Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful twelve tracks and over an hour running time filled with variation, imagination and quality writ large over every note.
While talented blues-rockers Wille and the Bandits need no introduction (after all, this is their fifth studio album all of which were rightly acclaimed and there’s lots more info here on Bluesdoodles via the search facility), the back story to their latest release is fascinating and serendipitous. The band are based in Cornwall which is also home to a little known, but inspirational recording studio called Sawmills. It’s on the banks of the beautiful River Fowey and was one of the earliest residential studios in the country. It has seen acts such as Stone Roses, Oasis, Supergrass, Robert Plant and Muse recording there to take advantage of the serenity as well as the soundboard skills of John Cornfield. Now, sadly, it would appear it will be closing and, as Wille explains,
It had always been a dream for me to record at Sawmills. I was devastated at the thought that another piece of music history was being repurposed away from a place of inspiration for the arts.” If anyone feels like saving this important piece of music and literary history (it was apparently the inspiration for Wind in the Willows), then it can be yours for £2.25 million! Thanks to the generosity of Wille’s committed fans, together they raised the necessary funds.”
If anyone feels like saving this important piece of music and literary history (it was apparently the inspiration for Wind in the Willows), then it can be yours for £2.25 million!
Thanks to the generosity of Wille’s committed fans, together they raised the necessary funds to make the dream a reality…the result is the superb new album When the World Stood Still. The tone of the record, inevitably, is influenced by the damnable pandemic and the effect it has had on the world (hardship and hope), the effect on musicians (curtailment of touring) and the complexities of politics and social media and the impact and (potential) damage they can cause.
All of these emotions are wrapped in carefully crafted music to suit the mood…be it rock, blues, folk or even hip-hop (which I thought was a medical procedure) influences and that’s just the lead-off track, Caught In The Middle. The lyrics address the politics of Brexit from an (at last) honest and thoughtful perspective and it opens with a catchy heavy blues riff before quietening down for the not quite rapped, melodic vocal…this just shouldn’t work, but it does and any doubts on the verse stylings are soon wiped away with that riff, the Hammond washes and the clever counterpoint of a gorgeous, short picked acoustic interlude. I’m Alive is pure WATB…textured, varied and impactful from the drum roll intro through to the riff and harmonies with an excellent instrumental section that takes you around the world in its complex influences of chords, scales and percussion…the lyrics also show insight into depression and a way of climbing free. Without You is a near ballad that speaks of loss with a Zep tinged intro before going slightly Floydian but is lifted in mood and outlook with a slide solo of such reach and imagination…a question Wille: did your throat take long to recover from that impassioned close?
Stuff must have been written with live, audience participation in mind as the chorus invites you to join in… “What makes you happy? What’s your good stuff?” A great bluesy riff echoed by the Rhodes works well and if you can imagine AC/DC doing Tom Petty (or vice-versa) but with added slide, you’re close. In This Together is an almost heavy pop song about the blame culture we seem to be blighted with thanks to divisive government edicts and (anti)social media. Set to a Sweet beat and chords, it is more upbeat than the subject matter and has a low in the mix, clever guitar piece.
Will We Ever is written when the world doubted that we would ever experience live music again…set to a background of Hammond, slide and lap guitar it is heavy, modern blues personified.
The title track, When The World Stood Still engages immediately as soft brushed drums, piano, upright bass and the delicious dobro come together for a musical and lyrical celebration of how nature benefited (and thereby did we) from the lockdowns…less traffic noise and pollution allowed us to enjoy nature regaining lost ground…now we hope it lasts. A sort of country blues with some modern twists and evolutions knitted into the fabric of the song makes for a great listen. Move Too Fast is a funky, bluesy track with a swinging shuffle drum pattern, Hammond and guitar colouring the background and the slide punctuation helps…the highlight is, of course, the solo which starts slow, picked and bendy before the bottleneck speaks volumes. Broken Words is also funked and has, apparently, Tom playing almost anything percussive that was to hand…including a birdhouse! No doubt the residents were Blues Tits! The lyrics have a righteous go at the governmental pandemic statements against a, purposely, ‘stuttering’ chorus backed by an engaging shuffle and some trademark slide.
Daylight is a song about Wille’s second daughter, whose “forceful nature and delightful exuberance bring him such joy” (His first daughter had a song on the previous album written about her, so this isn’t favouritism). It’s a bluesy, rocky song with a weighty riff, bouncy chorus and a short but clever solo. Refuge is also about the pandemic and the total lack of support for musicians and their backup teams: set to a rolling melody that (unfortunately for me) conjures up Springsteen, but rescue is at hand with guitar playing and a great rock solo albeit a bit deep in the mix and far too short.
The final track, Solid Ground, has future generations in mind as it builds from the gentle intro with clever, irregular rhythms and restrained vocals, a great upright bass sound leading to a monumental guitar solo that is worth buying the album for…echoes of Albatross in the careful spacing and delicacy of each note; if only it has lasted another hour or two!
The future of modern blues is safe while Wille, Harry, Matthew and Tom are composing and performing at this level.
Caught In The Middle
In This Together
Will We Ever
When The World Stood Still
Move Too Fast
Wille Edwards – Lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, dobro, electric lap steel
Harry Mackaill – Backing vocals, bass guitar, synthesizer
Matthew Gallagher – Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, piano, Mellotron, guitar, backing vocals
Tom Gilkes – Drums and percussion
Recorded at Sawmills Studio
Engineered and Mixed by John Cornfield
Produced by Wille & The Bandits and John Cornfield
All songs written by Edwards, Mackaill, Gallagher, Gilkes
The album will be released by Fat Toad Records on Friday January 28th.
Wille and the Bandits begin an extensive tour to support the album, beginning in March. Tickets are available with album orders on the band’s site in some very attractive ‘bundles’.
(iTunes brought me a song from 1927 by the duo William and Versey Smith with Everybody Help The Boys Come Home…a poor quality recording because of its age but, if you listen closely, this was at least 30 years ahead of its time with the rhythms and chord progressions.)