A VIEW FROM THE INSIDE Reb Beach (Frontiers) *** +
Reb Beach has been around. He was in Alice Cooper’s band for a time, replaced George Lynch in Dokken and, according to Wikipedia, currently plays guitar for Winger, is also a member of the super group Black Swan with Jeff Pilson, Robin McAuley and Matt Starr and is the longest serving member of Whitesnake besides David Coverdale- got all that? Reb is a severely talented rock guitarist and his long-in-the-works instrumental album is finally here. A View From The Inside will definitely melt some faces.
A View From The Inside is the culmination of over 30 years of extremely hard work on the art of rock & roll guitar, and Reb Beach has a lot to say. If you’re looking for comparisons to other guitar heroes that make instrumental records, I’d go with Joe Satriani and Steve Morse as opposed to somebody more ‘out there’ like Steve Vai. Lots of melody and hooks throughout, sometimes making you almost forget that there are no vocals- but not quite. Reb plays guitar, bass, keys and strings on some tracks, and a band of talented players (none of whom I recognize) help him flesh out the songs.
Beach’s playing on this disc is impressive, with loads of different textures and motifs, and as a soloist I’d put him up against almost anyone you’d care to name. The problem with A View From The Inside, and with pretty much every instrumental rock guitar record, is listener fatigue. With soloing being a substitute for vocals, you start thinking “it would be nice to hear someone sing right about now.” Satriani had it right with 1989’s Flying In A Blue Dream, where he threw in a handful of vocal tracks like Big Bad Moon to break things up, and I think a similar approach would’ve worked for Beach too.
Having said all that, I do enjoy A View From The Inside– it’s well produced and Reb’s playing is fierce. Instrumental records are like a good steak dinner; not something you want every night, but there are times when it goes down real good. I won’t listen to this every day, maybe not even every week, but when I do reach for it the neighbors will be listening too.
KEY CUTS: Black Magic, Whiplash, Sea Of Tranquility
SUPERGROOVE Andy Watts (Booga Music/VizzTone) ****
A sweet and swangin’ new record here from Israel’s Ambassador of the Blues. Supergroove is sure the right title for this baby as Watts roars, struts and gets down with 5 originals plus Freddie King and Peter Green classics and stuff written by Joe Louis Walker and Coastin’ Hank. This is an extremely diggable set of blues.
Over the years Andy has brought some of the world’s leading blues artists to Israel to perform and record with his 9 piece band; Johnny Winter, Bernard Allison, Rick Estrin, Kenny Neal and Lucky Peterson to name a few. Supergroove is powered by Watt’s soulful, explosive guitar and sweet grooves, and several guest vocalists have their say too; Joe Louis Walker, Eliza Neals, Danny Shoshan and Gadi Altman. Andy and Kenny Neal got along like a house on fire- so much so that Kenny wound up co-producing the album for his new label Booga Music.
I know I use the term ‘soulful’ a lot when talking about the blues, but it’s gotta have that by the bucket if it’s going to move me and by God Supergroove has it to spare. Aside from some great guitar playing and singing there are sweet horn accents, a relatively simple rhythm section to provide appropriate locomotion, and some great electric piano that just screams “70’s” to me, which is great… that’s when I lived my teen years, so music that recalls that era well resonates the most with me.
As a guitarist Watts is mesmerizing, whether he’s strong-arming some notes out of his axe SRV-style, or laying down something silky and swingin’, you’ll find yourself forgetting whatever it was you were doing and paying attention; as I listened to Supergroove that seemed to happen repeatedly. Andy Watts is by no means the first blues guitarist to cover Peter Green’s immortal Supernatural, but I daresay this is one of the more enjoyable versions.
From the blue collar work ethic to the explosive creativity evident here, Supergroove is energetic and absorbing company any night of the week.
KEY CUT: Blues Of The Month Club (with Eliza Neals), Supergroove, Supernatural
BROTHERHOOD Terminal Station (Hard Rain Records) *****
It often takes me a few spins to get into an album, to figure out how it makes me feel. With Brotherhood, the 3rd record for Vancouver’s Terminal Station, I got excited pretty much right away. If you’re into the blues, jam bands or even classic rock, this disc has things to say and show you that you’ll want to hear.
The first thing that popped in my head as I began to listen was southern rock as I was getting all kinds of Allman vibes from the songs, a tight mix of rock and blues with the country-ness of songs like Take Me Back Or Let Me Go. This band is equally adept and at home with busting out T-Bone Walker style shuffles as CCR-style swamp twang, BB King-style blues, some Little Feat and yes, the aforementioned Allman Brothers. It’s interesting that a band from a metropolis like Vancouver is so adept at embracing these southern styles.
The group includes singer/ guitarist Scott Smith, bassist Jeremy Holmes and drummer Liam McDonald, who have been in dozens of bands together since the mid-90’s. Keyboardist Darryl Haves, the new guy, goes back ten years. You’ll hear some great harp work on Brotherhood courtesy of Victor Polyik, who played on TS’s 2007 debut Burnout Blues, after which he moved to Australia. Victor is obviously still part of the process; he planned a family trip to Canada in 2019 just so he could play on the new Terminal Station record.
Brotherhood was recorded, mixed and mastered at Emerson Street Studios in Vancouver by Christopher Wondstra and produced by Chris & the band. Whether they’re tipping a hat to Booker T. & The MG’s on the instrumental Booker D or Creedence on Poor Lightnin’ their love for those bands and their music is evident with nary a false note to be heard- they play it like they mean it. I’ve never been to the deep south to encounter this kind of music that has so inspired me, but putting on Brotherhood is like a soulful southern vacation we can take whenever we want.
KEY CUTS: Barrelhouse, Voodoo Queen, One More Bottle, Booker D
THE BRIDGES Sunnysiders (Dancing Bear) *** ½
Here we go with the 4th El Pee from this Croatian blues duo, more proof that music is a truly international language. It’s also their 10th anniversary, so what better way to celebrate than releasing a record as arresting as The Bridges?
Sunnysiders started out winning the 2010 Croatian Blues Challenge and made it to the semi-finals of the 2011 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. All of the songs on Sunnysiders were, of course, written by Boris Hrepic (vocals, acoustic guitar, harp) and Antonija Vrgor Rola vocals, tambourine), and The Bridges was recorded with the help of many friends and colleagues, then mixed at Ardent Studios in Memphis. Nothing overly complicated going on musically- just very well played blues.
The real magic in the grooves of The Bridges, I think, is having the blues filtered through a different culture. While these songs have much in common musically with stuff from the States or even the UK, the lyrical content has a bit of a different slant, the kind of thing that comes with writing in something other than your native language. In rock & roll it’s really evident in the early work of German bands like Scorpions and Accept, perhaps a different way of getting at the same things you or I might write and sing about if we were to have written these songs. It’s not strange or weird, but it does pique your interest and pull you into their narratives that much deeper.
Featured throughout The Bridges are other artists like Hans & Medo, Lorenzo Puccone and The Norman Beaker Trio, just to name a very few. While Boris and Antonija take turns on vocal duties, it’s when they sing together that Sunnysiders are at their most powerful. They may be Croatian but they are also well versed in the language of the blues- musically and otherwise. On the first spin I thought this disc was a little rough around the edges, but now that I’ve heard it a few times and really settled in it’s working quite well for me. The Bridges is solid work.
KEY CUTS: No Pockets In The Grave, Crossroads Of Our Own, Not The One of Those
RIDIN’ A CHICKEN Big Joe Shelton (Alt 45 Records) ****
A rough edged cheeky set of blues to get you up and moving in a semi-rhythmic fashion. Ridin’ A Chicken is 12 original tracks, all written by Big Joe, were inspired by the people, places and culture of his beloved Mississippi. THIS is what a good time sounds like.
Big Joe Shelton was born in the Black Prairie region of Northeast Mississippi, so the blues are in his blood and bones. He attended tent minstrel shows, barbeque picnics and heard street musicians playing traditional blues. The area is also the birthplace of legends like Big Joe Williams, Howlin’ Wolf, and BB King’s cousin Bukka White. As a young man Shelton befriended Williams which, I’m sure, informed his musical sensibilities. He’s performed at various festivals throughout the southeastern U.S. and has also been on stages all over Europe; dude gets around.
There’s a lively almost rockabilly sense of fun to Ridin’ A Chicken as you might expect from an album with that title. The songs are Joe’s but credit must be given to his band “The Black Prairie Blues Ambassadors” including guitarist Ben Ferrell, Ed Swan on bass and Bob Damm on drums. Joining them in the studio are Doug Thomas on sax, Bobby Shannon on keys and Susan Alcorn Lobato on pedal steel. All in all it’s a pretty deadly confluence of talent. Big Joe handles the vocals and while he’s not the smoothest, his voice has the perfect ‘Long John Baldry’ vibe for this array of tunes- from a slow piano blues like Pool Hall Red to the delightfully off kilter title cut.
I liked Ridin’ A Chicken straight away, but when I heard the first verse from the almost Santana-esque title song I fell in love; walkin’ down those streets, just the other day/ I saw a skinny woman headed my way/ I did a double take, and I started thinkin’/ is her legs that bony, or is she riding a chicken? There is some seriously excellent groove-centric musicianship at work here, but the guys also aren’t afraid to lighten up and have some fun. This is what I imagine a visit to Northeast Mississippi must feel like, without leaving my music room. With any luck maybe I can change that in the next few years.
(look for his Facebook page)
KEY CUTS: Ridin’ A Chicken, Pool Hall Red, My Future Lies Behind Me Now