Album review: AARON KEYLOCK – Cut Against The Grain

Aaron Keylock - Cut Against The Grain

Provogue [Release date 20.01.17]

This is a good time to be Aaron Keylock. He’s an impossibly young veteran of the rock/blues genre, who has graduated through the ranks old school style, while dipping into blues, indie and rock along the way.

And at the tender age of 18 he’s become a band leader, who writes his own material and has enough experience to pour the ups and down of life on the road into his songs.

Above all, ‘Cut Against The Grain’ is the triumph of focussed perseverance over settling for something more mundane. He’s also found the perfect foil for his effervescent playing in Supersonic Blues Machine mainstay and producer Fabrizio Grossi, whose mellifluous production highlights the album’s intricacies in a refreshing take on rock/blues.

‘Cut Against The Grain’ is an album full of spark, real energy and strong material that suggests Keylock has quickly found his own musical identity.

Sure there’s plenty of retro influences from Johnny Winter, Mick Taylor and Rory Gallagher to the Rolling Stones, but his licks are intense enough and his lyrics engaging and consistent enough to draw us in into the album’s twists and turns, with a subliminal pull that always leads to the next track.

The album opens with the straight-to- the-vein ‘All The Right Moves’, which has sensibly been chosen as the lead single. It’s full of intense playing and a booming chorus that matches his vibrant approach.

He’s not lacking in self confidence either, as evidenced by the brave time-changes of ‘Down’, which punctuate his sizzling slide playing, while he adds more nifty slide and harp playing on one of his older songs ‘Medicine Man’. It opens with a distant down-home feel before exploding into a mid-tempo rocker with a chanted refrain.

He’s equally good when playing slow blues – always a good barometer of a guitarist’s true ability and touch and tone – as he positively revels with a big tone and expressive phrasing of ‘Falling Again’, a track that suggests he’s been working hard on his vocals

The strength of ‘Cut Against The Grain’ is Keylock’s ability to shine on a broad based musical canvas, which though rooted in the blues is not trapped by it.

He makes every solo count in terms of dynamics and emotional expression. One minute he gets down low on ‘Just One Question’, to build up the solo with real heft and then there’s a sudden slide break from the left hand speaker that cuts through the heart of ‘Medicine Man’ like a bolt of lightning.

He’s also partial to the occasional more ragged, rootsy approach, as on the Stones influenced ‘Tea’, which is a mature piece of work on which he achieves a steel guitar sound. It’s also the moment when you realise his cross genre oeuvre is shaped by his visionary ability to conceive of the true meaning and feel of a song.

Unlike so many of his contemporaries, it’s not number of notes that count, but rather his ability to make a concise musical statement over 11 tracks that sound linked and interwoven by the flow of his playing.

‘Cut Against The Grain’ is full of rip-roaring slide, unexpected handclaps and percussive bite, a perfect foil for the slow burning ‘That’s Not Me’, which builds to a repeated chorus and a clean dynamic guitar break.

He’s also got an ability to pen the occasional memorable line. On ‘Spin The Bottle’ his hook resolution at first appears a bit obvious, but as the song progresses it draws you in, before he adds another rip snorting solo for good measure. On ‘Falling Again’ he suckers the listener in with an acoustic intro and adds an infectious Stones style  ’whoo hoo’ line to good effect, on a piece that has a loose, but controlled feel.

And that’s what makes Aaron special. He has that ability to deliver killer moments that take a respective song up a notch and make it linger in the memory. His slide playing is a natural extension of his lyrical narratives as he fleshes out the songs with colour and unexpected feel.

He finishes with ‘No Matter What The Cost’, a clever Stones influenced acoustic end-piece with an after hours feel.

‘Cut Against The Grain’ has real crossover appeal, from hard rock/blues to the subtleties of rootsy country/blues. Keylock let’s his guitar playing evoke the meaning and feel of his songs to such an extent that the eleven tracks feel part of organic whole. Fabrizio Grossi’s contemporary production values subtly gel everything together, while making sure the solo’s sparkle and imbue even the most familiar riffs with an essential vitality.

‘Cut Against The Grain’ is that rare thing, a slide led album with good songs, great playing, and a contemporized retro feel that will surely push Aaron Keylock into the vanguard of Brit rock/blues.

Recommended ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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