WITCHY FEELIN’ Savoy Brown (Ruf) *****+
Talk about your perfect album title. With a swampy vibe throughout and some hellaciously sleazy slide guitar, Witchy Feelin’ is magnificent.
Savoy Brown’s new disc is the opposite of your feel-good toe tapper, rife with dark themes. “Blues has always dealt with themes of the devil, witchcraft and so forth, and I’ve always written along those lines” says founder/ guitarist/ vocalist Kim Simmonds, and Wiitchy Feelin’ is proof that the devil still has the best tunes. As a guitar player his influences show too; Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and all the Chicago guys. It was from this band that Foghat sprang way back in the day and, particularly on this new record, you can really feel that.
Produced by Simmonds himself, Witchy Feelin’ has a dense, down in the track kind of vibe. When I talk about guitar based blues being my thing, and the dirtier the better, this is the sound I’m referring to. Being a trio gives Savoy Brown (Simmonds, plus bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm) room to play without stepping on each other’s toes. Both DeSalvo and Grimm play it close to the bone, keeping it simple so Simmonds’ guitar can really soar, and the results are sheer bloody magic.
11 songs on this disc, all written by Simmonds. “The songs on this album have been two years in the making” Kim says. “I tried to write songs that had a personal point of view yet can be relatable to everyone”, and that he has done. Vintage Man is about the type of guy that doesn’t change as he gets older, Why Did You Hoodoo Me is about the power of love, and Guitar Slinger is about seeing a great guitar player in an old country bar, inspired by when Simmonds first saw Roy Buchanan in’69.
From the greasy vibe of the title track to the swanky instrumental (Close To Midnight) that closes out the record, it’s all here. Savoy Brown’s Witchy Feelin’ is one of the top ‘must haves’ of the year.
KEY CUTS: Guitar Slinger, I Can’t Stop The Blues, Close To Midnight
AS YOU WERE Liam Gallagher (Warner Music) ***
Never been an Oasis fan- the family drama turned my stomach, Wonderwall is one of the songs I hate most in the world, and their comment about being better than The Beatles really sunk the ship for me- so color me pleasantly surprised to be enjoying As You Were. It’s the classic 60’s/ 70’s sound that has always characterized Gallagher’s work, given a bit of an update here. Yeah- I’m kinda diggin’ it.
“I didn’t want to be reinventing anything or going off on a space/ jazz odyssey” Liam says of his new record. “It’s the Lennon ‘Cold Turkey’ vibe, The Stones, the classics. But done my way, now.” As You Were is a pretty easy album to like right off the bat, and if I didn’t already have a built in prejudice against his old group this would be even more enjoyable. Mostly an acoustic guitar aesthetic, Gallagher sure has a good ear for catchy pop melodies, wearing his Beatles influence on his sleeve. No big heroic guitar solos either, just a guy tellin’ his stories.
As You Were isn’t a directionless collection of ditties either, with each track addressing an issue. When you listen to a song like Greedy Soul, Come Back To Me or I Never Want To Be Like You it’s like hearing one side of the conversation; and he sounds kinda pissed off. There are 15 songs on this album and by no means do I feel yet that I have a complete grasp on it, but in the couple of times this has played this afternoon I’ve felt my dim impression of Oasis soften. Maybe it’s time to try them again, while trying to ignore the PR nightmare that is the Gallagher brothers.
As You Were is pretty clear about The Beatles’ lasting impression on Liam Gallagher’s music, and that’s a good thing. Hummable, gentle melodies and songs that tell stories is a winning combination that may be changing this crusty critic’s opinion of Liam’s past. He’s still not the greatest thing since sliced bread- but maybe since pretzel buns.
KET CUTS: Greedy Soul, When I’m In Need, Universal Gleam
LIVE AT POMPEII David Gilmour (Columbia) ******
This was my payday treat for myself today and yeah, that’s a six star rating out of 5. I am familiar with much of Gilmour’s work with Pink Floyd and somewhat less so of his solo stuff, though I do own his recent sets On An Island, Live In Gdansk, Rattle That Lock and now Live At Pompeii. Available in a variety of formats, for mainly budgetary reasons I chose the 2 disc CD. Sublime, wonderful, gorgeous and enthralling are all descriptions that fall woefully short of how Live At Pompeii sounds, and how it makes me feel.
When I think of my favourite guitarists several come to mind, and each for different reasons. For classic metal, Tony Iommi is my guy. For straight up rock, it’s early Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page. The blues? Buddy Guy… but when it comes to tone, taste, knowing what to play and what not to play, David Gilmour is a surgeon, in a league of his own. Live At Pompeii is the first concert performed at this ancient venue in front of a live audience in hundreds of years, but it was worth the wait. Yes, Pink Floyd recorded a live record there too, but an audience was not allowed in 1972.
Available aside from the double CD as well as a 2 DVD, Blu-Ray, 4 vinyl LP and deluxe box set with all sorts of extraneous goodies, Live At Pompeii thrills. I compared the track listing on Live In Gdansk and although there are a few overlaps (David could never get away with not playing Shine On You Crazy Diamond or Comfortably Numb), the sets are remarkably different. This set is a nice mix of Floyd classics, plus 2 songs from On An Island and 6 from his latest solo studio record Rattle That Lock. Long-time fans will really enjoy the version of Great Gig In The Sky here, a song David has rarely performed live as a solo artist.
I have Spotify and could’ve listened to Pompeii that way, but some things I just have to own outright and play on the stereo, and this is one of them. Impeccably produced by Gilmour and mixed by him and Andy Jackson, This a monumental gig captured in life-altering detail. Pink Floyd may be no more but David Gilmour and his world-class band may be able to make you forget that, if just for a little while. Live At Pompeii is quite simply a stunning achievement and the best $20.95 I’ve spent all year.
KEY CUTS: DISC ONE- The Great Gig In The Sky, What Do You Want From Me
DISC TWO- On An Island, Comfortably Numb (of course!)
FREEDOM’S CHILD Lazer Lloyd (Lots Of Love) *****
Here’s the new album from Lazer Lloyd, available online and at I-Tunes as well as from his website. Intimate and earthy, Freedom’s Child blends Americana, swamp country blues, folk and roots rock with outstanding grooves for extremely powerful listening.
Produced by Grammy nominated engineer/ producer David Ivory (Halestorm, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Patti Labelle), Freedom’s Child is an emotional and inspiring mix of styles as noted above. From full band rockers to quiet acoustic pieces driven by Lazer’s exquisite guitar playing, these songs about life and the struggles and joys we all face in one form or another are comforting- it’s good to know you’re not the only one dealing with some of these issues. “You can be sure I’ve had my hard times” Lazer says. “Faced death, war on drugs. Lost plenty of good friends to the bottle, even found myself face flat on the rug. Yes, some days I’m still fighting to find a little peace of mind” and that, as much as anything, feels like the theme of the new record.
If you’re not familiar with Lazer Lloyd’s story, he was born into a Jewish family in New York in ’66, began playing guitar at 13, and turned down a record deal some years later to move to Israel at the behest of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. He is noted for playing blues with Arabic tunings, what he describes as “a combination of Mississippi and Moroccan tuning.” If you want the full details try his website and/or the Wikipedia entry… suffice to say the result is both inspiring and entertaining.
Freedom’s Child is a dozen songs- 11 originals and an intriguing cover of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower. His band includes bassist Moshe Davidson and Elimelech Grundman on drums and they play with deft, intuitive precision, but I find myself being drawn to a trio of tracks that feature just Lazer’s well lived-in voice, solo with acoustic and electric guitars. Those songs are the title cut, America and All Along The Watchtower¸ and they’ll make you feel like you’re on the front porch of some shotgun shack somewhere in rural Mississippi, not New York or Tel Aviv.
Critics have noted Lloyd’s skill as a lyricist, saying he is “able to elevate life’s joys and struggles into inspirational material”. Couple that with supple musicianship, and that makes Freedom’s Child one of the most compelling discs of 2017. Watch out, though- this one’s gonna hit you right in the feels.
KEY CUTS: Blessed Man, America, title track, Esqueca do Mundo (Forget The World)
EVERYWHERE FROM HERE Joel DaSilva ((Klotz) *** ¾
Chicago-style blues by way of Brazil- that’s Joel DaSilva. The son of traveling musicians DaSilva is an expressive guitarist with a soulful voice, and Everywhere From Here is one of those discs I imagine almost every blues fan having.
In touring the world, Joel has encountered and been inspired by players like Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Bonamassa, The Reverend Horton Heat, Ray Charles, Edgar Winter and The White Stripes- a diverse pool of influences, to be sure. Offhand I’d say Everywhere From Here exists somewhere in between down and dirty blues and the real uptown stuff. Well played but maybe not as gritty as I might prefer, yet still immensely enjoyable to listen to. His lyrics cover the usual blues subject matter; from lovesick ballads to the plight of the blue collar working man.
Everywhere But Here is a fairly slick sounding album, recorded and mixed by Grammy-winning producer Eddie Perez at TrunNoyz Studios in For Lauderdale. He captures the essence of DaSilva’s modern blues sound with elements of lo-fi garage blues and a driving roots beat. Some of Joel’s soloing is quite muscular, and I found myself thinking of SRV more than once with that manly vibrato. On a track like This Day I Bleed he really rocks those blues.
Everywhere From Here is all blues and nothing but the blues, and that’s fine by me. Notable co-writers on this one include Richie Supa (Aerosmith, Richie Sambora) and Stephen Gibb, son of Barry, and it feels like a fairly well balanced record. I enjoy the lyrics and the stories they tell but the main draw here (for me at least) is DaSilva’s guitar playing. On the back cover he kinda looks like Jimmy Vaughan but, as I said before, his playing sometimes feels more like Stevie Ray.
Cool record, some might even say ‘skookum’- but whatever you choose to label this kind of blues, Everywhere But Here is most definitely worth having around.
KEY CUTS: Everyday Man, This Day I Bleed, My Brazilian Soul
WALK IN THE DARK Rob Lutes (Lucky Bear Records) ****
This is the 7th album for this acclaimed Canadian songwriter, doing what he’s always done; kicking up a little dust, wading into some deep waters and tackling the realities of the world. Walk In The Dark is a profound, laid back record that will stick with you for a quite a while.
Walk In The Dark feels texturally and perhaps thematically like a cross between a Colin Linden and a Barney Bentall record. As a singer he’s not unlike Harry Manx and stylistically Walk sits at the crossroads of the blues, folk, Americana and contemporary singer/ songwriter stuff. Co-produced with celebrated Montreal producer (and Cirque De Soleil collaborator) Rob Heaney, this is a rootsy adventure that keeps you engaged from start to finish as it explores a wide range of subjects and pays homage to heroes like James Cotton (check out There’s No Way To Tell You That Tonight) and guitarist Joseph Spence (on the jaunty instrumental Spence)
Recorded mainly over 3 days in late January in a small Montreal studio, Walk In The Dark is a real showcase for Lutes’s rhythmic guitar playing style and his soulful voice. Each track unfolds like a story unto itself, drawing you in as it invites you grab a chair and give a listen. From Rob’s guitar playing to the contributions of his friends and fellow musicians the musicianship is superior, worth the price of admission on its own. The record is 12 originals including 2 co-writes with Americana songwriter Dale Boyle, and a terrific rendition of the forgotten John Prine gem Rocky Mountain Time, surely a highlight of these sessions.
“This album, of all of them, was a journey into the unknown, which is why I like the title so much” Lutes says. “With a great co-producer, and a group of phenomenal players and friends, I went into the studio to find these songs. And I really feel like we did that.” Walk In The Dark is a helluva record.
KEY CUTS: Whistle Past The Graveyard, Spence, Rocky Mountain Time