Quick plays: JIM BYRNES, INTASTELLA, THE JAMIE PORTER BAND, BILL FEEHELY

JIM BYRNES - Long Hot Summer Days

JIM BYRNES Long Hot Summer Days
Black Hen Music [Release date 27.10.17]

Sixty nine year old, multiple Canadian Juno and Maple Blues Awards winner, Jim Byrnes turns the clock back to his St Louis high school days for inspiration on his latest release.  In particular, songs he heard on his car radio that moved him to pursue a musical career.

The likes of ‘Something On My Mind’ by Bobby Marchan, ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ by Bobby Bland (Whitesnake’s interpretation, no doubt more familiar to the GRTR! readership), and ‘Out Of Left Field’ by Percy Sledge.

Collaborating once again with award winning guitarist and producer Steve Dawson, Byrnes focuses not on tasty blues guitar lines, but on restrained vocal performances that resurrect the haunting deliveries of haggard bluesmen been and gone, and brings the very best out of re-working of classics by the likes of Eddie Floyd, Elmore James, Willie Dixon, Leonard Cohen and Robbie Robertson, alongside two co-written songs and a Steve Dawson original.

While much of the set is what I would consider traditional ‘roots’ blues that oozes the spirit of a bygone era, any music lover will appreciate the opening swamp blues of ‘Step by Step’, replete with Stax era horns and gospel backing vocals, the evocative rendition of ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’, and Byrnes/Dawson’s own simmering’ Long Hot Summer Days’ with its wonderfully understated organ work.

It might be aimed at a niche market, but this is Blues delivered with soul, for those who like it ‘like it used to be’.  ***1/2

Review by Pete Whalley

INTASTELLA (feat. Jah Wobble) The Rise And Fall Of A Northern Dubstar

First, let me make it clear that I’m reviewing this release from a rock perspective.  So apologies, to those who live and breathe dub.

For the uninitiated, theatre and independent filmmaker Stella Grundy founded the dance orientated Manchester band Intastella in 1990.  They tickled the lower reaches of the charts on a number of occasions between then and disbanding in 1998, but were largely something of a ‘well-kept secret’ with small cult following.

Grundy’s latest project is the soundtrack to her one woman stage play, the acclaimed semi-autobiographical The Rise And Fall Of A Northern Dubstar – which tells the story of Tracy Star – a girl who climbs the greasy nineties rock and roll ladder of fame, only to ultimately crash and burn as a member of the infamous 27 Club..

What can I say, it’s ‘arty’, and reminiscent in many ways, sonically, of the likes the Art Of Noise and Grace Jones, but painting an aural picture of the dark underbelly of the Madchester scene that gave rise to the likes of The Happy Mondays, The Smiths, and The Stone Roses delivered – and narratively stitched together – with Grundy’s nasally Madchester twang of which the Gallagher brothers would most surely approve.

If that era of baggy T shirts and trancing out was one you relate to, then The Rise And Fall Of A Northern Dubstar is well worth exploring.  But for a seventies child like me, who never got those edgy dance beats and experimental techno pop the first time around, it’s just a little too dense and bewildering.  ***1/2

Review by Pete Whalley

THE JAMIE PORTER BAND Sonic Smile [Release date 27.10.17]

Question.  Can you expect originality when a clubbing musician, brought up on a staple diet of seventies and eighties rock, releases his debut album as he approaches/embraces middle age?

From the opening bars of ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’ – with a guitar motif lifted straight from Hocus Pocus – the answer is incontestably ‘no’.

A DIY effort of nine tracks over 36 minutes, Sonic Smile is pretty much all Porter except for bass on ‘Sound Of The Summer’, and drums courtesy of producer Russ Hayes.  But when playing live, Porter’s accompanied by son Dan on second guitars, piano and backing vocals, and (currently) Jason Edwards on drums.

Sonic Smile is an honest effort, but it belies Porter’s clubbing roots – a mix of overly ‘busy’ rock ballads of the type pedalled by Starship, Bryan Adams and the likes in the eighties, Rolling Stones rockers circa Rock’s Off, and ballsy straight ahead rock replete with a Lemmy style vocal delivery.

In a club, with a few beers chased down, it amounts to huge fun – good time rock ‘n’ roll delivered with a youthful exuberance.  But without much by way of originality or subtlety, Sonic Smile is unlikely to take The Jamie Porter Band far beyond their regular excursions to North Wales haunts like The Conwy Beer Festival and the Bangor Beer On The Pier Festival.  ***

Review by Pete Whalley

BILL FEEHELY - Money & Love

BILL FEEHELY Money & Love [Release date 08.08.17]

Originally from New York, with a background in acting, musician Bill Feehely moved to Nashville in 1994 where he established himself as a theatre actor and director.

An accomplished playwright and songwriter, and having retired from Belmont University Acting/ Directing post, he released a debut solo album Lucky Struck in 2014.  A country/ country rock crossover effort, it didn’t exactly take the world by storm and can be readily found in online bargain bins for less than the price of a pint.

Money & Love doesn’t particularly progress the formula – it’s an easy on the ear, easy listening release that isn’t going to compel anyone to reach for the ‘off’ button.  But neither are they likely to be punching the air.  Nashville’s moved on, and Money & Love is distinctly ‘old school’.

Aside from Feehely’s writing, which is solid in a Bruce Hornsby sort of way, his singing is fairly stereotypical of the genre, and he sensibly leaves the playing to an accomplished bunch of pros, who more than measure up to the task.  Their playing is impeccable, with some fine gospel backing vocals, and somewhat unusually, some rather soulful Stax/ Motown horns.

But while it all adds up to a pleasant, unchallenging listen, in today’s Nashville, ‘good’ just ain’t good enough. ***

Review by Pete Whalley


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Power Plays w/c 24 June (Mon-Fri)

GUMSHOE When Things Started To Ignite (indie)
THE NEW ROSES Heartache (Napalm Records)
EMPYRE New Republic (indie)
PISTON Leave If You Dare (indie)
SPREAD EAGLE Sound Of Speed (Frontiers)

Featured Albums w/c 24 June (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 FORTUNE II (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 BARBE-Q-BARBIES Borrowed Time (Dissonance)
14:00-16:00 HEATHER FINDLAY Wild Horses (Black Sand Records)

Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)

ELEANOR McEVOY I’d Rather Go Blonde (2010)



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