Forget the evidence of James Oliver’s fine blues band, Glas, (see elsewhere on Bluesdoodles for information) as now as the titular bandleader he has taken a different, albeit related road. The latest from this talented Welsh guitarist brings together a fiery mix of blues, rock-a-billy, rock and country with lashing of true rhythm and blues on the side. Don’t confuse the album title, Twang, with one of the best ever ‘tribute’ albums…this one was to The Shadows and featured unbelievable, and unbelievably good, covers by Blackmore and Iommi. No, this is the pure twang from James’ guitar, so if you like to have a good time while listening to bang up to date music from a classic era, then this is most certainly for you. The band put a fresh complexion on the sounds of Duane Eddy, Link Wray with a Wilko Johnson approach on seven originals and four covers…plus James takes lead vocal duties and, dammit, he can sing as well as play a mean guitar!
Opening with American Cars, we get a vocal-like a melodic punk and a guitar that does indeed twang but in a way that I imagine Chuck Berry being played by Hank Marvin being played by James Oliver! Then the solo…it starts off classic and then develops into an inventive and frankly stunning bit of fretwork and is worth the entrance fee alone. Next is She Was The One and the harp joins in a Dr Feelgood reborn way and the solo is again inventive, varied and I’m jealous! TV Mama moves us into slide territory in a great way as the blues features strongly and, whilst it is a predictable pattern, it is still fresh and rather good….and this TV Mama has a big widescreen.
The predictable disappears in a simply brilliant slide solo that uses all the neck and could have lasted for the whole album. Honey Hush gets the James treatment next and it is faithful to Big Joe, but made heavy and builds in understated chord patterns forming two solos that are so clever and lift it above the usual approach. The Missing Link is obviously a tribute to Mr Wray as the guitar has that feel as we are treated to a western soundtrack type of instrumental that I just keep going back to. Mean Little Mamma is rock ‘n’ roll of the highest order with all the necessary tropes except the chorus suggests this Mean Little Mama is gonna beat me with a hammer! Outside Help is proper R’n’B with attitude and the organ fills out the backing with panache, as is yet another inventive ascending/descending solo that evolves into a string bending tour de force. Stay Outta Trouble hits the zydeco button with the jaunty accordion but stays firmly in R’n’B land and has a slide solo that sends down this would be guitarist’s spine.
Upside Down Song is huge fun and, although it has a touch of the Joe Browns about it, the guitar phrasing and dexterity makes it deserving of a close listen. Then, after the false ending, the solo is finger tangling good. Clean House brings back the blues and the lovely slide but at a rapid pace and a great gruff vocal. It brings the great Micky Moody to mind with the tempo changes, the humour in the lyrics and the bottleneck methods. Misrilou has a simple ‘surf’s up’ message as the spirit of Dick Dale is embodied on this brilliant instrumental interpretation and the playing of the sixth string while undoing the machine head just works!.
This is an album chock full of fun and guitar dexterity that, even if it isn’t my usual blues or rock fare has earned a place in the ‘regularly played list’ on my apparently old fashioned (!) iPod. Give it a try if you like R’n’B with a lot of extras…on second thoughts, just give it a try, you will be surprised at how accessible and damn good it really is.
Bluesdoodles rating: Great Listening – definitely an album where the guitar solos in isolation are wonderful
- American Cars
- She Was The One
- TV Mama
- Honey Hush
- The Missing Link
- Mean Little Mamma
- Outside Help
- Stay Outta Trouble
- Upside Down Song
- Clean House
James Oliver: vocals, guitar
Darren Beale: bass, vocals
Shane Dixon: drums, vocals
Billy Lee Williams: piano, harmonica, accordion
(The iTunes run on track brought a great reminder of the many unsung heroes of early blues…James Wiggins Weary Heart Blues is another example of how much there is to enjoy out there.)