Pete Feenstra chatted to Norman Beaker about his music and the new album for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio. First broadcast 5 July 2020.
Clock Records [Release date 24.07.20]
It’s almost a shock to realise that this album celebrates Norman’s 50th anniversary.
And while on reflection it does feel like he’s been around for years, he’s too often been an unsung hero of the British blues scene and this album acts as a pleasant reminder of just how good he is.
When not busy releasing a stream of consistently good solo albums, he’s been busy working with a wide range of players including long time associates Larry Garner and Chris Farlowe.
‘Running Down the Clock’ (50th celebration year) is a double album on which the 18 tracks play to Beaker’s strengths. He’s a delightful guitar player who revels in an array of tones within different styles. He’s also a gritty vocalist and a thoughtful songwriter.
He injects real vitality into a succession of songs with enough deep grooves, steely riffs and catchy hooks to keep you coming back for more.
It’s all there on the bustling riff driven title track that could be Tommy Castro. It’s essentially a lyrical and musical celebration of what he does so well.
He’s a player’s player who moves effortlessly from being an integral band member to an accomplished front man, with impassioned vocals and a sinewy guitar style.
The key to it all is the way he locks in with this rhythm section to create a seamless flow that glues together a series of different tempos within the blues genre.
The album’s sequencing also cleverly integrates contrasting tracks without losing sight of a coherent whole, in a welcome old school nod to album structure.
‘Running Down The Clock’ crosses over blues into blues rock, country rock, blues ballads and boogie, none of which are ever too far removed from a groove laden shuffle.
He opens with his best effort the majestic ‘Take Me To Your Pleasured Dome’. His lived-in vocal style is counter-weighted by an intricately woven guitar lines over a whip crack rhythm section.
The resulting melodic sweep generates the kind of momentum that levers us into an album bristling with frisson and commitment.
Everything is built from the ground up as bassist John Price and the relentless drive of drummer Leo Anjelkavic provides the kind of energy that is fuel to Beaker’s fire.
The album’s subtle dynamics and snappy hooks facilitate a relentless flow that drips with the authority of a blues veteran for whom the passing years have failed to dampen his enthusiasm and innate ability.
‘Running Down The Clock’ draws on all his musical influences, including autobiographical narratives such as the blues ballad ‘What We Do For The Blues’. His husky voiced world-weary feel is boosted by harmony vocals on the chorus to give the song extra depth.
‘She Heals My Soul’ has a similar sensibility and illustrates his musical versatility and real feel. And it’s his ability to make an emotional connection in different shades of the blues that makes this album so accessible.
Listen for example, to the funky muscular shuffle beat of ‘Making It Up’ on which his growled out vocal references social media. It’s a lyrical theme that he extends on the heavy duty ‘Digital Curse’: “The more I look the less I see, this world has lost its reality, we rely too much on this computer age, but we’re all out of touch we just don’t engage.”
His guitar lines evoke the song’s lyrical meaning perfectly. He adds a double guitar line with contrasting tones to build up a subtle tension that he partially resolves with a short opening solo.
It’s a hypnotic track with an effective stop-time chorus and an extended second solo that brings the song to a sharp ending. This in turn serves to create a short unfulfilled void that is quickly filled by the rocking ‘My Great Escape’.
Beaker’s contrasting croaky vocals and clean guitar lines are an essential part of uplifting track that is another album highlight.
You could argue the album is slightly overblown, but that would be to overlook the lightness of touch of the JJ Cale, and Mark Knopfler influenced ‘Take It Or Leave It’. He also finds room for a brace of country rockers, of which the straight-to-the -vein hook of ‘In Your Hands’ could be Delbert McClinton meets George Harrison, while ‘KOD’ also benefits from a punchy chorus.
Then there’s ‘Long Before You Came Along’, a tough ZZ Top style boogie with a tinge of Bo Diddley.
He also dips into three related meditative tracks of which the Bossa feel of ‘Summer Song’ benefits from an unexpected uplifting electric piano part, while ‘Lady Of The Moon’ is full of tonal textures.
‘Heart Of Stone’ is cut from the same cloth, with an aching vocal over an acoustic wash offset by understated electric squalls.
He rounds things off with ‘She Comes With A Warning’, a slice of jumping r&b with added blues harp which could be one of his major influences The Pretty Things.
And so there you have it, 18 tracks worth of everything that is great about Norman Beaker, a master of his craft doing what he does best in a suitably celebratory mode. ****
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 26 July.. In the first hour David pays tribute to the blues/rock guitarist Peter Green.
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