Golden Rule [Release date 22.09.17]
Mike Brookfield is back. For those in the know it’s a welcome return to the recording scene by the Irish based Liverpool blues/rocker who cut the impressive ‘Love Breaks The Fall’ album last year.
Newbies will also surely be drawn to an album that is clothed in contemporary finery, but has a traditional blues heart.
The meeting of old and new musical influences comes from the lyrical and musical combination of former Horslips lyricist, drummer and sometime Tara Telephone poet Eamon Carr, and guitarist/vocalist Mike Brookfield who provides the musical drive.
‘Brookfield’ is an album interwoven with complementary musical and lyrical ideas that provide several exhilarating moments. And when a bigger picture eventually emerges from the duo’s collective input, it often takes a song far beyond what the bare bones initially offered.
The hard rocking ‘Zombie Craze’ is an example in point. It’s a potent meeting of a Hendrix wah-wah with Alvin Lee style vocals, which cleverly evoke the lyrical meaning of the craziness of modern life. It’s also the natural sister track to the high octane ‘Gun Crime’, which again leans on a colourful, but meaningful narrative.
The Alvin Lee/Ten Years After influence on ‘Zombie’ extends to following ‘Suitcase Blues’, which is a more complex piece on which Brookfield’s opening guitar lines draw us into an enveloping wall of sound with gospel style bv’s. The suitcase in the title is a metaphor for the character’s sense of regret – if not guilt – voiced over real tonal depth, before a sudden resolution.
‘Brookfield’ is full of layered textures within a big sounding production. It’s carried by an array of guitar tones that bring light and shade to an album that flows from beginning to end.
There’s subtle contrast too, as on ‘Beaten To Death By The Blues’, a song with a downbeat universal message that is actually given a lift by a judicious mix of wah-wah, slide and a spiralling guitar line that builds to a suitable finale.
It’s a fine example of Brookfield’s interpretative abilities as a guitarist. If Eamon Carr digs deep for his lyrics, then Brookfield provides the perfect contemporary foil with his fine guitar playing and a crisp production.The end result is an album full of real passion, hard driving riffs and a vocal style that wraps itself round the edgy lyrics.
The same combination of weighty lyrics and a contrasting uplifting musical arrangement is to be found on ‘Living In A Better World’, one of the album highlights. The combination of an introductory rap over some dreamy guitar, into a subtle groove with nuanced vocals is arguable the best example of Brookfield’s style.
That said, at the half way point there’s a well crafted, but essentially languid Clapton style ballad called ‘Don’t Close the Gates’. Despite a surprisingly intense guitar solo it sounds a bit forced and out of step with the album as a whole.
The fact that it still just about works, is because ‘Brookfield’ is an album in the old school sense of the word. It’s a coherent set of songs that brings all the subtle contrasting pieces together through Mike’s sense of momentum.
The inner voice might belong to Carr and the guitar stylings to Brookfield, but the two meet in the fast moving middle ground, where the emphasis constantly shifts from strong narratives with sumptuous guitar tones to spirited attacks that give the album its edge.
‘Brookfield’ is a brave step in a new direction and Mike Brookfield has the artistic vision, musical substance and energy to see the project home.
On ‘Letter From The Devil’ he draws on Son House for the song title and his own Texas influences – particularly the early 90′s Arc Angels – for a big strong riff-driven track that grows on you every time you hear it.
Such is the repeated impact of the track that the following ‘Hi Class Shoes’ sounds almost lightweight, though just like the album as a whole, it rocks sufficiently hard enough to make its mark.
‘Brookfield’ is a well planned, seamlessly executed post-modern blues album. From the opening jangling guitars of ‘A Message For Willie Johnson’, to the closing political Americana ballad ‘Written In Chains’, it successfully straddles both the old and new.
In sum, Eamon Carr and Mike Brookfield have successfully forged a new blues style that cuts a swathe through a sometimes tired old genre. Long may this inventive combination prosper! ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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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