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Issue 1089

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Review

Bex Marshall: House Of Mercy (House Of Mercy Records)

Bex Marshall CD Cover Pic

8

6.2

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UK release date 17.09.2012

Me and my fellow music critics are usually quick to compare lesser known artists to their famous counterparts, when attempting to describe the style of music they play or sing. Well, in this case, the case of UK blues guitarist and singer-songwriter Bex Marshall, I ainât going there. Bex is Bex. Full stop.

I cannot think of anyone like her on these shores, of the female of the species, and globally sheâs pretty unique Iâd say. A triple threat as the Americans would say; raunchy blues voice, dynamite slide and guitar player and a classy songwriter too. Iâve not yet seen her perform on stage, but I hear she is pretty explosive live. That pleaure I shall have some day, for sure.

Her latest album is probably the album she was born to make. It is all about her. Yes, she has able help from some top drawer musicians, but the songs are a spot on vehicle for her vocal instrument and her guitar skills, and whatâs more, she wrote all 11 here. Bex also co-produced the CD with engineer Nick Hunt, and she took care of the art work; perhaps the red hot flames on the cover are symbolic of the fire in her belly for this obvious labour of love?

It is an even listen, and everything has a few core values: passion, style, soul, raw talent and all coming from one placeâ¦..not a desire for stardom or chart success; money or fameâ¦.straight from the heart. You can HEAR that Bex has a huge heart and it all spills out in her songs. I also suspect sheâs had her share of hard knocks in her life, and injects that pain and those troubles into her songwriting, and that roar of a voice, which is all the better for it. If Iâm mistaken and her life has been perfect, then she should take up acting very soon. One thing I know I am right about; she must gargle with paint stripper to get that throaty rasp.

Lazy hacks will churn out the comparisons to Bonnie R and Janice J no doubt, but again, I am not going down that road. Bonnie is Bonnie, Janice was Janice and Bex is not trying to be or sound like anyone else, to my ears.
Her PR blurb says she plays âan explosive slide rock n ragtime blues guitar, roots pickinâ with frails of bluegrass.â Not sure how accurate that is, but from this listen on eight tracks, Iâll go as far as to say that you will not hear a better slide and resonator player born and bred here on British soil. Bex is a magnificent player with an authentic gospel-blues feel that is a rare find. I am surprised she has not been âdiscoveredâ and whisked off around the globe by the likes of Van the Man or some visiting US star. She is that good.

She has been playing a good whileâ¦â¦â¦Bex trained as a croupier at 18 and began her travels around the world, working gaming tables on cruise liners to Park Lane - even dealing illegal poker games in Amsterdam. She hitch-hiked the coast of Australia on cattle trains, always with a guitar on her back. Devonshire born and now residing in London, the product of very different ancestry: blue blooded landed gentry and Irish Romany. As a child at family gatherings, her uncles would always play and stand her on the table to sing, and at 11 years old she was given a 1963 Gibson Hummingbird. She got hooked on instrumentals and classical guitar standards, which stretched her fingers and gave her a great basis for her own music to develop; flamenco, ragtime, country chicken pickinâ, rock and on to blues, roots and slide/dobro.

Thereâs a pretty impressive line-up of musicians on this album with Bex. Legendary dobro master BJ Cole, Jake the Bass from Hayseed Dixie (worked with them last year at Cropredy festival and they were monster good,)The Reno Brothers (Don Wayne and Dale), harmonica maestro Steve Lockwood, fiddle queen Eileen Healy, Nashville blues artist Brigitte De Meyer, gospel singer Shola Adegoraye, keyboard man Toby Baker, bassists Barry Payne, Jake Byers (of Hayseed Dixie) and Gary Choules, perussionist Danny Bryan, drummer Crispin Taylor, banjo man Don Wayne and a certain Barry Marshall-Everitt pops up on harmonica - he of The House of Mercy radio show and Bexâs husband. I knew Barry when he booked the acts at the Borderline in its heyday, and a great job he did too. He gets the penultimate song dedicated to him; âBarrys Songâ (the apostrophe is missing on the CDâs track listing.)

It is a risk when inviting so many of your musical mates onto your work, that the main artist might just get swallowed up and smothered by the mountain of instruments and egos vying for the spotlight. Not here. Everyone adds value, but we are in no doubt this is Bex Marshallâs baby.

It opens with the title track, a rocking blues meets Americana roots song with a great groove, in a Tony Joe White vibe. Some fine fiddle playing from Eileen Healy, and strong gospel backing vocals from shining star Shola Adegoraye, a real find. BJ Cole adds some flair with his world class dobro. âLove,â is a more stripped down affair, Bex gets raunchy in her vocal, and again they nail a great groove. Sheâs on fire on resonator.

âBite Me,â is back to basics with just harmonica for company, and a strong vocal vehicle.âGone Fishin,â is perhaps the most commercial track here for radio airplay, along with the title track, and features some infectious slide guitar from Bex. âRent My Room,â (or âRenting My Roomâ as it says on the LED read out on my CD player) has a Maria Muldaur, New Orleans flavour to it, and some nice piano and Hammond from Toby Baker. Strong controlled vocal from Bex. âRattlesnake,â is a slinky, dirty blues with some sizzling slide guitar from Bex.

âTough Times,â is one of the best songs on here for writing craft, and for the feel of the track. Some superb electric guitar from Bex, but for me, the banjo sticks out like a sore thumb on this one. The instrumental âBig Man,â was not one that floated my boat as much as the others. âBourbon Street,â comes in a tad low in volume at track nine, but maintains the quality with some nice slide playing. âBarrys Song,â (it has the apostrophe on the LED read-out on my CD player!) is a two-hander, Bex on acoustic guitar and vocal with Steve Lockwood on harmonica, a touching love song to her old man. Ahhhh. âGuilty,â closes the collection.
This CD â as good as most indie label stuff coming out of Nashville today, and well worthy of Bob Harris and Paul Jones spinning tracks from it for a few weeks running on their Radio Two shows - and this artist, deserve much wider recognition and main stage appearances next summer at all the major blues and roots festivals around the world. I just know theyâd love her.

One sure fire festival favourite is Seasick Steveâ¦.and I think he just found his perfect duet partner. Bex could even loan him a guitar string! Those two together; have mercy..............
Words SIMON REDLEY

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