1454875 Records DK [Release date 04.09.219]
The Herbal Remedy is a roots rock band from the North East of England who play their music the way they feel it.
‘Land Of The Livin’ is a live album in all but name. There’s so much drive, energy and spark here that it occasionally leads to distorted tones as the needle moves into the red. But it’s all neatly balanced out by Nick Phillips soaring slide work as he leads the band into some intense outings.
The Herbal Remedy is the estimable sum of its parts, with the focal point being vocalist Davey Curtis’s songs. They are shot through with dead-pan humour and irony filled narratives, spun over supporting arrangements and bristling instrumentation.
Everything is built on the versatile rhythm section of bassist/multi instrumentalist and blues DJ Gary Grainer, while John Timney’s exuberant shuffle drum and percussive patterns hold everything together.
Nick Phillips guitar work also explores a welter of different tones that frequently evoke lyrical content and different moods.
Together they build layered sounds and vary their tempos on a set fleshed out by Chicago blues, but tempered by an occasional southern feel and country blues influences. It’s all neatly rounded off by Helen Armstrong’s sonorous, fiddle-led Celtic tinged waltz time ballad ‘Closing Time’, on the perfect finish to a proud old school album.
They are also a reminder of musical times past. That’s not a direct reference to their style of music, but rather to a time when a significant pub and club circuit was the platform for a great band such as this.
They forge their unique style on the back of interwoven strands of Americana, blues and rock and roll topped by Davey Curtis’s narratives.
They accurately describe themselves as an “electric roots and juke joint band”, which suggest their rip roaring style is rooted in an intrinsic relationship with their live crowd.
‘Land Of The Livin’ opens with a descending bass line that levers us into ‘Money’s Gone’, a slide-led tale of hard times with lyrics that come right out the Rick Estrin school of incredulity.
The title track is different again, as it shifts from a reverb drenched Robin Trower style intro to a mid-tempo groove with mangled guitar tones and some incendiary slide.
‘Shot Gun Blues’ reminds me of Rory Gallagher’s acoustic blues, while the atmospheric ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ contrasts a sonorous vocal with a shimmering guitar line and sounds like a cross between Ry Cooder and an outtake from a Coen Brothers film noir soundtrack.
Then there’s the Bo Diddley beat of the outstanding ‘Stomping Ground’, where Philips’s slashed into full toned slide meets Curtis’s primal wail. Everything is resolved by an electro processed hook and Gary Grainer’s country blues-harp on a percussion filled outro.
On the country tinged, train-time shuffle ‘Lifetime Guarantee’ Curtis delivers the humorous line: “I’m not the latest model, but I sure as hell ain’t past my prime”, with yet more lashing of slide.
The album bristles with energy and bursts with lyrical imagery. Best of all, the band sounds at home in the studio laying down what they probably do night after night in front of a live audience. But it’s the additional polished production values of this independent release that makes the difference.
Listen for example to the anthemic, southern tinged ‘Church Of Lost Souls (Revisited)’, with its memorable slide figure and Curtis’s abrasive Eric Burdon style phrasing, flanked by a gelling organ line as part of a sumptuous atmospheric layered sound.
This is a band that matches song craft with an intuitive playing ability, on a song that could have come from the pen of Roadhouse’s Gary Boner, but ultimately it marks The Herbal Remedy out as something special in their own right.
And just when you think you have their measure, they add some saw-tooth buzz guitar on the surreal ‘Lunatic Blues’. The dollops of wry humour are sometimes lost in a busy track that still manages to conjure up the priceless line: “paranoia and conspiracy, have taken hold of me was it Elvis or the aliens, put LSD in my tea?”
They also rock out on the George Thorogood influenced ‘Full House’, which must surely be a live favourite.
‘Land of the Livin’ is a musical triumph almost in spite of the ironic album title and darkly coded song titles. It’s actually an ebullient roots rocking album that hits the spot with plenty to spare.
The Herbal Remedy’s imperious energy levels come from being a road tested outfit, fired up by the opportunity to record such highly original material as this.
They are a band with an indefatigable spirit married to a willingness to see where their adventurous musical spirit takes them. Long may they rock. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 23 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 25 August 2020.
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