There can be no argument that Guy Tortora is a musician, songwriter and singer of the highest calibre so my expectations were high when through the letterbox dropped Bluesman In A Boneyard and I was not disappointed the music drove the outstanding story-bound lyrics creating a mosaic of poetry with a beat that stirred and connected. There is nothing jaded, overworked every word and note has been honed and shaped and then included within the tapestry of sound for a reason. This is stripped back blues full of every emotion with a true authenticity that fits the twenty-first century.
The two covers have been carefully considered and fit the tonal and lyrical shape of Bluesman In A Boneyard, The first is a Blind Willie Johnson number What Is A Soul Of A Man with a searing trumpet that gives the music a spiritual edge with Guy’s vocals picking up the beat that just gets you tapping those feet to the beat.; followed by Going To Brownsville. This classic Sleepy John Estes number is re-worked with the magic of Guy and the slide guitar and harmonica giving a tonal depth that the original does not have thanks to Ben Tyzack.
The other seven tracks are self-penned nuggets that have been created by picking over fruitful bones in the graveyard of the blues lexicon, Boneyard opens with Pete Hedley on drums, no rock crescendo but a steady beat to allow Guy’s vocals to curl around as we reach the Church of Little Zion; and the tale of a Reverend not happy to have a bluesman in his boneyard and strangers visiting. The description builds a picture that is full of heat, devil, whiskey and music down to detail of six-strings laid on the gravestone. This is a blues narrative of memories and dreams that has the power in the words and beat and then the embellishment from Janos as his fingers skip along the keys. Ballad of The Boll Weavill is a story of cotton and the Boll Weavill spreading out over the land. It is a story of greed and destruction by an evil force that can be found in a variety guises a clever morality tale. The addition of Gemma’s violin, as Guy explores work and stress in Live Fast; as the tale unfolds there is no frantic music it is the words that shape the frenzy and seeming inevitability of modern lifestyle. The album finishes with an upbeat number Les Bon Temps with Phil Underwood playing accordion giving this a New Orleans Cajun infused party feel that leaves you with only one choice it is the right time to go back to the beginning and listen again so the meanings and undercurrents are not missed.
Bluesman In A Boneyard proves that there is no need for complex licks, raised volume when they are delivered with this class it is the words simply encased and protected by clever instrumentation every time with Guy Tortora’ quality blues out of California via London and a deep understanding of the scars that created blues in the Southern States.
Bluesdoodles gives this CD TEN doodle paws out of TEN ….
1. Damage Was Done
2. What Is The Soul Of A Man (W. Johnson)
4. Going To Brownsville (Estes)
5. Ballad of Boll Weavil
6. Live Fast
7. One Way Ticket
8. From The Heart
9. Les Bon Temps
Guy Tortora: Guitar, Vocals, Mandolin, Foot Stomp
Janos Bajtala: Piano, Hammond Organ
Costa Tancredi: Bass
Pete Hedley: Drums
Ben Tyzack: Slide Guitar/Harmonica (Going To Brownsville)
Giles Hedley: Harmonica (Damage Was Done)
Gemma Sharples: Violin (Live Fast)
Phil Underwood: Accordion (Les Bons Temps)
Tim Burns: Percussion
Graham Pike: Trumpet (Soul Of A Man)
Frankie & Bex: Backing Vocals
LONDON, JAZZ CAFÉ – Monday 26th October 2015
Tickets £20 / Box Office: 0844 847 2514
Joanne Shaw Taylor: Will always thrill her fans and make new ones wherever she plays her guitar with energy, style and classy interpretation of classics in addition to her self-penned numbers. Her concerts are Sold out, her fans scream and her names are in lights, something she never anticipated any of that at the start. Back then, she was just an ordinary Black Country schoolgirl, bored with the disposable pop she heard on late 90s radio, rifling her father’s record collection for sunken treasure, and falling for albums by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins and Jimi Hendrix.
At 13 she played her first electric guitar. “Guitars were always lying around the house,” says Joanne. At 14, she defied her teachers to play The Marquee and Ronnie Scott’s, and began to overcome insecurity about her voice. “I never set out to be a singer,” she modestly told Classic Rock. “I’ve always had a deep voice. I think it came from my influences as a kid.
Joanne left school at 16 and ran straight into her big break, as a twist of fate directed her demo into the hands of Eurythmics icon Dave Stewart after a charity gig.
Reflecting on his first impressions, Stewart recalls that “she made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.” His call the following day proved the start of a lasting friendship, with Joanne seeking his advice on the industry and accompanying his DUP supergroup across Europe in 2002.
Stewart gave Joanne her first deal, but when the label ran into financial trouble, it gave her a chance to regroup and work on her songwriting. Until then, original material had perhaps been a neglected side of her talent.
“I never really wrote songs until I was 21.” Suddenly the dam broke. In 2008, Ruf won the rush for Joanne’s signature, and soon she was working with veteran producer Jim Gaines (Carlos Santana, Johnny Lang, Stevie Ray Vaughan), bassist Dave Smith and drummer Steve Potts on the songs that became debut album White Sugar. “We recorded it in this little backwater town in Tennessee,” she recalls, “and if we needed a break, we’d walk to the shop and buy root beer.”
When White Sugar dropped the following year, taking in gems like Bones and Kiss the Ground Goodbye, it turned out the press had a sweet tooth, with Classic Rock crowning it Blues Album of the Month and Guitarist noting “she plays with more attitude and flair than most – massive potential here”.
Soon enough, the buzz was building, with Joanne both raising her profile supporting Black Country Communion, and honing her craft on 2010’s Diamonds in the Dirt. This second album was another step up, from the explosive lead breaks on Can’t Keep Living Like This to the heavier influence of her adopted Detroit hometown on the crunching country-blues of Dead and Gone. Not bad, considering she had written the material in just two days and recorded it in less than a fortnight: “It’s the dreaded second album curse. You have ten years to do the first one, and ten days to do the second!”
By then, she was unstoppable, with Diamonds in the Dirt proving not only a classic record, but also a skeleton key to every door in the industry. Having received a nomination for Best New Artist Debut at the auspicious British Blues Awards for White Sugar, Joanne scooped consecutive wins in the Best British Female Vocalist bracket at both the 2010/2011 events: a haul that cements her position, as Blues Matters put it, as “the new face of the blues.”
Since then, it’s gone stratospheric, with Joanne breaking into the notoriously hard-to-crack US market, beating the stereotypes of her age and gender, and being watched by 17 million viewers as she played an angel-winged solo during Annie Lennox’s set at the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Concert.
That same summer gave us Almost Always Never; a bar-raising third album that found Joanne dodging expectations, writing the songs her muse dictated, and diving in at the deep end with just her talent to keep her afloat.
Recorded in Austin, Texas, these twelve cuts moved from the savage Les Paul solos of Soul Station and the strutting hooks of Standing To Fall, to the failed relationship achingly depicted on You Should Stay, I Should Go and the title track’s refrain of “You crash, you burn/you live, you learn”. She’d never sounded more open and honest. “I’ve loved every album I’ve made for many different reasons,” reflects Joanne. “But I’m so proud of these songs. It’s the perfect and truest example of who I am as an artist to date.”
Maybe so, but if you only know Joanne Shaw Taylor as the songwriter and studio magician, then it’s time you heard Songs from the Road. Released November 2013 on Ruf Records, it’s a candid snapshot from the road that makes your front room feel like the front row. “That night was just really good fun,” she reflects. “And I think that translates on the album.”
In May 2014, Joanne reunited with her White Sugar album producer Jim Gaines, and recorded her new studio album in Memphis. The new studio album entitled The Dirty Truth is a return to Joanne’s original sound that mixes rock riffs with blues influences. The album was released in the UK on September 22nd 2014 on Joanne’s own independent boutique label Axehouse Records. Joanne supported the album by an extensive UK tour with special guest Bernie Marsden that received rapturous reviews.
Currently on tour cross the UK with legendary blues guitarist Robin Trower.