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Issue 1088

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Review

The New Groove: Quit Bitchin’ (The New Groove)

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UK release date 01.07.2013

The New Groove. A new name to me, and probably to you too. Do they groove? You betcha. A band formed by London-based lead singer and harmonica player Ben Curtis after he quit his business career to focus full time on his first love of music, following a life-changing illness. Ben was given the devastating news of his prostate cancer, just three days before Christmas in 2011. Before that he was a contented family man, a founder and director of a thriving business and enjoying all the benefits that success had brought him.

But for the next couple of months after that shocking news, his focus was on getting the right treatment and "getting straight psychologically". Then he made the decision to retire from business to focus on his recovery and exploit his passion for writing and performing music. He contacted his friend Steve French,who had taken a year out of his sales job to work on his own music. The pair started writing original material together, with Steve taking care of the music and Ben the lyrics. An album was the next logical move. They secured the services of Steve Orchard, a Grammy Award winning recording engineer, mixer and producer who over the years had worked with artists including Paul McCartney, U2, Coldplay and Travis and more recently engineered the recording of A Symphony of British Music for the Olympics’ closing ceremony.

He proved to be the key in finding the right pro players to draft in to form the band around Ben on lead vocials and harmonica and Steve on acoustic and electric guitars. It was Steve's suggestion to include Henrik Irgens on bass, Carrie Haber on keyboards, Hammond and backing vocals, and Steve Rodford on drums and percussion. In October last year, the band spent two weeks together at the legendary Rockfield Studios near Monmouth in Wales, recording the 10-track album of originals, penned by French & Curtis (not Saunders!)

They describe themselves as “a Rock band with Blues and Soul influences.” I am unsure how accurate that is after hearing this pleasing debut record. To me, they are a rockin' R&B band, and this collection is full of passionate performances from the heart. An honest to goodness slice of good time music. The album opens with the Texas style, boogie rocker, title track. Some fine weaving of guitar to create the groove. A very able player is old Frenchy. Ben’s vocal takes me back to the '70s punk era, with his aggressive delivery and back of the throat rasp. His blowing on the Mississippi saxaphone (aka blues harp), would have been at home in the Hope and Anchor in Islington or the Marquee club in Wardour Street some three plus decades ago, with the likes of Lee Brilleaux et al. Ben is a very impressive player indeed.We get some old fashioned rock and roll on track three: “Rip It Up.” “Injustice” has a Stones vibe to it, and some scorching guitar licks from Steve French. The slow blues “If I Have To Leave” is a good example of the partnership between the guitar and vocal, intertwining like a hand in a glove. The vocal approach on this and on the slower and more exposed numbers, is that 'couldn't give a shit,' loosey goosey Tom Waits style. But Ben can belt it out with that razor blade rasp of his when the song calls for it.

The whole ambience is of a giant party jam session. It’s raw and it is rough and ready, but that is maybe what gives it appeal. I doubt there are any hooks among this set of 10 songs, that you’ll be humming or whistling a few hours after hearing this album. Not the strongest songs ever written, but there is nothing here that offends at all. Be interesting to see if Mr Curtis and Mr French follow this up, and what direction they take. I’d certainly be keen for them to do so, as they are both real finds on the UK blues scene, as a guitarist, a singer and harp player. I'd love them to get listening to all the J Geils Band vinyl and Nine Below Zero's early output, for a clue as to the kind of stuff they should do next. As good as this record is for a debut from two good friends and a bunch of pro' session players, I cannot help feeling that the talent on guitar, vocal and harmonica is vastly under exploited here. With the right material, they might well blow many UK blues bands off the stage at any festival they rocked up at. But these songs aren't it.

After the release of “Quit Bitchin’ ", Ben’s new found confidence in the future is summed up concisely in one simple sentence: "The power of music psychologically, has to be the best tonic ever.” I’ll drink to that.
Words SIMON REDLEY

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