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Issue 1089

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Review

Giles Robson and the Dirty Aces: From The Basement (label TBC)

Giles Robson and the Dirty Aces CD Cover Pic

9

6.1

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UK release date 27.05.2013

WORLD EXCLUSIVE: This band are negotiating with a major US label right now to bring this album out in May. I have the first copy for review anywhere in the world. Believe me, this has global appeal..............

Stick pedal steel in a song and you have country. Put fiddle in and you have folk. Mandolin or banjo and youâve got yourself some bluegrass. If thereâs a raucous harmonica blowinâ up a storm, itâs gotta be the blues right? Well usually yeah, but not in the case of this album. This ainât no normal British blues CD. Apart from the fact the vocalist doesnât feel the need to put on a stupid Yank accent when he is quite obviously British, this could be a band from New York, Chicago, Seattle or anywhere in the USA.

One of the criticism of todayâs blues artists is; it is old hat and hasnât moved on from the 12-bar, tears in your beers, âlost my wife and dog and I miss that mutt so much,â roadhouse blues of the 50s. That is unless you are a young guitar slinger, and then the obsession seems to be on 1970s white British blues rock guitarists and cranking it up to Led Zep decibel level. With huge reference to Beck, Clapton, Moore and Bonamassa and not the three Kings, T Bone, Elmore et al.

The age group for a blues audience usually starts around 50. There will be the odd whipper snapper present too, usually a guitarist. You will clock many Hamsters, Hendrix and SRV tee shirts too. The age of the guys on stage is also likely to be as old as their audience.Well for a lesson in how to move the genre on and create an exciting, powerful and explosive sound all of your own, may I please introduce you to Mr Giles Robson and his Dirty Aces? After 35 years of doing what I do, and even longer hearing music of all sorts, I have to tell you it takes a lot to impress me. A lot. These cats did it, and some with this smashing album. A dozen originals with the emphasis on ORIGINAL. But, I must clarify by telling you blues fans, this is NOT a blues album as you'd know it. There will be a few purists and blues anoraks among you who may not like it. Fine. For every one with that view, there will be a dozen more who get aroused hearing this stuff. But the more important thing is; it will appeal to open minded blues fans as much as it will to those who liked punk, rock, garage and rockabilly. It has real fire in its belly and a big fat attitude. But the key is; it will bring in a new younger audience for the blues genre. Job done I think.


Giles Robson has been hailed as a modern day harmonica King. Paul Jones is a big fan as are many other top end harp players. He certainly has his own sound. Or does he? Well he is a very clever boy. He has taken a bit of this player, and a bit of that player, including his heroes Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter and even the phrasing and use of space of horn player Miles Davies, a smattering of different styles and blended it all into one sexy sound to sit on top of a fresh, today meets yesterday thing that no one else is doing. The production is spot on. It sounds like a one take, all round the same mike, old fashioned valve amp and tube mike, straight to tape approach, in a sweaty basement. But thatâs part of the trick; it was recorded in a state of the art studio on the island of Jersey, (where Giles resides) and hereâs a quirky fact for you; owned by Mr Gilbert OâSullivan or Ray as I know him (very nice guy too by the way.)

Giles and guitarist/percussionist Filip Kozlowski get production credit. Engineered By Sam Falle and mastered in New York by Steve Berson. Luckily the engineer and mastering chap have not polished off the deliberate distortion and dirty edge. It makes the whole thing sound of the moment and live, nodding toward 1950s Chicago blues clubs and cramped one room studios of the 50s and 60s.

We open with "Sinnin' 'Gainst Me,â a Dr Feelgood type affair with the attack and aggression of Leeâs harp and Wilko's guitar chops. It conjures up for me, Bad to The Bone by George Thoroughgood and the Destroyers, Kim Wilsonâs Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jace Everettâs âI Want To Do Bad Things To Youâ from the US vampire TV series âTrue Blood.â It harnesses the same power, energy and angst of punk and the strut and swagger of Iggy and his Stooges and Joey, Dee Dee and co.

Then comes "Na Na Na Na Na (The Girl I'm Talkin' About)." Very inventive guitar parts with a great sound to the axe, as it is throughout the CD. Filip is always bang on for tone and how the sound fits the track. This sits on a bed of organ, whereas the rest of the album is left sparse and stripped back to just guitar, harp, drums, bass and vocal. Wise move. Gilesâ harp makes up for at least three or four players, with its almost orchestral delivery. What we do notice from the off is what a big, big sound these four geezerâs make. This is a lovely track and has feet in both camps: Yesterday and today.

"Anna Marie" picks out a nice groove, and sits on top of solid as granite drums and bass from Cornwall-based Mike Hellier and Devon-based Ian Jennings, as always on this album. They really are locked in together and this stuff would suffer badly from a weak rhythm section. It needs balls and it gets âem. This track and all the CD is ensemble playing. There are no over blown solos, or the need to fill all the space with playing just for the sake of it. It is measured, but as natural as the spontaneous decision on stage about who does what and where, in a live situation.

It is the chemistry of this unit that works. Yeah Giles is a star among UK harp players, and probably one of the best out there from any part of the globe. He has certainly learned some party tricks and how to make that Hohner sound like a harp orchestra at times. Guitarist Filip is a real find too. Inventive, creative. He dares to experiment with different sounds and electronic jiggery pokery to deliver something really special. A versatile player too, and Iâd bet he has played almost every genre of music in his time, but you can tell his heart is here in this stuff. Mr K and Mr R are a formidable writing and production team â all songs here co-written by them both - and could do well if they offered themselves out to do just that for others.

It is so GREAT not to have to fast forward through endless heavy rock solos disguised as blues and lifted Joe B or SRV licks. This band and this sound is far more Hope and Anchor, Islington or Marquee, Wardour Street circa 1978 than it is Colne or Burnley blues festivals. But saying that, itâd work just fine in that environment too. Blues fans can never resist a decent guitarist or a decent harp player, and believe me, decent doesnât cover it here for these two. Bassist Ian Jennings has played with everyone, including Robert Plant and Eric Clapton, he was on the last couple of Tom Jones gospel/blues CDs. A founder of the wonderful Big Town Playboys too. Mike Hellier on drums plays with Mud Morganfield, Muddyâs eldest son and was on the BBC2 âLaterâ¦..with Jools Hollandâ TV appearance at the back end of last year. He also plays with the great Sherman Robertson, who is currently recovering from a nasty stroke and I wish him well.

So with that kind of experience and the strength of the writing here, it all adds up to something a bit different and a bit tasty for sure. Track four, âAin't No Forgetting," features a blistering solo on harp from Giles, putting me in mind of my favourite licking stick exponent, Magic Dick from the wonderful J Geils Band. Filip matches the excitement levels with a great solo on guitar. Shivers up the spine time.

A little slide guitar sets the tone on "That Simple Step," a mid tempo track with a spiky beat rather than a deep groove like a lot of this stuff. Bit of a muddy mix on the vocal on this one. Some fine aggressive blowinâ from Giles. He is such an adventurous harmonica player. Iâd imagine he has listened to the likes of Larry Adler and other non blues players, even classical, as much as he has the guys youâd expect him to soak up. He has his own sound, but all the historic references are there. His vocal is not the strongest vocal out there, but it works well on this material. Thank goodness he doesnât put on a fake yank accent too. His is a snarling vocal with attitude. A hand in glove fit for these songs. On "Know Where To Get To," there is a little pitchiness on the vocal, to be honest. I have to say that this song and the previous track see the energy levels dip slightly. But when we get to track seven of the dozen, they all dig deep for that dirty groove, the vocal gets treated to a distorted sound to add to the mood, Giles hits that harp hard and again plays a blinder on what is a strong song.

"A Few Choice Words" like a good chunk of this material, is a bit like very early Stones in style and attitude. Mike is spot on here with some energetic and on-point drumming. It is good to hear drums sound like drums on a recording too, instead of having their bollocks removed in the mix. That is the big thing to realise with this album, it relies upon good songs, great performances and a band sound, rather than PRODUCTION. Itâs raw, rough and ready, but has actually taken time and skill in the studio during and after cutting the stuff, to achieve this exciting end result.

Yeah a lot of blues, British blues often guilty of this; lacks FEEL. This album has it in HGV convoy loads. It also sits on infectious riffs, licks and hooks galore, and my bet is Giles dreams them up while he sleeps and just has to get âem down on to his mobile phone or a dictaphone when he wakes up!. The four of them leave air, space and room for the songs to breathe, and do not feel the need to showboat every five bars either. On the track "My Angels Might Die Too," Mike drives it along with some "tight as a Nunâs downstairsâ work on the drums. A relentless beat and some fiery guitar. "Howl & Moan" is a clever song, with a menacing feel to it. A bit Throroughgood maybe. A Jagger-esque ballsy vocal. A screaming guitar solo from Filip in a fine Joe B mode. Giles sounding like two harp players in one!

They flew Filip in from Poland for this recording. The price of that air ticket was well worth it my friends. He is as creative and unique on guitar as Giles is on harp. Togetherâ¦â¦â¦â¦man itâs a bit good.

"When That Final Storm Rolls In," is another great groove they really nail, and puts me in mind of the fantastic Juke Joint Pimps from Germany. Again, it has an attitude and is blues but with an edge. The closer is "Silver Bird to Mexico," a kind of Lou Reed/Petty/Ramones strut. More CBGBs New York than Buddyâs Chicago Legends club!

Giles will tell you, he is really after a contemporary sound on this new record - a mixture of Punk, Rock, and Garage Rock with Rock n Roll and Blues thrown in. His contemporary influences include Grinderman, The Black Keys, Jack White, the White Stripes and Gary Clark Jr. He is not trying to sound black or American, but more young and white. He has been told by a VIP, that this band could potentially do for blues what Mumford and Sons have done for folk, and open it out to a mainstream and younger audience. That remains to be seen......

But get it into your head that this is not a disguised solo record by harp monster Giles Robson, whose name appears in the bandâs title. Although it is perhaps a coming of age for him personally, and the album Giles has probably always wanted to make; this is very much Giles Robson and The Dirty Aces - a band - and they really are holding a winning hand. Boy does this album move the blues on by milesâ¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦and live; I bet they could tear you a new arsehole!
Words SIMON REDLEY

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