I make no excuse for using my introduction to their last album here…it said it all then and does so now as the band, like so many, saw their inevitable growth curtailed by the damnable covid-19. Poised for expansion of an already significant fanbase, they have still gifted us with a live album recorded during lockdown (with all rules observed) to tide us and them ’til it’s all over… well-done guys!
Catfish have been making waves in the British blues scene for a couple of years with their live shows, and an excellent blues with some rock album called Broken Man. On their last album, Burning Bridges, they lived up to their UK and British Blues Awards and 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 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.
As the Covid situation eased off slightly in the summer, albeit we now know temporarily, the band was approached by Blues Maastricht Festival in Holland to do a full band live stream…which is where this new offering, Exile: Live in Lockdown, was recorded. It is a heady mix of songs from their albums with a bias, understandably, toward the second. Opening with Broken Man, you wouldn’t know they hadn’t been together or rehearsed for a while: the chord play intro is a great atmosphere builder before the bluesy riff kicks in. You’d be forgiven for thinking Joey B as the tension builds and the band hit their groove straight away and stay there for all eleven lovely minutes…a powerful start and if, after hearing this, you don’t buy the whole concert I’d be very, very surprised (Don’t forget to buy the two studio albums too!) Break Me Down has a rapid-fire drum and bass behind the SRV like chord work with the keys adding gravitas. The guitar solo is equally frantic (too short!) and has speed without heartless shredding.
Ghosts is as haunting as the title suggests. Although taken at a balladic pace, the sparse picking and piano make it more of a weighty blues lament and the stunning solo just adds to the emotion…now that’s how to employ bends to great effect. Soulbreaker is the pinnacle of heavy blues encapsulated in under four minutes…it is slow, true blues with a back porch feel despite the electric guitar…the necessarily brief solo is sublime. The Root Of Evil is next, and moves back into seriously heavy blues riffing…and, as I said on the studio review, imagine 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 with a genius bass riff to listen out for and leads into an inventive guitar solo that journeys across and up and down the neck to show that, unlike some feted guitar players, it isn’t just about the top two strings and frets.
The Big Picture has an intro that still makes me think it could have been on Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll as Blackmore, despite his classic leanings, was a very bluesy player. Another great guitar solo ensues and then, oh bliss! a (too) short bass solo before it closes on that LLRnR sound again. Better Days isn’t that one…it’s a happy lilting SRV touched song with more tasty Hammond colouring the song behind the verses and riff and then provides a solo that makes you smile before the guitar gets a turn to play with the harmonies and throw in a reggae bit of chord work. Archangel is slow, weighty blues with simplistic backing to increase the power of the message of loss…a Gary Moore sort of structure. The guitar solo is as expressive as the lyrics and uses a few notes to convey the positive message that awaits on the other side of sadness.
Too Far To Fall is back into the SRV southern roll backing and that rocking roll captures you immediately. The phased guitar solo has a slightly off-key (purposely) sound that makes the strings speak. The final track, Exile, is a great live interpretation of a track that I said “is over 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 great live experience and the whole band should be congratulated on putting so much into it without the ‘feed’ of an audience. Great musicianship, great songs delivered with passion and panache.
Bluesdoodles rating: Stupendous live album that shows Catfish are ready, willing and able to take up the blues-rock banner and bring new touches to our beloved genre
1. Broken Man ^
2. Break Me Down*
5. The Root Of All Evil*
6. The Big Picture*
7. Better days^
9. Too Far To Fall*
^ from the Broken Man release
* from the Burning Bridges release
Matt Long: guitar, vocals
Paul Long: keyboards, vocals
Adam Pyke: bass
Kev Hickman: drums
(The iTunes run-on track gave me a 1939 slice of brilliant blues courtesy of The Cats and the Fiddle and their I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water…think a close harmony group with great bass and acoustic guitar with an amazing solo too.)