dawson on bass and Ian Halford on drums, he is blessed with one of tightest and most talented back lines in the business and together they blew Hebden away – again – they did it last year. To add even more thrill to the set, Russ invited the major talented Jenna Hooson up on stage to sing a two-hundred-mile-an-hour-blow-your-sox-off 'Mama Don't Allow'..(go check on Youtube). Quite rightly, his two CDs 'Elecktrickery' and 'Combustion' are making waves and the buzzing, stomping room at Hebden clearly showed that this ain't gonna stop.

Russ Tippins - Hebden Bridge Blues Festival 2012

A trip across the road to the Main Stage encountered Russ Tippins. Have you ever had one of those moments when you walk into a gig and the guitar stops you in your tracks and you have to stand still until the number finishes? This happened to The Hat on encountering Russ in the middle of playing a slow blues. The spirits of Page and Moore soared round the place as his guitar gently wept and you knew you were in the presence of something  very special. His back line of bass and drums was, in the view of the Hat one of the tightest and best at the Festival and when he broke into the ripping fast 'Electrickery' this trio simply flew as one. This is a guy who can give you an acoustic Classical Gas in a small bar and yet plays such dynamic guitar he can, and in my view, should be filling major venues. Major, major man.

* * * * *
Guy Tortora: Bluesman in a Boneyard

Guy Tortora is a wordsmith in the grand tradition of song-writers. Not only are his songs fluent and melodic but without fail, he always has something interesting to say.  He has produced a steady flow of great albums over the years and the last two 'Living on Credit' and 'Prodigal Songs' both contain tracks that deserve to become classics - 'Cotton was King' and 'Willie Dixon'.

With his masterly new album '  Bluesman in a Boneyard' he takes the process a step farther and has produced a collection of his best work yet.  Listening to him being interviewed recently on the Blues and Soul Show, it is pretty clear he is in no hurry to be put in the blues box and refers to this album as being everything from folk, country, blues roots and spiritual as well as that current catch-all term 'americana'.  As he says, the one thing it isn't, is blues-rock - so if you want over-long guitar solos, you will listen in vain. Indeed, one of the reasons I just Love Love Love this album is the way it embraces all of the above with authentic joy, wit and skill.

As if to make the point, the opening track 'The Damage Was Done' is a spirited piece of Dylanesque story-telling set against what can only be described as a piano blues-tango complete with evocative harp work...and to underline his huge range, it closes with the relish of some down home good time cajun zydeco in 'Les Bon Temps'. There are seven original pieces and two covers.

There is plenty of wit on display here too, both acid and ironic, notably the 'Ballad of The Boll Weevil' which tears into the vision of a 'human weevil' and the quite brilliant 'One Way Ticket' which takes sardonic rhyme to new heights (a Cadillac that just comes back!) as a lover struggles with the contradictions of promises made and broken in the same breath.

One of the delights of  this album is the way Guy has managed to wrap up each piece in a distinctive musical arrangement. We are taken from some New Orleans barrel house, via 'Brownsville' - full of delicate pick and slide, through the bluesy and Hammond supported spiritual crossroads journey of 'Boneyard' to the final good time Tennessee dance number. The application of harp, piano, organ,  guitars, trumpets and support brass is absolutely spot on with never a note wasted or overblown.

This is a hugely entertaining and polished album by an artist who knows exactly what he is about and who just gets better and better. The album is out this week - but it is about time we saw a lot more of him live on the British blues circuit.
* * * * * 

Richard Townend/The Mighty Bosscats: Bossman

Richard Townend is one of the most original and prolific singer-songwriters on the UK blues music scene and over many years he has produced a regular flow of highly entertaining and smart albums both with his posse of musician friends in the band The Mighty Bosscats and as a solo artist. The new soon to be released album 'Bossman', a chunky affair of fourteen tracks, certainly adds to his reputation as a consistently accomplished and intriguing wordsmith and musician.

For this album Richard has put together a collection of absorbing proper songs about our lives, picking up on moments, ideas and events that touch us all, missed opportunities, places we feel comfortable (we all have one), anger at betrayed love, sad departures and there is even a pop at the skin deep fakery that has infected us from the likes of Kanye West and celebrity culture in 'Who Are You'.

Without knowing, you can imagine that, as a song-writer, he is writing from experience. There is a deal of reflection and introspection here to which we can all relate...for example, it is difficult not to be moved by the beautiful track 'Every day' which sprang from the death of his father and contains the killer hook 'there's not a time when I don't think of you' and I urge you to go and check out the video of his song 'You are You and I am I' which is a brilliant piece about slipping apart. But hey, Richard is a cheerful guy and it's not all about sad screw-ups.! His tracks 'Molly's Dive', 'Time' and the title track 'Ask The Bossman' are all up-beat pieces about looking inside and seeing the good stuff, with 'Time' in particular bringing some solid beat Johnny Cash type urgency and some smart guitar. Also, if you liked the way Kris Kristofferson managed to get some dry humour out of some difficult situations, you will love what Richard does lyrically to a good few of these tracks.

Apart from a bit of vocal double tracking, there are none of the familiar acoustic solo loops on here and once again he has alongside him - adding colour and breadth to his husky mellow voice – the crew of The Mighty Bosscats who provide just the perfect complement to every well arranged track.

This is a first-rate song-writer's album. It overflows with telling lyrics and ideas. It is an album to Listen To. When you have done that, Listen To It Again. 

 * * * * * 

Richard Townend/The Might Bosscats: The 7 Deadly Sins

It's not often you find a songwriter turning to the Bible or Dante for material but this is what the talented song-writer Richard Townend has bravely done with his latest album 'The 7 Deadly Sins'. I say bravely - not because the catholics have been arguing about them ever since Dante came up with his Purgatory to Paradise mountain- but because it is one of those subjects on which everyone has an opinion. We can all cheerfully own up to a sin or a vice – or, if necessary, innocently profess to not encountering any of them.

The album rather usefully comes with a printed version of the lyrics and some background as to the writer's journey to understanding the sins. This is a sensible move by Richard as he has taken on a complex subject, given it his beady song-writer's eye and produced a fascinating sidelong alternative take on all of them. The lyrics are crucial, smart and dead centre. If you look carefully - you can have a quite small sin, which, for all I know, is probably not as bad.
Greed, for example, is an interesting take on the 'blood diamond' trade, whereas Envy homes in on a prisoner serving time, with a lyric full of bitter sentiment about how destructive this sin can be.
For me a stand out track is his cynical piece on Lust which not only characterises this sin as maybe 'Fifteeen Minutes' of passion but is the best example of the fine musicianship that runs throughout the album. Here Greg Camburn is given full licence to let his sax roam free beautifully in an arrangement that takes its time and winds its way around the telling lyrics with Richard's guitar setting the tone. All the tracks demonstrate thoughtful arrangements allowing everyone a piece of the action.
I am sure that somewhere I have heard Richard acknowledge Herbie Hancock's influence and certainly there is a cool jazz vibe present all through this album making it readily accessible to a far wider audience than is usual for Richard or his band The Mighty Bosscats.

Without doubt, the album works at two levels. He has produced an articulate and interesting snapshot of those seven sins that pursue us wherever we go and then again this is a fine production that brings to our speakers, superb musicianship, a delightful cool mix of blues, swing and jazz influences all embraced by Richard's mellow singing voice.

Richard Townend - Hebden Bridge Blues festival 2013

Opening the door to the Acoustic stage found The Hat in the company of Richard Townend - and what great company he is. Affable and cheerful, Richard seems to chat away to himself whilst cleverly including the attentive audience in his sometime dry assessment of what he is up to....but he is actually up to a totally absorbing set. Using a mix of guitars and some beautifully executed loops, double loops, backing lines and over-lays, he conjures a magical kaleidoscopic mix of rhythms,
riffs and top lines which moved smoothly from self-penned blues numbers to complex jazz influenced instrumentals – or as he put it on one occasion “I have to put some chords in this bit”...and on another as he changed guitars mid track “and now I need a bass to play with”. Neither these delightful throw-aways or the technical gizmos do anything to disguise his undoubted musical skill and dexterity or his relaxed mellow singing which flowed through the room and warmly embraced an appreciative audience in a packed house. Although with his band The Mighty Boss Cats, as a soloist Richard was off the scene for a while and is now coming back with a vengeance. A Blues Award nomination and this set shows that there is clearly a lot more good stuff waiting for us...

* * * * *
Wily Bo Walker and E.D.Brayshaw - Stone Cold Beautiful

It is unusual for The Hat to review two albums by the same artist so close together but 'Stone Cold Beautiful' has proved irresistible. This album is already getting a lot of preview air play and it is easy to see why. Just six tracks, all good, with the first and last, powerful and full-on, book-ending four beautiful moody blues noir pieces that are so laid-back they are almost horizontal. Any of these central tracks could be quite comfortably slotted into a gritty Louis Malle movie and improve it.

The opening track 'Storm Warning' kicks in with a cracking six minute smack in the face with both Wily's husky vocal and his collaborator E.D Brayshaw's guitar buzzing at full gallop with all the valves open. Floating above all this are some melodic backing vocals from Karena K beautifully complementing a terrific high-flying stramash.

A big change of gear for the Loudon Wainwright cover 'Motel Blues' and the lyrics of this, together with the mellow 'Loan Me A Dime' which follows it, seem purpose-built for Wily's soulful voice and E.D's beautifully paced, gentle, easy and mean guitar. These are smart track choices, as is the self-penned 'I Want to Know' which is Wily the story-teller looking mournfully for answers to the familiar blues elusive love problems. This track is also peppered with some terrific sneaky keyboard fills which give it both width and a cool Southern back bar flavour.

I suspect that 'September Red' is a track that will be around for a long time. It is a lengthy piece (7.30) that oozes confidence and gives everyone breathing space to strut their stuff. A beautifully constructed track that works at every level and I do hope that the radio stations can find room for it despite its length. The final number 'Killers on The Run' has E.D Brayshaw's ripping, raw guitar front and centre, taking the album to a riotous grand finale with full vocal backing and seeing us out with some urgent driving keyboard and frenetic percussive support. Leaves you breathless...

This is a big EP at nearly 40minutes and I gather they have plans for a Volume 2, funds permitting. I hope they go ahead. The Hat noticed that the album was final mastered at Abbey Road and certainly the arrangements and the production standards are hugely professional, giving both vocals and instruments a good balanced input. However, that is just a bonus to what is a fine album stuffed with style and talent. (Released 22nd May and available for pre-order)

Wily Bo Walker and Karena K: A Long Way From Heaven

If you are one of those people who like their blues music in a properly labelled box, then this new album from Wily Bo Walker may confuse you. However, if you like to venture off-piste and mix your blues with some stompin' knock-em-down swing and a little relaxed mood indigo then this is your bag.

Wily's voice and noir lyrics are all over these six tracks like a young liquor soaked off-spring of L.R.Phoenix and Tom Waits. It kicks off with 'A Long Way To Heaven' where the growling lyrics are supported by a delicate piano ripple, strings and a cool female vocal backing. The mood changes immediately with 'Love Will Find A Way' which is a classic dance 'doo-wah' aided and abetted by harmonies with the mellow voice of Karena K and a clear nod to the Bobby McFerrin acapella classic 'Don't Worry, Be Happy'. 'Angels In The Night' by contrast, is a noir piece, with sad sax and guitar which has 'film score' written all over it.
These guys really know how to swing and 'Rendez-Vous des Cheminots' has the kitchen sink thrown at it.. This is great big band stuff with rocking horns that is absolutely busting out all over with its call to get on the dance floor and throw some shapes. The EP closes with them all back in relaxed mood with an original number penned by Karena K, 'Light At The End Of The Tunnel' which fades us out with a beautiful bluesy sad guitar.

This may not be your take on The Blues but be in no doubt, Wily Bo Walker has Blues Form. He has in the past been nominated for The British Blues Awards and his previous album with the Danny Flam Big Band was considered for a Grammy nomination. This is a polished, smart and sassy album. He's back in London in March. Take your dancin' shoes!
* * * *  

Wooden Horse - Hebden Bridge Blues Festival 2013

Staying around for more acoustic, The Hat was totally captured by the duo that is Wooden Horse. Previously pretty low profile, these two fine musicians benefited from a slot on a recent Classic Blues cover disc and the serendipic release of a sublime CD and it is to be hoped that this appearance at the festival will get them further down the road. They made of lot of friends and fans.
Everything about the music of this pair is atmospheric. They are able to conjure sweet emotion out of thin air with the most spectacular of harmonies and carefully balanced thoughtful guitar playing. Crosby Stills and Nash came readily to mind but there is nothing imitative about Wooden Horse - their self-penned material, Robert Johnson numbers and a stomping 'Sweet Caroline' all had a distinctive touch. (Check out 'Simple Twist of Fate' on their CD.)There were points during this set where you could have heard a pin drop, such was the grip they took of their packed audience. An excellent set from a blues award nominated couple of guys from whom I guarantee we will hear a lot more.

* * * * * 

Lucy Zirins - Hebden Bridge Blues Festival 2013

If there was ever a need for a new edition of the “How to Make Friends” or “How to Work A Room” manuals then The Hat would go straight to the lovely Lucy Zirins. Within moments of picking up her guitar, her worshipping audience were entranced by the 'wee lass who likes to make out she doesn't
really know what's going on'...but on the other hand...she might just be so smart that 'she's got you exactly where she wanted you and you didn't even notice'. 

A Festival favourite, Lucy played a beautiful set where she ran through some well known numbers and a good few from her stunning new CD 'Chasing Clocks'. When The Hat reviewed Lucy at last year's festival, he came over all poetic and weepy about her song-writing and singing skills and that special magic she employs to make you laugh, smile, cry and beam with a warm glow. Nothing has changed there then. Lucy takes you into her world, where she has written about personal crises, happiness and fun and you dreamily go along with her as she sings beautifully to you, yes you, personally....and then....and then...just to let you know who is in charge here, she gets the whole audience barking like dogs and howling like wolves....what a star! Hebden loved her – again.

Lucy Zirins - Hebden Bridge Blues Festival 2012

Lucy Zirins giggled and charmed her way into our hearts as usual but her wonderful 'I am just a wee lass from Burnley' schtick didn't divert us from knowing that this is a hugely talented singer-song writer who has the power to rip our hearts out with a sad song and put a smile straight back with a cheery and wistful tale of when things are ok. Listening to Lucy is like sampling a fine wine after drinking the regular stuff. Beautiful songs, beautifully sung. A small glass of 'Tearing Me Down' is something special. Gotta go get some more but be careful, you may just have to get more hankies...

* * * * *