A.C. Myles • Reconsider Me

Myles

A.C. Myles

Reconsider Me

2014

http://acmyles.com/

 

Concentrating on his solo career after some very respectable positions as sideman, including work with Fillmore Slim and a stint with John Németh, the talented Northern California-based singer and guitarist A.C. Myles is set to release his second solo album (after a live record, now out of print) very soon. I was privileged to hear an advance copy of Reconsider Me!

Produced by Kid Andersen at his Greaseland studio, Reconsider Me! spotlights Myles’s tough guitar playing and devastating singing. Its playlist is designed to touch on some of Myles’s influences and professional associates. Nearly half of the set consists of rockers. “Livin’ A Lie” owes much to Johnny Winter’s flamboyant 1970s recordings. Interesting sections and tempo shifts give the song a complex, hard edge that is softened, slightly, by an anthemic, radio-ready chorus. On the pumping boogie “Three Ways To Fall,” Myles evokes the sound of Winter’s Alligator period, positively nailing his slide guitar style and vocal mannerisms. The swaggering rocker “Call ‘em All Baby” is marked by hammering piano and sweet backing vocals over the chorus, with harmonized lead guitars emphasizing its unmistakable inspiration in Southern rock. Myles turns in a fierce and funky version of Rory Gallagher’s “Do You Read Me,” and transforms “Rock My Soul” into something a bit less country-fried than Elvin Bishop’s original, tipping a hat to the revival-tent enthusiasm of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends and including some very Clapton-esque guitar playing. Myles’s powerful voice is well suited to these rocking numbers, and–to judge by his enthusiastic screams–he has a blast singing them.

Blues are amply represented on Reconsider Me! Myles adapts Fillmore Slim’s superbad version of “Blue Monday” in an arrangement built on percolating drums and bass, organ and funky keyboards, and wah-wah guitar. His vocal is lovely and soulful, the guitar solo and chicken-picked fills perfectly conceived. Myles’s guitar absolutely stings on the gritty “Queen Bee,” with rubbery bends, wild double-stops, and killer instinct straight out of ‘60s-era Buddy Guy. “Death Bed Blues,” a slowish, midtempo straight blues with a relaxed shuffle feel, lands in the West Coast neighborhood of Lowell Fulson, groove-wise, with elegant guitar lines that could have come from Fenton Robinson, whose “You Don’t Know What Love Is” appears here, fleshed out with percussion and electric piano, with sublime guitar and a beautiful vocal. The entire album, in fact, is wonderfully sung, but the title track merits special attention. The country soul classic by Johnny Adams gets a simple, effective arrangement of rhythm section, organ, Floyd Cramer-style piano, and guitar, and while the Tan Canary is often cited as one of the best pure singers to work in blues and R&B, Myles’s performance yields nothing. Subtle shifts in timbre give his voice a country feeling; his phrasing is devastatingly expressive; and his glides into falsetto during the choruses are breathtaking. “Reconsider Me” is a show-stopper.

One number splits the difference between the rockers and the blues songs. “What Is Love” was originally done by The Loved Ones, a great and underappreciated Oakland-based band whose two albums on Hightone achieved a potent distillation of the rock-and-soul of the early Rolling Stones, the mid-‘60s R&B-on-the-cusp-of-funk of James Brown, blues attitude à la Junior Wells, and a faultless pop sensibility. Obviously Myles remembers them fondly, too, for he recreates their highly original sound flawlessly. Three cheers!

While it is likely that the purists won’t admit to liking everything here, they will surely find the blues-based material deeply enjoyable. It is also likely that those who perhaps came for the rock-inflected songs will stay to hear the soul and blues, and that non-purists will love all of Reconsider Me! That makes A.C. Myles’s new album just the sort of gateway drug I thoroughly endorse. Reconsider Me! promises to provide some of the most memorable moments of 2014.

 

TOM HYSLOP

 

The artist kindly provided the review copy of this CD.

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Tinsley Ellis • Midnight Blue

Tinsley Ellis Midnight Blue Front Cover Square

TINSLEY ELLIS

Midnight Blue

Heartfixer Music, 2014

http://tinsleyellis.com/

In 2013, Tinsley Ellis released Get It, an all-instrumental album, somewhat unexpectedly composed of straightforward blues and rootsy rock songs. Now he returns with something more in line with what we have come to expect from him over 15 or so records and about 30 years in the trenches. Midnight Blue makes an emphatic statement confirming Ellis’s position not only as one of our great guitarists, but as a superior writer and singer of straight-ahead postwar electric blues and rock. Perhaps at the sacrifice of some accuracy, I’m going to cover what Ellis and company are up to under the umbrellas of three broadly defined styles.

Long acclaimed as one of the most intense and creative artists in blues rock, Ellis is assured enough to open Midnight Blue with a relatively slow number, “If The River Keeps Rising,” which starts with just his rhythmic but delicate acoustic guitar and plaintive vocal. When the band comes in after the first verse, the sound explodes into a bluesy slam, à la Zeppelin’s treatment of “When The Levee Breaks,” replete with Lynn Williams’s Bonham-worthy drumming and several thickly overdriven electric guitars woven into the mix. Between its melodic sense and guitar work that, in its phrasing and high gain tonality, recall strongly Eric Clapton’s late-‘80s Journeyman period, “Harder To Find” is an affecting and atmospheric midtempo rock ballad, with an absolutely lovely middle section and chorus. Touches like a slow-wash sound that might come from a Leslie cabinet are emblematic of the attention to sonic detail on this record.  “The Only Thing” is a solid blues shuffle with stops, very much in the vein of “I Ain’t Superstitious,” that splits the difference between Howlin’ Wolf and the Jeff Beck Group. Ellis’s toppy lead guitar sound pushes it perhaps in the direction of the latter, while “Mouth Turn Dry,” a Wolf-like stomp, sports wiry guitar breaks that recall both Hubert Sumlin (naturally) and Otis Rush. Its powerful lyric touches on romantic doubt, self-centered fear, and the dangers of drink. “That’s My Story” is a heavy rocker on the slower side, set to the pulse of a steady eighth-note bass pedal, with a superb guitar ride-out that focuses more on rhythm and feel than flash. While its edgy groove doesn’t really sound like anything I would expect from Tinsley–something like AC/DC, but with a swampy CCR vibe–it is excellent.

At times, Ellis has dabbled in R&B and even soul. He returns to those styles here with “It’s Not Funny,” which features a second line beat, direct from New Orleans. The mid-song breakdown is just part of hip overall rhythm arrangement, rounded out by Ellis’s tough, Lowell George-inflected slide guitar and the song’s “Iko Iko” family feel. Its title reflects perhaps the most obvious and clever turn of phrase that should have been written into a song years ago, but wasn’t. Great call, Mr. Ellis–that is how to do it! “Surrender” is a pulsing, slow- to midtempo track with a decidedly soulful edge; call it Boz Scaggs meeting Dire Straits at their dreamiest, or something The Wallflowers might once have cut. Perfect R&B-based fills and a melodic lead guitar that escalates in intensity accompany Ellis’s quiet, honest, vocal–a performance that fits the song beautifully. The ascending chord pattern behind the likewise beautifully sung “Peace And Love” comes from somewhere in the ‘60s soul universe. Its funky, Muscle Shoals feel, accentuated by Kevin McKendree’s organ and electric piano, is cast into interesting contrast by Ted Pecchio’s very Beatles-esque bass line.

About this time last year, Ellis described himself to me, I thought apologetically, as “the rock guy” in the Blues At The Crossroads 2 package, a tour that featured The Fabulous Thunderbirds in support of guests James Cotton, Jody Williams, Bob Margolin, and Ellis. The conversation took place just moments after he had delivered a set of stellar pure blues, beautiful and savage by turn. Here, he does it on “Kiss Of Death,” a spare slow blues taken at a funereal pace, much in the mode of “Double Trouble”–I mean the timeless Otis Rush song, not SRV, folks–and does it just right. The stark, late-night ballad “See No Harm” borrows its elegant, emotional changes from Ray Charles at his most gospel-drenched, back in the Atlantic days, and rivals Brother Ray for feel and passion. Believe me, I would never type that if I didn’t mean it. This is killer stuff. McKendree’s piano is sublime, and Ellis’s fills and solo are tough and to the point without breaking the mood in the slightest; his guitar tone is woody and appropriately old school. Bravo! Never mind his history with the Heartfixers; let no one suggest that Ellis in 2014 cannot sing and play blues with the best.

I am afraid that, over the years, I forgot just how good Tinsley Ellis could be, or at least began to take him for granted. His recent work has made my lapse impossible to sustain. Anyone who likes blues-based music should find much to appreciate on the excellent Midnight Blue.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy of the CD was provided by the publicity firm Blind Raccoon.

I Changed My Tune #1: Bryan Lee’s Play One For Me

bl

Like all of us, I have certain ideas about what I might, or might not, enjoy. I’m going to write about several recently released albums that were in my “not” category until I gave them a fair shake. Here, then, is the first of these second looks.

Bryan Lee

Play One For Me

Severn Records, 2013

http://www.braillebluesdaddy.com/

http://www.severnrecords.com/

I’ll be candid. I’ve never been a fan of Bryan Lee’s music. His performance at a festival I attended this summer did nothing to change my opinion: I felt that the sound of his Blues Power Band was much too rock oriented, and that Lee’s guitar playing was pushy, garden-variety blues rock, with nothing special to recommend it even to fans of that genre. It all sounded jive to me. Consequently, when I was asked to listen to Play One For Me, I resisted. The fact that Lee recorded his new CD with the great Severn house band–Robb Stupka (drums), Steve Gomes (bass), Johnny Moeller (guitar), and Kevin Anker (keys)–and guest Kim Wilson (harmonica), not to mention the fact that Chicago soul mastermind Willie Henderson sweetened the tracks with his string and horn arrangements, overcame my reluctance.

I am glad I auditioned the album. Play One For Me makes a clean break with what Lee has shown me previously, and is all the better for it. The effective soul-blues punch that opens the album sets the tone for what follows. The one-two combination starts with a close cover of George Jackson’s lilting hit, “Aretha (Sing One For Me),” and segues easily into a fine reading of Freddie King’s “It’s Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough),” with lovely piano from Anker and crisp fills and solos by Lee, whose guitar work throughout the set is restrained and tasteful. It can be heard to excellent advantage on a slow, minor key tune from Bobby Womack’s deep catalog “When Love Begins (Friendship Ends),” where it plays starkly against the strings in a quiet storm setting. This and “You Was My Baby (But You Ain’t My Baby No More)” (a Lee original, somewhat like “Cadillac Assembly Line”) work up a real Albert King flavor.

The minor, mid-tempo swinger “Why” features a crafty vocal performance and a jazzily-phrased guitar break. “Let Me Love You Tonight” is a superb, bouncing soul mover in the Chicago style of Tyrone Davis, with intricate guitar figures, an indelible melody, and fine horns and strings straight from the Brunswick school that Henderson developed. Lee’s singing is generally quite good in this soulful setting, although sounds a bit shaky on Dennis Geyer’s slick, contemporary composition, “Straight To Your Heart.” Either “Poison” or “Evil Is Going On” might have been omitted, as the vocal melody lines of the two blues sound much alike; and despite its appealing qualities, like the envelope-filtered lead guitar, the feel of Lee’s funky “68 Years Young” is somehow off. But such minor missteps are rare. While Play One For Me may not present a strictly accurate picture of Bryan Lee’s sound, it is absolutely an enjoyable album of soul blues, and one to which I will surely return.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy was kindly provided by Mark Pucci Media.

Let It Slide

koch

Sterling Koch

Let It Slide

Full Force Music, 2013

 

www.sterlingkoch.com

 

In the almost ten years since a neck injury made it impossible for him to play guitar in the customary manner, the Pennsylvania-based guitarist Sterling Koch has become a proficient, assured slide guitarist. Koch plays exclusively in the lap steel style. Despite his friendship and association with several of the Sacred Steel school of players from the COGIC tradition, including Calvin Cooke, Aubrey Ghent, and Darick Campbell, Koch’s playing is staunchly in the style of blues rockers like Rory Gallagher and George Thorogood. His recently released fifth album, Let It Slide, delivers 13 solid blues rock songs.

For all its rock feel, Slide remains centered in blues. The mid-tempo shuffle “Too Sorry,” a Doyle Bramhall composition, features a solo that begins with variations on a rhythmic pattern before easing into Duane Allman-like high register playing. A second solo is just as effective. Koch turns up the heat on “Wrong Side Of The Blues,” an uptempo box shuffle, when he steps on a wah pedal during his stormy solo, and on his cover of Rick Vito’s “My Baby’s Hot,” where he supercharges Elmore’s trademark “Dust My Broom” licks and shows a playful side in fills that whip up the neck of the guitar. The cover of “It Hurts Me Too” may be leagues away from Tampa Red or Elmore James, but is well within bluesy territory. Koch’s singing and playing here are notably strong.

Several boogie-style numbers are especially successful. A cover of Bramhall’s “Shape I’m In” opens the set with an insistent, redlining pulse. Chuck Berry’s old trick of mixing feels, in which the guitar plays straight time against a shuffle rhythm, is resurrected (here inverted, so that the guitar plays the shuffle feel while the rhythm section plays straight eighth notes) to excellent effect. Koch’s high-energy “I Wanna Be Your Driver” not only takes one of Berry’s favorite subjects (the automobile) as his central metaphor, but proves that his patented “Johnny B. Goode” moves can be replicated by a slide guitarist. Koch updates K.C. Douglas’s Oakland blues classic “Mercury Boogie,” adopting the “Let’s Work Together” groove pioneered in the later “Mercury Blues” version of the song by Steve Miller. The figure Koch repeats as an instrumental hook is downright primitive–and irresistibly appealing.

On the subtler side, the slow, bluesy “I Only Want To Be With You” sports a cool chromatic figure and a keen dynamic sensibility, building in drama before a well-constructed guitar solo. Not the Doc Pomus-penned Ray Charles number, Koch’s “Lonely Avenue,” a moody instrumental with a lyrical edge reminiscent perhaps of Fleetwood Mac during the Green-Kirwan-Spencer era, is among the most powerful pieces on the album.

Koch recorded Slide with his working rhythm section of Gene Babula (bass) and John Goba (drums). While the tandem is never very loose, and doesn’t swing much, I have to say I don’t miss that flavor in this context. The reliable, keep-it-simple approach works perfectly, and although the feel is pretty firmly in the rock camp, it is never overbearing, nor is it tiresome to listen to. Koch’s vocals are a bit flat in affect, but competent, capable, and never mannered (a big plus in my book). And he can play guitar, beyond any question, but avoids pyrotechnics: his tones, leads, and rhythm parts never get much heavier than Billy Gibbons’s. Restraint of this sort is too rare among blues rockers, and much appreciated here. Let It Slide will surely be welcomed by those with a taste for the music of Johnny Winter or early ZZ Top.

 

TOM HYSLOP

 

Review copy provided by Frank Roszak Radio Promotions.

Fistful Of Blues

FOB fin

GWYN ASHTON

Fistful Of Blues EP

2013

http://www.gwynashton.com/

Singer-guitarist Gwyn Ashton follows last year’s rock epic Radiogram with a splendid little package. Fistful Of Blues, a four-song EP, explores blues rock from several angles, always with Ashton’s characteristic taste and nuance.

“Take You Home Tonight” kicks off the program with style. A shuffle boogie taken at medium tempo, it’s played with such vigor that it feels like it’s accelerating. Ashton plays slide with assurance, here echoing his vocal line, there dazzling with cascades of notes during the breakdown section, wisely keeping the groove paramount. His tone, toppy on the single notes, grinds into throaty breakup on double-stops and chords. Thoughts of Rory Gallagher are certain to arise.

“On The Borderline” sketches the story of a breakup over a sparse rhythm: one could drive a truck through the minimalist bass line and jazzy traps. The pace picks up, moving into a walking blues as the track progresses. Ashton dials in a snappy Strat tone and, squeezing out truly wild bends and spitting short bursts of notes, constructs a vivid solo that echoes Richard Thompson as much as it does Buddy Guy.

“Waiting For The Day” is a rocker with effective dynamics in the music, and a lyric that moves from dark to defiant. Except in the choruses, which are played as a straight shuffle, the drumbeat maintains a martial feel. The solo is typically imaginative, with upper-register bent notes emerging like rays of light from tangled phrases and twanging low-end notes. No Blues Riffs 101 here: Ashton maintains an improbably high level of creativity.

The minor-key love song “When You’re Alone” opens with a Univibed tone, moving easily into a haunting, subdued frame that works off the West Side blues riff patented by Magic Sam in his songs “Easy Baby” and “All Your Love.”  The hushed, almost stately, verses make the guitar breaks stand out that much more. The middle solo opens quietly, with Ashton playing chunky phrases at low volume; he turns up for a hairier tone and a keener attack just before slipping back into another vocal verse. The watery, vibed guitar sound reappears as the music crescendos behind the vocal, and then–well, the outro solo is simply incredible. Ashton pulls tremolo picking, slides up and down the neck, rubbery bends, and more from his bag of tricks. All the while, the amplifier sounds as if it is melting down amid bomb bursts. It’s a harrowing performance.

A palpable energy runs through the EP. The sessions feel like they were cut live, and the unadorned trio format yields plenty of space for Ashton’s voice and the instruments, which have a remarkable presence. The drum kit sounds fantastic, with the snare and cymbals right there, and the guitar jumps from the speakers. Even in its most florid moments, Ashton’s guitar playing is never gratuitous. Instead, it plays an essential role in developing the mood of these well-crafted songs. Fistful Of Blues is a fine set.

TOM HYSLOP

Digital files for review were provided by the artist.

Radiogram

radio

Gwyn Ashton

Radiogram

http://www.gwynashton.com/

http://alturl.com/2v7nw to see “Roy’s Bluz” performed live

The UK-based artist Gwyn Ashton remains inexplicably under-recognized in the United States, despite his success across Europe and his excellent recordings. His 2012 release Radiogram is a powerful set of songs that should find a home in the CD and mp3 players of every fan of honest, bluesy rock.

Ashton and drummer Kev Hickman, with contributions from Don Airey (Hammond organ for Deep Purple, Rainbow, Whitesnake, and Black Sabbath) and Honeydrippers Mark Stanway (keyboards), Robbie Blunt (guitar), and Mo Birch (backing vocals), turn in a wide-ranging set. The riff behind “Little Girl,” a bone-cruncher in full AC/DC mode that features Ashton and guest Kim Wilson on harmonica, maintains the all-important swing that separates exciting rock from the soulless variety. “Let Me In,” a stylized boogie with Johnny Mastro on harp, bristles with barely-contained energy, threatening at several junctures to blow both speakers and amplifier alike. With chiming guitars, a gritty vocal, and impressive dynamic shifts, the mid-tempo rocker “Don’t Want To Fall” would, in a perfect world, dominate the airwaves in any decade: its melody line can certainly compete with anything Def Leppard ever cooked up. Pay special attention to the arrangement, which features unexpected touches like the George Harrison-inflected slide work that fills a brief, crucial space in the song.

“I Just Wanna Make Love” recasts the Willie Dixon-penned Muddy Waters number “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” offering grooving, edge-of-meltdown guitar breaks that are perfect in a slightly Hendrix-inflected way.  Sizzling tones on Ashton’s funky rhythm guitar keep the track really cooking. “Dog Eat Dog,” a grinding rocker laid over a shuffle beat, affords Ashton plenty of space to break out his bluesiest guitar lines, and he loads the cut with cutting fills and a snarling solo full of unrelenting attitude, groove, and surprising ideas. “For Your Love” splits the difference between “Dog” and “Love,” delivering mind-bending guitar lines over a spare, gritty slow grind.

“Comin’ Home” is the pick hit here from a pop aspect (and who can’t appreciate a genuinely catchy number?). Ashton sings an irresistible melody over a track that develops from eighth-note guitar clicks (shades of The Cars!) to a chunky, Rolling Stones-like rhythm, filled out with solid slide and baritone guitar leads. It’s simply great. On the blues end, “Bluz For Roy” is Ashton’s splendid tribute to the late Telecaster genius Roy Buchanan. Raw-toned, with wildly bent notes, chicken-picking, volume knob swells, and other assorted hand-and-guitar-only effects, “Bluz” captures Buchanan’s creativity and spirit as well as anything I’ve heard. Hats off to Mr Ashton.

On the relatively subdued “Fortunate Kind,” Ashton plays a Weissenborn lap steel, turning over lead guitar duties to the Robert Plant band veteran Robbie Blunt. The country-ish feel of the track lends it a flavor strongly reminiscent of The Band, with its tempo and driving drum part in particular recalling “The Weight.” That’s pretty good company. Along the same lines, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the ballad “Angel,” which serves almost as a continuation of Jimi Hendrix’s song of the same title by employing a similar tempo and melody. While the middle guitar break is evocative and emotional in its simplicity, the heat increases measurably on the extended ride-out solo as Ashton alternates legato and bitten-off phrases and makes masterful use of controlled feedback. The dynamics develop so naturally that when things quiet down again for a final, delicate exit, everything sounds perfectly right, and quite beautiful.

How refreshing it is to be able to celebrate a hard rock album that adults can enjoy. That’s not meant to infer that Radiogram is enervated or predictable–quite the opposite. Nor, at the other end of the scale, is it pretentious or arty. It is just right: nothing here feels either tarted up or dumbed down. Gwyn Ashton’s music is thoughtful and complex when it needs to be, making good use of smart rhythms and splendid tones without seeming flash. And while he wears his influences on his sleeve, he never does so too conspicuously. All that qualifies as good music in my book. Consider that high praise, coming as it does from a listener who rarely programs this sort of music, but who appreciates it when it is done this well.

TOM HYSLOP

Digital files for review were provided by the artist.

Secretly Famous

The Rev Jimmie Bratcher
Secretly Famous
2013

http://www.jimmiebratcher.com/

To judge by his seventh long-player, The Rev Jimmie Bratcher is not your typical blues rocker. His writing is strong, and his singing, unmannered yet entirely convincing, is right on target. On the guitar side, his tones are varied and never strident. Rhythm parts are well thought out and interesting, and leads are based in feel rather than furious fret attack. Another key element in the just-released Secretly Famous’s appeal is a rhythm section (Craig Kew, bass; Lester Estelle, drums) that is more than capable of shading its approach. This is all to the good: the performances are tough enough to satisfy listeners from the rock camp, without overdoing the clichés that turn off real blues fans.

On what he says is his most roots-based album, Bratcher shows an impressive stylistic range. “Jupiter And Mars,” co-written with his son Jason, offers a fresh take on the undying subject matter of cars and girls over a satisfyingly greasy and spacious groove. With its wild drive, crisp Gibson leads, and a Leslie-fied rhythm guitar mimicking a Hammond organ, “Feels Like Friday” sounds like vintage Allman Brothers. The mid-tempo “Nowhere To Go But Down” pairs an indelible melody line with a slinky arrangement that is, improbably, both laid-back and punchy. “I Can’t Shake That Thing” splits the difference between Delbert McClinton and The Meters. Bratcher’s delivery strikes a perfect, and appealing, note on the lighthearted, country-blues flavored “Bologna Sandwich Man.”

Secretly Famous serves up several undeniable earworms. Consider the memorable guitar line and distinctive mood shifts in “When I Fall Apart” (a likely hit, had it been released 35 years ago); the genius combination of power pop and crunchy, Stones-inspired riffing in “Starting All Over Again”; and the laid-bare, impassioned reading of The Association’s 1960s hit “Never My Love,” a surprising inclusion that really works. Perhaps the album’s craftiest track is the funky, Little Feat-styled “57.” Here Bratcher cleverly sings the praises of Shure’s ubiquitous microphone in terms that would as easily suit a feminine subject. Not every song is as successful. The rowdy “Check Your Blues At The Door” seems written-to-order and trite, and the ballad “It Just Feels Right” is, to these ears, mawkish boilerplate (though it could well be a contemporary country hit).

I’ll be completely candid and tell you that a couple of my personal biases surfaced when I heard about Secretly Famous. I am suspicious when I see the honorific “Reverend” in use, unless the Reverend in question is a civil rights leader or at work in church (I make an exeption for Billy Gibbons’s clearly lighthearted use of the term, largely because I’m not certain he has ever self-applied the title). And the blues rockers who typically engage Jim Gaines to produce are not, in general, my cup of tea. So, despite a personal recommendation from Bratcher’s publicist telling me I would likely enjoy the new CD, I almost took a pass. I would have missed hearing a good one.

Tom Hyslop

Review copy provided by Mark Pucci Media.