Pete Feenstra chatted to Steve “Bertie” Burton for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio in July 2019.
Self release [Release date 01.06.20]
Vincent Flatts Final Drive’s ‘Back In The Saddle’ is a barn burner of an album. You flick the switch and they deliver.
When a reviewer is faced with a mountain of albums under lockdown, a great album leaps out at you like a fresh salmon. This is such an album.
The title refers to the return of the band after a second career hiatus, before the indefatigable Steve “Bertie” Burton’ returned with this exiting new line up bristling with youthful vim and vigour.
The fresh injection of energy has obviously had a catalytic effect on the man himself who is at the top of his game.
The band’s name refers to old school motorbike handles and gives you a big clue as to what to expect. ‘Back In The Saddle’ is 10 celebratory tracks of honky-tonk, beer drinkin’, good-time bar music, shot through with a rough edged blues-rock muscularity.
It’s nothing less than you would expect from a band fronted by Birmingham rock vocal legend Steve Burton, a man clearly born on the wrong side of the pond.
Probably only the man himself – the former Starfighters, Fabulous E Numbers and front man of VFFD for over a quarter of a century – can account for why his charges have never broken out of the Brum club circuit, save for a mid 90’s dalliance in the States.
Perhaps it was all to do with not applying the hand breaks separating the band’s rock and roll rage and their lifestyle excesses. Either way Bertie seems to have lost none of his swagger, his voice, stage craft or indeed his need to wring every last possibility out of a song.
And ‘Back In The Saddle’ gives him plenty of opportunities to do just that, on a perfect summation of the band’s ability to interpret songs and rearrange them to their own ends.
A brief one liner the back of the album helpfully explains that: “All tracks performed under duress and minimal supervision.”
In fact it was recorded by Phil Booth, live at the famed JT Soars Recordings, a fruit and potato warehouse turned studio in Nottingham.
And Flatts have obviously tapped into it the vibe of the place, to cut an album that bristles with energy and the true spirit of rock and roll.
They open with Delbert McClinton ‘Monkey Around’, which sets out their own musical parameters.
‘The cover could be mistaken for being a brusquer version of Delbert himself, except for the fact Bertie attacks the song with unfettered ferocity, just to see what it offers him.
There’s also a Delbert connection on The Temptations ‘Shakey Ground’, which he popularised. Flatts funk it up some more, inviting guitarist Gary Harper to fill the track with incendiary notes either side of Bertie’s impassioned vocals.
As always, Burton pours himself into the track, by generating his won ad libs and pushing the band to the limit before a sudden stop.
The void is quickly filled by a loping version of Paul Thorne’s ‘Crutches’, on a great example of what they do so well. Bertie really gets inside the lyrics, while the band stokes up a groove.
And it’s that ability to spark so consistently that makes the band so good and this album so essential.
You may not be familiar with much of the material, but as Flatts tear into their own roadhouse party they generate the kind of intensity that once made rock exciting.
In short, ‘Back In The Saddle ‘is a celebratory roots-rocking party album, no more so than on an outrageous version of Joe Louis Walker’s ‘Too Drunk To Drive Drunk’.
Aside from his vocal ability, Bertie has a talent for digging up songs that perfectly fit his world view. With the addition of pianist Jules Benjamin the band steam into the stop-time track, making light of their studio surroundings to rock flat out (poor pun intended), while adding judicious bv’s and a ripping guitar break from Harper, as Bertie exhorts them on to even greater heights.
They are equally good on Bernard Allison’s ‘Chills & Thrills’ which they reignite with a blistering arrangement. The percolating rhythm section of Russ Cook’s rumbling bass and Rich Shelton’s brush strokes perfectly underpins Benjamin’s over-arching organ and Bertie’s gut-busting vocal, either side of Harpers’ wah-wah solo.
Burton’s phrasing is imperious, and the bv’s again add extra zest, on a track that suggests you light the fuse, press record and boogie!
They are equally good on Tony Spinner’s ‘She Gave Me Back My Mojo’, which builds from a hand clapped and brushed stroked vocal intro, to some rocking country twang in which Harper tears into some hot picking, as the rhythm section again excels.
They then heavy things up on BB Chung King’s ‘Nothing to Lose’ a muscular blues-rocker on which Harper’s bigger tone is counter-weighted by subtle wah-wah work and Benjamin B3 fills.
There’s even a version of Coco Montoya’s boogie shuffle ‘Back In A Cadillac’, which rocks hard, but in truth misses Coco’s warmer vocal timbre, though Harper’s solo does much to redress the balance, as the band teeters on the brink of skanking things up.
The pace barely relents throughout the whole of an album that demands a full listen from being to end.
We may live in a new age of one song download culture (a distant echo of the old 60’s singles), but I’ll wager just one track from this album will lead you to want to hear more.
File under essential rocking and good-time boogie. ****½
Review by Pete Feenstra
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UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 GMT as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 3 May 2022.
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