If you only ever listen to chart radio (and maybe watch “Later” every week) then the chances are that you won’t have heard of Paul Rose. I can’t imagine that you would hear him on 6 Music either. You might just get lucky with Paul Jones on Radio 2 on the right night. Paul Rose, like many other incredibly gifted players here and in the US, is a blues/rock guitarist and, from a commercial point of view, that’s a really difficult place to be at the moment. There’s a small but knowledgeable and enthusiastic live circuit in the UK and mainland Europe, but almost no chance of mainstream radio exposure or shelf space in the few remaining record shops. You have to admire the commitment of the musicians who carry on playing that circuit and releasing albums; they aren’t doing it for the Ferrari.
Paul Rose has released 11 albums before “Double Life” and has built up a reputation as a powerful live performer whose style is basically blues/rock with elements of jazz and soul and maybe a hint of country; this album shows hints of all of those styles. What’s certain to me is that he’s a guitar virtuoso and that always brings its own little set of problems, which I’ll get to a bit later. The album is a set of blues/jazz standards performed almost live in the studio over 15 days by a group of incredibly talented and experienced musicians including Randy Jacobs (rhythm guitar), Richie Morales (drums), Kenny Hutchison (bass) and Tio Banks (keyboards). The singers featured are Terry Evans, Raffia Ford, Bernard Fowler and Sweet Pea Atkinson. Now I’m not doing all the work for you here, but Bernard Fowler has been the Stones backing vocalist for as long as I can remember and Sweet Pea Atkinson was the singer with my favourite incarnation of Was (Not Was).
So, how does it sound? It sounds great actually; the band work together well through the variety of styles on the album from the riff-based rockers “Cold Sweat” and “Honey Hush” which open the album through the mid-tempo, soulful “Let’s Straighten it Out” and “Drowning in a Sea of Love” (with a bit of a Robert Cray feel), the soul ballad “If Loving You is Wrong I Don’t Want to be Right” to the slow blues of “Stormy Monday” which closes the album. There are plenty of reference points and influences; “If Loving You is Wrong…” has a Stones feel with the intertwined guitar intro, while “Just a Little Bit” reminds me of the Albert Collins song “Conversation with Collins”.
Most of the songs here have been covered so many times that you shouldn’t expect to hear any truly novel interpretations, but that isn’t the aim of the album. It’s about a group of musicians playing songs they know and love, having fun and producing a record that’s great to listen to while showcasing the musicians at their best. And that leads us on to my only little criticism.
When you can play as well as Paul Rose (and I did use the word virtuoso earlier), it’s easy to miss the line between great playing in the service of the song and technique for the sake of technique. On “Stormy Monday”, the slow blues style lends itself to guitar fills at the end of each of vocal line, which works really well for most of the song but, for me, becomes a bit intrusive at times, particularly when Paul uses violinning. As always, this is completely subjective and I’m prepared to be shot down in flames if loads of you contact us and say I’m talking out of my elbow.
With that very minor exception, I think this is a very, very good album. The quality of the playing is exceptional throughout, the arrangements are superb and each of the singers is perfect for the songs they do. If you like blues, then you should have this album in your collection and even if you don’t, you should give it a listen. If you want to know what they band’s live show is like, keep an eye on MusicRiot next week when I’ll be reviewing their London Jazz Café gig.
“Double Life” is released on Mita Records on Monday May 29.
Last year I reviewed an album by Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter Dean Owens called “Cash Back” which was a tribute to the late Johnny Cash. The album was a set of covers of songs made famous by Johnny Cash apart from one, “The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin”, which is a Dean Owens original and was recently released as a single on Drumfire Records.
Although the song’s part of a great set of songs written by Johnny Cash and other songwriters, it doesn’t sound out of place at all. It’s based around one of the classic country themes of the prisoner serving his sentence (on death row this time) but with the added twist that he’s in San Quentin at the time of the legendary Johnny Cash performance. The song moves between verses telling the prisoner’s story and a chorus using details from the actual San Quentin performance, which adds historical authenticity to the story. The instrumentation and production give the song an authentic early-period Johnny Cash feel with Dean’s acoustic rhythm guitar and Will Kimbrough’s electric guitar and slightly distorted slide guitar; it could have been made at Sun Studios in the ‘50s.
This is a beautifully constructed song with a sparse but effective arrangement which highlights the quality of the song and the powerful, emotive vocal performance. It’s as good as any of the classic songs on the album and it’s the best single I’ve heard so far this year. Even if you’re not a fan of country, you really should give this a listen; you could even buy it.
Well, we’ve had a relatively quiet few weeks but that’s all about to change because Spring is here, the clocks have gone forward and we’re beginning to see some sunshine at last. The next few months are going to be pretty busy here at Riot Towers because we have loads of album reviews quite a few interesting gigs to see.
On the album front, over the next 4 weeks or so John Preston’s going to be telling us about the latest albums from Tomorrow’s World, Cassie, Charli XCX, Major Lazer, Little Boots and MS MR. I’ll be going to see blues guitarist Paul Rose, Rosco Levee and the Southern Slide and (at last) Anna-Christina’s solo show “Pretty Little Lady?”. I’ll be reviewing the Paul Rose album “Double Life” and whatever else pops through the letterbox or into the inbox.
Do you have a “Closet Classic” album? We’ve been running this as an occasional feature for a while now but we would love you to tell us about your guilty musical pleasures or even your favourite criminally under-rated album. Send it to us through the “Contact” section and we’ll publish it on the website; easy.
And we should have a few surprises coming up for you as well…
I don’t want to alarm you but, this summer, our gig venues (large and small) are about to be invaded by bands from New Jersey. There are 4 bands from the area touring our sceptred isle over the next few months, so here’s a quick rundown on who’s touring when.
Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, veterans of the 70s Stone Pony scene, and an incredible live experience, will be making a very brief visit at the beginning of May:
Thursday 02/05/13 City Hall, Salisbury
Friday 03/05/13 The Apex Arts Centre, Bury St Edmunds
Saturday 04/05/13 Burnley International Rock & Blues Festival
The Billy Walton Band (whose frontman Billy Walton has toured the UK a couple of times as guitar player with Southside Johnny) form the second wave of the onslaught when they arrive in mid-May. A night with BWB is guaranteed to be a great night of rock, blues and soul as Billy and sax player Richie Taz front up while William Paris and John D’Angelo keep the show rock solid. The dates are:
Thursday 16/05/13 Beaverwood Music Club, Chiselhurst, Kent
Friday 17/05/13 The Cluny, Ouseburn, Newcastle upon Tyne
Saturday 18/05/13 Calva Bar, University of Cumbria, Carlisle
Sunday 19/05/13 Kings Arms, St Mary Street, Bedford
Monday 20/05/13 Yardbirds, Church Street, Grimsby
Tuesday 21/05/13 The Fishpond, Matlock Bath
Wednesday 22/05/13 The Greyhound, Beeston, Nottingham
Thursday 23/05/13 The Cellars, Cromwell Road, Eastney
Friday 24/05/13 Blakeney Harbour Room, Blakeney, Norfolk
Saturday 25/05/13 Saint Bonaventure’s Club, Barkeley Road, Bristol
Sunday 26/05/13 Barnet FC (Underhill Stadium), Barnet
Monday 27/05/13 The Pavilion, Broadstairs, Kent
Thursday 30/05/13 The Flower Pot, Derby
Friday 31/05/13 Travellers Rest Club, Barrow-in-Furness
Saturday 01/06/13 Boom Boom Club/Sutton Utd. Football Club, Sutton, Surrey
In early June, the venue sizes move a few notches as the Bon Jovi “Because We Can” tour comes to the UK. Despite the controversy surrounding Richie Sambora’s sudden departure from the tour a couple of weeks ago, the show goes on. The additional musicians on the live shows include guitar player Bobby Bandiera, who spent a few years as Southside Johnny’s head honcho with the Jukes. The dates are:
Saturday 08/06/13 Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Sunday 09/06/13 Villa Park, Birmingham
Wednesday 12/06/13 City Stadium, Cardiff
Thursday 13/06/13 Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Sunday 16/06/13 Isle of Wight Festival
The final wave of the invasion overlaps slightly with the Bon Jovi tour when Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball tour rolls back into the UK in mid-June. It probably won’t come as a surprise to you now to hear that there’s an ex-member of the Asbury Jukes in the E Street Band. Ed “Kingfish” Manion (baritone sax) joined the horn section for the “Wrecking Ball” tour after many years of touring and recording with Southside Johnny. You can see The Boss here:
Saturday 15/06/13 Wembley Stadium, London
Tuesday 18/06/13 Hampden Park, Glasgow
Thursday 20/06/13 Ricoh Stadium, Coventry
Sunday 30/06/13 Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London
Just in case I need a sledgehammer to get this message home, some great music has come out of New Jersey (and I haven’t even got on to Patti Smith, Gary Bonds and The Four Seasons). Some bands have been incredibly successful over a long period of time and some haven’t; what the bands touring the UK this summer have in common is mutual respect and shared personnel. You can probably still get tickets for The Boss and Bon Jovi but, if they’re playing anywhere near you, try to get out and see Southside Johnny and Billy Walton; you won’t regret it.