Friday, 27 May 2011

World Wize

Published in Inpress Magazine (Melbourne), 18th May 2011 (Cover Feature)
Excerpt below

Blue King Brown

Where once they busked on the now-gold-plated streets of Byron Bay, weaving rhythmic tapestry to feral hill folk and sandled city-slickers alike, now they play to the world.  Where once they played to few, now they play to many and are embraced by anyone with a penchant for dance and a predilection for reggae-soaked grooves, the latter of which they’ve fought, tooth and nail, to meld to their own whim, slowly but surely distancing themselves from the other, mundane and painfully stereotypical replicas of bands gone by.  They are, of course, Blue King Brown, and life for this eight-piece collective is far from the same as it once was.

So to heights before unimagined they’ve risen, and yet still they’re a part of those streets they began on all those years ago.  As well, to those same people they play, more of them yes, but still the same message they preach and the same ears it reaches, although now, with close to a decade of experience under their belt, Blue King Brown are able to spread that message wider and further than ever before, and if the truth be told, there’s no end in sight.  Yes, they were cut from the same cloth as countless others before them, but they’re now woven a new one and it shows in their live sets, their recorded work, their ethos and their music as a whole.

To talk with frontwoman, Natalie Pa’apa’a these days, is a different scenario than it once was.  In speaking to her numerous times in the past I’ve found her haughty and distant, but with the growth (and indeed success) of the group she co-founded with bassist Carlo Santone around seven years ago, she seems to have mellowed out and come to accept that the (media) interest in this group is a positive thing and so she talks without restraint and gives out an aura of calm and confidence.  As well she might, for Blue King Brown are taking on the world, they’re becoming world-wise you might say, and this is, whether you care for them or not, just what they deserve.

“In between three and four weeks, we hit up Canadian Music Week in Toronto, we did a showcase in New York with a bunch of other Australian acts, we did SXSW in Austin, plus our own shows in LA and London,” Pa’apa’a outlines on what the band have been up to over the past couple of months, showing exactly how big the interest in BKB is getting overseas.  “So it was really great fun for us to get over there and perform at these industry events because we’re obviously always trying to expand our opportunities in international territories.

“We’re still largely unknown in those territories too,” she goes on, “so it’ll be a struggle (to really break it), you’ve gotta be prepared for years of it because it takes a long time of returning to these territories with continuity to actually build up a strong fanbase.  So we’ll be returning to Canada in June and July, and I think Europe as well.”  Blue King Brown started making forays overseas in 2008, they’ve already got a steadily building following in the UK and Canada, and last year they toured through the States supporting roots rocker, Michael Franti – it’s a slow build, as Pa’apa’a says, but it’s one that’s worth following up given the exposure and the response they’ve had thus far.

Later this month, the group will tour Australia, their first headline run here in a year and a half, which is a long time by anyone’s standard.  The reason for this touring gap is also the reason the band are starting to garner genuine overseas interest, the making of their second record, a double disc set, Worldwize.  In 2006, BKB released their debut long-player, Stand Up, a record which set the Australian roots scene on fire and branded them as a band to watch.  Such was its home-grown success, that a stellar second effort was called for, hence the two-disc set that is Worldwize.

Samuel J. Fell

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Dark Horse

To be published in June issue of Rhythms Magazine

Tex Perkins & the Dark Horses

Tex Perkins and I catch up for a beer and he seems a little subdued, although perhaps that’s a bit unfair, as maybe I’m comparing him to other times I’ve interviewed him – literally in bed with Tim Rogers, for example, empty bottles of vintage champagne rolling around on the floor – or to when he’s on stage.  On stage is indeed where Perkins is in his element, whether it be pacing like a caged lion in front of the Beasts Of Bourbon, strumming an acoustic guitar with Rogers as part of T’n’T, laying down the moves with the Ladyboyz or writhing like a lyrical serpent with the Cruel Sea, this is where the man belongs and where he thrives.  It’s no wonder then, sitting at the pub talking about what’s happening, that he’s not, to my mind, as ‘out there’ as I was expecting.

He is excited though, excited as Tex Perkins can be, for there’s a new Dark Horses record afoot, the first since 2003’s, Sweet Nothing, and this is nothing to be taken lightly.  It seemed, for a long while, that the Dark Horses were no more, but as Perkins tells, nothing is as it seems.  “Nah, I never pull the pin on anything,” he offers when I ask if the Horses actually called it quits.  “My nature, and my musical life, it’s a smorgasbord.  You know, chow down on the potatoes for a while, get my fill of those…then move on to something else.

“That’s probably a poor analogy, but I do something for a while and then rather than just have a break, I do something else,” he adds.  As such, the Dark Horses never went away, Perkins just did something else.  Multiple things in fact – since Sweet Nothing was released, he’s released a record with the Beasts, with Tex, Don & Charlie, with the Ladyboyz, with T’n’T, but it’s back within the warm folds of the Dark Horses that he finds himself now, more for reasons of logicality than anything else.  “Well, this is very much me returning to songwriting, proper songwriting,” Perkins muses firstly on this new, self-titled Dark Horses record.

“So this album is written mostly by Murray Paterson and myself, Murray was in the Dark Horses, and we’ve worked together sporadically since then…but when we really got back together again was on the Beautiful Kate soundtrack,” he goes on.  “So we worked on that for almost a year, and there were songs left over from that and we just kept writing and the Dark Horses was the logical vehicle for that.”  It was in 2008 that Perkins and Paterson worked on the soundtrack for Australian film Beautiful Kate, and from that, this dark, brooding country/rock n’ roll album has developed, one which to my mind evokes images of Johnny Cash who incidentally, Perkins portrayed in the musical, The Man In Black last year.

“Well, a bit, but not enough,” he elucidates when I ask how much of an influence Cash was to this record.  “Playing The Man In Black in those big theatres…and singing in a tenor tone, and sometimes even lower, you can see the effect that has on people…so I’m thinking, ‘It’d be good to get that into my own music’, but I don’t think I really have.  I tried to get that in there, I was aware of that fact, but I really have to serve the songs as they come up and I don’t think singing down there all the time would have been appropriate.”

A fair call, and as a result of Perkins and Paterson just letting the songs come through, Tex Perkins & The Dark Horses is a record that stands strong as a record in its own right.  You could call it stripped back, but it’s really a slab of raw meat, bare and honest yet powerful, as you’d expect a DH record to be.  It’s rock n’ roll in its power, and it’s country in its delivery, and it also comes across as quite melancholy, you’d think the man had come out of a pretty dark place.  “Yeah, what’s going on with me?” Perkins asks with a laugh.  “But I hope the humour in it is still present.”

In addition to this new DH record, there’s a country album already in the can too, recorded with the backing band from The Man In Black, something Perkins is hoping will be released in the coming months and something I for one, am looking forward to – Tex Perkins singing country?  Sounds good to me. 

To move back to something we talked about earlier though, just to wrap up.  Perkins mentioned he never pulls the pin on any project, but there was one exception, the Beasts Of Bourbon – the real reason they broke up whilst on tour in Europe in 2008.  “Yeah, the real reason we drew the line was our second last gig was in Berlin and the next gig was in Norway, which was a two day drive or something,” he explains, a twinkle in his eye.  “So we thought, ‘I don’t wanna drive to Norway, do you wanna drive all that way?’, so we thought, ‘Nah, fuck it, but we’ll need a good excuse’, so we split the band up.
“So basically, with one show to go on the tour, we announced that the band was over, mainly because we didn’t want to get in that fuckin’ bus for a few days,” he laughs.  “Sorry Norway.”  Straight from the Dark Horse’s mouth.  No such worry for the Dark Horses themselves though, as just one listen to this new record, will attest.

Samuel J. Fell

Keeping Up With Booker T. Jones

To be published in June issue of Rhythms Magazine

Booker T. Jones

A couple of years ago, I stood and watched Mr Booker T. Jones play, and I was disappointed.  So much so, that I left before the end of the set, despite the fact The Drive By Truckers were Jones’ backing band, and that’s saying something.  I felt the set was flat, I felt there was no excitement, I felt this wasn’t something I’d been waiting to see for years, but something that I really didn’t need to see at all.  Booker T, the man who led the MGs and who made Stax into the respectable name it still is, just going through the motions.  Even ‘Green Onions’ lacked that spark.

I shouldn’t have been too surprised really, as Jones (along with the Truckers) had just released a record that followed the same groove – Potato Hole, a record which, again, was funky organ grooves by numbers, none too inspiring to say the least.  Potato Hole was Jones’ first recorded offering in almost twenty years and the fact he recorded it with a young, cool band, suggested he was back, looking for that groove he owned back in the ‘60s and early ‘70s when he was leading the MGs ever forward, taking those tunes to the world.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, and I and many like me, were disappointed.

However, Booker T. Jones didn’t get to where he is, just by giving up.  No doubt he’s recorded albums in the past that weren’t too popular, and that sure as hell hasn’t stopped him carrying on.  As such, just recently, another new Booker T. record landed on my desk and I threw it on, and whilst it didn’t blow me away, it affirmed that the spirit was still alive, and that he was getting back to the place where he left off, all those years ago.  The Road From Memphis is the record, and again, Jones has teamed up with a ‘young, cool’ band in hip hop group, The Roots.  Don’t let that put you off though, because this is all instruments/no samples, this is the freshest he’s sounded in years.  That spark is reigniting, and you’d better believe that.

“Well, it was good timing running into The Roots on The Jimmy Fallon Show, I didn’t really have a choice about it,” Jones explains on how this record eventually came to be, and why it follows so soon after Potato Hole, released in 2009.  “So I had that opportunity to record with them and I wrote the songs as quickly as I could…so yeah, it’s good fortune to run into people you gel with musically.”  Jones goes on to say he wouldn’t have recorded another album at this point in his career if he’d not run into The Roots at that time, The Roots being one of many groups who’ve sampled Jones’ work over the years – it seems it was a solid match right off the bat.

“Well they’re a family and they accepted me into their family,” Jones says of the connection – indeed, listening to The Road From Memphis, you’d think these guys had been playing together for years.  “So we really play together well, and they know me because they have sampled some of the Stax stuff, and they’re a hip hop band, but they’ve patterned themselves after the real musicians of the ‘70s, they play the real instruments, they don’t use drum machines or computers, at least not to make the music.”  The result is as tight as you’d expect from a group like The Roots, the drumming of ?uestlove in particular the foundation of the record, providing a solid, Stax-esque beat for Jones to play over.

Elsewhere on The Road To Memphis, there are a few surprises.  Jones is certainly wont to work with other musicians, obviously, and so there are a few cameo appearances here, some obvious (Sharon Jones on the track, ‘Representing Memphis’), some interesting (Yim Yames from My Morning Jacket on ‘Progress’ and Matt Berringer from The National dueting with Sharon Jones) and one quite odd, the godfather of punk, Lou Reed on album closer, ‘The Bronx’.  I certainly wouldn’t have expected to see Reed anywhere near a Booker T record.

“Yeah, I don’t think he thought so either,” Jones says with a laugh.  “We were pretty sure he wasn’t gonna like that track until we got into the studio and were working on it, it was written actually by my daughter, Liv Jones…but it sounds to me like a Lou Reed lyric, you know?  And he appreciated the lyric.”  It’s a track that does end up suiting Reed, that gravelly vocal really painting a picture of the Bronx itself, an urban jungle, backed to the hilt by Jones’ driving organ work.

“I’m a son of great fortune here,” Jones finishes, on what The Road To Memphis means to him at his point in his career.  “I was surrounded by great people here and everyone who contributed to the album did such excellent work.  As an artist, I have no way of guiding or predicting what I’m going to come out with…it had good elements and I had good songs.  So once I began to hear the sound of the first song, I realised, ‘Well, maybe this is gonna be great’…before you go in, you’re in the dark…then you go in and that’s when the excitement happened, you just wanna keep going.”  Booker T is coming back, and even after 50 years, there’s still new ground to cover.

Samuel J. Fell

Monday, 2 May 2011

Meanwhile, Backstage @ Bluesfest 2011...

...strange things are afoot.

SJF with George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic)
pic by Paul Smith.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Beyond Blues - Joe Bonamassa

Published in May issue of Rhythms Magazine (Cover Feature) - excerpt below

Joe Bonamassa

It was a little over a year ago that Joe Bonamassa made his Australian debut, taking to the stage as part of the theatre that is Bluesfest, giving people who’d been listening to his records for years, a taste for what he’s like in the flesh, the real thing up there on stage in front of you.  He experienced a few technical difficulties during the set I saw, but nothing short of Armageddon itself was likely to stop him playing – whether with his acoustic and his voice, or with his electric which speaks its own language, Bonamassa was there to play to audiences he’d not before entertained and this was one set that grew legs and so to my mind, he walked tall amongst the myriad other acts on the bill.

He returns this month, not playing Bluesfest, but on a headline tour in his own right, and with him he brings not one, but two records released since those sets last year, and two very different records at that.  Those who know of Bonamassa know of his versatility – perhaps more so with his guitar than with his voice or in his songwriting – and it’s safe to say that these two records speak volumes as to what this man is able to accomplish, both off his own bat, and in the company of others.

Firstly, he carries with him the debut, eponymous release from what is fair to dub a supergroup, Black Country Communion.  The second is perhaps closer to his heart, his latest solo release, Dust Bowl.  Both records have Bonamassa’s fervent six-string antics stamped all over them, but as mentioned, both are quite different.  One boasts flat-out power, to hell with the aesthetics and a flipped middle finger to the purists and indeed, the faint of heart.  The other sees the man on an evolutionary tangent, one I personally thought him not capable of following.  I’ve been proven wrong.  Regardless, since Joe Bonamassa was in Australia last, he’s crafted two fine records, both of which are beginnings.  The start of something even bigger.


Joe Bonamassa, now 34, began his professional career at the age of 14.  The story goes he played his first paid gig in a club in New York at that tender age, and 500 people turned up to see him play.  Since that fateful night, Bonamassa has gone on to release nine solo records, three live cuts plus a handful of DVDs, not to mention dalliances with various other musical luminaries in a career which has seen the likes of the Washington Post dub him the master of the electric power blues.

A more pertinent tag you’d be hard pressed to find too, because this is what Bonamassa specialises in – electric power blues.  He’s a man many blues purists would write off as a show-boater, a musician of limited compositional skill, an artist capable only of excessive guitar masturbation.  From a purity point of view, perhaps these detractors are right, but it goes deeper than this, as the length and breadth of Bonamassa’s career thus far attests.  Blues itself, as well, is about interpretation, and this is a man who interprets the blues to his own whim and leaves you to do with it what you will.

It’s buried deep within the primordial sludge of rock n’ roll though, that we find Bonamassa when we take a closer look at Black Country Communion.  Of course, those of us in the know are well aware that rock n’ roll is spawned from the blues, and so to find this man thrashing in the dark isn’t too much an odd prospect – it’s not, actually, that far removed from his blues playing, such is the power and verve he displays whilst performing that oldest of genres.

Black Country Communion, the initial idea anyway, came about when ex-Deep Purple/Black Sabbath/Trapeze frontman, Glenn Hughes, joined Bonamassa onstage during a gig in late 2009.  The idea was then floated past producer Kevin ‘Caveman’ Shirley (Led Zeppelin/Black Crowes/Aerosmith), who’s worked a lot with Bonamassa, and who then suggested they recruit drummer Jason Bonham, and keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Dream Theatre/Billy Idol/Alice Cooper).  Black Country Communion was thus conceived, spewing dirty and wet from the loins of rock n’ roll, the blues no doubt a proud father who at he same time wondered to itself what, exactly, it had helped create.

“Yeah, that was Kevin Shirley’s idea, and truth be told man, it was really cool,” smiles Bonamassa on the beginnings of the group, who almost immediately after forming, headed into the studio to record Black Country Communion.  “He said to me, ‘Do you want to do a record with Jason Bonham and Glenn Hughes?’ and both of those guys are my friends, so I was like, ‘Yeah, that’d be great’.  So I was thinking we’d just spend a week in the studio and call it a day, you know?  But all of a sudden it came out and it was actually fairly successful, so it’s like, ‘Shit, we’ve gotta tour’.  So for me it’s been a real pleasant surprise, I’ll say that.

“And we were just making a record for ourselves,” he adds as an afterthought.  “We were trying to make a record which sounded like it was made in 1972.  And that was the whole point of it, it wasn’t to be the Arctic Monkeys or any of that nonsense.  Not that they’re a bad band, but we’re not trying to sound modern.  Some music magazines have reviewed it and they said it sounds dated…well, no shit, Sherlock, that’s what we were aiming for, but thank you for the back door compliment.”

Dated certainly isn’t a word I’d use to describe Black Country Communion, released in September last year – perhaps eclectic is more along the lines of where I’d head.  It certainly, in parts, sounds like 1972; the swelling bass of bands like Sabbath, the soaring vocal of Zeppelin, the Les Paul squeal so common to that era, but elsewhere the record strays into ‘90s power-rock territory, courtesy mainly of Hughes’ voice, which to my mind sounds eerily similar to that of Chris Cornell during Soundgarden’s halcyon days, circa Badmotorfinger or Superunknown.

As well, it dips between flat-out power and more subdued (albeit punch-packing) balladry and so paints a picture of a group capable of extending its collective muscle at whichever end of the stylistic spectrum it chooses.  There are some odd moments (the string section during the latter part of ‘No Time’, for example, not sure where that came from), and there are some great moments (the call and response between Hughes’ vocal and Bonamassa’s guitar on opener, ‘Black Country’) – overall, this seems like four guys having a hell of a lot of fun, making some music, blowing off some steam.  And at the end of the day, isn’t that what’s it’s all about?

So fun, in fact, was the making of this record, that another is already in the can.  Tentatively titled 2, this is a record which sees Black Country Communion realising they’ve got something here, and expanding upon it.  “I think the second one is way better than the first,” Bonamassa enthuses.  “Not that the first one was bad, but here we had more time to really explore our different options (the debut was recorded in five days), the music is deeper on this second one.  It’s the same kinda vibe, I mean, we play a certain way, the band itself has a certain sound…we can’t be anything that we’re not.  So yeah, it’s wicked, and it’s already done.”

2 is slated for release around June of this year showing that Black Country Communion are in it for the long haul, a supergroup worth its weight in musical gold.  This brings us then, to Bonamassa’s next offering, also worth its weight, his ninth solo record, Dust Bowl.


Samuel J. Fell