EP review: JAMES OLIVER BAND – Goofin’ Around

James Oliver - Goofin' Around

The Last Music Company [Release date 14.05.21]

James Oliver Band’s ‘Goofin’ Around’ is a 5 track EP/CD with a live in the studio feel. It’s full of unfettered energy and incendiary guitar lines that jump out the speakers like electrified snakes.

But unlike his previously well crafted and better balanced ‘Twang’ debut solo album, this shorter offering has a veritably post lockdown vibe.

Unsurprisingly, is feels as if the band couldn’t wait any longer to simply bash their way though a mix of authentic retro rock & roll and rockabilly, on 3 self penned efforts and 2 covers, complete with occasional humorous Welsh references.

EP’s often tend to be a testing ground for a new musical direction or a conduit to a forthcoming album,  but this has the feel of a self enclosed cathartic release, or indeed a stop-gap, albeit one with immense energy levels and outrageous moments of guitar driven spontaneity.

You could argue Oliver’s multi style ability and a locker full of outer worldly tones are in danger of being wasted on rudimentary rock and roll, but that would be to overlook the sheer joy of playing the music he loves.

What’s missing is a sense of restraint, not at the expense of sidelining his natural frisson, but by paying more attention to his vocals and the fact that everything sounds a bit rushed.

As it is, he lays down a mission statement on the self penned ‘Welsh Rockin’ Blues’. It’s full of characteristic big sounding twang with rockabilly bluster and a cartoonish voice, but the way the he resolves the song’s tension with his first incendiary solo makes the whole number worthwhile.

Much like the late great Mickey Gee and indeed Mick Green, James Oliver has the chops, the self taught pedigree and is on a mission to keep the music he loves alive.

In truth, all that’s missing is the quality of the songs, which good humour side, are slightly one dimensional.

No matter, he thunders on with the self penned and very generic ‘The Chicken & The Duck’, on which the ghost of Chucky Berry meets a doctored telephone voice.

His signature guitar playing fills the track with some booming licks and outright rock and roll swagger.

I’d wager that most people investigating this EP are primarily interested in Oliver’s explosive guitar playing, and he delivers with plenty too spare.

The title track is full of nifty picking, in a joyous homage to the underrated Franny Beecher, with shades of Charlie Batey.

Oliver revels in the hard attack and quick decay approach and the fact that he pulls it all off effortlessly confirms his consummate ability, essential real feel and the self -confidence to try something adventurous.

Then there’s ‘The Only Thing I Lack Is A Cadillac’ which is a thematic offshoot of the ‘Twang’ opener ‘American Cars’, with additional rock and roll piano by Jamie Lee Williams.

And just when you think the whole thing is going to be a breathless snapshot of the 50’s rock & roll era, he steps up to the plate with his own Welsh refracted version of Hendrix ‘Red House’.

Re-titled ‘Ty Coch’ and featuring the classic line:  “There’s a red house in the Rhonda,” he levers us into a master class of his guitar artistry, as intricate sinewy guitar lines wrap themselves round some hurriedly spoken vocals.

He’s first imperious solo, finds him mixing a clean sounding vibrato with bent notes and a sudden edgy tone, as he leans into the song with an array of gnawing and contrasting steam ship heavy tones, tempered by harmonic flurries.

It simply eclipses all that has gone before and frustratingly makes you realise just what he is capable of when he steps forward a decade from his love of rock and roll.

‘Goofin’ Around’ is irreverent at times. It’s a rough edged, retro recording mixed and mastered by Paul Riley who captures the essential energy, and those sparkling moments when James Oliver lets his incredible fretwork fly way beyond the song’s parameters.

In old fashioned parlance, it’s a disc that invites you to crack open a few cans, turn up the volume and do the twist. ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 26 September 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at www.getreadytorock.com for that week.

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Power Plays w/c 18 October 2021 (Mon-Fri)

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