Blues Round-up: June 2012

Henry Yates on new releases from Oli Brown, BabaJack, WT Feaster Band, 24 Pesos and Billy Boy Arnold With T.S. McPhee & The Groundhogs

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Oli Brown: Here I Am

If the album title doesn’t spell it out clearly enough for you, then a few lines into Here I Am’s opening title track, Oli Brown lays it on with a trowel: ‘Ain’t tryin’ to be Jimi or Stevie,’ he drawls, with purpose and intent. ‘I wanna be my goddamn self!’ We take the hint: this is the album where you burst from your creative pupa with your own artistic voice, right? Off you go, then… As it turns out, three albums into this prodigy’s recording career, Norfolk-born Brown is developing his own vibe, albeit one cunningly marinated in a kaleidoscope of other blues sub-genres. He’s horny and in big-band mode for Thinking About Her; winningly funky on All We Had To Give; rolling out the barrel on the harp-led Solid Ground. It’s cracking stuff, helped by a vocal and chops that have filled out since 2009’s Open Road, but the sense remains that Brown would be even better if he dredged a few painful memories from his unhappy place and bled onto the lyric sheet. He’ll get to that. Pull out a chair at the big boys’ table: Oli Brown has arrived. (810)

BabaJack: Rooster

WOMAD alarm-bells ring when a press release refers to Peruvian percussion, but BabaJack quickly reel you back in. A box-beating Malvern duo stood at the folk/blues/roots crossroads, Becky Tate and Trevor Steger mix up breathy vocals with rattly slide guitar, and while most of these songs admittedly never evolve from a mesmeric groove, they’re seriously atmospheric. (710)

WT Feaster Band: Juggling Dynamite

You can always tell the bands that started out as roadhouse sloggers, and three albums down, Travis Feaster’s well-drilled outfit still play like they’re trying to avoid a bottling from Indianapolis barflies. They’re great at the faster stuff like The Road Is Mine, but come unstuck with ballads like I Can’t Let You Go, where Feaster’s powerful vocal is hobbled by a lyric of pure cheddar. (610)

24 Pesos: When The Ship Goes Down

The word for 24 Pesos is ‘groovesome’, with the upbeat shuffle of Melon Man, Leadbelly, Peace In The Valley – literally everything here, in fact – prompting involuntary toe-taps and hip-bucks. Just as cheerful people ultimately start to grate, you’ll love them until about eight tracks in, at which point your cynicism will take over, and you’ll reach for something gloomier. (610)

Billy Boy Arnold With T.S. McPhee And The Groundhogs: Blue And Lonesome

This 1977 collab proves a fractious marriage, Arnold’s honeyed vocal kicked up the arse by Tony McPhee’s caustic guitar tone, but getting revenge with some brilliantly gruff ad-libs. ‘I’m gonna set the pace, y’all gonna groove with it,’ he orders, but the Hogs knock his brief out the park. (810)