Barrelhouse - NiceNSleazy - 31/01/17
The streets are dark.
Neon lights push the shadows back to reveal tight pockets of people that clutter up the doorways of the bars and eateries.
Somewhere the sweet tones of jazz float up from a subterranean club and I find myself drawn underground.
It could be the opening line from a pulp noir thriller set in New Orleans, but for tonight the music that is escaping out onto the street is coming from the basement of NiceNSleazy in Glasgow.
It's the enticing prelude to the debut of a new Blues and Soul night called Barrelhouse brought kicking and screaming to life by Melisa Kelly and her Smokin' Crows.
Blues and Soul are of course no stranger to the city, but Barrelhouse are looking to give it a twist.
Instead of revisiting the forties and fifties the intent is to bring the music up to date.
Note perfect renditions of past glories have their place, but a bit of dirty off the cuff rock and roll with its roots in the blues, or a smouldering torch song attacked with passion is deserving of some space too, and this is what will be the foundation of Barrelhouse.
Marianne McGregor, who had the pleasure of kicking off the evenings entertainment, seized the moment, and with minimalistic backing expertly executed to compliment the vocals, she channelled some earthy Etta James before moving into the territory that Amy Whinehouse held sway over.
Big names, big comparisons, but more than apt, and very comfortably embraced by Marianne.
Opening acts who set the quality bar so high are rare, but when it happens it's a positive for the audience as anyone following has to raise their game to a level that at the very least will match what has come before.
And Hot Tin Roof did just that.
Drafted in on the recommendations of Black Cat Bone - who dropped out through circumstances beyond their control - the Edinburgh duo stepped up and assuredly won over some west coast fans.
With slavish covers set aside they conveyed a great deal of honesty, maybe even authenticity in how they approached their material.
If the blues was the skeleton then the meat hanging off it is flavoured with something that is reminiscent of when the US grunge bands stripped everything back to flirt with a rootsy sound that in some ways contributed to what we now call americana, but there's more going on too.
Bits of Fleetwood Mac, hints of Tom Waits.
Lot's of threads to be snagged and enjoyed.
Nothing really prepared the audience for Melisa Kelly and the Smokin' Crows though.
With plaudits under their belt from the likes of Jools Holland's band, and Big Boy Bloater, it would be expected that they would be special, but even with that at the forefront of the mind the reality far surpasses expectations.
The band are as tight or loose as required at any given moment and the vocals are a force of nature.
Melisa doesn't approach a song and try and bend it to her will, instead she is the song, a conduit for a torrent of raw emotion to spill out.
This is music as it should exist, with no artifice, and no barriers.
It's been said in the wake of similar performances from the band that they are going to go on to bigger and better things, and with a debut album on the horizon it is not a matter of if, but when.
Hyperbole and this band don't make comfortable bedfellows.
No matter how good anyone, including myself, say they are, we are wrong.
They are better.
And Barrelhouse aint too bad either.
Thomas Miller, ‘Amour Fou’ launch review by Kirsty Fraser
‘I’ve had some nerves today…’ admits Thomas Miller, about two songs into his six-song headline set. He’ll later confess that it’s been three years since his last performance, so perhaps the nerves are justified. The admission is made to a packed NHC Music at Thomas’s debut EP launch. As return gigs go, there are worse ways to mark your re-entry onto the scene.
Before all that, the crowd are treated to support slots from Brian Cunningham and Fallen Arches. The former peddles dark laments into matters of the heart, with a vocal tone similar to Jeff Buckley. Hard to pin down musically, Cunningham’s strength is his ability to weave his own tapestry from a range of genres. ‘Callous’ and ‘Family Man’ are standouts from his set. Fallen Arches released his debut EP, ‘Footprints’, last year and is now building towards his first full-length album. His songs are sung with heavy Scottish lilt and often trade-on real life experiences. ‘Private Show’ recounts his battles with dyslexia. Despite the heavy source material his guitar refrains are often uplifting and always strummed with energy and abandon.
Our nervous headliner, Thomas Miller, ploughs through pop heavy songs from his debut EP, Amour Fou, with gusto. Non EP track ‘I Saw It Coming’ has a hint of the traditional European folk song about it. There’s also an inspired cover of ‘When Doves Cry’, complete with finger picking verses and sumptuous backing vocals, sung ably by Thomas’s sister, Dee. But it’s the EP tracks which really shine. ‘I’m Still Waiting for You’ has a gloriously indulgent chorus, itching to burst into the room. Whilst the title track from the EP is the earworm you’re glad to have repeating in your head. With his first gig back a resounding success, let’s just hope it doesn’t take Thomas Miller another three years to play his next show.
Strung Out Nights (The King Blues support)
Stereo - Glasgow
Watching Strung Out Nights open for The King Blues was an experience in witnessing evolution with a capital R in progress.
From ska punk beginnings, to easing into emulating folk punk rockers, to expressing himself in a manner that could draw 'counter culture voice of a generation' plaudits he has come a long way in a very short time.
Not that he would claim to be this voice of a generation because he isn't in the business of telling anyone what to do, but instead the oft used description illustrates how using his experiences - and his views of the world around him - to influence his lyrics has created a dialogue between him and an audience that is reminiscent of how Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie communicated.
This isn't in the chord structures, or the intonation of how a lyric is sung, but in the strength and honesty of the words.
There is power in honesty, power in standing up to be counted, power in joining people together, and this power is responsibly and deftly conveyed.
From the dustbowls to the Clash to Rage Against the Machine.
From Dylan to Bragg to Difranco.
This was the moment when Strung Out Nights joined an illustrious family tree of artists who spoke directly to the hearts of an audience.
With fire and passion, coupled with us all living in a world of flux, the time for Strung Out Nights is now, and he is very obviously capable of seizing the momentum and taking us all along on his journey.
The Howlin' Wolf.
The gin joints, the speakeasys, the blues with a soupcon of jazz.
All conjure up evocative images, and there have been plenty of bars that have tried to bottle the magic formula that allows patrons to slip into the theme like a comfortable coat
Truth be told few actually manage to capture the intangible certain something that works though.
Maybe the music playing is ill fitting, possibly the need for some authenticity has pushed the envelope towards parody.
It might just be the balance between trying too hard, and the just letting it flow approach, is off.
And yet none of that could be claimed about The Howlin' Wolf in Glasgow.
There's an easy understanding of who they seem to be, and what their role is within the broad landscape of the city.
To put it simply.
And one of the factors that contributes to it working is the food.
The menu doesn't look to slavishly emulate that of one you would find in a similar bar in the US, but instead imaginatively creates an alternative universe where US and Scottish cuisine clash with mouth watering results.
On our most recent visit the 'Sweet Home Glasgow' burger was sampled with a hugely satisfying outcome.
With the beef, or chicken, working as a base for the chef to go to town, he, or she, does just that with the addition of haggis, a fried egg, an assortment of salad, a cheese sauce, and the obligatory portion of heavy duty rustic fries.
To lay claim to it extinguishing the fire of hunger in an empty stomach falls far short of how well it does the job.
This is not finger picking food to fill a gap between meals, but rather a start to a story that ends with the loosening of a belt and the tapping out in submission.
Likewise the Wolf Maryland takes the idea of the less adventurous choice that Scots gravitate towards in a Chinese restaurant and playfully slaps it with some Southern hospitality.
Fried chicken, corn on the cob, mashed sweet potato and battered fried banana is the work of a genius.
The person who conjured up this combo should be walking around with medals on their chest.
It's entirely possible that some speed eating record was broken when this was placed in front of me.
If a recommendation is required for somewhere to eat in the city then consider this mine.
On previous visits the chicken wings, soup, and a few other choice options have been sampled and at no time has the quality dipped below excellent.
Factor in the staff always being welcoming and it is difficult to think of anything that they need to work on to improve what is on offer, but they probably do have something up their sleeve.
All the quality bars and eateries do.
Five out of five for an afternoon or early evening visit and I'm looking forward to checking out the evening experience when live music is added to the mix.