Posts Tagged ‘Sam Cooke’

Perth blues-rocker Matty T Wall‘s 2016 debut Blues Skies came out fully-formed as an album of surprising power, variety and originality – the latter a component sorely missed in the current blues scene.

Second albums can suffer from that “sophomore slump” where the artist has shot their bolt, using up all their ideas and energy on the first. Luckily for anyone who loves blues and gun guitarists, Wall’s new collection  – called Sidewinder – takes everything that was so damn good about his debut and works it up a notch – or two.

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Pic by Sean Clohesy

An integral component on Sidewinder is the presence of esteemed sound guru Bob Clearmountain. Having worked with the greats of the age, Clearmountain’s sonic fingerprint adds something remarkable to everything he touches.

In the case of Sidewinder, Clearmountain’s mix serves to focus the inherent power and energy of Wall’s attack into a laser-sharp rush. The two instrumentals here – opener “Slideride” and the later “Sophia’s Strut” – leap out of the speakers, the former a torrent of metallic slide with plenty of greasy Johnny Winter abandon, the latter a masterclass in fretboard hammer-ons/offs, set over some heavy junkyard percussion.Sidewinder-COVER-ART-600x600

We are treated to beautifully leather-slick blues-rock on the title track “Sidewinder” and “Shake It”, the latter’s loose-hipped groove one that would do classic-era Aerosmith proud. Yet, as on Blues Skies, the light and shade are also here: the slinky Shuggie Otis-style soul in the Trombone Shorty cover “Something Beautiful”, some surprisingly jazzy guitar lines in the soul-funk of “Ain’t That the Truth”. And the road-hardened rhythm section of Ric Whittle on drums and Stephen Walker on bass are with him all the way, blasting the light and chilling the shade.

A small quibble is the inclusion of chestnuts “Goin’ Down” and Sam Cooke‘s “Change is Gonna Come” – their presence seems superfluous amongst the riches of Wall’s originals. That said, the monster crunch of the Don Nix perennial and the chance to hear Wall’s vocal shine on “Change…” could almost change my mind.

If there is any justice in this world – and there far too often isn’t – Sidewinder will take Matty T Wall to the top of the blues-rock tree, with the rewards of festival headlines and an ever-growing international following. If his next album is an much of a step up as Sidewinder is from his excellent debut – I have strong hopes that justice will be served.

 

Sidewinder is available from July 2 from Matty T Wall’s website – which also has has Sidewinder launch dates – https://www.mattytwall.com 

The conundrum with new releases from long-established artists – artists who have made their name at a time when music had an entirely different aesthetic and sound – is this: do I make my contemporary music sound like my old stuff, or do I bring my sound up to date? It’s a harsh decision.

There have been some blunderous artistic miscalculations under the banner of both these approaches, yielding hoary forced old-timey stodge or (generally worse) embarrassing concessions to “the kids” from past masters who should know better.

Joe Henry adopted the first approach with Solomon Burke’s 2002 ‘come-back’ album Don’t Give Up On Me to great effect, framing the mighty Burke in an old-school, analogue sound that just worked beautifully. On Bobby Womack’s latest, The Bravest Man In The UniverseDamon Albarn adopts the second approach – creating a landscape of almost Radiohead-like bleeps and bubbling basslines behind Womack’s care-worn voice.

And it equally works beautifully.

Produced by Damon Albarn, The Bravest Man In The Universe was recorded at Albarn’s Studio 13 in West London and New York’s Manhattan Center, is Bobby Womack’s first album of original material since 1994’s Resurrection. Co-producer is Richard Russell, who co-wrote the songs with Womack. Russell recently produced Gil Scott-Heron’s excellent I’m New Here ‘come-back’ album, so his empathy and respect for the artistry of these men is a living thing.

Bobby Womack wrote and originally recorded The Rolling Stones‘ first UK No. 1 hit, ‘It’s All Over Now’. He worked at Chips Moman‘s American Studios in Memphis in the 60s and played on recordings by Joe Tex and The Box Tops. He played guitar on several of Aretha Franklin‘s albums, including Lady Soul, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. Everything about him is vintage, historical and old-school.

But the contemporary nature of Albarn and Russell’s tone-colours under Womack accentuate the warm and ragged humanity of his voice. The man is 68; he has had his ups-and-downs with dope and drink and damage of all sorts in his day. Sometimes here his voice is like a blue-brown brushstroke across glass; sometimes like a ragged tear, ripped into flawless metal. It could sound plain wrong: uncohesive and at-odds. But it doesn’t – Albarn and Russell get the balance just right, to the enhancement of both voice and backing: the voice sounds more human than ever and the beats sound slick, smart and funky.

The guests also pull the Womack sound into the present. Lana Del Ray sings the lion’s share of ‘DayGlo Reflection’, swathed in ghostly reverb. Malian diva Fatoumata Diawara sounds afro-regal on ‘Nothing Can Save Ya’. 

The intro to ‘DayGlo Reflection’ samples a scratchy snatch of audio: 50s Soul king Sam Cooke (Womack’s mentor and early employer) speaking about the evolution of the singer as artist. Cooke says “As a singer gets older, his conception gets a little deeper; he lives life and he understands what he is trying to say a little more…

In Bobby Womack’s voice, all around its burred edge and shot through the fabric of its threadbare silk, you can hear every day he has lived – his struggles and his joys, but mainly his struggles. For contemporary producers such as Albarn and Russell to capture this with such heart – especially set against a machine-made backdrop – is really worth you taking a listen to Bobby Womack and The Bravest Man In The Universe.

Published July 2012 on theorangepress.net

Brown, it’s all brown. Brown, orange, mustard, gold ochre. Earth tones – the album artwork is all earth tones; nostalgic, warm and earthy 1970s earth tones.

But in this case, to paraphrase another popular 1970s signifier, Brown is (definitely) BeautifulMichael Kiwanuka’s debut album, Home Again, is earthy, rich and fertile all the way through. Even its title, Home Again, has a golden-hazed loveliness about it. The 24 year old UK singer-songwriter’s voice is deep brown too – the brown of chocolate, cocoa, old wood, long-loved leather. You could climb into the gnarled arms of this album and look down on the silly-speeding world, protected by the haze of an eternal late-Autumn afternoon.

Kiwanuka was one of UK mag MOJO’s artists to watch in 2012. And while MOJO often tends to get a little hot and bothered over anything that remotely whiffs of the fragrant 70s, their taste is, in the main, pretty impeccable. It is understandable that they went for Michael Kiwanuka – this album could easily have been the singer-songwriter hit of 1971, ranked alongside Carole King’s Tapestry or Jackson Browne.

I personally hear it as in the groove of Sixto Rodriguez’s Cold Fact or Donny Hathaway before the hits – an urbane and urban (urban in the original sense, before hip-hop urban) masterpiece of soul-folk with one sandal in the street and the other in the garden. Like Rodriguez, Michael Kiwanuka’s voice seems the voice of experience, not bitter, just full and knowing. Its old-wood and sepia timbre lends each song a lot of weight, and they are heavy songs to begin with.

Opener ‘Tell Me A Tale’ is a jazz groove, but a la Astral Weeks – open and flowing, complete with brass, flutes and a gnashing tenor sax solo by Gary Plumley over the coda. Very lush, very full, none of the album seems over-produced. Producer Paul Butler has gone for a gorgeous, chart-friendly sound in the full knowledge that Kiwanuka’s songwriting and delivery will always keep the material deep and real.

From ‘Tell Me A Tale’ the album drops down a gear or two, and stays there – Home Again unfolds at its own pace, the main focus being to frame Kiwanuka’s ochre voice and deep-rooted songs – the Paul Simon-like shuffle of ‘I’m Getting Ready’, the country-blues of ‘Rest’, the lovely finger-picked title track, ‘Home Again’. 

‘Bones’ has a strangely distant sound about it – distant in both space and time – when I listened to this haunted ballroom tune I felt like I had dropped the needle on a scratchy Sam Cooke 45 unearthed from a garage sale. Quite gorgeous, topped off by the touching and humble line ‘Without you I’m just bones…’

By the time I arrived at the closing track, the minor blues ‘Worry Walks Beside Me’ I realized that Home Again – like Back to Black or even Adele’s 21 – is not a nostalgia trip; it just doesn’t seem to give two shits about the current way music is made (whatever that may be). Like those two monster albums it deserves to be a significant and enduring hit. And like poor Amy and rich sweet Adele, Michael Kiwanuka has a voice that is of the ages, unforgettable.

Published March 2012 on theorangepress.net