Jock’s Juke Joint: Contemporary Blues From Scotland Volume 1
Lewis Hamilton Music
BluesWax Rating: 9 out of 10
Last week David Scott reviewed Volume Two in this series. Feedback immediately began pouring in from our Blues Brothers in Scotland. So many that the editors had to confirm that David was not running a “puff” piece on some friends (something we frown upon). It turned out that David has never met any of them! Based on Scottish recommendations, David has reviewed Volume One and in honor of our Scottish friends we have bumped it up the calendar to run this week. We’re ready for Volume Three!
Scotland: Hotbed of the Blues
From pioneers Alex Harvey and Tam White to the 2012 winners of Best Live Band, King King, Scottish blues has been at the forefront of the genre for well over half a century. As a teenager living just south of the border in England, my love affair with the blues started in the 1950s when I discovered Leadbelly, courtesy of Glaswegian Lonnie Donegan’s version of “Rock Island Line.” The rest is history.
I followed the American blues maestros to the major Scottish cities and watched the native-born acts leading the export back across the pond, including Frankie Miller. Was there ever a better British blues singer than Miller before tragedy struck in 1997 when he suffered a near-fatal brain hemorrhage? Scotland’s status as a breeding ground for the best blues talent is assured through Jock’s Juke Joint: Contemporary Blues from Scotland Vol 1, the first of an intended trilogy of compilations. Volume 2 was reviewed here last week to near unprecedented levels of worldwide interest, hence the rush to locate the volume which started the frenzy. The breadth of talent is just as impressive on Volume 1 with blue-chip, or should it be “blues-chip” performances from Stevey Hay, Albany Down, and Frank O’Hagan.
However, standing out like a colossus is Gerry Jablonski, a man who makes Joe Bonamassa sound like Andy Williams. Gerry and The Electric Band put in a breathtaking performance of “Higher They Climb” with one of the most pulsating and memorable riffs since Alvin Lee’s “Love Like A Man.” The slick changes in tempo, enigmatic vocals, mesmeric harmonica, incendiary guitar solo, thunderous bass, and torrential drumming make this the best blues-rock track in recent years. But this is no one-man show, with Stevey Hay’s Shades of Blue setting the tone of the album with a boogie blast reminiscent of Canned Heat’s ‘”On The Road Again,” with Hay and Neil Warden showing their skills as swashbuckling axemen. Albany Down’s “South Of The City” is electrifying, with Paul Muir’s impassioned vocals and Paul Turney’s piercing guitar. On “You Can’t Hang,” Laura-May Gibson, with The Bel-Airs, proves she has a voice that could distil whisky.
“Walk Away’ by The Jensen Interceptors is a beautifully sung ballad with some neat harp playing by vocalist Gary Martin and soothing background Hammond from Kirk Lothian. Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers are a power trio who, on the poignant “Empty Roads,” highlight the importance of a tight rhythm section when backing such a versatile and unique vocalist and guitarist. “Fallin’ For Foolin’” by The Bare Bones Boogie Band is late-night, smoldering jazz/blues, dripping with emotion thanks to Helen Turner’s powerful, intense vocals and the evocative atmosphere created by Iain Black on guitar.
The three acoustic solo performances are all well crafted and a credit to the accomplished musicianship of Gus Munro (“Fever”), Sleepy Eyes Nelson (“Blonde Snapper”), and Lovat Houndog Fraser (“The Kingdom’s Empty Halls”). Willie Logan’s “Nodully” is a duet which sounds like a full band and is one of the most skillfully produced tracks on the album. The Yahs’ “Keep On Going” highlights the fact that blues can encompass a broad church, including more popular styles of music whilst retaining the feelings and integrity associated with the genre.
A personal favourite of mine is “School For The Blues” by The Frank O’Hagan Band, a deceptively effortless singer surrounded by great musicians, including the legendary Fraser Speirs. Dana Dixon, fresh from the Harvest Blues Festival in Ireland, enhances her band’s reputation further with the mellifluous “Let You People Know.” Paul Montague’s harmonica playing on Missing Cat’s “For The Loss Of It” is a real blast and a good enough reason in itself for buying the CD. “The Traveller” is a pleasant ballad by Dead Men’s Shoes showcasing Craig Arnott’s vocal and keyboard talents, and the hard-hitting “My Friend My 44″ by Ruff Cut does exactly what it says on the tin with Dave Bradshaw’s gravelly vocals and Mick Quinn’s rock-hard drumming.
Dave Scott is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
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