304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Savoy Brown has been a constant in the blues scene since 1965. They have gone through more line up changes than any other band I can think of. They have, by my reckoning, had 59 different players at one time or another excluding the only constant member, Kim Simmonds. (Previous ‘visitors’ include such well-known musicians as Hughie Flint, Bill Bruford, Trevor Jeavons, Bob Brunning and Jackie Lynton to name but few). His current band is the most stable with Pat De Salvo on bass and Garrett Grimm on drums. Simmonds himself plays guitar, vocals, keyboard and harmonica.
When they formed, the ‘British Blues Boom’ was in full sway and so they initially called themselves the Savoy Brown Blues Band to emphasise their predominantly Chicago style of blues. As Kim explains “We took Savoy from the US blues label, Savoy Records, which we thought sounded elegant and “Brown” because we perceived it as being about as plain as you can get. Strung together, the words created a balance of opposites”. They soon dropped the “Blues Band’ bit and set about letting the world know they had arrived. Numerous tours in Britain garnered many plaudits as well as a loyal fan base. Success, however, never seemed to truly arrive. It was a different story in the USA; both live and on vinyl, the American audiences took to them in a way the British fans did not.
Fast-forward to today and we are blessed with their 39th Album, Witchy Feelin’. I do mean blessed: because here we have 11 tracks of pure, unadulterated electric blues. This is not a blues/rock album by most definitions but is a blues album that rocks. (It also has a cover quite capable of scaring the kids). Simmonds defies comparisons in his guitar playing; there is no definitive ‘sounds like’ in his style as he was an innovator in 1965 with very few peers. Influences must have been the Three Kings, but the only discernable style is pure Simmonds. Not so his vocals: listening to this album, Knopfler and Cale spring to mind but in a favourable way.
The first track, Why Did You Hoodoo Me, is a brilliant sign of things to come. Not a fast pace, just a great riff and with superb guitar phrases punctuating every line and a solo that wrenches genuine emotion from every string. A dark and moody essence oozes out of the speakers and wraps you in its coils.
Livin’ on the Bayou has the swampy feel you’d expect. The bass is excellent with quite rim taps on the snare during the verses delivering just the right sound to reinforce the texture of the song. The guitar is again used to punctuate and emphasise rather than overplay. I Can’t Stop the Blues is a self-explanatory, blues-drenched tour de force. A hint of the Free approach to the blues is shared on this. The title track, Witchy Feelin’, starts off with a slow brushed drum and a stand-up bass sound. Simmonds’ guitar travels the fretboard and paints the pictures to accompany the words. Guitar Slinger is a tribute to Roy Buchanan, who Simmonds first crossed paths with in1969. “Every note on every song, seemed like it fit just right,” Simmonds sings, while his guitar lives up to Buchanan’s complex style in every way. Vintage Man brings out the bottleneck as he sings about his old record player and Levis: “I’m a vintage man”…you and me both Kim. The slide has a lovely tone to back up this nostalgia trip. On Standing in a Doorway, the bottleneck slides into your ears and so clearly recalls Vigilante Man (the 1973 Nazareth version rather than the Woody Guthrie original). Still a great song brilliantly played. Memphis Blues is just that. An oft-used backing riff is overlaid by Simmonds’ slide once again expanding on the verses and distinguishing it from other users of a similar chord progression. It has a slide solo which has a complexity rarely found in many users of the bottleneck. Can’t Find Paradise has a more ‘standard’ structure and approach, but is still a good example of how to expand blues tropes and Simmonds throws in a catchy chorus for good measure. Once again the bass and drum backing is spot on. Thunder, Lightning And Rain bring in the much-maligned wah, wah pedal. Often used to hide a lack of dexterity or just to blur the sound, here we get an object lesson of how it should be used. The guitar speaks through the pedal and the extra expression it brings to the overall feel of the song, and the solo, in particular, is exceptional. The final track, Close to Midnight, is the only instrumental. A track of slow-burning intensity, it provides a soundscape of quiet reflection and the playing echoes long after it ends.
The production throughout is excellent, allowing the rock solid bass and drums to be heard the way they should be. De Salvo and Grimm play all the right notes in all the right places, adding to the whole and providing the essential backing needed for Simmonds to shine.
All in all, this is a great album, deserving of a space in any blues lovers collection. Guitar players of any hue will also appreciate the nuances that Simmonds introduces into the genre. It has been on repeat for a few days here, that’s how good it is.