304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
The Cinelli siblings were born and raised in Italy and, courtesy of their father were immersed in the blues from an early age. SRV was his artist of choice, and he played the guitar in church and the drums for his own entertainment. This obviously rubbed off on his children as, at the age of seven, Alessandro started playing the drums and Marco took up the guitar at eleven. After various, separate, forays across Europe, the brothers met up again in London, where they are now based. In 2015 they played together at blues jams around the Capital and began to put a band together. It may have been unintentional, but they met up with a UK based bass player: Sicilian Enzo Strano and then recruited fellow countryman Alberto Manuzzi on keyboards: the band is ably completed with Rollo Markee on harmonica (he is a regular on the blues scene with his own show, Rollo Markee and the Tailshakers). So the band may have formed in London but is pretty much an Italian band…an Italian band that, harking back to the music of their youth, was always going to be Texas and Chicago blues biased, although they also add depth with touches of soul and R’n’B. After successfully gigging around the UK, they now have their debut album, Babe Please Set Your Alarm with nine originals and three cover versions on release.
Opener, Your Lies, leaves the listener in no doubt as to what this band is about. Chicago blues that references My Babe, is harmonica and guitar in harmony over a simple but essential drum/bass backing. Vocally (especially with the laugh at the beginning) is a higher register John Lee Hooker. Rollo gives a cleverly understated solo before the guitar cuts in for one of its own. It’s a short one, which gives the first taste of Marco’s guitar of choice: it is an Airline Tuxedo. I mention this only to explain the remarkable tones Marco wrenches out of it. Based on a 1950s design, it has a single cutaway body shape and, significantly, is completely hollow except for a post under the bridge. This gives the guitar a range few others have: for example, this thing can sound like an electric dobro and yet still be capable of sustain and a rock sound should you wish. (A nice demonstration of the luthier’s skill, although I will stick to my Strat and Musicman for now at least). Cry and Shout also starts in a typical way with a nice rise/fall bass line over which the harmonica sets the riff. Then comes the best bit…that guitar solo. It is picked (in fact, I can’t detect a plectrum anywhere here) and has those well-placed gaps that can make a solo great. The piano also gives a depth and backs everything up nicely. The title track, Babe Please Set Your Alarm, is pure blues and, although anything but new, it is an exceptionally well-crafted take on the standard pattern. Disturbingly, the piano intro made me think the first line was going to be “first I was afraid, I was petrified”…thankfully it wasn’t. It is a guitar-led song with the keys and harp playing a superb support role. The picked solo is a delight again with a sound is no doubt 2018, but could well be 1955. Don’t Hold Back and Love Me is up next and it gives us a swampy blues with a gorgeous harp solo and a restrained piano solo of quality. So Tired brings a swing and a bit of jazz to the table with every member adding a touch of class before yet another great picked solo. A drum pattern takes us into Texas for Rocco, a slow SRV styled blues instrumental with that guitar shining again. An organ solo with some clever hesitations (a la Don Airey) makes this one even better. Next is the first of the covers, Back Door Man by William James Dixon and most famously covered by Howlin’ Wolf: Willie Dixon wrote countless classics, most of which were while he was at Chess Records (from 1948 until the early 60s) where he provided the songs and, often as not, the production and accompaniment. The Cinellis take this seminal song and, thankfully, keep to the original philosophy and haven’t followed other interpretations (The Doors for example). The slide works really well and the harp isn’t intrusive. Although the spoken introduction is punctuated by laughter, to be clear, a backdoor man in blues speak (as opposed to David Coverdale’s definition) is a man who (ahem) ‘entertains’ married women. She Done Gone Away keeps up the tradition of appalling grammar in lyrics but, musically it is a harp led R’n’B which is great fun. Rollo is name-checked before a trademark solo and the guitar solo, over a simple foot drum and hi-hat is the best of the lot and reminds me of some of the early 60s work of Blackmore for Joe Meek when he still played a Gibson ES335. One More Minute Over Me is a classic blues structure and it here that you realise that Marco can really sing, as he pours soul over the blues. The guitar solo is again the highlight, as he channels his influences in an imaginative and fluent way. Dark Eyes is probably the weakest of the set: it is a bit derivative and sounds like any number of 60s top ten hits. Granted the guitar elevates it beyond those, and it is still very listenable because of it. Next, a version of Chain Of Fools, written by Don Covay, it was a huge success for Aretha Franklin. (The Stones, Otis Redding and others also covered other Covay songs). Obviously, with the guitar and harp playing key roles, it is very different but still recognisable. I’d guess if you don’t know the original it will be more instantly accessible: especially when you get to the great guitar solo. An unusual cover version is also the final track. Kiss is the Prince hit (or the Tom Jones one, if you must!). It works quite well as they turn it into a blues-based shuffle. Now Prince was a phenomenal guitarist and the band bravely take this on, first with a bluesy piano solo and then a picked guitar outro, only slightly spoiled by the voice trying to track the guitar…personally, I wanted to hear the great phrasing on the guitar without interference.
This is a very proficient album, and one that bears numerous listens as the detail begins to reveal itself. The instrumental, Rocco, keeps getting better and The Aretha Franklin cover grows and grows. This band is one to watch…both live and for their next album. I think it safe to say that if they continue to develop their writing styles and carefully choose and craft the cover versions, then that second album will be even better.
All compositions by Marco Cinelli except where noted.
Alessandro Cinelli: drums
Marco Cinelli: guitar, vocals
Enzo Strano: bass
Alberto Manuzzi: keyboards
Rollo Markee: harmonica
Recorded at Soup Studio, London – Self Released