Album review: CATFISH – Exile – Live In Lockdown

Catfish - Exile Live In Lockdown

Self release [Release date 01.12.20]

With their first gig in 5 months, with no rehearsals, a new drummer in Kev Hickman and just their own frisson to feed the adrenalin for a live stream, Catfish join the ranks of bands who have successfully cut a live album under the strictures of Covid.

‘Exile-Live In Lockdown’ is a fine double CD/DVD that finds the band in the final stages of its own musical evolution and on the cusp of new musical directions.

They explore brusque rock-blues impulses with grungy and even proggy influences, while keyboard player Paul Long provides a subtler focus with which to let the songs breathe.

At times they try that little bit too hard. Matt Long’s ferocious vocals for example, are a shade undisciplined on the otherwise outstanding ‘Archangel’, as emotion almost gets the better of him.

His growling guitar tones on ‘The Root Of All Evil’ are also a claustrophobic presence meaning the song could easily have been shorn of its over extended ending.

The above points of course have to be set against the pressure of the delivering a worthy performance in the true spirit of the need to play live in such adverse circumstances.

And if Matt Long’s tenor on the opening ‘Broken Man’ and the breathless verse on ‘Break Me Down’ owes much to Joe Bonamassa, they are nonetheless a perfect opening brace on which the band hits its stride after 5 months of inactivity.

On the Paul Long sung ‘Ghosts’ they cleverly settle for an atmospheric intro, warmer vocal phrasing and a mellifluous piano, which together cleverly evokes the song title before leading to a tension resolving solo.

The portentous grungy stomp of ‘Soulbreaker’ is darker again, fashioned by a railroad chant and dirt-toned guitar on a tale of retribution which smoulders with intent.

And as the album subtly reveals the full spectrum of the band’s repertoire, they lean into the perfunctory stomp and contrasting sweep of ‘The Big Picture’. It’s an inviting melange of beefy organ, tremulous guitar, double vocal lines, Adam Pyke’s bass solo and stop-time verse.

As with the best live set-lists they start with a bang and rise again to shine in the middle on the above track, before positively sparkling on ‘Better Days’.

The latter is a very catchy shuffle with an uplifting theme and sounds very familiar. Matt arguably delivers his best vocal on the album, while the unexpected reggae break amplifies the celebratory nature of the title.

Everything seems to flow towards ‘Archangel’, which the band belatedly released as a single from the ‘Burning Bridges’ album. It’s their best song and is delivered with all the gusto and passion that the lyrics demand.

You could imagine in normal circumstances, with the band playing to a rapt audience, that the emotional catharsis of this song would bring them to a point in the gig where they would seriously have to consider where to go next.

Without the audience energy and shared experience of the moment, they settle on ‘Too Far To Fall’ a relaxed shuffle on which they rebuild their momentum on the back of a booming chorus which owes much to The Hoax.

And so the closing opus ‘Exile’ with its gently voiced guitar opening, Bonamassa style whispered vocal introspection and sprinkled with a southern rock feel.  Matt Long’s chiming chords hover and float above his close-to-the-mic vocal, as the band launches into a heartfelt rock/blues ballad with proggy keyboard influences.

‘Exile-Live In Lockdown’ may occasionally be rough around the edges, but it’s an honest live album made without the safety net of multiple post recording edits.

It’s shot through with the kind of integrity and vitality all too rarely found in live albums at the best of times.

The band may be in ‘Exile’ but they are self evidently ready to come in from the cold. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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