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Blues Round-up: February 2011

Album Review

Henry Yates on new releases from Jim Byrnes, Stevie Cochran, Jay Jesse Johnson, Jay Willie Blues Band and Joan Armatrading

Jim Byrnes: Everywhere West

There has been a worrying trend in the blues column of late. Too many knife-edge cheekbones on unblemished faces (stand up, Oli Brown). Too many pert twenty-something bodies and tumbling blonde hair (that’s you, Joanne Shaw Taylor). But just when you thought the warhorses were being run out of their own genre – and before we’re burned by the same ‘age row’as Strictly Come Dancing – here comes 62-year-old Jim Byrnes with an album that represents an admonitory rap of the knuckles to the foetuses. And his latest long player Everywhere West is patently the work of an elder statesman with the mortgage paid off and nothing to prove, and while in lesser hands that might spell creative torpor, the Missouri veteran (and an occasional actor, it transpires) has enormous fun with country-tinged fare like No Mail Blues, tweaks the nose of Broadway with From Four Until Late, and gives a musical shoulder-massage with Walk On. No denying it: this old dog still knows some new tricks. (8/10)

Stevie Cochran: The Next Stage

A curious choice of title, given that for Stevie Cochran, evolution is apparently something for monkeys, not musicians. The bandleader is ploughing the same furrow as ever, touting power-blues that's so saloon-bar-friendly you can practically taste the Bud and peanuts. But his touch and phrasing are so sweet it’s a pleasure just to hear him tread water. (6/10)

Jay Jesse Johnson: Play That Damn Guitar

When you christen an album Play That Damn Guitar, there is a certain pressure to prove that you’re not a sausage-fingered Fender-fumbler. Indiana gunslinger Johnson passes that test – he’s an gloriously fluid axeman, just a few bpm shy of being termed a ‘shredder’ – and for a time, the fretboard pyrotechnics cover the fact that voice and songs are merely solid. (6/10)

Jay Willie Blues Band: The Reel Deal

Measuring Jay Willie by his recorded output feels unfair: this is plainly a band whose raison d’être is the road, and who are less likely to push the envelope in the studio than a striking postman. Watertight grooves, neat-and-tidy riffs, serviceable vocals but it’s unlikely you’ll find much to blow your mind. (5/10)

Joan Armatrading: Live At The Royal Albert Hall

Don’t expect any KISS-style fluffing of Ms Armatrading’s 2010 set at the Albert: this is no more or less than a tape recorder stuck on Row A, capturing every string squeak and floorboard creak. She still has the pipes to do the business – although two CDs and one DVD is perhaps an awful lot of Joan for casual fans. (7/10)

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