Self release [Release date 24.03.17]
There’s something reassuring about The Sharpeez brand of retro rhythm & blues that steadfastly refuses to be cowered the industry re-branding of the term r&b.
From the band’s high energy, rhythm guitar driven approach, the gritty vocals and substance of Bill Mead’s songs to Richard Hayes’s cleverly disguised ascending slide guitar lines, this is first class British R&B.
This album is a warts and all desk recording on which the crowd sounds as if its three blocks away, but this is counter-balanced from the start on the aptly titled ‘Automatic Mode’, as the band immediately slips into gear and Richard Hayes’s soaring slide washes over the tracks like a tidal wave.
Much like their more famous predecessors The Pirates, The Sharpeez take you to a place where the band rocks, the beer flows and the rhythms are relentless. It helps of course when you have a first class rhythm section comprising drummer Spencer Blackledge and bass player and backing vocalist Baz Payne, who never waver on a night of hard hitting r&b, but with plenty of melodies.
Front man Bill Mead is an old school rhythm player who delivers short, sharp hooks and a relentless drive that mirrors the band road work across Europe.
The band’s history reached back to 1980, though it was with a re-launched line-up in 2004 that they started to build a rock solid following in Germany, Holland and the North Of France. Their club friendly sets originally leant heavily on the likes of Rory Gallagher (they include ‘Continental Op’ here, which Hayes takes into the realms of Jerry Garcia), the jangling guitars of Tom Petty, occasional Stonesy riffs and the unflinching rawness of George Thorogood meets Mick Green’s Pirates.
They also add their own brand of rockabilly on ‘Crazy Woman Blues’ and the standard of Mead’s own self-penned material is such that they have long moved on from being a covers band to confidently building their own musical persona, as captured here by the diligent sound engineer Simon Taylor.
When they do fall back on a cover such as Sean Tyla’s ‘Hurricane’, there’s a readily evident parallel between the latter and Mead’s own evocative lyrics, voiced over hot licks and a big hooks.
They even bring a film noir feel to ‘Stiletto Heels’ on which Baz Payne adds harmony vocals on the hook of a song that takes its place in a meticulously constructed classic R&B set.
The solos are gradually extended as the playing gets harder and the crowd’s response gets more fervent. They power their way into ‘Dr. Feelgood’ and ride Blackledge’s crisp cymbal work on the jet propelled ‘Playing With A Losing Hand’, which makes up for the rough-hewn vocals with sheer frisson.
They step thing up again on the slide-led ‘Golden Tears’, on which Richard’s imperious slide playing again evokes Jerry Garcia’s way of emphasizing the melody though his phrasing, before a gentle drop down.
There’s a palpable Stones influence too, on the riff driven highlight ‘Jacky D’, a perfect mix of tight rhythms and colourful lyrics that finds the band at full tilt.
They build up the tension with Mead’s metronomic rhythm guitar playing, topped by Hayes’s brief, but beautifully shaped solo. Everything that is good about this band is to be found on this ‘in the pocket’ and uplifting track, which is rhythm and blues of the highest order.
The band pauses for breath on ‘Strangers’, a heartfelt love song given real weight by subtle dynamics and a crystal toned guitar line from Hayes, that leads to a melange of jangling guitars.
They finish with the tightly wrought ‘Mississippi Thrill’, which combines a Southern narrative with imperious slide guitar on a totally convincing finish.
Despite its ‘desk tape’ nature ‘Live At The Tuesday Night Music Club’ deserves 4 out of 5 stars for the strength of the material and an exciting seat of the pants live performance. After all R&B shouldn’t be played any other way. ****
Review Pete Feenstra
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