Posts Tagged ‘Les Paul’

From out of Perth comes blues-rocker Matty T Wall, to whom I give a whole bunch of gold stars straight up.

In the petrifying forest of current blues, Wall cuts through with a unique voice. There is much on his new album Blue Skies just familiar enough to satisfy the blues purists, yet plenty different enough to satisfy me and the thousands of blues fans who yearn for a truly new voice in the genre.

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Gold stars first: One – in the sea of Strats and Les Pauls, Wall uses a beautiful white three-pickup Gibson SG which he rings any sound from he wants. It has a throatiness and a sweet chime that works so well with the blues. Two – everyone (including SRV) does Hendrix‘s ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’; on Blue Skies, Wall chooses to cover that tornado-tune’s cooler yet equally gorgeous sister, ‘Voodoo Chile’, his 12-minute version making me wonder why not more blues artists do.

Three – Blue Skies is a completely consistent album of stunning music; a gumbo of most modern styles, all worked up beautifully. Opener ‘Burnin Up Burnin Down’ is a heavy horn-driven Chicago stomper. ‘Am I Wrong’ is Slim Harpo on amphetamine. ‘Love Gone Away’ is the kind of minor-key blues Joe Bonamassa tears up – yet Wall’s soloing here uses much more texture and jazz flavours than mighty Joe.Matty-T-Wall - Album cover

‘Scorcher’ is a virtuoso guitar workout á la SRV’s ‘Rude Mood’, a thrill ride where Wall, like SRV, never seems to run out of energy, or ideas. Great guitar, great vocal too: ‘This Is Real’ is deep-fried slow-funk that has Wall in Robert Cray soul-blues mode.

Title track ‘Blue Skies’ has a country edge that brings to mind the same-named Allman Brothers tune. Wall adds some heavyweight guitar along the way, and a gospel edge. The effect is epic but never overblown.

Recorded in Perth and New York (Wall means business) with a crack band that plays like they mean it, Blue Skies should really be noticed by everyone who is listening out for the good stuff. We will see. I truly hope so.

Published May 2016 on theorangepress.net

 

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The illusion of much modern recorded band-oriented music (dance is a whole other trip of course) is that it is played live: the whole band laying it down for you in one perfect passionate take.

Of course, since Les Paul in the early 1950s, multitrack recording has allowed the performance to be staggered in time – pulled apart and put back together. The rise of huge multitrack desks in the late 70s and early 80s took multitrack recording to an almost ridiculous level, and of course ProTools has carried recording beyond ridiculous – to a degree where every touch of a hi-hat can be modelled and moulded to diamond-like perfection.

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There are certain forms of music that benefit from such infinite care and almost forensic sound-shaping. And there are musics that don’t. The latter is music that is based on a rawness and immediacy that is part of its intrinsic make-up – such as Blues.

Tasmanian (yes, folks that’s about as far from Chicago as you can get) Blues guitarist Pete Cornelius recorded his new album Groundswell in a neighbour’s holiday house in Elephant Pass, virtually entirely live. And it shows.

There is a theory that says that every step of the process between the artist’s heart and the listener’s ear diminishes the emotional force of what the artist is trying to say. If true, that certainly applies to simpler, more direct music such as country, blues and roots where there is not too much left once you strip the emotive power away. Cornelius’ decision to record live was smart, and as good a proof of this theory as I have heard for a while.

Cornelius made his name fronting The DeVilles, a hard rockin’ Texas blues powerhouse that matched Cornelius’ SRV-style gun-slinger trip. But the band has settled into a more mellow thing, firstly on Pete’s last album Tumbleweed and the new one Groundswell. As his music has focused on songwriting, it has taken on extra dimension, away from guitar solos and Texas raunch.

Not that there are no longer moments of real guitar fire – the Hendrix-howl solo on ‘Repo Man’ shows where Cornelius’ rep comes from. But hopefully Groundswell will give him a parallel rep as a warm-hearted songwriter for songs such as opener ‘Drinking the Blues’ – a sly New Orleans groove – or the very pretty ‘Goodnight My Love’ – a soul lullaby to his new young daughter.groundswell-cover-small

And like SRV, like Eric Clapton, Cornelius’ voice is a perfect foil for his guitar-playing – check acoustic closer ‘Strong Suit’, a song so nicely rendered I truly expect to see it covered by other artists. There is a slight country lilt to his voice which works equally well across the Meters-like hipshaker ‘Talkin’ Bout New Orleans’ and the sinewy lope of ‘Cold Water’ (with its wry – and very funny – lyric), and matches the country-blues filigree of his playing.

His playing – yes, still dazzling and highly original while still reflecting the colours and shapes of his obvious influences  – is nicely balanced against the songwriting and vocal (and great band interpretations of the songs) across the album. A player of Pete Cornelius’ imagination and great fingers could just put out another collection of sizzling jams and the Australian Blues audience would eat it up.

It is testament to his musical evolution – that quality that separates out the true long-term artists in any genre – that he went for a wider palette of colours and emotions that make up Groundswell.

Published September 2013 on theorangepress.net

Is the alien boy with the lightning bolt makeup on the cover of this 1973 David Bowie album actually Ziggy Stardust? Many think of this iconic image when they think of Ziggy. Such is the fuzzy-edged mish-mash of pop-culture that many inaccuracies, misreadings and plain mistakes become icons for the ages, true or not – and this is one of them. Or is it?

The album is called Aladdin Sane but the character seems to be an extension of the ever-morphing Bowie phantasy persona of the 70s. Bowie himself referred to Aladdin Sane musically as “Ziggy goes to America”, so the Ziggy character logically got the U-S-of-A buff, shine and chrome-plating as well.David-Bowie-Aladdin-Sane

And that same buff, shine and chrome-plating was mirrored in the sound and subject of this new album. Whereas its predecessor, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, told a dystopian tale of rock’n’roll stardom, totalitarianism and suicide, Aladdin Sane seemed to be a celebration of America, freedom and the excesses of the flesh. Where Ziggy seemed very Old World, wrapped in the rain of a bleak future England, Aladdin was all New World, New York, Marilyn Monroe and doo-wop – its vibe distilled into the lyric from ‘Jean Genie’: “New York’s a go-go, where everything tastes nice”.

Which doesn’t mean to imply the music was in any way shallower than Ziggy. Bowie produced these two albums (and arguably, their predecessor, the sci-fi-Gothic Hunky Dory) on a blindingly creative roll. His art was, like the Beatles before him, outstripping all around him in great leaps forward. In many ways Aladdin Sane is a deeper and more creative album than even Ziggy.

One reason was that Bowie seemed utterly unfettered by any limits in his songwriting and lyrics. His established starpower allowed him to now bring in all of his influences from the avant-garde that only were on the periphery of the songs on Hunky Dory and Ziggy. Unlike today where many stars eschew any growth in creativity to consolidate their career positions, Bowie (once more, as the Beatles had done) used his star power to propel his music into some dangerous areas.

Remembering that this was a UK Number One album, check out piano-player Mike Garson’s solo on the title track ‘Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)’ – Garson rakes and smashes the piano like the uncontrollable bastard child of Jerry Lee Lewis and Cecil TaylorElton John it ain’t.

david-bowie-ziggy-stardust-costumeThen there’s Mick Ronson’s volcanic Les Paul intro to ‘Cracked Actor’ and the cartoon Berlin cabaret of ‘Time’ – ‘Time/He flexes like a whore/Falls wanking to the floor…’, the fuck-off arrogant cover of the Stones ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ and the nightmare doo-wop of ‘Drive In Saturday’. Bowie tested his fans with some wild creative lunges, and yet, batting at the top of his game, rarely misfired.

Lyrically, Bowie also pushed it. Always a challenging and incisively-intelligent lyricist, on Aladdin he gave us some surreal treasures. ‘Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)’s ‘Motor sensational/Paris or maybe hell/I’m waiting/Clutches of sad remains/Waits for Aladdin Sane/You’ll make it…’ or lines that owed more to pulp science fiction than to T.S. Eliot such as ‘Cursing at the Astronette/Who stands in steel by his cabinet/He’s crashing out with Sylvian/Bureau Supply for ageing men’ from ‘Drive In Saturday’.

Produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, the soundscapes are perfect – they ride the line between Velvet Underground menace and 50’s rock on the rockers (almost burying the vocals under the spitting phalanx of guitars on opener ‘Watch That Man’), and sci-fi soundtracks and art music on the moodier pieces such as closer ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ (‘Cologne she’ll wear/Silver and AmeriCard’ – Bowie’s lovesong to the seduction of moneyed America).

This reissue is timely as Bowie has just released his finest work in decades – the album The Next Day. Even though Aladdin Sane is of another time and another planet, the cord of Bowie’s art ties the two together unmistakeably, linking the wild alien boy with the lightning-bolt makeup to the current pensive wizard with the faintly sad eyes.

(Parlophone will be releasing the 40th Anniversary Edition of Aladdin Sane on April 12. This 40th anniversary edition has been remastered by Ray Staff at London’s AIR Studios. Ray cut the original LP during his time at Trident Studios and has received plaudits for his remastering of the Ziggy Stardust 40th anniversary edition last year.)

Published April 2013 on theorangepress.net

Like both the Blues and modern Jazz before it, the genre of Blues-Rock found its perfect expression in the early 1970’s. Heavied up by British rockers such as Cream’s Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and the hyperkinetic Jeff Beck, the highly innovative music of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon paved the way for Heavy Metal and all forms of Hard Rock (including, whether they like it or not, Punk Rock).

And, like both the Blues and modern Jazz, Blues-Rock has its evangelists – those artists who, through single-mindedness or outright religious zeal, feel it is their mission to bring the Righteous Word to their hungry flock. US guitar classicist, Joe Bonamassa travels the world, missionary-like, wielding his Les Paul like a fiery cross, his blazing sermons lighting up congregations at all points of the compass.

 

 

 

On October 5, Bonamassa’s church was Sydney’s State Theatre, as gaudily rococo a house of worship as there ever has been. After a wonderful and too-short warm-up by the Wizard of Katoomba, Claude Hay (his one-man band trip would be mere sleight-of-hand if not for his warm and entirely-engaging musicality), Bonamassa sat down with a stool and an acoustic guitar and we were his.

Joined by drummer Tal Bergman on conga set, he took us through covers of Bad Company’s ‘Seagull’ and originals such as the title track to his last album ‘Driving Towards The Daylight’. The acoustic set concluded with some jaw-dropping bluegrass flash which would have shook every guitar player in the audience (and there were many – later in the set Joe B asked us to identify ourselves and a forest of callus-fingered hands shot into the air).

But as sweet and earthy as the acoustic set was, we had come for the Power and the Glory, and when Bonamassa plugged his (signature, no less) Les Paul into an unholy trinity of 100w Marshall amps it was Heaven, of a sort.

Playing through the menacing Zep-blues of ‘Slow Train’ and the funk-noir of the title track to 2011’s excellent ‘Dust Bowl’, Bonamassa delivered the sermon we had heard so many times before, and would rush to hear again for many years to come.

Bonamassa covered all the bases – the gorgeous Gary Moore cover, ‘Midnight Blues’, which showed the subtle, multi-coloured blues voice behind the heavy rocker, and brought to mind the spiritual genius Peter Green, an influence on Gary Moore and Carlos Santana; the worldly Jeff Beck group blues ‘Blues Deluxe’ which featured his vocal, completely underrated and over-shadowed by his guitar-playing, but, like SRV, an integral part of his appeal; the delicious ‘Sloe Gin’, Tim Curry’s boozer-poem and a JB live staple since his 2007 album of the same name.

Bonamassa’s take on Mose Allison’s wry ‘Young Man Blues’ (via The Who) took his road-toughened band into guitar jam territory – with bass player Carmine Rojas trading some toe-to-toe riffage with JB. Electrifying shit, whichever way you slice it.

But it was not all tooth-and-claw blues and spitting Les Paul magma; Bonamassa can be a truly beautiful player, easily putting aside the histrionics and flash for sweet and soulful lines, making his instrument truly ‘sing’ with all the nuance and warmth that that suggests. The long, mountain-misty intro to ‘Mountain Time’, accompanied only by the keyboard strings of Sydney’s own (and JB touring stalwart) Rick Mellick brought to mind Jeff Beck’s more cosmic flights and took us all higher in every sense.

What, of course makes Joe Bonamassa so exciting is that he is part of the long line of electric guitar players – Hendrix, Van Halen, Ritchie Blackmore – who revel in making a great big guitar noise. The encore of ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’ mixed in all sorts of big fun rock guitar, from its ‘Ain’t Superstitious’ (Jeff Beck) intro to snatches of Billy Cobham’s ‘Stratus’ (a tip of the hat to Tommy Bolin) and huge chunks of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Dazed and Confused’.

To those who wanted a rock guitar masterclass, they got it; to those who wanted unadulterated rock par excellence, they got it; for those (such as your correspondent) who wanted a window into an era when the guitar ruled the known world, they got it. Joe Bonasmassa cannot be beaten, whichever rules he plays under.

 

Photo by John Snelson/Get Shot Magazine

 

Published October 2012 on liveguide.com.au

 

 

I was dodging the flailing arms and hair of the wildly dancing girl in front of me, as well as trying to balance my red wine (plastic) glass here stuck between all the heaving grooving bodies, when it suddenly struck me: I was in the presence of the anti-Elvis Costello for the New Shiny Age. But I will get to that…

Who do you get to support such a self-assured, yacht-rock-pop-Motown übercool überGeek such as Mayer Hawthorne? Both supports – the big voiced Fantine and the astonishing Electric Empire seemed too grown up and too serious for this silly, fun party.

Fantine, supported by her lone guitarist (well, as lone as a guitarist with a loop-box of tricks at his feet can be) was perhaps the most truly original artist of the night, or at least the one who buried her influences deeper than E.E. or M.H. Her voice was huge, her songs cool yet accessible – keep a weather eye on Fantine; she should be big.

Electric Empire of course thrilled as ever – with three knockout vocalists and strong strong material, we always gladly overlook the too-close Stevie and Marvin 70s capital-‘s’-Soul references and grooves. Their Soul was from Motown (Wonder, GayeInnervisions, ‘Inner City Blues’) as was Mayer Hawthorne’s (Supremes, Temptations, ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’) but like the gulf between 60s and 70s Motown, their musics were a galaxy apart.

Heralded by his band, The County’s funk groove (his bass player gets the award for best hair of the nite – Afro d’Excellence), Mayer Hawthorne bounced onto the stage in a swirl of hyper-energy and fun. The small fact that his vocal mic wasn’t in the mix for the first few seconds was overshadowed by his perfect Yacht Rock styling: white jacket, white Bermudas, stripey socks and white trainers (he would later team this ensemble with a white Epiphone Les Paul – ahh, I could almost hear Hall & Oates sighing with envy from a sunny marina far in the distance). I guess it was at this point that the niggling thought entered my head for the first time tonight: Is Mayer Hawthorne serious or is this all some (albeit-beautifully-constructed) post-modern gag?

The music is great: three songs in ‘The Walk’ – the single from his new LP How Do You Do? – put the party into drive. A perfect groove, a perfect hook, delivered to an audience that Hawthorne could point his mic at at any time and they would sing back the next line – it was all too good to be true. A little like Mayer Hawthorne himself.

He welcomed us to the ‘Mayer Hawthorne SHOW’, emphasising that this was not a ‘concert’, or an ‘orchestra’ (sic) but a Show – directing all the Party People down to the front and shoo’ing the party poopers up the back where they belonged. This of course was pure 60’s Motown – pure entertainment for the people (he says his favourite show as a child was the after school dance show ‘The New Dance Show’ – perfectly recreated for the clip to his song ‘A Long Time’). Pure entertainment for the people – or is it?

Hawthorne bends to give a female audience member his guitar plectrum. He takes a picture of all of us for Twitter. He lets us take a picture of him holding a bouquet of flowers like an Academy Award winner. He tells us to now put our cameras away and ‘pretend’ we are at a Show enjoying it in ‘real time’. A friend said Hawthorne reminded her of a pop music Jeff Koons – the US artist who replicates cheesy ads starring himself that walk the thinnest possible edge of irony.

The girl dancer flailed, the audience heaved around me, my red wine spilled. It flashed on me that Hawthorne was the anti-Elvis Costello for the New Shiny Age. All the parallels and opposites were there: both Elvis Costello and Mayer Hawthorne draw upon 60s pop music as the base template for their songs – E.C. used 60s British Pop, M.H. the sweeter Motown equivalent. Both affect a speccy-nerd style, with ill-judged/perfectly-judged clothes to match – with E.C. it accentuated the bitterness of his songs, with M.H. it charms us into his (supposedly) irony-free world of party party party.

Elvis Costello was a razor-sharp signifier of his place and time, Britain in the late 1970’s – the intelligent, sensitive loner in a bleaker and bleaker world of Government thuggery and societal fragmentation. Mayer Hawthorne is equally a spot-on signifier of his own place and time, 2012 USA. The breeziness of his delivery, the uncrackable smile, the tan, the summer-weight clothes suggest an American Dream free of cares or thoughts or woes. His is the music of a youthful affluence that America and the world cling to against all signs to the contrary. And it’s great to dance to.

Check out Katja Liebing’s pics of the show here

Published February 2012 on theorangepress.net