If you haven’t come across this hard gigging Buckinghamshire blues band yet, they are a group of like-minded musicians who got together to play the blues in their own way. They do have an august lineage, consisting of ex Mick Ralphs Band vocalist Son Maxwell and guitarist Bob Moore, Ian Salisbury on keys, Derek White from the Larry Miller band on bass and ex Mick Clarke band drummer Russ Chaney. With 3 albums of mostly original material from the last few years, with Breaking Out being particularly worthy, their latest release features seven cover versions that will probably surprise. We also get an album-closing original to let you know they can really do the blues. AS we say Take Cover A timely Storm Warning
Covers albums are ten a penny out there and a band needs to brave and, more importantly, good enough to carry them off. Carbon copies are not what is needed, nor are hatchet jobs that make changes that veer so far from the original as to be sacrilege. No, what we need is a fresh take on a classic: a crafted homily to the composers and performers. A perfect example would be the startling cover of Jean Genie by the Rev. Shawn Amos, where we know what we are listening to but it is like hearing it anew. (See Bluesdoodle review). So does Storm Warning match these criteria? They have managed to make each cover their own while respecting the original so, a qualified yes; they have succeeded where many have failed, although some succeed more than others.
Track one, starts like Tom Cruise is about to abseil into view as this has a definite Mission Impossible background invading my head. Fear not, it soon materialises into the more recognisable shuffle that is Jimmy Reed’s Big Boss Man. Great build-up, with the keys and harmonica particularly effective. A good track really well interpreted. Stone Free is, of course, the Hendrix composition. It is always going to be fraught with danger when tackling an iconic song by such a respected artist. They do just about pull it off. I say ‘just about’ because, although the production phases the intro a bit, like the original, it is perhaps a bit too reverential. The vocals fit perfectly; the guitar is nothing short of brilliant; the keyboard solo, although not in the original, of course, does compliment and change the sound. and yet the overall feeling I get is an almost inexplicable ‘if only…’ If Only they had expanded the guitar solo it would have been as much a ‘go to’ track as the Hendrix original? Double Trouble was written and recorded by Otis Rush and covered by Eric Clapton amongst others. Interestingly, it was also the inspiration for the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band. This is simply superb. Subtle instrumentation, played with such understanding of the original; this is how to interpret, empathise and expand upon the highlights to make it better than the original. The piano and guitar are quite simply sublime, and the whole track is steeped in a slow blues texture that makes you want to lie back, eyes closed and just absorb every note. Jack of Diamonds is a traditional folk song, which was first recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson and has been covered by John Lee Hooker and Lonnie Donegan to name only two. Here it gets a reshuffle (pun intended) and with a slinky slide and mouth organ intro, it leaves you in no doubt that this is the blues. Maxwell’s vocals are, once again, pitched to suit the song. A minor moan: a little less hi-hat would have improved the overall sound, as it is too high in the mix for my preference. Another great piano and guitar solo makes this not just another cover. Custard Pie is the opening track on Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. While this credits Page and Plant with the composition like many of their songs, they are firmly based on early blues tunes. In this case Drop Down Mama by Sleepy John Estes and Shake ‘Em On Down by Bukka White are very strongly referenced. A neat drum intro takes us into the body of the song. Wisely, Maxwell and Moore do not try to copy Plant and Page, rather they have used their structure but paid even more attention to the Estes and White cuts which inspired the song and, I think, informed this version. The harp solo is outstanding. Hoodoo Man Blues was written and performed by Junior Wells on his ground-breaking album of the same name. This track in particular shows the skills of the solid rhythm section of Derek White and Russ Chaney; here they get it right in every way and this contributes hugely to the effectiveness of the rest of the instruments. The bass has such an intuitive feel and illuminates the whole track. A great version of a classic song. Maggie’s Farm is, in every way, a Bob Dylan Song. Here, it is transformed into a heavy shuffle with Maxwell, at times, even sounding like Dylan. This transformation leaves it recognisable and yet so different. I like it better than the original as it has so much to offer within the scope of Dylan’s vision; especially when Moore’s solo cuts in. Having never been a Dylan fan, although there is no doubt he was a truly great composer. I love finding versions of his songs like this. Here Storm Warning take his skill, add their own and produce a thoroughly enjoyable result. The final cut is a Son Maxwell composition called Big River. This one is a romp through a standard blues pattern, but with an edge. It had me air guitaring, air keyboarding and air drumming. A finer compliment I cannot conjure!
Overall then, this is the kind of album that will have you seeking out the originals and comparing them. I hope that it has this reaction with people who do not know artists such as Rush, Estes, White etc. I got into the blues by doing this kind of research. Without seeking out the original versions of Gallagher songs, I wouldn’t have heard of or appreciated the importance of the founders of this glorious genre. The beauty of this album when you do seek them out is that the comparison will be favourable.
SEVENdoodle paws out of TEN …
Stuart Son Maxwell – vocals and harp
Bob Moore – guitars
Russ Chaney – drums
Ian Salisbury – keyboards
Derek White – bass
- Big Boss Man (Al Smith/Luther Dixon, Jimmy Reid)
- Stone Free (Jimi Hendrix)
- Double Trouble (Otis Rush)
- Jack of Diamonds (Traditional)
- Custard Pie (Page/Plant)
- Hoodoo Man Blues (Junior Wells)
- Maggie’s Farm (Bob Dylan)
- Big River (Stuart Maxwell)