Reviews roundup – Peter Lacey vs. Crippled Black Phoenix vs. Rachel Baiman vs. Billy Thompson
Pink Hedgehog Records
Another day, another Peter Lacey album. Which means I get to trot out the sentence “melodic pop-rock, that brings in his Brian Wilson, Nick Drake, Burt Bacharach, XTC etc influences”, for the seven hundredth time. Which is nice. Of course it helps that Mr Lacey continues to release music of a uniformly high standard. Why, I even trotted out ‘Funfair For The Common Man’ on my Sunday radio show the other day*.
However, gird yourselves folks. For Mr Lacey has swung to the left. It’s true. Because he’s moved on from the above references into a world of Traffic and Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, as he embraces a world of jazz tinged folk. Yup, he’s moved to the country to get his head together, man.
Luckily, his ear for the sweet spot has stayed with him, even if it has led to a resurgence of the flute. But that has not caused him to wither on the vine, and tunes like ‘Country Mile’, ‘Harvest Moon’ ‘Sparrow’ are as good as anything he has put his name to. You can download at Amazon, or get yourself a CD at Pink Hedgehog.
CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX
White Light Generator
I’d never bothered listening to Crippled Black Phoenix before. A combination of a shite name, and the words “members of Iron Monkey, Gonga, Mogwai and Electric Wizard” were enough to put me off. But looks like that was my loss. Because they’re really rather good.
They are purveyors of that strange style from the early seventies that mixed up blues vibes with proto metal and bits of prog. It didn’t sell then. Just ask the members of the original Iron Maiden the next time you phone up too renew your boiler insurance. But it was a good sound, sometime even a groovy sound, and that’s where Cripple Black Phoenix live. Take the A47 to Leaf Hound, then the B372 to Captain Beyond, and you’ll find them near the burnt out barn.
Rather sweetly aping Queen II, this CD has a black side and a white side, both of which are chock full of melodic, classic rock sounds, mixing up lighter material like ‘Sweeter Than You’ and the harder rocking sounds of ‘Parasites’. Folks who like their rock leavened with some psych and some seventies doom will find a lot to like here.
And here’s the debut album from the Nashville based singer, songwriter and banjo/fiddle player, Rachel Baiman. “Speakeasy Man” was recorded half in Scotland and half in Nashville, and tries to marry the American bluegrass tradition with its roots in Scottish folk music.
Turns out Ms Baiman studied at Vanderbilt University with degrees in Anthropology and Music, and took a semester during college to study Scottish music traditions in Edinburgh. Hence this album. And although it is basically a bluegrass album, there are enough tinges tucked away hither and thither to live it out of the increasingly large pack.
It’s a mixture of originals, covers and traditional tunes, mixing vocal cuts with instrumentals, and there isn’t a bum note to be found. The instrumentals are a real treat with ‘The Tortoise and the Hare/Pinnacle Ridge’, ‘Thank You, Liz Carroll’ and ”Nancy’s Waltz’ getting you to hit the repeat button straight away. Maybe, it’s because I’m a Scotchman, and they play to my ancestors, but I got a real buzz from them, albeit a buzz with a melancholy smurr.
Of the covers, it’s the Gillian Welch tune, ‘Winter’s Come and Gone’ that is the standout. Probably the most country song on offer, Ms Baiman makes it her own with some fantastic fiddle. She’s probably a bit young to be having a crack at Blind Lemon Jefferson, but it’s the only moment on a fantastic album that doesn’t ring true. However, an early contender for roots album of the year.
Finally, for today, it’s time for some funky blues from Billy Thompson, once described by Keb Mo as “funkier than three day ole chitlin”. Now I’m not a furriner, so have no idea whether that is a good thing or not, but let’s just assume for the moment that it is. Because this is a cracker.
He came late to the blues scene, having spent decades playing country and western, chart covers and rockabilly outfits before bottoming out in Las Vegas backing Gary Puckett (of the Union Gap). That seemed to act as a catalyst as it spurred him into founding blues band, The Mighty Penguins, before starting in on a solo career.
To be honest, musically, it’s all over the place, as he jumps from funk to Texas blues to New Orleans without sparing a thought for the poor listener, but it all works beautifully. There is some great slide work on ‘Garden’, he gets a laid back groove on with ‘Farmer Kenny’, he tries to turn Bill Withers ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ into a Latino festival, and shows that he can sing as well as he plays on the big ballad, ‘Half A Man’.
He may have left it late, but his sixties show a man at the top of his blues game.
* that would be at Get Ready To Rock Radio!