Ben Poole is no stranger to the pages of Bluesdoodles; we have loved his work (live and studio) and you will find reviews and interviews by using the search facility…including the 10/10, rather superb Time Has Come album. Guy Smeets may be less recognised, but his playing on Layla Zoe’s Nowhere Left To Go album, convinced me that he is an extremely talented guitar player.
Bring these two gifted musicians together, take away their electric guitars, plug in their acoustics and arrange to record their live shows…that’s what we have here as the stunningly original title Acoustic Duo Live describes so perfectly. Not that this is their first time together; their friendship and stage sharing goes back ten years and now, for those of us that missed out, we can share the performance, atmosphere and rapport of two extremely talented guitarists going ‘unplugged’.
Recorded over two nights in August 2020 (ah! remember those blissful days before the Damoclean sword’s thread frayed yet further?) in the Café Zaal in Groesbeek, Netherlands, we are treated to eight tracks and fifty-nine minutes of skilful playing, emotive vocals and then we’re left complaining that it’s over far too quickly…only an hour? Also worthy of note is the unselfish way they share the stage and the solos, both dazzling with dexterity.
It opens with Let’s Go Upstairs from Ben’s debut album; the genius acoustic runs that open it are worth the entrance fee alone before the funk hits and Ben adds his trademark vocals across the wizardry. The solo is fast, fluid, funky and fabulous from Guy. It also highlights how well the whole set was recorded; the clarity is amazing.
Take It No More shows their voices can harmonise as well as their guitars as they deliver song from the Anytime You Need Me album. Guy again does the solo honours and the the two play off each other in a way that you wish it just kept going. The song is delivered with the riff acoustically driven (nicked that from a Heep album) but still has the weight of the heavy blues it is and the way it’s translated is fabulous.
Also off Ben’s debut, It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way, has Ben showing delicate dexterity on the extended intro…flamenco meets the blues and blends in time for the vocals to join in. Needless to say, the solo is clever and has more bends than the usual acoustic work and the strummed duet is better than that sounds. Going Up The Country is from the great Canned Heat and despite the lack of flute or falsetto vocal is a damn good reading of a damn good song. The riff is as catchy as ever and the two solos are cleverly played around the melodies, as well as some faultless picking.
Nothing Ever Hurt Like You was, to me, an unknown; it is a James Morrison song (which escaped me…as did James Morrison)…regardless, this poppy rock song is translated into a funky blues that rescues it from anonymity although to my mind, they had many more to choose from (originals and covers) that it wouldn’t have been missed.
Too Tired is back on firmly on track with this excellent take on the Johnny Guitar Watson song (also covered brilliant by Gary Moore); this is where these two excel as the blues run through every note and the solos are spectacular in their intensity. Guitar Duel is just that: the two of them swapping stunning runs, picking, bending, hammering through blues, rock, Spanish phrasing and all points in between and all round smartarse playing…”to infinity and beyond”, it is superb. The gaps (with applause) don’t work quite so well on record, but I wish I’d been there to see this six string banter.
The final track is a twelve minute medley called errr, Medley. Now where else would you blend Billie Jean, Smoke On The Water, Purple Haze and the old Temptations song, I’m Losing You? Nowhere except here with these two guitarists extraordinaire: Michael Jackson would be spinning as, vocally, it is fitting but guitar wise it so bleedin’ clever. Smoke is, of course, instantly recognisable and lasts only a few bars (and it’s nice to add this to my 109 versions (albeit mainly by Purple on the numerous (whisper) bootlegs)) and the transition to it is ingenious as is, after a few seconds, Purple Haze. This is given a serious and glorious acoustic work-over with some nifty playing and playing around with the wonderful melodies the original was soaked in. The Temptations song works surprisingly well too as is suited to Ben’s voice and then they revisit Billie Jean but, as with the whole album, it is the interpretations and playing of the acoustics by these two masters that thrill the most.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a Wonderful album that will entertain even if you aren’t guitar centred like wot I am. Great songs, fabulous playing that will send shivers of pleasure down any spinal column…guaranteed.
Let’s Go Upstairs
Take It No More
It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way
Going Up The Country
Nothing Ever Hurt Like You
Medley (Billie Jean/Smoke On The Water/Purple Haze/I’m Losing You)
(iTunes, in its inimitable fashion, threw up a nearly forgotten gem: Benny Sharp delivering some stunning guitar on St Louis Sunset Strip…under two minutes, but this lovely instrumental came out in 1961 from the city of Chicago.)