ALIVE IN THE WINDY CITY Stone Temple Pilots (Eagle Vision/ Rhino) 3.5/5
Filmed at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre in March 2010, Stone Temple Pilots knock back a mix of classic hits and new songs in front of a wildly enthusiastic crowd.
The first thing that struck me is how little the band interacts on stage- it wasn’t until around the mid-point when Scott Weiland slithered up to Dean DiLeo on guitar for an energy exchange. I get the impression that they aren’t the best of friends, yet appreciate what they have and what they can create together- that’s enough.
I enjoyed watching all the guys play- drummer Eric Kretz was solid, throwing in some tasty fills without show boating, and I’ve always enjoyed Dean DiLeo as a guitarist. His brother Robert on bass seemed to enjoy playing the most, holding his bass almost upright, a la Bill Wyman.
Lots of early hits to dig into, and the new stuff is good too. A highlight of the show was the audience singing along to Creep and Plush at around the halfway point, which loosened the band up. Some trippy visuals on the large screen behind the band, otherwise a fairly basic show- proving that you don’t need to constantly blow shit up.
Alive In The Windy City is a fine performance that reminded me of some great songs I haven’t listened to in awhile. The bonus feature is an interview with the band, though Kretz doesn’t say a word. Some solid rock & roll here.
TOP TRACKS: Interview with STP, Vasoline, Creep, Bagman
ROYAL SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD Royal Southern Brotherhood (Ruf) 4/5
I thought the name was pretentious until I read who was in the band; Cyril Neville, Devon Allman (son of Gregg), Mike Zito, Charlie Wooton and Yonrico Scott- THAT got my attention, and the music holds it.
In the American south, where good music is treated like a religion, these guys are the balls. This blues and rock with back woods grooves is refreshing and timeless at the same time. A song like Fired Up comes across like a classic Santana jam and Moonlight Over The Mississippi is closer to classic blues, with a sinewy backbeat and supple playing from all concerned. From one song to the next each seems to hold its own treasures, surprising and delighting by the time you hit the first chorus.
Cyril Neville’s vocals remind me of Robert Cray, and bassist Charlie Wooton with drummer Yonrico Scott create are inseparable throughout. Of course, as an Allman, Devon can’t help but ooze swampy southern licks every time he touches his guitar. The album ends with an instrumental called Brotherhood that lets everyone show their chops, 4 minutes of groove and feeling telling you what you need to know about these guys.
RSB is a solid record, right from the guts. These guys are currently on the summer blues festival circuit- if they land anywhere near you, do yourself a favor and catch the gig.
TOP TRACKS: Sweet Jelly Donut, Fired Up, Gotta Keep Rockin’
HERE I AM Oli Brown (Ruf) 4.5/5
This label appears to specialize in young guitar prodigies. Brown, a 22 year old Brit dubbed “the great white hope of British guitar” is fiery instrumentalist that’ll have you remembering the first time you heard Stevie Ray.
Having shared stages with Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal, Oli Brown’s talents were obvious from early on, and he wins blues awards regularly. “I didn’t have any career ambition until I started playing guitar in 2002” he says now. “Blues was always in the background, but what really hit was the first Stevie Ray Vaughan album I bought. When I started playing, Hendrix was my first influence.” The joke is on Oli- I had this discussion with my youngest son last week, telling him that above all else, Hendrix was a bluesman.
As a singer Brown’s voice has a similar timbre to SRV, and musically he likes to drag the beat too, which gives many of these tunes a swagger they might not have otherwise. Praised by Mojo as “the hottest young pistol in British blues” and Uncut as “a British bluesman to rival Trucks and Bonamassa”, Here I Am isn’t just six string wizardry, it’s a record with a whole lot of soul- and I can’t wait to share some of this on my radio show.
TOP TRACKS: Start It Again, Thinking About Her, I love You More Than You’ll Ever Know
CHECKERED PAST The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer (Ham) 4/5
Blues from the deep south with a modern pop sensibility- seems like an odd combo, but holy cow, does it ever work!
The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer are Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers, a Vancouver based duo. If you follow the road taken to get to Checkered Past (divorce, layoffs, addictions, even cancer) this album isn’t about escapism or blank slates, it’s about facing up to your history and making it mean something new.
There’s deep blues in these grooves, particularly on songs like Be My Woman, which sounds like it was recorded on a front porch somewhere down south, and their take on the Willie Dixon classic Mellow Down Easy has a swingin’ groove. 13 songs in all here, and like any good blues album it’s a record about life- the hard roads we sometimes take, and the celebration of coming out the other side of hard times. I wasn’t expecting the reggae touches of Too Late Virginia or Roll With The Punches, but they add to the ‘anything is possible’ vibe that makes this disc so likeable.
In many ways, Checkered Past isn’t your traditional blues album- but in just as many ways, it is. At the end of the movie Crossroads, Willie Brown tells Lightnin’ Boy “You gotta take the music past where you found it, take it someplace else”. That’s exactly what’s happening here.
TOP TRACKS: Mellow Down Easy, Roll With The Punches, Nothing To Lose
A FRIEND IN THE BLUES Danny Marks (Independent) 3/5
This is a friendly sounding blues album- imagine that! Marks’ musical roots go back to the 60’s as a founding member of Edward Bear, and he’s got the blues deep in his soul.
As a founding member of Edward Bear he’s opened for Zeppelin, Average White Band Humble Pie and a bunch more. He’s also long-time host of a popular 4 hour blues radio show (makes me feel lazy at just an hour!), a TV host, and has received The Toronto Blues Society’s “Blues With A Feeling” award for lifetime achievement in music and broadcast. All of which means this guy is worth checking out.
As a singer Danny reminds me of Baldry. He really gets down on songs like Two Brothers, but unlike other blues artists I’ve reviewed of late, I wouldn’t call it greasy- which is too bad, ‘cuz that’s the stuff I really dig.
The musicianship is flawless. Aside from Danny on vocals and guitar we have Alec Fraser on bass & vocals, Al Cross on drums, Jonathan Goldsmith on piano and Hammond B3, with Sherie Marshall on backup vocals and Wayne Mills on sax. They’re sympathetic players, giving Marks what he needs to realize his vision.
Best blues album of the year? No- but a very likeably one, and a pleasure to listen to.
TOP TRACKS: Back To The Blues, Blues For Lonnie Johnson, Blues Of The Future