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Written by Nev Brooks   
Sunday, 06 January 2013 03:30

Life Of Riley DVDIt made a pleasant surprise to receive from Uber Rock HQ a selection of blues releases, a style of music credited with not only creating the British rock explosion of the mid to late sixties, influencing bands such as Zeppelin and Sabbath, but also as you move closer to current times helping shape the sounds of the likes of White Stripes, Soundgarden and Queens Of The Stone Age, albeit in a much more remodeled format more suitable to modern times, and tastes.

 

But the blues to me has always meant “the blues”, as in the music brought forward from its Gospel roots, and not the watered down mainstream blues touted by such “critically acclaimed” modern players as Joe Bonawassisface. Nah that is music where it’s all about technique and clinical playing, music seldom delivered with real feeling due to the people involved having no life experience so in turn there’s no real emotion filling out the sound.

 

I mean how can you call yourself a blues player simply by practicing copying a style long since perfected by the masters whilst sitting on management coattails, being endlessly promoted via the, LP/tour/LP circuit (repeat ad-infinitum) and then call yourself a blues man? These artistes may be paying their road dues but they’ve had no real hardships in life to sing about (and you can include the Rolling Whatsits within this camp too) on which to base their songs, so how is it the blues? It just isn’t real…is it? Oh but what do I know?

 

So why the rant to start out?

 

Well I’ve just experienced the first part of this bluesy package of releases, ‘BB King ; The Life of Riley’ (Boulevard Entertainment), and I have to say up front this is a fascinating watch, as it goes right back to some raw 1930’s footage that outlines the living conditions at the time if you were black of skin focusing in on an area of the US that saw the rise of the K.K.K.

 

This DVD of the critically acclaimed Jon Brewer directed movie, is more than just the story of BB King though as it gives you a complete lesson in the blues. It takes you step by step through the events that shaped King’s and many others sounds through a mixture of archive footage, anecdotal interviews (even Joe Bonawassisface gets a look in) with most of the participants either semi or already legendary in their own rights. This is no Z lister talking head fest we have on our hands here, and everyone involved paints there own personal picture of a man and his music that touched them all in different ways. Out of the interviewees Carlos Santana comes across particularly well, as does Bukka White, but there are so many who all make valid points (Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman and Keith Richards included), it really comes down to listening to the man himself and hearing about the people who influenced him that proves to be the real focal point, people such as T-Bone Walker, Blind Lemon Jefferson and the early electric blues pioneers, this gives you that real history lesson feel for a genre that prior to this many will possibly have pushed into the background.

 

What came as a complete surprise to me was the huge amount of American interviewees who first learnt about their heritage from the British explosion of the 60’s/70’s.

 

I would recommend that every music fan reading this on Uber Rock regardless of your musical genre preference watches this film and more to the point “enjoy it.”

 

Life Of Riley CD

 

Accompanying this DVD (for I guess reviewing purposes as it appears to only be on sale as a standalone release and not part of some deluxe DVD version) was the soundtrack album ‘The Life of Riley Soundtrack’ (Universal Music), and after watching the film the music really does take on a different dimension, I’ve never understood things like phrasing until now! Just listen to the openers on the second disc ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ and ‘Hummingbird’, now if ever two songs bleed emotion then it’s these. ‘Hummingbird’ in particular I’m pretty sure laid the blue print for one of my fave bands Free to follow and I would love to hear Paul Rodgers cover this baby. But as you work your way through this compilation you can be nothing but stunned by the quality of the music on show, right from the early doors live recording of ‘Walking Dr Bill’ (live in 1974) through to the version of ‘When Love Comes To Town’ (yup the one with U2). All the way through you hear the music changing and adapting to more modern times but still holding on to what can only be the essence of the blues, that being hard work, authenticity, and emotion through a life well lived and experienced. If I had to pick one track to sum it all up with have a blast of ‘Riding With The King’. For all blues novices or aficionados this is a must own along with the DVD and should be in every ones collection but as I say watch the film first!

 

Clark-HutchinsonFollowing on from the BB King fest the next thing to hit the decks was a rarity from the late 60’s from Clarke-Hutchinson (Andy Clarke & Mick Hutchinson) something that could have quite possibly formed part of the aforementioned 1960’s Brit rock invasion if not for record company interference. You see the band’s record companies at the time thought the bands original 1969 recordings (represented here as a plethora of bonus tracks) were just too bluesy. Yeah let’s not go with what’s just breaking big then…jeez. And even though the music now sounds a bit dated, this album’s bonus cuts are blues with a healthy dose of psychedelia. Perhaps ideally suited to fans of such artistes as The Chocolate Watch Band, 13th Floor Elevators, or The Strawberry Alarm Clock. There’s also a whisper of early Doors and ZZ Top in the mix but in all it’s much better than what the Record Company forced them to make next (Were they the victims of an of the time Simon Cowell??)

 

What the record company really wanted from the ex Sam Gopal men was an avant garde jazz/blues rock fusion, with wait for it – “classical leanings” which forms the first part of this re-release of ‘A=MH2’ on Angel Air Records. Big mistake! Trying to be the Mahavishnu Orchestra takes some doing, even if you call your tracks ‘Improvisation On A Modal Scale’ (Oh I wonder what that sounds like?) alongside ‘Improvisation On An Indian Scale’, and you might have guessed by now that the whole album is instrumental. To be honest the record company at the time, Decca, should have just left well alone and let them be a blues rock band they might not have been huge, but they would have built a following with the bonus tracks, I get the feeling that ‘A=MH2’ is such a rarity because it actually sold sweet FA copies first time around and was probably recycled for ashtrays or snow globes. Because it’s repetitive, pretentious, and boring!

 

Swamp TrainBoring is not something you could call the final release here from Swamp Train entitled ‘Premium Selection’ (Self Released) as it kicks in like a slowed down Shack Shakers, but as you wade into ‘Little Red Rooster’ you quickly realise it’s blues raised in the Delta albeit delivered from somewhere in the Swiss Jura mountains and the other covers ‘Spoonful’ (Willie Dixon) ‘Boom Boom Out Go The Lights (Little Walter) ‘Hooray Hooray’ (Sonny Terry) and ‘Don't Start Me To Talking’ (Sonny Boy Williamson) bear that curious International mix out. But sadly as you start thinking about each tune in turn you then suddenly realise just how much better the original artists versions were, and suddenly it becomes a blues covers tribute, losing that essence of the blues as the band’s own material does not really stand up to scrutiny.

 

Going back to the start of this feature and there’s only one artist here who is a true original having done it pretty much his own way, and in return lived the life that helped shape the history of a blues genre, I’ll let you guess who that is.

 

To pick up your copy of 'BB King - The Life of Riley [DVD]' on Amazon - CLICK HERE