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Getting Sober for the End of the World | Regional News

Getting Sober for the End of the World

Darren Watson


Reviewed by: Colin Morris

More than anything, the blues is about the human condition and it’s a responsibility that Darren Watson is happy to carry on his shoulders. No track demonstrates this more than the outstanding Ernie Abbott. Abbott was a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. As late as July 2019, the police revealed they probably knew who the bomb that took Abbott’s life some 35 years prior was intended for, even though they could not tell us who planted the bomb.

As somebody who lived through those times of Prime Minister v The Unions, I can attest it was an uncomfortable and unsettling time, yet the bombing of the Trades Union Hall seemed to become a catalyst for a wider view of what unions wanted. I’ve been part of dozens of radio programmes when Access Radio had an office next door, and I never passed the Trade Union Hall without thinking about the incident.

Blues music has always been a rich vein to mine when it comes to individual names. Consider Mr Crump Don’t Like It, John Henry, and Frankie and Johnnie. Though he doesn’t mention his name, we all know that Watson’s One Evil Man is about President Trump with lines like “He takes babies from their mothers” (the Mexican border fiasco) and the plodding (in a nice way) of the music bed that was Spoonful.

After a couple of decades where Watson had concentrated on his love of electric blues, particularly from Chicago, here is a change to the guttural feel of the steel-bodied guitar in the Delta playing with friends on a porch.

I particularly like the introduction to Broken with its echoes of Robert Johnson’s Love in Vain, but best of all is Love That I Had and its redolent border town and Tex-Mex accordion playing. Think Ry Cooder with Flaco Jimenez.

Personally, I’m amazed that Watson hasn’t been picked up by a major label, or maybe he prefers not to be. Of course, this is a romantic vision which goes along with the image of the blues.

Django-shift | Regional News


Rez Abbasi


Reviewed by: Colin Morris

I think the reviewer of this fine album in the Downbeat Jazz magazine needs to get out more. Oh! That’s right, we have that COVID thingy so he can’t get out presently. In his review, he states there are very few groups playing Django Reinhardt’s music today. Which is nonsense. A cursory search with Mr Google will reveal the Hot Club of Cowtown. They remain a favourite with this reviewer for their take on Django meets Nashville. Hot Club Sandwich is a big hit on the retro-swingers club scene. Then there are the 30 odd Django-inspired festivals in Europe every year. Even pop guitarist and singer Peter Frampton has collaborated on an album celebrating his music. The Selmer-Maccaferri, Django’s guitar of choice, is still manufactured today.

Now it’s the turn of guitarist Rez Abbasi with a trio made up of Neil Alexander on keyboards and electronica as well as drummer Michael Sarin.

But this is not a Reinhardt album in the usual way, as Abbasi concentrates on the compositions rather than the performance. It’s deconstructed in a manner that has little to do with the accepted format of Django’s group Quintette du Hot Club de France.

What struck me the most was the influences of Pat Metheny, the late Lyle Mays, and Joe Zawinul, which might not suit the purist’s ears. Dare I say that I heard a touch of Frank Zappa here as well.

In Heavy Artillery, Alexander seems to be playing one of those cheap Farfisa organs and he lets it, on purpose, go off-key. It’s very charming and cute all at the same time.

Django’s Castle, easily the most accessible tune, is a delightful play between the musicians. Drummer Sarin is almost a bystander as the interplay between guitar and keyboards flows throughout. It’s a beautiful rendition.

I spent hours with this album trying to figure out what other tunes Abbasi had appropriated, or as the jargon of the day would have it, sampled without success.

Only with repeated playing will you untangle the puzzling musical menagerie.

We Get By | Regional News

We Get By

Mavis Staples


Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Mavis Staples is a protest singer and, as such, is a spokeswoman for the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements. She has remained relevant by becoming a shining beacon for other artists to follow in raising awareness of social issues.

There are plenty of dissenting voices on the music scene today, those that eschew chart positions in favour of an honest discussion of what it means to be human by displaying humanistic qualities. That Staples has persisted with this stance is testament to a long-held belief that we can all do better.

In recent times Staples has surrounded herself with whiz-kid producers and songwriters: Ry Cooder (We’ll Never Turn Back), M. Ward (Livin’ On a High Note), and a couple of albums with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Staples has also sung on various tracks with Gorillaz, Arcade Fire, and Bob Dylan, who once proposed marriage.

Now it’s Ben Harper’s turn at the tiller as producer and writer, and what a cracker of an album it is. We Get By contains the fiery sermon style of the Old South with roughhewn bluesy vocals and an aggressive guitar-led band, which should tear down the walls of the old argument that the church and the devil should never be on the same page.

The album starts on the best note ever, Harper’s grunge element, a sort of updated fuzz guitar sound that was a staple (sorry for the pun) of Pop Staples, Mavis’ father’s, fabulous tremolo guitar sound. Staples’ primal scream but remarkable vocals, considering she is 81 years old, are testament to a career that started in 1950. She is, in turn, feisty, dramatic, defiant (especially in those songs that ask Americans to change their way of thinking when it comes to racial discrimination), and always that righteous spirit.

Then there is the most understated track of her career, the beautiful Never Needed Anyone. It slowly unfolds, every note dripping with authenticity, the scratchy nature of her impassioned vocals an absolute delight.

One hopes that the collaboration between Staples and Harper continues.

Rejoice | Regional News


Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela

World Circuit

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

The retail sector was, like so many, affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The music industry was no different. But invention being the mother of adversity, the recorded music industry started to look around when artists continued to cancel release dates of their latest product.

One of the unusual aspects of this problem was that the record companies had started to discover unreleased product in their vaults. Two come to mind, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk sessions long lost or forgotten. Tom Petty, Prince, and Fleetwood Mac have all benefited by having older albums re-issued with bonus tracks. Now add to this an album by drummer Tony Allen and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, long in exile due to apartheid.

But this was no lost album, merely one delayed several years due to the untimely death of Masekela.

The meeting came about many years ago when Masekela attended a concert by the great, and I do mean great, Fela Kuti, the Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer. His percussionist Allen struck such a chord with Masekela that almost immediately, they talked about working together. Well, that was 25 years later but eventually, a date was set in 2010 in which many tracks were laid down and then shelved due to the musicians having different work schedules. Cut to 2018 when Masekela died suddenly. Allen then realised he would, as a tribute to his late friend, complete the album.

Rejoice is a joyful mix with a few added musicians, but basically it is just the two of them jamming. Allen’s unique style, all four limbs playing out of kilter, is wonderful to hear. Masekela’s trumpet brings back to mind his big hit Grazing in the Grass.

Starting with Robbers, Thugs and Muggers (O’Galajani), the spirit of Fela Kuti is evoked as it is in Never (Lagos Never Gonna be the Same). The album never lets up from this joyous path.

Sadly, Allen died in April 2020, but what a legacy for the percussionist Brian Eno once described as the best in the world.