Reviews: The New Generation and Some Southern Soul!

Posted on 8/19/2010 by Silver Michaels

by Silver Michaels

Jimmy Bowskill


Ruf Records

Live, the fourth release from Canadian guitarist Jimmy Bowskill, is an impressive release that flies in the face of the "wisdom" that "young guys can't play the blues." Bowskill is only 19, but by now is probably used to impressing fans and non-believers alike; he was, after all, discovered by Jeff Healey at the ripe old age of 11.

On Live, Bowskill (guitar & vocals) is joined by Wayne Deadder on bass & vocals and drummer Dan Neill. Like most power trio blues releases, this one firmly straddles the line between blues and hard, classic rock. The 12 selections include 8 originals and covers that, not surprisingly,. also straddle the blues/rock line - two from Free, Peter Green's Rattlesnake Shake and a solid and respectful cover of BB King's Three O'Clock In The Morning. On the latter track, Bowskill performs it as a good, slow aching blues and stretches it to a full ten minutes which leaves him plenty of room for some blistering lead work; his playing on this track is among the strongest and most soulful on this release.

Of the album's originals, I'm particularly partial to Loser and Diamond Ring. Loser is another fine slow blues built around a strong melody and perhaps presents Bowskill's finest vocal work on the album. Diamond Ring is a much more uptempo number, admittedly far closer stylistically and sonically to classic rock than blues. Still, it's a solid performance with a gutty lead and some good chemistry between the lead guitar and rhythm section.

Throughout the entire release, his slower vocals show a little more control and depth of emotion than the more rocking tracks. In addition, his guitar work, while solid throughout, is certainly more gut-wrenching and honest on the slower numbers. It can be a difficult thing to overcome the limitations put on power-trio blues, and for the most part, Live avoids many of the standard pitfalls with good variations in tempo and emotional content. Again, the young man is only 19 and is already an obviously skilled player. It will be interesting to hear what time and experience do for both his playing and compositional skills - and I have to say, I'd be surprised to hear anything but continued improvement as time marches on.

Julius Pittman & The Revival

Bucket List

Independent Release

Bucket List is a fine example of an album and artist that should benefit from the recent surge in popularity enjoyed by Southern soul. The band is a solid seven members strong (Pittman on vocals, Hammond B-3 and electric piano, Randy Moss on guitars, Audie Stanley on bass, Chris McIntyre on drums and a horn section featuring John Stanley on tenor sax, Howard Smith on baritone and tenor saxes and Dave Triplett on trumpet and flugelhorn) and features some impressive guest contributions as well.

The greatest danger facing a band with that sort of lineup is simple overkill, but Bucket List does a very nice job with clean, punchy horn arrangements, a sweet mix between the horns, keys and vocals and some excellent production values. Pittman himself claims Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and James Brown as being among his vocal influences, and it truly shows. The influence even stretches beyond the stellar vocal work, again into the arrangements which are clean, effective and do as fine a job of using a horn section as I've heard in a while now. It certainly sounds as though these fellas are road tested fans of Southern soul.

The album runs a little short - a hair shy of 40 minutes, nine songs total - but what is presented is pure quality. Four originals, five covers (including Al Green's Tired Of Being Alone, a surprising but impressive album opener). I found it hard to believe that this is the band's debut release, even upon discovering that most of the members have extensive experience in other settings. They have the feel and sound of solid musicians who love what they're doing and have already molded themselves into a strong and cohesive unit. I know that I, for one, will anxiously await future releases!

Oli Brown

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Ruf Records

Shew! Yeah, I saved the best for last - the folks at Ruf Records apparently have a good ear for promising young talent. Oli Brown is yet another 19 year old guitarist, and Heads I Win, Tails You Lose is another release full of solid talent and tons of promise.

This is the follow-up release to 2008's Open Road, and for all the positive attention that album received, this one should easily outdo it. For starters, the album was produced by one of the legendary figures of British blues, Mike Vernon; Vernon apparently came out of retirement to add his talents here, drawing from his experience as a producer for the likes of John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac (back in their early blues days), Ten Years After and Freddie King. Vernon seemingly hasn't lost so much of a step - he does a fine job of capturing Brown's talent with a good full sound that compliments both the playing and compositional skills Brown shows.

On this release, Brown on guitar and vocals is joined by Gary Rackham on bass, Jamie Little on drums and percussion and Dave Lennox on keys; Vernon adds "additional background vocals and tambourine." As might well be expected in part from the influence of Vernon, the album has a very distinct British blues feel to it. Keeping My Options Open, one of the strongest tracks on the album, is a great microcosm of most of the release, with a good, punchy melodic line nicely accented by Brown's excellent vocals and guitar work. Speechless is another stellar track that is helped a lot by some tasteful keyboard work and an almost delicate guitar line forming the foundation of the track. Brown's vocals here are particularly soulful and his solo guitar work here is among the best on the album; either of these two tracks would, in my opinion, be good choices for "focus" tracks for radio play.

Not A Word I Say is the closest the disc gets to a pure ballad, and I would love to hear Brown tackle more material like this on future releases. The melody is haunting and the interplay between lead guitar and keyboards adds a ton to the emotional quotient; this is, perhaps, the most mature track on this release, and again is way beyond what one might normally expect from a gentleman of 19. Real Good Time and Take A Look Back add a little bit of funk to the mix; both sound comfortable and easily within the talent and vocal prowess that Brown consistently show. Of the album's 12 tracks, the 2 covers presented are something of head scratchers. Remember No Diggity, the '90s chestnut from Blackstreet/Dr. Dre? Not your standard cover, especially for a blues artist, but this one actually fits nicely within the framework of the disc, resting comfortably between funk, soul and a touch of blues. The other cover, the classic Fever, is probably the one track I would have left off the album. It just doesn't really seem to fit, either in concept or style. Not a terrible job on the track, just somewhat out of place.

Still, that's a very minor drawback on a very impressive release. Throughout, Heads I Win, Tails You Lose sounds like the work of a well-rounded and experienced player. Good heavens! If Oli Brown sounds this good and this confident at 19, what might the future hold? Can't wait to find out!

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