Self release [Release Date: 02.09.13]
Newcastle’s Groove-A-Matics wear their musical influences on their sleeve. The band’s name is writ large on the opening groove of ‘Way Of The World’, which could easily fit into an early Fab-T Birds album. Impressive vocalist, sax and harp player Mick Cantwell dominates the song with his authoritative phrasing, while the band fattens out the track with the kind of deep seated groove that sets a very high standard for the rest of an excellent old school r&b album
‘Keep It Clean’ is brimming with vibrant ideas and exciting playing, bolstered by a pulsating rhythm section of bassist John Morgan and drummer Barry Race, whose rhythmic subtlety defies his surname.
The contrasting tones are provided by guitarist Johnny Whitehill and the effervescent Mick Cantwell, who brings sax and harp to match his signature vocal style.
Each track fits perfectly like a musical jigsaw piece. ‘Keep It Clean’ is a coherently structured album with a mellifluous flow, as evidenced by the uplifting sax solo on the sumptuous ‘Changes’, which fades all too soon.
‘Working Class Man’ is built on a tightly compressed rhythm and a clear message: ‘Came to this world with nothing and I leave the same way; I worked hard all my life trying to live from day to day’. It’s a perfect example of the way the band intuitively constructs a groove before branching out on the back of Mick’s gritty blues harp and Johnny Whitehall clean toned solo.
Whitehill is the former Blues Burglars and Paul Lamb & The Kingsnakes’ guitarist who proves as good a song writer as he is an underrated guitarist. He’s penned all 10 tracks here and even when the subject matter borders on cliché, on as on ‘Who’s Been Sleeping’, his snaking solo backed by a delicately stroked rhythm soon sweeps you along into another groove.
There’s a subtle change of pace on the harp led ‘I’m Bad’, with great phrasing from Cantwell, while ‘Mr Green’, is a suitably dreamy ode to Peter Green on which Whitehill’s delicate touch and tone perfectly evokes his musical hero. ‘Back Home’ has rhythmic shades of the late JJ Cale, but with a much gruffer gruff vocal and ‘Changes’ employs a funky back beat with hints of echo reverb on the guitar solo.
‘Feels So Good’ embraces the subtle dynamics of a mid-tempo blues, given its nuance by another great vocal and rock steady playing, before a stinging guitar solo resolution. ‘Some More’ could easily refer to the guitar end-piece of the previous track, except the band slips into a mambo style instrumental intro and an infectious beat with JW’s solo a perfect foil for Mick’s intuitive vocal.
‘Keep It Clean’ is a fine album, even if the closing track ‘Nervous’ narrowly misses the mark. Mick doesn’t quite nail the deep baritone required to bring out the lyrical edge of the piece. It’s a minor blemish on an otherwise excellent exposition of the skills of a talented front man, and his vocal is soon counter-balanced by a sweet toned sax solo, before guitarist Whitehill delivers a sparkling finale.
Sometimes the Groove-A-Matics sound like the best Texan bar room band, with hints of blues, soul, r&b and rock and roll. They may re-cork old wine in new bottles, but ultimately they create a vintage all of their own, based on strong material and an exhilarating performance. And in a blues world in which originality and spark are at a premium, ‘Keep It Clean’ restores your faith in a home-grown blues band’s ability to being home the bacon, or in this case the grooves. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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