First of all, I will try to omit any more piscine puns as I review this album…no promises though as sometimes I can’t help but carp on about things.
To business: Catfish have been making waves in the British blues scene for a couple of years with their live shows, a BB EP and an excellent blues with some rock album called Broken Man. Well, they are back and, on their latest album, Burning Bridges, they have lived up to their UK and British Blues Awards. This time they have increased the rock portions but steeped it all in the blues first.
You can only like and respect someone when Matt and Paul said in a Bluesdoodles interview before last years Blues Challenge, which I have paraphrased here: “Blues is a strong influence on the whole band, you can hear it in the guitar, and how we write the music it is not just about a chord sequence. Blues, whatever your sound, is influenced by people. It is a statement; ‘this is me’ individuality is a blues tradition. Lyrics are not about cotton fields but we do all have in common relationships, politics and what we think. You have to keep sound and lyrics real and relevant or you just become a pastiche artist.” Now that is someone who understands the complex and beautiful genre that is the blues.
Opening track, Up In Smoke, leaves you in no doubt as to the capabilities of this band…here we have a song that, after a effects laden few seconds, hits with a superb opening that brings Joey B doing Perfect Strangers to mind. It has a similar majesty because of the way the guitar/keys riff holds everything in place and the vocals of Alice Armstrong add to the considerable atmosphere. Then, after a bridge that evokes the Purps again, the guitar solo is thoughtful, expressive and quite wonderful with the wah accenting certain phrases. Break Me Down keeps the heart and the weight of the opener and, although half the duration, it s a perfect follow up. A rapid-fire drum and bass back the SRV chord work with the keys adding gravitas. The guitar solo is equally frantic and works with speed but not dreadful and heartless shredding. Ghosts is as haunting as the title suggests with Paul’s vocals expressing the inner demons the lyrics address. It is taken at a balladic pace but the sparse picking and piano make it more of a heavy blues lament and when the bottleneck joins the fray, the shivers become real. Although I was kind of hoping the guitar solo would be slide, the reality is that I stopped caring as the phrasing, bends and fret excursions is only faulted by its brevity. The dénouement is so symphonic in its execution that you can only sit back and wonder. The Root Of Evil is next, and moves back into seriously heavy blues riffing…again the keys are fundamental to the construction and it sounds as if Jon Lord was guesting on an Iommi composition; think of his work on The Dep Sessions rather than Sabbath. The extended bridge is all atmospheric Hammond and leads into another inventive guitar solo that is phased slightly and journeys across and up and down the neck to show that, unlike some feted guitar players, sensitivity isn’t just about the top two strings and frets. Soulbreaker is the pinnacle of heavy blues…it is slow, true blues as if the back porch sound originated in the UK. The acoustic slide is brilliant and evocative even though the lyrics, rightly in my view, lambasted (that is not an illegitimate sheep by the way) the artificially constructed popularity of reality TV in all its demented forms. This track is sheer genius. Too Far To Fall is back into the SRV southern roll backing: the keys again anchor the whole thing as, I am told, Matt plays his guitar through the spinning Leslie speaker normally reserved for the illustrious Hammond. It does work and has a tone that is very Hendrix. Archangel is a tale of loss coupled with holding the memories of what the person was at their peak…that will resonate with every listener. To carry that message the band combine to paint the background with subtlety and emotion with sparse backing and another great contribution from Alice. The guitar solo is suitably expressive and only plays a few notes that convey the positive message that awaits on the other side of sadness. It isn’t one I will pick out first but it is still one hell of a composition. The Big Picture has an intro that sounds like it could have been on Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll as Blackmore, despite his classic leanings, was a very bluesy player. The solo however is a great slide solo that has a discord built in to make it even more effective and the, oh bliss! a short bass solo before it closes on a LLRnR sound again. Under The Gun needs a few listens as the acoustic is brilliant but as its relegated behind the electrics, it can be overlooked. The song is essentially a blues-rock standard that is saved by a guitar and bass duet that is superb and leads into a rapid guitar solo that entertains. One More Chance is a solo piano and vocal piece that is a Ken Hensley moment and that is a huge compliment and it is nicely played and sung but, I feel, spoils the flow of the album as a whole…many will disagree but I will be adding this fine song to my special playlist for when I need to revisit certain times; it will be in good company with the aforementioned Ken’s superb Rain. The final track, Exile, is exactly ten minutes long…and it needed to be to give this genuine epic the room to grow. Imagine a cross between Beyond The Realms Of Death and Stargazer… it has the epic imagery of those in the way it builds and develops as well as Rainbowesque touches here and there and a great Priest style riff that introduces the centrepiece solos. A great song; a great musical construct; a great way to end a great album.
This is a really good album that belies the ‘youth’ of the band and is a fascinating step forward from the last album. It will stand the test of time and it certainly stands up against many of the established bands that seem to think they are blues-rock…well, I hope they listen to Catfish, for they are the real deal and can vary the emotions and weight both live and in the studio and will only get better and better. If you like heavy blues done properly and with assurance then you need to buy this and be prepared to be hooked!
TENdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Up In Smoke
- Break Me Down
- The Root of All Evil
- Too Far To Fall
- The Big Picture
- Under the Gun
- One More Chance
Matt Long: guitar, vocals
Paul Long: keyboards, vocals
Adam Pyke: bass
Kevin Yates: drums
Alice Armstrong: backing vocals