After more than ten blues soaked albums and a multitude of performances that have lit up stages across Europe and the USA, Dublin based songstress Mary Stokes recruited a new guitarist and went into a rehearsal room in that fair city. The result was recorded and with aforementioned guitarist, Sarah Michelle, gelling immediately and so well, this ‘live in the studio’ album is the result…called Comin’ Home, it is a mix of tasty covers and well-written originals and the band are all in step, on point, and on fire as they stamp Chicago style blues with their own characters.
(By the way, I lived in Dublin for over a year in a flat near Phoenix Park and opposite a fabulous hostelry called Mary Hands…so if I mis-type, I apologise, it is my subconscious reminiscing about many, many pints of Guinness and lovely meals.)
Opening with the original Coming Home, we’re left in no doubt about the abilities of Mary, Sarah and the band; country tinged Chicago blues played with old fashioned scouring powder (that’s vim in case you’re wondering!) Palm’s harp playing is just how I like it: melodic, inventive and not overblown and the guitar backing is restrained and noticeable in its presence, but when her turn comes, Sarah puts in a solo that has a slightly off kilter tone that works very well; it has a sweeping sound that usually occurs when a Hammond is whacked through some Leslies’s.regardless it’s neat.
Moonshine will be familiar from Memphis Minnie’s recording; behind Mary’s expressive vocals the track is stitched together by more great phrasing from Sarah with a picked and bendy solo of quality, plus a class harp solo.
Mattie Won’t Write is a ‘Traditional’ song which means no one knows who wrote it…I certainly haven’t heard of it but this blues song is just terrific with Mary’s vocals at their best and the whole band bringing a fresh approach to the standard formats the song employs…especially on the outstanding harp and guitar solos. There is a shorter “reprise’ version later where they shorten it but additional vocal work making it almost West Coast -ish blues. Baby How Long? done by the great Howlin’ Wolf was a bouncing tour de force; it is treated with respect here and, with the bass and subtle drums, underpinning it all, the piano, harp and guitar interpret the melodies in original manner.
Fine And Mellow is next and anyone doing this Billy Holiday song has spheres…it does work in an understated way; the piano and harp joint solo (not quite a duet) which prefaces a suitable and lovely guitar solo, is what makes it. Mola Di Bari is sung in Italian and is, apparently, about the city of Bari (that’s in Italy, not the Welsh Island one!) and I have no idea what’s being said, but the funky chord intro draws you in.
Can’t Hold Out Much Longer was a cracking Little Walter tune and the way the melody becomes a riff is clever, and the whole thing is handled very well by everyone…another crafted solo from Sarah too.
The next track also takes a brave singer but Mary does a very good, lighter version of Roll With The Punches by the curmudgeonly and wonderful Van Morrison. Slide guitar, piano and harp make it faithful but different the way good covers should be. Sonny Boy Williamson II wrote the next one; Help Me is lifted by the backing roll of the band as Mary is joined by the vocal prowess of Shobsey O’Brien to bring the story to life.
My favourite is next; Story Of Bo Diddley is exactly that as they take an unrestrained and refreshing approach to a classic. The guitar and harp lead it all with the necessary groove and give us runs and fills by the bucket load, and solos that entertain with every pick, bend and run. The only mis-step for me (the acknowledged and self confessed Scrooge) is the Bessie Smith song, At The Christmas Ball. OK, it is a reflection on miserable me more than the band, after all it is performed well; just not for me.
Long Way From Home closes the album and is more like it; a familiar yet different riff leads to a quality blues rock shuffle and a harp led bridge to Sarah’s most inventive solo yet…make it half an hour longer next time eh?!
All in all, this is a very strong album of knowing blues; value for money too at just over an hour’s running time. It may not bring anything new to the table but, just like Mary Hands, it does lay out some tasty treats.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 doodle paws – A Wonderful album of varied and classy blues that isn’t new, but is fulfilling.
Moonshine (Memphis Minnie)
Mattie Won’t Write (Traditional)
Baby How Long? (Howlin’ Wolf)
Fine And Mellow (Billy Holiday)
Mola Di Bari (sung in Italian and is, apparently, about the city of Bari (that’s in Italy, not the Welsh Island one!)
Can’t Hold Out Much Longer (a cracking Little Walter tune)
Roll With The Punches (Van Morrison)
Help Me Sonny Boy (Williamson II)
Mattie Won’t Write – Reprise
Story Of Bo Diddley is exactly that
At The Christmas Ball (Longshaw Bessie Smith)
Long Way From Home
Songs written by Stokes/Palm unless stated in the text.
Mary Stokes: vocals
Sarah Michelle: guitar, vocals
Brian Palm: harmonica
Chris Byrne: bass
Robbie Barrett: drums
Dermot Stokes: piano
Shobsy O’Brien (of Irish Band State Lights): guest vocals
(Steve Tierney: bass, Kevin Lawlor: drums on Help Me and Mattie Won’t Write)
(The iTunes run on track took me a track off one of my favourite blues compilations…ever: full of instrumental genius, it was called Shut Up And Play Yer Blues! The track thrown up was a great electric guitar work out by Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy with Taking Off…a real delight from one of the original Blues Brothers Band (although I first heard him on a Memphis Slim album in the late 70s)).