Album review: KROSSBORDER – Kompilation Vol 1 – The Best British Blues

Krossborder Records – [Release Date: 16.12.13]

‘Krossborder Kompilation Vol 1: The Best British Blues’ invites us to ‘enjoy a good dose of musical therapy’. The 16 tracks just about deliver enough to allow us to do just that, even though the album might have been better sub titled ‘Up & Coming British Blues’.

Truth be told there are a handful of gems to be found here and the rest is workmanlike rather than truly inspirational, but the highlights do make the album well worth checking out.

One of the most obvious problems is that too many performances don’t have a strong enough vocal to make the songs memorable. Being an independent release, it’s understandable that some of the tracks lack punch without the back-up of a polished production. But as always, it’s all about the quality of the songs and to a lesser extent the quality of the playing. And if this is the best of the current crop of British blues bands to be found on the club and pub circuit, then on balance things are OK, as a quarter of this album is outstanding and the rest has several decent moments that can comfortably be filed as a works in progress.

One refreshing aspect of this compilation is the significant number of women singers and also the sheer the variety of material, which ranges from intuitive shuffles and smouldering grooves to funky soul and out and out rocking blues. The album also benefits from some thoughtful sequencing that gives the compilation as a whole greater substance than the sum of its parts.

Little Devils open with the slow building, sax led blues ‘Deep Inside’ and the album hits a groove with Jackson Sloan’s train-time rhythm that evokes the Ghost Train’ of its title, while Planet Graffiti’s ‘Bad Advice’ opens with Brent Hutchinson’s insistent bubbly guitar figure and transforms itself via an unexpected tempo change into an enveloping piece with a dreamy feel and intricate fretwork.

Red Butler slip up the gears with Alex Butler’s hard riffing and Jane Pearce’s impressive vocals on the kick ass ‘Bringing Out The Devil’, and the album hits an impressive high with the southern influenced, catchy hook and scintillating guitars of Roadhouse’s ‘Hell On Wheels’. The dual guitars of Gary Boner and Danny Gwillym sparkles and the vocal triumvirate of Suzie. D, Kelly Marie Hobbs, and Rachel Clark take the song to another level.

It’s nicely juxtaposed by both Dave Thomas’s funky groove  ‘Shotgun Blues’ – all quavering harp, tightly wrapped rhythm guitar and a soulful vocal – and the swampy funky feel of the White Knuckles Blues Band’s ‘It Might Be Too Late’.

The carefully thought out  running order also acts as the perfect foil for another album highlight, as Tom Gee’s  ‘Better Things To Do’ has a natural flow as part of a majestic groove with a perfectly weighted horn section and Tom’s soulful phrasing.

Talking about phrasing, the excellent Zoe Schwarz does just that and adds perfect diction on Blue Commotion’s ‘Lucifer Is Blue’. The band jams towards an unexpected finale, as she cleverly slips from lead to soaring backing vocals.

And just when you think the compilation might have peaked, up steps The Sharon Colgan Band with ‘Alright Now Papa’, which may not be one of the most original songs, but bubbles along nicely with a fine vocal, a mighty horn section and an arresting trumpet solo.  The track is rooted by some powerful drumming and coloured by a Hammond break, cutting edge rhythm guitar and more pumping horns, as Sharon steers the number to a perfunctory finish.

For the rest, Dove & Boweevil contribute a live sounding shuffle, which once Lauren Dove finds her range and guitarist Mark Hows cuts loose, fulfils its promise, while Innes Sibun rocks out with some searing slide to offset an indifferent vocal.

Chesterfield’s Idle Hands are arguable the best of the rest, and invite us to ‘Come Share The Blues’ with a top class acoustic hip shaking shuffle which gives the album a natural lift. Alex McKown Band‘s ‘Gone So Long’ mines an echo inflected funky groove, but he struggles with his vocal, while The Roy Mette Band adds a smoking rhythmic groove and a lovely wah-wah break to offset another indifferent vocal. The power trio Absolution round things off with the riff laden rocker ‘Temperature’, all double tracked guitars, a deeply honed wah-wah break and a keen sense of dynamics.

‘Krossborder Kompilation Volume 1: The Best British Blues’ is a worthy showcase that flickers without quite catching fire, but suggests there’s plenty of good stuff out there that is worthy of your support. ***½ 

Review Pete Feenstra

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