Reviews roundup – Lucifer’s Friend vs. Mississippi Heat vs. Donald Ray Johnson vs. Ray Vaughn vs. Beltane Fire

luciferLUCIFER’S FRIEND
Too Late To Hate
Lucifer’s Records

Lucifer’s Friend reformed a couple of years ago to release a compilation album and to d osome festivals.  Naturally, a live album followed quickly and now they’re on to a full blown new studio album.  The four bonus tracks on ‘Awakening’, the compilation, were very good and I’m glas to report that the good work has continued here.

The original members John Lawton (ex-Uriah Heep), Peter Hesslein and Dieter Horns are still there along with Jogi Wichmann (who joined for the 1994 reunion) and relative new boy Stephan Eggert on drums (who can count James Last amongst his previous gigs!)

Back in the seventies they were an amalgam of prog, hard rock and melodic rock, and it’s an approach that still serves them well.  John Lawton is in fine fettle for a septugenarian and still knows how to rock, as ably demonstrated on “Demolition Man”.  There’s a big power ballad in the shape of “When the Children Cry” and the more straight ahead rock of “Straight For The Heart” is another gem, as well as continuing the theme of borrowing eighties rock titles from other bands.

It’s a really enjoyable album that follows on from their early days with aplomb.  Recommended.

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cabMISSISSIPPI HEAT
Cab Driving Man
Delmark

Album number twelve for Mississippi Heat, their sixth for Delmark and the follow-up to ‘Warning Shot’ of which I said “Oh, I do like some jump blues, and this is a mighty fine offering”.  Well, the same applies here.

Pierre Lacocque, the leader of the band, has been at this for twnety five years, so is well versed in running a tight ship, and alongside Inetta Visor – vocals, Michael Dotson and Giles Corey – guitars and vocals, Dave Specter – guitar, Brian Quinn and Ricky Nelson – bass, Terrence Williams and Kenny Smith on drums. Chris “Hambone’ Cameron and Sumito Ariyo on keyboards, Sax Gordon on, um, sax, and additional percussion from Ruben Alvarezhas put togther as enjoyable a set as you’re llikely to hear.

Granted, it’s a couple of songs too long, but when the band hit that sweet spot as they do on most of the tracks, then it’s just beaucoup délice.  That includes “Flowers on My Tombstone”, “Rosalie” and “Icy Blue”.  It takes turns from jump blues into New Orleans and out in the country to backwoods cajun, but wherever they roam, a good time is had.

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gasDONALD RAY JOHNSON and Gas Blues Band
Bluesin’ Around
Mar Vista

The website of Donald Ray Johnson mentions his 1978 Grammy award alongside some more recent blues awards.  It doesn’t mention that it was the Grammy Award for Best New Artist as a member of A Taste of Honey (for whom he was the drummer), best known for their mega disco hit, “Boogie Oogie Oogie”.  I’d have that in BOLD.

Since then, the Texas native has relocated to Canafa and set about performing the blues, most recently as vocalist with the Gas Blues Band, led by guitarist Gaspard Ossikian.  This is their new album and it’s a very enjoyable set of old time blues and jump.

It’s a mixture of originals and covers taking in songs from BB King, Joe Louis Walker and Willie Dixon along the way.  And for those of us with expansive record collections there is a revisit to that 1978 A Taste of Honey album with a revisit to “Distant”, the non charting follow-up to “Boogie Oogie Oogie”.

The band are in fine fettle and Donald Ray has a voice suited to their swinging sound.  For old school blues fans this is a fine listen.

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birdRAY VAUGHN
Wounded Bird
Rayoso Music

So it’s true. Old punks never die.  They just reappear a couple of decades later with a punk tinged eighties new wave throwback style.  At least that’s what ‘Wounded Bird’ sounds like.  I haven’t heard ‘Way Down Low’ his debut, which came out in 2013 twenty years on from his Hostages / Die Bosa Nova days.

It actually makes some sense that Prairie Prince is on drums as this has more in common with pre pop Tubes than it does the Sex Pistols.  He’s also got a couple of Chuck Prophet alumni on board with James DePrato on electric, slide and acoustic guitars, baritone guitar, dobro and mandolin and Kevin T White on bass, and as the instrumentation suggests this has more than a hint of alt-Americana added to its new wave roots.

There are some good songs here with “Human Calculator”, “Change In Latitude” and “It Happened On Willow Street” particular highlights.  However most of the songs move along at a similar gait so there is a tendency for them to wash over me but old punks looking for a laid back retirement should investigate this.

https://rayvaughn.bandcamp.com/

beltaneBELTANE FIRE
Different Breed
Lemon

Back in 1985 there was a period of about nine months when I was enslaved by this album.  As well as the LP I had the 12″ and 7″ singles and would just mumble Beltane fire at people over and over.  I’d seem them supporting Marillion on tour and would have sworn blind that they would be the Next Big Thing.  And then they vanished.  As did my record collection which was nicked by a member of the Southern Chapter of the Left Hand Path.  Long story.

Why they never made it remains a mystery.  It was the time of the Celtic rock sound.  Big Country and The Alarm were chart botherers with lesser material but it just never clicked.  Maybe they were just a wee bit too different what with the double bass and the rockabilly background but songs about King Arthur, pirates and poachers didn’t seem to connect with radio so unless you stumbled upon them on tour, as I did, you’d never have got the chance to hear them.

Thirty years on it’s not quite the shining light I remember it as being.  That’s mainly due to an eighties production sound but on the best tunes it remains a sheer delight.  That includes “now you walk, now you walk the plank” aka “Captain Blood”, the epic splendour of “Excalibur (I Believe)” and “Fortune Favours The Brave”.  This reissue comes with a variety of bonus tracks including the 12″ single mixes and is highly recommended.  They’re planning a comeback tour in 2017 but I’ll just close my eyes and picture being a teenager in thrall to this record.

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