A few years back I got to see Danny & The Champions Of The World perform at a small basement club in Cheltenham (Subtone) supporting their recently released album, Hearts And Arrows, the band were a revelation, the album was damn good, but the live experience was on another level completely. That night the band blended rootsy Americana with soul and the rock ‘n’ roll attitude of Springsteen, every song hit the mark, every morsel lapped up by an audience at fever pitch and even now I’d regard it as one of the best gigs I’ve attended among literally hundreds over the years.
So when the chance popped up to review a double live album (recorded this year at the Jazz Cafe, Camden) by Danny George Wilson and maverick band, I leapt at the chance to don my headphones and disappear into a world of stripped down rock, strummed acoustics, parping sax, rich harmonies and pedal steel guitar.
The album opens with the band building up a wall of sound before dropping down to a gorgeous slice of drums and pedal steel guitar before Danny delivers his gorgeous folky (Dylan-esque) croon. (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket is a glorious opener, instantly showcasing that rich and rootsy sound that could hark straight out of Woodstock (think the organic sounds of The Band!!). only with an additional inspired sax solo, stretching the sound into a cosmic soul direction.
Cold Cold World follows, adding vocal harmonies to an already potent sound creating a 60’s pop feel, whilst the combination of the aforementioned pedal steel and acoustic guitar keep the rootsy sound very much at the forefront. Let’s Grab This With Both Hands is a stunning soul number with Danny really letting his expressive voice go over rolling beats and horns that could have been lifted from a best of Stax compilation, highlighting those various influences that make Danny & The Champions Of The World such an experience.
The first CD continues in much the same vein, stripped down Americana colliding with big soul and timeless rock ‘n’ roll effortlessly, from the rousing, eleven minutes plus of Colonel & The King with it’s “Elvis is a flaming star” refrain and squalling electric guitar and sax solo’s to the organ drenched, country soul of Darlin’ Won’t You Come In From The Cold, to the band’s tale of the road and firm fan favourite, Henry The Van, a gorgeous folk lament of touring and the band’s old mode of transportation, which even had me singing-along months later in the comfort of home.
The second CD opens with a pounded beat, those stunning pedal steel tones and a quite breathtaking twelve minute plus take on Other Days that again showcases the depth and musicality of the band’s sound, with each of the members of the Champions being allowed to express themselves, whilst Danny introduces the band.
From there the band take it home with a further five tracks that simply blow your socks off, beginning with the one-two winning combo of Every Beat Of My Heart and You Don’t Know (My Heart is In The Right Place) where the band unveil their inner E-Street Band fantasies with a couple of slabs of prime time, driving rock ‘n’ roll that’ll have the most restrained music fan punching the air in salute.
The band could have finished there, but no, Danny and the boys somehow muster the energy to unleash a thirteen minute take on Restless Feet with support act for the night, Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou joining the band for additional vocal harmonies whilst the band weave their magic, with thrilling solos and driving riffs aplenty (checkout the stunning sax solo by Geoff Widowson). whilst the crowd show their appreciation clapping, hollering and crooning along gleefully.
There’s still time for a show stopping encore of Been There Before and a wonderfully ragged, stop-start, grand finale of These Days (again assisted by Trevor and Hannah on vocal duties) leaving the crowd (and me) baying for yet more.
Live Champs is a mind-blowing live album, the band are in glorious form throughout, Danny’s vocals are incredible from folky croon to soulful holler, whilst the song selection highlights the rich and varied sound of the band’s back catalogue. As for production, well it’s so crisp, you can almost smell the cider from the punter by the bar, few live albums truly capture a live atmosphere, but this one does and then some, it leaves you elated, drained and desperate for a repeat performance, like all memorable gigs do.
If you buy one live album, no scrap that one album period, this year make it Live Champs, the perfect document of the best live act in the UK right now.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 10
Wildest Dreams, Matt Woosey, Album Release November 3rd
Most of you who have seen and heard Matt Woosey perform, either solo, or with his band, will know him to be a talented blues man, acoustic guitarist and an excellent writer. Matt does not need to fill his set with blues classics, though sometimes the odd song may be slipped in. He is also gifted with an excellent voice, capable of gentle, melodic country songs or spitting out the grit when a bit of passion is required. His last full album, ‘On The Wagon’, has provided plenty of material for a Woosey gig, a follow up EP bridged the gap to this new release, Wildest Dreams. This is where we find new elements to Matt’s work, the style is more expansive. There is still a blues connection, its an anchor that does not lift easily, but the album opens into new areas, Matt is spreading his wings. My initial thought on first play through was, wow, this is bloody good. Dissect it and you will certainly find blue veins, but you’ll also find a a massive heart, pumping out rock, country, maybe even some gypsy jazz. It starts with a beautifully written and performed,’Exactly As We Please’, a song about shared moments alone with someone you love. Then comes Wildest Dreams, bags of reverb opening with Tom Tom, and finding an ethereal Matt, evoking feelings of Woodstock and an almost forgotten era of peace and love.
‘I’ve Seen The Bottom’, starts slightly sullen and blue, but quickly bursts into a glorious rock anthem complete with Hammond Organ, and great, emotive, one liner lyrics. ‘Don’t Tell Nobody’, is a deliciously dark tale of forbidden fruits, and is, quite simply, superb.
Here we switch to the near 3 minutes of mesmerising gypsy jazz finger picking guitar lead in to, ‘Love Is The Strangest Thing’, where the lyrics float in like a sea mist, and still that guitar plays on. Two songs are lifted straight from The previous EP, always destined, I suspect, for an album, ‘Hook Line & Sinker’ is joined by ‘let It Flow’, both very worthy inclusions. This album was recorded, mixed and mastered in 4 days flat, at Monnow Valley Studio under Tony Hobden. Dave Small on percussion, was also joined by Paul Quin on Hammond, and Rob Newell on bass. Including ‘Hook Line & Sinker’, is pretty appropriate, because that is exactly how it grabs you. Its difficult to select a favourite or stand out track, they are all that good, but I do particularly like the steamy, ‘Don’t Tell Nobody’. This is a long way from being a formulaic album, the genre are varied, with the common thread of Woosey talent stitching it all together. To record this in just a few days, points to the select group of collaborators and the inspiration engendered by Lisa, Matt’s partner.
I cannot find the words to do justice to this CD, it is stunningly good, it deserves to find a much wider market than the blues genre alone, can provide. Matt has long demonstrated his musical credentials, a good vintage has matured into a premier Cru.
Words Graham Munn
Blind River Scare are a South Wales based four-piece that play a combination of original Americana and alternative country. The band have been playing live around the area whilst honing their sound.
Point Of No Return is a six track self-released EP that showcases their brand of back-porch roots, combining acoustic guitars with Pedal and Lap steel to create a warm and inviting sound, whilst frontman, Tim Manning delivers a fine country-tinged drawl that instantly grabs the attention, whilst his lyrics draw the listener further into their evocative mix.
The EP opens with the title track and instantly showcases the band’s alternative country credentials with an instantly infectious rolling rhythm and that aforementioned delightful combination of lap steel and acoustic guitar. The track moves along at a fair old pace and hints at the dusty Texan border with it’s almost Calexico like use of drum and bass, whilst the story compels and encourages the listener onwards.
Whether you enjoy the follow up track, Could I Be A Different Man would be down to personal taste, I’m not a big traditional country fan so to be honest despite a decent vocal and some nice harmonies, the track leaves me a little cold, as it’s all a little to slow and safe for my liking. Third track Gideon appeals a great deal more, with it’s (for the most part) solo acoustic guitar and weathered vocals, whilst the lyrics again capture the imagination and when the twanging pedal steel joins it peppers the track as opposed to dragging it down that tried and tested traditional route.
No Remorse, Guilt Or Shame sees the band at their most musically muscular with loads of tasty finger plucking complimenting the strummed acoustic wonderfully, whilst Damage Is Done begins as a stripped down affair complete with a wonderful warm and weary vocal, a harmony enriched chorus and a welcome change of pace during a short yet infectious middle section.
Overall Point Of No Return is an interesting and often contagious showcase of Blind River Scare, Tim’s vocals and lyrics are for the most part slow burning, rich and welcoming whilst the band create a tasteful country backing, if you want something raw and ragged look elsewhere but if you want to hear well played inviting roots you’ll find a great deal to admire about Blind River Scare.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 7
Here’s a somewhat strange concept, a covers album of Bob Dylan in what, most people would declare, the poets weakest era (Bob suffered both critically and commerically throughout the decade!!), in fact most music fans maybe fairly ignorant to the majority of Dylan’s 80’s output with the likes of Saved, Knocked Out Loaded and Infidels barely registering on all but the hardened Dylan fans radars.
However producers Jesse Lauter (Elvis Perkins, The Low Anthem) and Sean O’Brien (Dawes, Papa) have set about addressing the forgotten era of Dylan by collaborating with a number of artists and Dylan fans to showcase what you may have been missing.
The album not only is an awareness raising affair for Dylan of the 80’s but also set’s to help raise funds for a fantastic charity, Pencils Of Promise (an organization that builds schools and eductational opportunities in the developing world) by donating a portion of the proceeds of the sale of this album. a win-win situation where purchasers are introduced to some brilliant music and give to the needy.
The compilation itself features a number of big names from the aforementioned Elvis Perkins to Deer Tick, Slash, Craig Finn (Hold Steady) and Dawn Landes & Bonnie “Prince” Billy among others all delivering rousing performances and highlighting the pen of Bob Dylan in the forgotten decade.
The album open’s with a gloriously ramshackle, rustic rendition of Got My Mind Made Up (from Knocked Out Loaded) by Langhorne Slim & The Law who weld together boogie woogie piano, handclaps, strummed acoustics and a raw, rousing, infectious vocal delivery that sets the mood brilliantly. From there on in we’re treated to a variety of styles and approaches as the various artists reintrupt to their own strengths.
Highlights come thick and fast, from the likes of the gorgeous blissed out soul/reggae version of Brownsville Girl (Knocked Out Loaded) by Reggie Watts, the aforementioned Craig Finn with a brilliant piano led (Springsteen-esque) Sweetheart Like You (Infidels), the twanging country of Ivan & Alyosha’s You Changed By Life (Shot Of Love Outtakes), the beautiful folk lament of Dawn Landes & Bonnie Prince Billy’s understated Dark Eyes (Empire Burlesque) and the glorious alternative indie and muted horn assisted Series Of Dreams (Oh Mercy Outtakes) by Yellowcard. Whilst there’s no way you can review this album without mentioning the wonderfully the ahem, more warped, percussion friendly version of Waiting To Get Beat (Empire Burlesque) by Tea Leaf Green and the insane take on Wiggle Wiggle (Under The Red Sky) by Aaron Freeman (Ween) & Slash, which quite frankly has to be heard to be believed.
The seventeen track affair (24 if you manage to track down the deluxe vinyl edition with the bonus download code) is intriguing, captivating and at times surreal journey through the lesser acclaimed works by the most important songwriter born of this world. And if, as the album’s title suggests this only the first volume, sign me up for the subsequent releases now!!
Rhythm & Booze Rating 10
Ward Thomas are a pop tinged country duo hailing from the unlikely location of Hampshire, a twin sister act who grew up on a rural live-stock farm from a family line of authors and artists. The sisters embraced rural lifestyle and along with it the rustic sounds of American mainstays Johnny Cash, Dixie Chicks and Carrie Underwood among others.
The duo were heard by renowned Nashville session musician Bobby Blazier, who embraced their sound and encouraged them to record over in the country state with a number of country’s top musicians as well as Grammy winning superstar Vince Gill, resulting in an album set to be released later on in the year as well as this, their debut EP, Footnotes.
Now if you like radio friendly country with pop hooks, Ward Thomas are the band for you, this four-track affair serves as a nice introduction to the stunning close harmonies and obvious pop hooks.
The EP opens with the rowdiest number, The Good & The Right, a blustery country rock number that’s simply hand built for day time radio with it’s instant hook, infectious vocal and long lasting swagger, that does bring to mind the aforementioned Dixie Chicks or perhaps The Wailin’ Jennys. From their the band strip back their sound, turn up the country influence and deliver the harmony enriched twanging title track, Footnotes. Take That Train is a true story based on love lost and redemption inspired by a chance encounter on a train, that once again showcases that sisterly bound with, it’s touching harmonies and rich melodies.
Ward Thomas finish up with a nod to their influences with a heartfelt and passionate rendition of Dougie MacLeans classic, Caledonia, that see’s the girls majestically cooing, making the often covered number very much their own.
Footnotes is a lovely showcase of the many attributes of Ward Thomas, from their close knit harmonies and intelligent instrumentation to their radio friendly pop hooks and heartfelt lyrics, the sisterly duo have certainly whetted the appetite for their forthcoming full length album.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 7