304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful album that wraps some excellent music around important messages that are handled with tact, panache and all backed by some exceptional musicianship.
Todd Sharpville is an oft neglected star of British blues: he has appeared on stage and on record with the great and the good of the blues and rock world, so much so that a list of his accomplishments would fill a sizeable book. As a guide, how about Hubert Sumlin, Gary Brooker, Bill Wyman, Ian Hunter, Roger Taylor, Roger Daltrey, Taj Mahal, Peter Green, Little Milton and Tedeschi/Trucks to name but a few. He also has some stunningly good solo work available, from his debut in 1992 with Touch Of Your Love to the release that was my first…Diary Of A Drowning Man. I bought it for two reasons…firstly I had heard of his guitar prowess and secondly because I have always had a soft spot for the delectable Sam Brown and she guested on the track Sweet Redemption with her gorgeous vocals bringing an added dimension to a lovely song. (If you don’t know her, you must listen to Wait A While from Jon Lord’s solo album Pictured Within or her solo single success Stop. (As covered by a certain Mr Bonamassa.)) We also have a new single to look forward to (I think) as during Covid, Todd remotely recorded a duet of his song ‘Love Knows No Bounds’ with Robbie Williams to be released at the end of the year for the musician’s mental
Diary of a Drowning Man was a confession set to music around his divorce and his latest, the starkly named Medication Time, covers a period of his life best explained by Todd: “I wasn’t emotionally prepared for the sudden separation from my children that came with the divorce. Up until then I was somewhat of a control freak, so the realisation that control is but an illusion never really dawned on me until I found myself floored by reactive depression, suicidal, & sectioned within a state-run facility. Men rarely discuss these kinds of emotions with one another, so they can often surprise the hell out of us and prove to be too overwhelming to cope with. Being a musician, I was lucky that I was able to fit the practicalities of my working life around my predicament. I also have some amazing friends. I managed to get back on my feet. Many people don’t have these luxuries. Many fall by the wayside and never get back up again.” Don’t think that Todd is all darkness and misery however, his music and lyrics carry an inextinguishable positive side and, I guess, personifies what the blues is about. Even the cover picture of Todd in straightjacket inside a padded cell, but with his Stratocaster alongside shows his approach to a most difficult time. A couple of listens to the nine new songs and three covers will soon convince you that the blues is still relevant, still cathartic and still a joy to listen to.
The album opens with the first cover: Walk Out in the Rain was originally by Bob Dylan (with lyrics by Helena Springs who was also one of his backing vocalists) and personally speaking, as with many (all!) of his songs, they are excellent compositions best served by other artists. That is true here as Todd takes the essence of an excellent composition and, with swirling keys and a neat guitar interpretation of the riff and two scorching solos that, for me at least, builds even more tension and meaning into it. Get Outta My Way is horny r’n’b blues that is rooted in a few ‘oldies’, but is original, catchy and with more sterling work from the band’s rhythm section, keys and the guitar it is irresistible.
Tangled Up in Thought is slower, bluesier and lyrically deep and has a guitar solo dripping with as much emotion as the lyrics…a powerful and lovely song that will either resonate or make you realise that the mind is a splendid terrifying thing. House Rules has a message but with some tongue in cheek in humour wrapped in a sort of Kingly blues song that is brilliantly structured…a clever chorus divides some more neat band and guitar work before we get a get a truly imaginative guitar solo. It may sound as if the guitar is a bit loose at the beginning but it so well crafted that it is a lesson in how to vary solos without shred or flash. Brothers (from another mother) features the legend that is Larry McCray and has a video you must watch: Larry and Todd are transdogrified into very clever likenesses of dogs but keep the authenticity during the fabulous guitar duel/duet as Todd’s Strat and Larry’s Les Paul are real…and yes, I did misspell transmogrified on purpose as I felt the correct word sounds too cat like! The story details their adversities with total honesty and yet stays very positive, as they wrap the tale in some very tasty blues-rock.
The title track, Medication Time, is a soul, jazz, blues melding that suits the dark story perfectly and yet there is still a positivity as the clever wordplay illustrates. It may be a difficult listen, but it is shrouded in a soundtrack that enthrals and the guitar solo at the end is stunning…pity it closed too early in the fade. God Loves a Loser is a great blues song from the first picked note to the last…it has weight and rock too with the almost Purplish riff and bass. The Hammond adds to that comparison and delivers a choice, heavy solo too. The guitar solo is a dizzying mix of techniques and tones that make it outstanding. Next is another cover: Money for Nothing is the Dire Straits song and features the harp and vocals of Sugar Ray Norica who has graced many a recording under the Sugar Ray and the Bluetones moniker. Anyone taking on the languid, yet complex stylings of Mark Knopfler is fearless and to, in Todd’s words “retro-fy” it as if it was a 60s blues song takes skill…does it work? Most definitely, in fact the harp taking the riff is genius. It’s also a huge benefit to my biased ear that Sugar Ray replaces Sting’s vocals. The whole thing is just so clever…recognisable and yet unique and I think Mr Knopfler would approve.
Silhouettes is a shift back to jazz filtered blues…slow with mournful vocals and acoustic and electric guitars layered to reflect the moods. The six minute running time may seem a challenge but, after a false ending at the halfway point, the story develops and the guitar interjects a bit more. Stand Your Ground is horn filled fun as the N’Orleans jazzy rhythm’s take hold… but with assh*les and sh*t littering the lyrics there is a lot of truth, humour and pathos. The piano solo is an absolute delight and the two ‘false’ endings add to the fun. Red Headed Woman is by another artist who is hugely popular and like Dylan, his songs are way better when covered by others…sorry Springsteen fans but, to borrow Ritchie Blackmore’s words on the same subject, “I just don’t get him.” Anyway, Todd turns it into a more frantic, more countrified romp that has added Marcel Dadi style picking and is therefore much better, and is great fun. Final track, I Don’t Need to Know Your Name, is a slow burning blues that wraps up a very pleasing album with guitar, sax, Hammond and vocal ending it all on a positive note.
This is a skilful, varied and hugely entertaining album that also has messages that should be communicated widely as Todd wears his heart on his sleeve and tells an at times torrid story with tact, panache and all backed by some exceptional musicianship.
(By the way, even though Todd eschews his title and gets annoyed if it’s mentioned, I have to let you know that he is officially called The Hon. Roland Augusto Jestyn Estanislao Philipps as the younger son of the 3rd Viscount St Davids…sorry Todd!)
Walk Out in the Rain
Get Outta My Way
Tangled Up in Thought
Brothers (from another mother)
God Loves a Loser
Money for Nothing
Stand Your Ground
Red Headed Woman
I Don’t Need to Know Your Name
Todd Sharpville: Vocals, Guitar
Bruce Bears: Hammond, Piano
Brad Hallen: Bass
Mark Texeira: Drums
Larry McCray: Vocals & Guitar (5) (right speaker)
Sugar Ray Norcia: Vocals & Harmonica (8)
Larry McCray: Backing Vocals (12)
Doug James: Baritone Sax
Mark Early: Tenor Sax
Carl Querfurth: Trombone
Doc Chanonhouse: Trumpet
Produced By Duke Robillard
All band & horn arrangements: Todd Sharpville
Recorded at Lakewest Studios, West Greenwich, Rhode Island, USA.
(iTunes decided it was time I revisited the wonderfully named Toe Fat, with Ken Hensley contributing hugely…great stuff from 1970.)