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fRoots reviews: 2012

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Murder Ballads
Secret London

Paul Lamb & The King Snakes: The Games People Play
There's two schools of thought on live albums. Do you aim to simply document the warts-and-all excitement of a single gig, slap it down as fast as possible and move on? Or do you carefully select a number here and a number there from a whole tour, add a bit of careful studio polish and patch the disc together months later?
PaulLamb, Britain's king of the blues harmonica, has tried both approaches now, and it has to be said that 2002's Live At The 100 Club was far more successful. That record, drawn entirely from his band's May 14 appearance in London's favourite sweaty cellar, was thrown together fast enough to be released just a couple of weeks after the gig itself . From the moment the band arrives on-stage, the audience is a boisterous presence on that disc, and listeners at home placed squarely in their midst.
This year's entry, however, draws from three different venues on a 2011 tour - one of them an outdoor festival - and hardly even acknowledges the audience is there. There's a couple of toe-curling attempts at banter from Lamb - neither of which spark much of a reaction - and a call-and-response section on Ya Ya Blues which leaves the audience so under-miked as to be nearly inaudible. With the earlier album, you can practically smell the spilt beer sticking your feet to the floor, but Games never conjures a trace of that atmosphere.
That said, the King Snakes remain a good, solid blues five-piece. Lamb may be the man with his name above the title, but he never abuses that privilege by demanding all the spotlight for himself. Ryan Lamb, Paul's son, isn't quite in his predecessor Johnny Whitehill's class as a guitarist, but he's no slouch either. The overall sound is the sort of railroad chug you might get if the Tennessee Three had chosen blues instead of country.
The selection of songs leans heavily on standards by the likes of Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and Leadbelly. Best of the bunch are Easy (an old Walter Horton instrumental from the 1950s), Roosevelt Sykes' Ida May (handled by the two Lambs alone) and Come To The Conclusion, the most memorable of the band's own four compositions. It's all enjoyable enough, but what's missing is the best live albums' sense of raw, slapdash energy.

This review first appeared in fRoots 353/354. For more details, visit the magazine's website here.

My new gig: Ain't nothing but a blues thang

In the summer of 2011, I started writing occasional reviews of blues CDs and suchlike material for fRoots, the UK's leading folk music and world music magazine.
      The deal is that fRoots gets each review to itself for a full month (two months in the case of a double issue), and then I'm free to run it here on PlanetSlade too. Once in a while, they have the cheek to spike something of mine altogether, in which case I'll run it here as soon as that becomes apparent.
      For more about fRoots, which I can heartily recommend to all PlanetSlade readers, visit the magazine's website here. The editor's free monthly music podcast is particularly good.

Nov/Dec 2012

Paul Lamb & The King Snakes: The Games People Play

June 2012

Mike Stevens & Matt Andersen: Push Record

May 2012

The Teaser, by Little G Weevil.

Unpublished 2011

The Hellhound Sample, by Charles Shaar Murray.

Darling oh Darling, by Miss Tess

O Dig, by The Woodshedders

Oct 2011

The Promised Land: A Swamp Pop Journey, by The Lil' Band O' Gold.

Aug/Sept 2011

Middle of Everywhere, by Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three.

Lucky Devil, by Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns.

River Town, by Jack Blackman.

July 2011

The Skinny, by Ian Siegal & The Youngest Sons.

100 Years of Robert Johnson, by Big Head Blues Club.