There’s a lot to be said for mixing genres on a festival bill, as it provides contrast, dynamism and even brings in a different crowd during the course of 5 hours or more, of rock/blues related music.
Tonight’s bill of fare means you can catch one band, then casually drift off to eat and then return again and get into a completely different, but equally enjoyable vibe.
And so it proves tonight with the opening band The Possums who mix country rock, and Americana in what they call ‘organic rock & roll’.
Given their broad based approach it’s an apt description. They have a great feel for the music they play, and being one of an increasing number of bands who don’t use a bass player – Hammond player Julien Bouyssou takes care of the bottom end – the emphasis is firmly on song narratives and melodies.
In T. Bo Ripault they have a fine vocalist and guitarist, who wrings every tonal possibility from his elecaster. He also brings an understated stage presence to bear on a well balanced set that just like his subtly constructed solos builds by degrees.
He has that rare ability to be able to stare vaguely into the distance while effortlessly peeling off some spiky licks. His fluid runs recall Jerry Garcia with an occasional Knopfler feel, while his more muscular solos are closer to Neil Young.
Vocally, he’s sometimes like early Nick Lowe and if the references sound retro, it’s because the music is unashamedly old school, and creeps on you like a long forgotten, but vaguely remembered friend.
They lean into Lennon & McCartney’s ‘One After 909’, and overcome the schmaltz of ‘Love Bug’ by giving it a celebratory feel that gets people dancing. ‘Mendocino’ is the first of two homage’s to the late Doug Sahm (‘Woolly Bully’ is the show stopper), and they change direction again on a West coast influenced piece with a slow building solo full of a rich guitar tone and Hammond sweeps.
Drummer and equally fine vocalist Bastein Cazebon, lays down the perfect stuttering beat as the band move into Neil Young’s ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ and the crowd responds in kind. ‘Woolly Bully’ seals the deal to provide the prefect start to a great evening at an excellent festival.
If The Possums are laid back, then the suited and booted Alexis Evans Sextet clearly send out a signal that they mean business as a soul revue.
Guitarist and vocalist Alexis takes the stage in a blue suit. He’s a generous band leader who allows his band to stretch out as they successfully work hard to engage the crowd. He’s still got something to learn about showmanship though, as one funky number actually drifts off into the ether, as he turns his back to the crowd to re-tune his guitar.
He’s got a passable voice but he doesn’t have the depth of guitar tone to justify his front man status. Nevertheless the band’s self penned mix of Memphis Soul with Stax and Hi influences makes a significant connection with the crowd, especially when they veer into the funky party-time mode of numbers like ‘Come On Lets Do It’.
When they later sing ‘make it if you try’, you can’t argue with the sentiment. A combination of Alexis’s wiry stage presence mixed with staccato horns, sharp sax and trumpet solos, and a busy organ player brings the crowd to its feet, as the band finishes with a flourish.
And so to Nicole Whitlock, aka Ms.Nikki, who hails from Memphis and has clearly learn’t every facet of what makes a great soul revue.
From the moment she hits the stage she engages the crowd with a mixture of real emotion, good humour, plenty of self belief and a voice that evokes the emotion of Aretha Franklyn and power of Tina Turner.
She opens with a booming shuffle on which guitarist Florian Royo shines and her ability to phrase turns even the most clichéd lines into something memorable. And while she extols the virtue of being a ‘big woman’ she also puts in some hi-octane dancing to make sure that she connects with every single person in the crowd.
Her own material, including a song about an ‘Uphill Journey’, is full of meaningful messages which tonight’s crowd noticeably relate too. Her mix of shuffles, blues, ballads – she makes ‘Misty Blue’ all her own – boogie, gospel blues and above all stage craft, is as close to the real thing as we’ve got nowadays.
If Ms. Nikki is a gospel singer turning her hand at the blues, then the versatile Kyla Brox is harder to pin down. She an authentic blues singer who veers into jazz, gospel and wherever her angelic voice takes her. She’s got the ability to bring a festival crowd to complete silence, while her startling whoops, hollers and effortless range is offset by her own deft flute playing.
Last night she played in duo mode plus special guest, her legendary dad Victor Brox, but tonight she’s with her full band that features the twin guitar and sax attack of Paul Farr and Tony Marshall.
Bassist Danny Blomeley holds down the bottom end as Kyla radiates confidence and enjoyment, a fact that translates into a great crowd response. The band slips into the medium paced ‘Beautiful Day’ and she gives us an example of her wonderful range on the moving ‘Change Your Mind’ and the emotive ‘At Last’, both of which sandwich the ‘365’ call and response shuffle.
She locks into her true forte again on ‘If You See Him’ – in a master class of vocal phrasing and subtle band accompaniment – and by the time of a brusque cover of ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ the place is rocking.
She returns with a smile and the funky influenced ‘Don’t Mess With My Man’ to clinch the game set and match!
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Anne Pioton, except Kyla Brox (Gilbert Bereau)
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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