Album review: THE SHARPEES – Mississippi Thrill

The Sharpees - Mississippi Thrill

Sharpees [Release date 12.05.14]

Influenced in equal measure by George Thorogood, Dr. Feelgood, Rory Gallagher and Tom Petty’s melodic sensibilities, The Sharpees are a straight to the vein shot of self penned, guitar driven rhythm and blues.

‘Mississippi Thrill’ pushes the veteran rhythm & blues band on to the next level. Rightly termed one of the hardest working r&b band’s in the land, they pour all their energy into some well crafted songs from front man/vocalist Bill Mead.

His rhythm section of bassist Baz Payne and the irrepressible drummer Spencer Blackledge revel alongside special guest guitarists Brian Willoughby (The Strawbs) and Richard Hayes (Bad Influence) on slide, as well as keyboard player Roger Cotton (Peter Green/Paul Cox) and the marvellous Cathryn Craig who sings  bv’s on ‘Strangers’. The result is a refreshing song-led, kicking r&b album with a live in the studio melt down, offset by moments of unexpected polish.

It’s not difficult to pinpoint why they do so well in mainland Europe, as they strip things down to the bone, with riff driven songs, a tight rhythm section and good hooks. But ‘Mississippi Thrill’ delivers much more than the standard r&b package, with strong songs, subtle layered sounds and motorvatin’ rhythms.

Richard Hayes embellishes the beautifully crafted love song ‘Strangers’ with an aching tone and soars on the tightly wrapped title track. Brian Willoughby is equally impressive on lead guitar, particularly on the train-time boogie ‘Crazy Woman Blues’. The song builds relentlessly towards a magnificent backward sounding frenzied guitar finale that might have been higher up in the mix. His conversational style also leaves its irresistible imprint on the Mead and Bazz Payne co-write ‘Song For Allie’.

Keyboard player/engineer Roger Cotton brings extra depth to the Stones influenced and riff-led ‘Jackie D’ with some style Chuck Leavell style piano. Its another album highlight to be put alongside ‘Strangers’, the title track,  ‘Trucking on the E15’, and ‘The Clock’, which features Roger on organ alongside Willoughby’s snaking solo.

All the elements perfectly all into place as Mead revels in his self penned narratives full of shifting locations. He moves from the Deep South on ‘Mississippi Thrill’ – “If the snakes don’t get you, the swallow tails will” – to New York on ‘Strangers’ and references both France and Holland on the outstanding ‘Truckin on The E15’, before finishing with a blues man’s perpetual sense of restlessness on ‘Travelling Blues Man’.

Not everything works as well though, as Bill’s Ian Dury style rap on ‘Play Johnny Play’. suffers from poor phrasing and diction. As a consequence the song’s narrative is overshadowed by some killer guitar lines, but it’s a minor blemish on an album full of good material that reflects the band’s true passion.

‘Mississippi Thrill’ has so far peaked at #9 on the Independent British Blues Broadcasters Association play list, which is a worthy placing for an album with additional touches of class to match some fine songs.

Brian Willoughby adds a final telling solo on the closing  ‘Travelling Blues Man’, another song that accurately reflects the band’s unrelenting work ethic, which is where we came in. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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