Sometimes it’s good just to blow the cobwebs out of your head and there’s nothing better for that than some loud ramshackle rock music. Turn it up and clean your head indeed. Well Stiv Cantarelli’s latest album is just the medicine required for anyone in need of a good blast at the old neurones packed as it is with rackety blues rock, switchblade guitars and honking sax.
Cantarelli is an Italian who ended up in Portland many years ago striking up a firm relationship with Richmond Fontaine to the extent that they backed him on his solo debut Innerstate. Gathering up The Silent Strangers, essentially his old rhythm section from his Italian band Satellite Inn and adding Roberto Villa on guitar and sax, Cantarelli then released Black Music/White Music last year to some acclaim. Recorded in Italy it seesawed between stark country and amped up rockers. For Banks Of The Lea the band descended on Hackney’s Gizzard studio and looked for inspiration from the famed Canvey sound of Dr. Feelgood to the extent of getting the landlord of Southend’s Railway Hotel, Dave Dulake, to tinkle the ivories on several of the songs. The result is a maelstrom with the ferocity of the Feelgoods allied to the sinister slink of bands like Gallon Drunk and The Gun Club while the hellish urban setting of several of the songs casts the likes of Bruce Springsteen’s anthems under a baleful light. The high point is the magnificent Soul Seller, a gloriously lopsided tumult with the band shifting from a pell mell punk thrash to passages of unhinged slide guitar weirdness that build in intensity as the drummer thrashes his cymbals. It’s an all out orgy of sonic excess and by the end the listener is exhausted (and indeed cleansed).
While Soul Seller might be the summit there are thrills galore on the way up to it. The opening song, The Streets, kicks the door wide open as the band march in with their best garage rock strut before collapsing into a Yardbirds like freakout. No time to take a breath at the end however as they immediately slam into the piano boogie of Frenzy with the sax yacketty yacking like its horn was full of amphetamine. Jason Hit The City barrels along with sax again to the fore as Cantarelli and crew update and eviscerate Bruce Springsteen’s New Jersey fantasies adding a fine Jim Carrol street savvy. Leaving Blues abandons the city for a visceral take on rural blues with the Devil making his usual entrance. It’s not cotton picking back porch romanticism but an electrifying ghost ride somewhat akin to R L Burnside’s scabrous sound. The album ends with the monumental and thrilling juggernaut that is Before I Die with Cantarelli moaning the blues over tumbling drums and razor sharp guitar, a voice crying in the wilderness as all hell breaks loose around him.
Banks Of The Lea is a thrilling ride and the band are on the road for a short tour supporting the release. Tour dates here.
Blabber’n’Smoke has to admit that it’s a bit of a latecomer to the music of Blue Rose Code, the vehicle for Edinburgh born Ross Wilson’s song poetry. A chance hearing of Boscombe Armistice on Celtic Music FM a few weeks ago stopped us in our tracks as this winsome pedal steel laced gem wafted from the speakers and Wilson’s Scots burr crooned about his granny saying he’d start a fight in an empty hoose. I suppose we’re much more used to hearing Scottish accents in songs these days with The Proclaimers leading the way while you wouldn’t contemplate King Creosote or Aidan Moffat adopting a transatlantic drawl. But there was more here, the song conjured up memories of Van Morrison’s Veedon Fleece and even Astral Weeks with its haunting quality and impressionistic feel. In these instant internet days the album The Ballads of Peckham Rye was almost immediately summoned up and pretty much floored me. A magnificent trawl from Leith to London with side trips to the corner of the northern isles to the peak of the antipodes the album is a psychogeographic trip as Wilson summons up a mystic Celtic hinterland finely balanced by a couthy Scottishness that would be familiar to readers of The Broons. As for the music it inhabits that folk/jazz hybrid that Morrison invented on Astral Weeks along with nods to Jackie Leven and John Martyn, helped indeed by having the legendary Danny Thompson on double bass duties.
The Ballads Of Peckham Rye came out on CD a few months ago but this week was given a vinyl release and in tandem with this Wilson assembled a road troupe for a short tour. The show at The Glad Cafe was packed to the rafters and accordingly blisteringly hot, however the audience stalwarts were rewarded with a show that surely rates as one of the best of the year. A mini revue almost, both support acts were plucked from the Blue Rose Code line up with Wilson introducing them. First up was Wrenne, a singer he first encountered “playing a nylon strung guitar, barefoot, at a Secret Garden Party.” Singing songs from her forthcoming album along with a cover of Steven Merrit’s The Book Of Love her voice impressed, an opinion confirmed later as she sang some magnificent harmonies in the main set. Next up was M. G. Boulter, pedal steel gunslinger for the likes of Simone Felice when he’s in town. Boulter’s pedal steel graces The Ballads of Peckam Rye but he’s also a solo artist and a member of Southend’s The Lucky Strikes. His acoustic set saw him in a line of succession from Loudon Wainwright III and Alan Hull, bare boned songs that have a bleak yet hopeful outlook. Descriptive of Southend On Sea, chip shops, ice cream men (and their demise) featured but his best was the wonderful and evocative Once I Was from his fine album, The Water Or The Wave.
The stage was well set then for Blue Rose Code, tonight a five piece with Wilson at the front, Boulter on pedal steel and Dobro and Wrenne on harmony vocals along with Nico Bruce on double bass and Lyle Watt playing acoustic guitar and mandolin. From the off it was obvious that this was going to be something special. Rippling guitars introduced Silent Drums before Bruce’s bass burbled into action sucking the audience into the slipstream. Wrenne’s vocals slipped and slid around Wilson, recalling that other vocal duo Birds Of Chicago, as the band gently billowed like a fine wind pushing the ship forward with Lyle Watt’s guitar embroidering the sound. Wilson took us on a journey that went back to his childhood with Ghosts Of Leith via Edina up to his London travails on Whitechapel (where he slipped in a Drumchapel to some applause). Come The Springtime was described as a hope for the future and comes across as a magnificent update to what one might imagine to be a traditional Scots song. Norman McCaig’s poem, True Ways Of Knowing was acknowledged by Wilson as an example of his late flowering into the highways and byways of Scottish literature and it’s an excellent example of written poetry set to music, a feat repeated later in the encore.
Introducing Matthew Boulter earlier Wilson declared that he had always wanted some pedal steel on his records but later said that he was reluctant to participate in the Americana Music Awards as he “wasn’t country.” The Right To Be Happy was his attempt to write a country song and tonight it swung with a fine country heft while several other songs certainly cantered into a country trot. The Hibernian folk swing persisted through the night and culminated in the first encore with Wilson and Wrenne delivering a powerful rendition of Hugh McDiarmid’s poem Scotland. Finally the band came out to perform the excellent This Is Not A Love Song which allowed them to stretch out and improvise, recalling Soho folk blues such as Pentangle in their heyday although Wilson brought it back to earth with his couthy declaration ” time after time it’s the same old shite,” a wonderful mishmash of folk purity and Scottish bare faced cheek. Overall the impression was of a magnificent warm and enveloping wit and humanity with Wilson and his players producing the finest night of the year so far.