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Issue 1089

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Review

Blue On Black: Robert Johnson’s Door (H.A.M.Music)

Blue On Black CD Cover

7

6.1

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UK release date 20.08.2012

Described as “weapons grade rock and blues,” this band put rock before blues in that slogan. As well they should. This album, their third, is hard rocking with blue patches. If you like the 70s British rock end of the blues, you’ll like this trio.

Their influences are Cream, Zeppelin, Jimi, Rory’s Taste and Johnny Winter et al, and it shows. Ian Gillan said to be a fan.

Following the snatch of front porch, acoustic guitar blues in “King O’ Spades, (Prelude)" they crash in to the arena rock/blues of the title track, which would give Robert Johnson a seizure. I do question a bass solo so early in the album, and one that lasts 47 seconds too. “Cold Wind Blows,” calms things a bit, a pleasant blues ballad which features some nice guitar work from Keith Howe.

A jaunt into Southern blues rock territory in “Poor Boy Do,” nails a boogie groove nicely. “Means To An End,” gets me thinking of the late, great Lee Brilleaux and his era Dr Feelgood. Keith has a similar aggressive delivery in his vocal, but his constant throaty growl on nearly every song is a tad overdone for me. Very nice hook in this song.

Music written by the three band members on all their tunes here, lyrics from Keith apart from one. Commendation for an album full of originals, for sure.

Six in we get Larry Miller guesting on guitar and a trademark solo, on “Black Smoke Blues,” a song which has a nice feel to it. This track has a Johnnie The Fox era Lizzy structure to it, and the guitars cut through better than on some of the tracks here. Nick Gladstone lyricist on this one.

They seem to like quirky time signatures and fractured structures, such as “Information Only,” which has a slight Stranglers flavour to it, but for me could have been a bit tighter. “Body and Soul,” takes us right away from the blues and more like AC/DC. Some nice harmonica on “Lousiana State,” from Al Rideout and some tasteful slide guitar from Keith.

Formed in 2001, this power trio have played alongside Joe Bonamassa, Deep Purple, Walter Trout and Peter Frampton. Keith Howe on guitar & lead vocals, Paul Arnott on bass guitar & vocals and Nigel Masters providing the percussion & vocals.

The album's title is a metaphor for artists who continue to shape their own futures by looking back at the greats, especially the legendary Robert Johnson. Blue On Black among them, basing their core sound on yester-year influences, but very much a part of today's resurgence of the harder, rockier aspect of the blues genre.
Words SIMON REDLEY

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