You can only love guitarist Matt Backer for describing himself thus: ”Matt Backer was born in New Orleans in a log cabin he helped build. He has lived in Mexico, Venezuela, Belgium, the Caribbean, and Leamington Spa. He is a waste of a good education, residing in London with his wife and children”.
On top of that, when you read the artists he has associated (i.e. recorded and/or played live) with… over twenty years with ABC and Julian Lennon, plus Alice Cooper, Elton John, Aimee Mann, Emmylou Harris and many more. That hugely diverse mix of genres and styles may make you unsure of what this new release, Backernalia, has in store. I can dispel any such fears; we get a mix of rock, blues, pop and the occasional jazz styling that combines into a melange that evokes Fleetwood Mac when they (controversy alert!) were a proper band), the odd Allman Brothers inflexion, bit of Boston (without helium) and a bit of Hank Marvin and Dick Dale thrown in for good measure. Plus, as the title suggests, we get a dollop of humour along the way as Matt delivers a dozen originals and two classic blues covers on this, his fifth solo outing. (I am assuming, quite safely I think, that the title is a pune (using Pratchett’s term) on the festival of Bacchus; Bacchanalian describes the celebration of this ancient “god of wine and giver of ecstasy” (just like me!)).
The fun begins on track one; TMI stands for Too Much Information and starts with lovely slide (and an irritating couple of seconds of what sounds like radio tuning knob fiddling), moves into pop chorus, a funk chord phrasing, a great rock electric guitar solo, more pop, more rock that adds up to a song that will very soon get its hooks (pun intended) into you.
Hooked On Love features a duet with Italian singer, Francesca de Bonis, who is a singer/songwriter/actress but all info seems to be in Italian and therefore a mystery to me (who only speaks Geordie). This is fresh out of the 50s rhythm and blues scene with an updated horny sound and a voice box guitar solo that is way too short; Francesca does a cracking job too.
Middle Class White Boy is a Mose Allison song from 1982 that Matt puts great electric slide to, and updates quite brilliantly, whilst keeping the humour and, thankfully, preserving the original’s walking bass line. A (too) short picked solo replaces the sax solo and makes it all Matt, plus a little gloss!
The Devil Washed His Hands Of Me was co-written with Martin Fry (of ABC). It is a lovely, swampy, bluesy song with some remarkable volume control play on guitar, as well picks and bends that punctuate throughout and make it even better. (The video is as atmospheric…lizards in a graveyard, and the odd shot of a stylised Robert Johnson poster; neat.)
The Last Guitarist has an appearance for the ubiquitous jaw harp, vargan, mouth harp, gewgaw, guimbard, khomus, trump, Ozark harp, Galician harp, Berimbau de boca or murchunga just so you can pick your own version of this weird instrument and I don’t offend anyone…after that surprise the chords fire in with venom to equal the Keith Richards similarity. A song about “the day rock and roll died”, backed with some brilliant slide that’s low in the mix but worth listening for.
Unrequited Love Song is a soulful blues with some biting, yet amusing lyrics; it quotes “tracks of my tears” but fits in a guitar and sax solo to make it seriously amusing. Close Protection is more of a rocker with hints of ABC in the vocals and a sort of Hank plays Marc plays Dick blend from the guitar…clever. The Eyes Have It features none other than Mari Wilson on vocals (known as the Neasden Queen of Soul and perhaps remembered most for her 1982 hit, Just What I Always Wanted) and has a swampy backing to the Eagles-y, Steely-y structure as Matt and Mari take turns and join together on the chorus…there’s also a nice wah guitar phrase that builds expectations before stopping after a couple of bars…dammit!
All Kinds Of It is almost Chinn/Chap, with the guitar-led lilt but, with lyrics like “piles and piles of all kinds of it”; Matt obviously missed the ‘sh’ off on purpose, but again he freely dumps humorous lyrics that have bite behind the clever wordplay. The guitar/harmonica interplay is just great and the bass is outstanding. Secondhand Heart is acoustic and Hank style tremolo on the electric and then the slide on dobro that I kept hoping would deliver a solo…but instead, we get a tasteful, thoughtful (too short) picked electric solo…a laid back song but with plenty to listen out for in the many-layered instrumentation. Life And Soul is a languid pop/rock song that could have been a hit single in better days. More great lyrics to listen for too; “excess in moderation” could be my own motto. The best bit is the delicious slide phrases that unfortunately don’t materialise into a solo.
The Dictator’s Daughter is about a love affair in a library (with suitable literary references) with Susie Webb playing the titular character and Matt the part of a “beautiful pauper”. You may not have heard of Susie, but you have certainly heard her angelic voice backing artists such as Queen, Pavarotti, Gary Moore, Ronnie Wood and a multitude of others.
Mystic Rulers brings a poppish song backed with Kossoff chords and a really well crafted, too short solo that has a touch of Paul occasionally too. Hooked On Love (Leggero Ritorno) is Matt’s tongue in cheek way of revisiting the first version and calling it ‘slight return’ (a very famous guitarist used that English phrase on a moderately(!!) successful song called Voodoo Chile) without saying that…other than in Italian; maybe Ms de Bonis’ influence! The difference is that all of the vocals are in English this time.
Wrapping it all up is I Wish You Would: a unique take on the Billy Boy Arnold classic and features Sarah-Jane Morris (of The Communards fame) on vocals: a nice update with some really good slide (with a Vax vacuum cleaner as a bottleneck – watch the video!) Sarah-Jane puts in a great performance too evoking the period perfectly…a pity it’s only just over two minutes long.
The key word in summing this album up is fun…there are many smiles to travel across the fifteen tracks and fifty three minutes. No it isn’t blues or blues rock or just rock; it’s a fascinating blend of all of them but with much more to discover as you listen to a master of his instrument weave it in and around genre busting songs.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful album of varied songs with quality playing throughout and those songs reveal more with each listen.
Hooked On Love
Middle Class White Boy
The Devil Washed His Hands Of Me
The Last Guitarist
Unrequited Love Song
The Eyes Have It
All Kinds Of It
Life And Soul
The Dictator’s Daughter
Hooked On Love
I Wish You Would
Matt Backer: guitar, vocals
Andy Carr: bass
Randy Morrow: drums
Jim Kimberley: drums
Rob Hughes: horns
(iTunes made me amazed at the passage of time…in 2018 (it seems like yesterday) Matt Pearce of Voodoo Six fame, released a ‘solo’ album under the Matt Pearce and the Mutiny moniker…Gotta Get Home was an album of brilliant blues-rock that was chock full of quality: Like A Hammer is one of many, many highlights.)