Black Frog Records [Release date 01.11.20]
The Sharpeez ‘Live at Leo’s’ is a celebratory live album full of vim and vigour, despite being recorded outside and at short notice under socially distanced circumstances.
The Sharpeez are song driven outfit with enough musical clout to rise above their R&B roots. The Kent-based band also have that rare ability to evoke Americana-laden cinematic imagery, in songs that mostly come from the pen of band leader William Mead.
There’s the West coast sweep of ‘Automatic Mode’ and the New York urban anomie of ‘Strangers’, actually penned by sometime band member and the album’s sound engineer Pete Goodey, who superbly nails the band’s energy.
The road trip continues with the deep Southern feel of ‘Mississippi Thrill’ and the Mexican bound fugitive of ‘Desperate Man’.
There’s a certain irony then, that the infectious second number of the set should be titled ‘Dr. Feelgood’. And although there’s no pun intended, it highlights the band’s rhythm and blues roots, via a memorable hook with a slight pause and a soaring slide guitar part over a locked-in rhythm section.
The band sets out their stall on the opening bluster and booming chorus of ‘Heat of the Night’. ‘Wild One’ is different again, building up a tension via a languid whammy inflected slide-part, which is duly resolved by a funky back beat and the titular line. It’s another fine example of Mead’s song writing skills.
They slip through the gears on the formidable groove of ‘Mississippi Thrill’. The song employs the essential building blocks that sets the band apart from many of their contemporaries, as they mix colourful imagery with a memorable refrain: “Down in Mississippi you can’t buy a thrill, if the snakes don’t get you, the swallow tails will.”
The get almost balladic on ‘Strangers’, on a mélange of jangling guitars and weepy slide, topped by Mead’s snarling vocal.
It’s the perfect foil for following ‘Jacky D’, which cleverly combines a Stonesy riff with a suggestive opening line: “Slip sliding, come on baby take it slow.”
A lilting groove invites us to go cruising down Sunset Strip with the rag top down. Drummer Clive Edwards’s crisp cymbal work drives the band into a jangling guitar-led wall of sound and it’s significant reminder that you are hearing a great live band with no studio trickery involved!
All that is lacking is some ambient mics to catch the crowd’s enthusiastic response, which you can just about hear in the distance.
No matter, the sheer energy levels rise from the boards, as the band launches into the drum-tight ‘Losing Hand’. It drips with the sheer joy and exhilaration of playing, while ‘Stiletto Heels’ combines a film noir style narrative, glued together by Netto’s imperious guitar lines which thread their way through the heart of another finely crafted song.
By contrast ‘Desperate Man’ offers a change of pace and tempo with an exaggerated stuttering intro, on another imagery laden road song.
‘Live At Leo’s’ doesn’t break any new ground for the band, but it’s a powerful reminder of what we’re all missing under lock down and these uncertain times.
Everything comes together perfectly as they slip into their best song ‘Automatic Mode’. Mead’s lyrical imagery is again amplified (literally and figuratively) by Loz Netto’s angular guitar run, a cool breakdown and a subsequent Sniff & The Tears meets Andy Summers style riff, before he adds a final magisterial solo framed by a closing drum roll from Edwards.
‘Live at Leo’s’ could have been better edited and slightly trimmed at best, but it remains a powerful statement by a road-tested band. By time of the extended ‘Framed City Blues’, they have impressively worked their way to a resounding triumph in adverse circumstances. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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