5 Oct 2016

John Verity: My Religion

When I recently told a colleague that I had been listening to John Verity's new album, his eyes lit up – but instead of, as some of you might predict, banging on about Argent and Phoenix, he raved about seeing John recently in Sheffield with the ubiquitous and talented Jamie Mallender and Liam James Gray alongside knocking them dead with classic blues riffs at the big sell-out HRH event.
So there you have it in one observation - a talented guitarist and singer, who with a back catalogue of nineteen albums, who has learned his chops on the road, in the studio, on a high profile stage with some arena tight-trousered big-haired rock and also in the pubs and clubs of the UK and around the world...is still standing alone up-front impressively casting a spell for a big and adoring audience.

His new album My Religion is an interesting cocktail of his history with tracks from hard blues-rock to slow sweet and very moving modern blues. Six of the tracks are self-penned and the remaining four come, from amongst others, Willie Dixon and JJ Cale, and this alone will give you a clue to his musical versatility. The opening title track is a straight forward piece of foot-tapping blues-rock where he sets out his 'religion' – nothing to lose, playing the blues – and he raises his guitar to his dreams, influences and heroes, BB, Chuck, Aretha, James Brown to name a few. Then comes a terrific self-penned lyrical and uncluttered blues piece 'Hope for the Best' where the blues sustain is given a run-out to complement some wry words about the life of a bluesman...he's still 'paying his dues and playing the blues', he just can't help it. Gary Moore would have been delighted to have penned and played this.
The next three tracks give you a strong sense of how mighty John's performances would have been in his power blues-rock days. Opening with some classic power chords 'The Devil's Music' gets the full multi-voice treatment and refrain and his cover of Don Nix's 'Going Down' has him opening up with his stadium voice and socking it to the stalls with some major rock guitar breaks. Forget waving your iPhone, go find your old cigarette lighter and shout out the refrain – this is vintage classic done to perfection. 
'Chain of Fools' has a really mellow vocalist Bianca Kinane taking centre stage against John's driving guitar backdrop to deliver an accomplished version of this familiar number and in JJ Cale's 'Cocaine', his distinctive voice is perfectly matched by his subtle guitar work for this moody old favourite blues number. 'Prove Your Love' is a self-penned comment on a relationship – 'too many questions, too many lies' and it gives him an opportunity to drop in some perfectly constructed guitar breaks which are best defined by their elegant simplicity. Willie Dixon's 'Spoonful' is an old friend greeted by John in style and given an edge by some smart help from Lee Vernon on harp.
'Farkhunda' is quite beautful. It was written by John to remember the woman who was lynched by a male mob in Kabul for something she didn't do. It is a most powerful lyric, both majestic in its sentiment and moving in its delivery. This could and probably should, stop you in your tracks. Nicely arranged with a totally appropriate female chorus backing.

In my opinion, John left the best to the last. Called 'Oh Why?' this is a broad sweeping piece that is reminiscent of some of the great moments of the Alan Parsons Project in that it takes a beautiful vocal and wraps it up with a multi-voice back drop and an almost orchestral arrangement. It could have been designed to make sure that you know that you are listening to not just an accomplished bluesman but also a major versatile talent.

I had a few concerns about the mixing of the album which I think was in-house. There are places where I felt that, notwithstanding the rock aspect of some numbers, the drums were often too far forward and also I am not a great fan of the fade-out end to a track, which happens rather too often on this album for my taste.
That apart, this is a fine crafted album. It tells you all about the range of the artist. It has some terrific rocking moments, it has some great lyrics, it delivers both traditional and modern blues with some subtlety and you are left under no allusion that you are in the hands of a proper musician and vocalist who would have no problem filling a stadium, packing out any club and bringing a festival audience to their feet. And of course, it seems that is exactly what he is still doing. Go buy.