Blues Round-up: Summer 2012

Henry Yates on new releases from Ray Wylie Hubbard, Brian James Grand Cru, Laurence Jones, Bonnie Raitt and Hat Fitz & Cara

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Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Grifter’s Hymnal

On album opener Coricidin Bottle, Ray Wylie Hubbard announces his plan to ‘lay down a groove like a monkey gettin’ off’. And it’s difficult to better that description. Now in his mid-60s, Hubbard has been slogging for a half-century but never seems jaded, with the breakneck pace and malevolent energy of these rootsy, often acoustic, always groove-led cuts making his peers sound lethargic. Meanwhile, the caustic gallows humour of his lyrics and scratch of his vocal are clearly the products of a life lived the hard way, with Hubbard noting that ‘words are funky’, and firing a bullet-belt of grievances at The Grifter’s Hymnal’s tracklisting. It’s furious and darkly funny stuff, with his razorblade wit peaking on New Year’s Eve At The Gates Of Hell, wherein Hubbard dreams of dragging treacherous A&R men, a slew of country musicians and the ‘Fox News whores’ down with him. It’s a real pleasure to find that at least one veteran out there is growing old disgracefully. (910)

Brian James Grand Cru: Chateau Brian

Stranger things have happened than the original Damned guitarist recording rootsy acoustic blues – but not many. As it turns out, Chateau Brian goes down nicely on highlights like Tipitina’s and Such A Lot Of Stars, with James’s slurred croon set against lusty squeezebox and elegant fingerpicking, evoking a late-night stagger through the Latin Quarter of Paris. (710)

Laurence Jones: Thunder In The Sky

Precocious in every sense, this Laurence Jones band line-up has existed for less than a year, and their cherub-faced leader surely not much longer. Absurd, then, that they already sound like battle-scarred gigsters and carry before them hooks as mighty as Gotta Get Back Up and the excellent slow-blues title track. Jones’s vocal still sounds a little bumfluffed, but life will fill that out. Good stuff. (710)

Bonnie Raitt: Slipstream

Seven years since Souls Alike, and with several personal tragedies breaking her stride, the sense that Bonnie Raitt might be a waning force thankfully evaporates with Slipstream. On paper, just one co-write might suggest the slide goddess isn’t pushing herself creatively, but that’d be to overlook how utterly she owns covers like Dylan’s Standing In The Doorway. Welcome back, ma’am. (710)

Hat Fitz and Cara: Wiley Ways

While it’s hard to imagine what the children of Hat Fitz (the grizzled one) and Cara Robinson (the fragrant one) might look like, the archaic blues duo have created a quite beautiful baby in second album Wiley Ways. Mixing up flute, washboard, penny whistle, skittish drums and rattlesome national guitar with some well-observed lyrics, this is a nostalgia act with a future. (810)

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.