Album review: MICHAEL KATON – Ror’ Outta Hell

Michael Katon chatted to Pete Feenstra about the album ‘Ror’ Outta Hell’ for “The Pete Feenstra Feature”, first broadcast by Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on 26 February

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MICHAEL KATON – Ror' Outta Hell

Sunhair Music [Release date 06.02.17]

‘Ror’ Outta Hell’  is Michael Katon first album for three years and it’s a fiery tribute to Rory Gallagher.

The story goes that Katon didn’t know who Rory Gallagher was until he came across a cover of a Rory album on which Ballyshannon’s finest had the same kind of sideburns and shirt as the younger Katon himself.

On further investigation, he found himself a musical soul mate with a love for crossover rocking blues. And after several complimentary comparisons between his own music and that of Rory Gallagher he was hooked.

Years later and after a lot of planning the Rory tribute has finally come to fruition, as the ‘boogie man’ from Hell, Michigan, brings his own Detroit influenced rock-hard boogie style to bear on an interesting selection of Rory Gallagher’s back catalogue.

There’s no real chronological thread here, but ‘Ror’ Outta Hell’ includes plenty of Rory’s early stuff, starting with the focused intensity of ‘Let Me In’ from 1975′s ‘Against The Grain’ album, which essential broke Rory in the States.

And it’s the intensity of those opening licks that suffuses the album with its supercharged feel.

Die-in-the-wood fans might feel that at times Katon skirts some of Rory’s vocal nuances, but there’s no escaping MK’s own pile driving style as he hammers out the essential licks to search out those magical moments when his ripping solos and coarse vocals coalesce in a flurry of heavy-duty blues-rock.

He may have ditched the chronology, but there’s an overall satisfying balance to a Rory tribute that flows all the way though to the book-ended highlight, a magnificent reworking of ‘A Million Miles Away’.

From the whispered count-in and the close-to-the-mic acoustic and interwoven electric slide, it’s a good example of how he saves his best to last on a completely new arrangement that provides a perfect finish to the album

He also falls back on the old blues tradition of building up the tension of the song before finally resolving it with the kind of ripping solo for which he is known.

Whereas many of Katon’s best known studio albums are full of enveloping tone combinations and powerful solos, the emphasis here is less on studio ambience than on the essentials of a focused power trio who explore one of one of the most exciting rock-blues back catalogues in a spontaneous way.

All that said, the languid lilting feel of ‘Bought And Sold’ probably isn’t such an essential choice (long time Rory fans can fill in their own alternatives), but it’s a track that suddenly ignites on the back of a tension busting solo as Katon’s sustained notes zoom into the outro.

‘In Your Town’ is the second of two tracks from the 1971 ‘Deuce’ album and provides the perfect showcase for Katon’s slide playing which dominates a lot of the tracks here. It takes off with an extended solo on which MK pours all his intensity into a defining line, before dropping back into the narrative, with a call and response slide part that mirrors the intensity of the vitriolic narrative.

He ends the piece with some lovely jangling guitar and an exclamatory “look out”, complete with a slide led outro

And things gets even better on the classic ‘Walk On Hot Coals’, on which his slide playing again dominates as the drummer stokes up the energy levels. The blue collar lyrics perfectly suit Katon oeuvre as he spits out the words as if he lives them.

Given the relatively recent covers of ‘Cradle Rock’ by Joe Bonamassa and Bernie Marsden (check out 2011’s limited edition Bernie Plays Rory’) the blues into rock crossover track is almost an essential choice, though in Katon’s hands it’s given a slide-led, revved up and stripped down version with additional harp.

The heavier southern rock sounding ‘Mississippi Sheiks’ was apparently one of the hardest songs to play, most probably because Michael had to retain his focus on his guitar chops over Erwin Gielen’s  thunderous drum part. In the event, he triumphs on a magical climatic multi tracked guitar finale. It’s the perfect example of jam band magic that takes the track to another level.

Given the wealth of Rory’s own material, a cover of Sam & Dave’s ‘I Take What I Want’ is almost a wasted choice, even if it is fun to play. Yet as with the album as a whole, it’s part of a perfectly balanced equilibrium. This is exemplified by the following twin guitar-led ‘Who’s That Coming’, which jumps out the tracks complete with an aggressive solo, soulful vocals and blues harp.

Coming deep into the playlist, it’s the moment when Katon really seems to fully take on Rory’s mantle.  He further imbues it with his own forte over the seamless rhythm section of bassist Judith Renkema and drummer Erwin Gielen.

By the time of the hard hitting and growled out ‘Used To Be’, the transition from the Detroit boogieman to the legendary Celtic blues rock guitar hero is complete.

‘Ror Outta Hell’ finds Michel Katon stamping his own authority on Rory’s blueprint (pun intended). As always he’s raw, passionate, rocks hard and his slide-led flourishes would surely have brought a wry smile to the late Irish guitar hero.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00

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