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Issue 1088

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Review

Bluesmix: Flat Nine (Proper)

Bluesmix CD cover pic

7

6.1

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UK release date 14.02.2012

In the 1970s, the London pub/club rock/ blues scene was thriving. The Hope and Anchor in Islington and the famed Marquee club in Wardour Street were the main venues where such greats as Dr Feelgood, Nine Below Zero, Ducks Deluxe, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Balham and the Alligators turned up in their battered twin-wheel based Transit vans, unloaded the gear themselves, set up with amps on top of beer crates and transformed cold, ordinary rooms into sweaty, crammed to the rafters dens of musical heaven night after night.

No one needed drugs or to be plastered on 2-for-1 booze to get high, when the bands were in full flow. Those days are long gone, often replaced with karaoke, tribute bands or DJsâ¦â¦..but there is a resurgence of interest in that type of venue and that type of night. A new and pleasing demand for real musicians playing real instruments, turning up the amps to 11 a la Spinal Tap! With a nod toward retro RnB and blues.

One such band who have helped to spearhead this movement over the last few years is Bluesmix. Four talented musicians and songwriters who have quietly got on with the business of making good music and pleasing records, picking up quite a loyal following and praise in high places.

They are London-based with the majority of their gigs down the smoke, unashamedly performing and recording a sound from yesterday, which throws soul, funk, blues, rock and jazz into the pot and sprinkled with plenty of power, energy and attitude to dish up a splendid gumbo of musical magic.

Their current CD, âFlat Nine,â was first released in February last year, but it is having a re-birth as new people discover it, new radio gobs on sticks praise it and new hacks write about it. While new fans pick up a copy at their gigs and tell their friends too, this album has a longer than average shelf life.

The 11 track album opens with âOn Fire,â which nails its colours to the mast from the off. It is all about groove and attitude. The band dig deep and deliver a very nice boogie blues number to kick off with, which sits on a bed of juicy organ (ohh err, missus!), and features some impressive and creative guitar work.

Rob Flemingâs vocal on track one and throughout rhe CD is loose and full of punky attitude. It is not a criticism but an observation; that the singer is not the best vocalist out there. But in the same way that the likes of say Dylan or Jagger are not great singers per say, but admirable front men and perfect for their own material, Rob has that âscrew youâ thing going on in his delivery and it works well. It put me in mind of Geldofâs âI donât give a *%$* what you think of me,â style in early Boomtown Rats days.

I have not seen this band live yet, but I bet Mr Fleming is the perfect front man and struts his stuff with panache and swagger, placing as much emphasis on stage craft as he does vocal. That is what I get oozing out of the CD player when I hear him, as opposed to âwow what a great voice.â He can sing, for sure, but it takes more than that to front a band, and this is very much an ensemble sound. Not a platform for a singer, or an instrumentalist to shine at the expense of the others or of the material.

Singer Rob also plays guitar and he sits in Mick Green territory for me. Rob is a very creative player, and I really enjoyed his licks throughout this CD. He clearly listens to and soaks up many different styles of music and guitar playing, and puts his own stamp on it all. He also knows when not to play and leave air around his licks. The production allows the guitar to cut through too, as it would live, but without overpowering anything else in the mix.

Track two, âBreak My Back,â has a pop at the fat cats in the banking system. Political stuff turns me off. But I must say it is the first song I have ever heard which features the word Pecadillo in the lyric! Again a nice groove, a tapestry of guitars and keyboard, some lovely piano work from Bob Morgan including a tasty solo. More fine guitar licks too.

While listening to âFlat Nine,â I recalled working with two great bands back in the late 70s and early 80s, The Movies, and even Stretch. I was also thinking that Bluesmix have a little feel of Squeeze about them, in the vocal and the general approach maybe. Not a bad thing at all.

âWell Well,â features sax from keysman Bob and some thick wah wah from Rob. Emil Engstrom on bass and Ivan Kormanak on drums keep it solid and never falter on any of the tracks. I am not going to go through all 11 to describe this CD to within an inch of its life. Other than to say that each song fits well with the rest, but they all bring something new to the party.

It is all of a similar standard, the production is assured and uncomplicated. But while it will not get them a chart entry and nor is it revolutionary, it is honest and very much a British band sounding like a British band, - not trying to sound American, thank goodness.

During the last few years BluesMix have appeared at venues and festivals in the UK, Europe and the West Coast of America. The band played a clutch of gigs around the San Francisco Bay area last year, visiting legendary clubs such as Boom Boom and Slims. They also opened for Macy Gray at an open air event. Here they have done the business at The 100 Club, The Borderline, Ainât Nothin But The Blues and the 606 Club. They have played with and opened for artists including: Amy Winehouse, The Haggis Horns, Matt Schofield, Ian Siegal and New Mastersounds.

Other critics have hailed the CD and this band as âCool, retro and a whole lot of fun.â âAn absolute treat..well-crafted quality. âA welcome tonic.â âBlends funk with forward looking blues.â âUp there with the best of the UK Blues Scene.â âA talented band carving out their own impressive nicheâ¦an innovative sound and fine musicianshipâ
I will let you make up your mind about those comments, when you check out this album and get to see the band live.

But they should certainly have wide appeal and although I have only heard this latest of their three CDs â London Nights 2006, Biding My Time in 2008 and Flat Nine Feb 2012 - I am more than confident that they have the potential to do a lot more, if they continue to focus on what it is all about: enjoying themselves and providing punters with a cracking night out, maybe sore feet and an aching back in the morning, and a digital plastic snap shot of what they do and what they do well.
Words SIMON REDLEY

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