The Blues is a curious genre of music. It inspires incredible devotion from its often purist enthusiasts who rather scorn its transformation over the years into different variations – some of which, dare I say it have verged on popular and even pop.
It is nothing like as obscure as they might you believe and remains more accessible than other forms of similar duration such as jazz. So why is that?
I would hazard that it may be its universality but also that its reinvention and subsequent promotion has come from some of the most unlikely sources and therefore moved the game on without ever losing the simplicity of tale-telling and rawness of presentation.
The story of Mick Jagger meeting Keith Richards at Dartford station with an armful of blues LPs is particularly famous but it was the result of this chance meeting that not only saw the birth of the Rolling Stones but an appetite for Blues – tours would come featuring Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker or Muddy Waters throughout the 60s and 70s – that you would not initially have expected to kick off in Kent.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, purveyors of some of the finest and bluesiest swamp-rock, came not from the Mississippi bayous but from California so should perhaps have had more in common with the Big Sur than Baton Rouge. Yet John Fogerty’s delivery was no less fervent or genuine.
Not everyone can have the locational credentials of BB King or even Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan but it’s not just the derivation of the sound; it’s the meaning and the emotion. It is a very human and personal type of music.
That still doesn’t really lessen the surprise of listening to Gomez’ “Bring It On” and realizing that they came from Matlock.
And that isn’t the only surprise because I kept thinking that this album was only five or six years old but came across a specially remastered 10th anniversary edition which had been released in 2008 – naturally I bought it again – but the mind plays terrible tricks.
Perhaps it’s because this record is incredibly timeless. Sure it updates the blues format with the use of effects and a bit of computer wizardry but it has the authenticity of any recording by say, Beck.
I could go as far as to say it may be one of the last winners of the Mercury Prize that you might still feel the urge to actually listen to. The earlier winners were much better mirrors on the time than the string of obscurities we seem to be treated to nowadays – obviously I am going to exclude the Arctic Monkeys, Elbow and the belting Franz Ferdinand.
But back to “Bring It On”. It is a fine album of contemporary blues – telling fantastic stories of travels by their gang (“Whippin’ Piccadilly”) and an insight into a world that seems strangely exciting whether you are in the Mississippi Delta or (in their case) mid-Derbyshire.
“Get Myself Arrested” is an excellent example of a blues story but miraculously transported to the here and now with the backing of their spooky box of electronic tricks and a bouncing reggae-ish backbeat. This theme is picked up by the excellent “Tijuana Lady” which has a real epic quality in its setting but with a subtlety that uses percussion as a rhythmic driver to paint us a picture in full vistavision of ‘mariachi desperadoes’.
The bonus disc has several excellent Radio 1 studio sessions where the excellence of their live performance really lifts tunes like “Rie’s Wagon” and this is replicated when you see some of their fantastic TV appearances especially on the thunderous opener “Get Miles”. I defy you not to be amazed when you hear the throaty voice come out of such an angelic looking singer. “Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone” that has all the eccentric character of Matlock’s other great artistic contributor of current times – “This Is England” director Shane Edwards – and could easily be the soundtrack to “Once Upon A Time In The Midlands”. A collaboration between the two would be delightful.
Gomez are a very difficult band to characterise – they sometimes sound like The Byrds, sometimes Beck and sometimes 13-era Blur but the most original flavour they bring is in the juxtaposition of the vocal styles they use, mixing soft with harsh and a smattering of effect-treated strains to develop an entirely original end-result – try “Here Comes The Breeze”, which manages to sound like country and folk at the same time. Future Mercury winner Badly Drawn Boy was certainly listening to their genre bending style
The two highlights are the dreamy “Make No Sound” and the laser-sharp “78 Stone Wobble” with its “open-hearted surgery never works” refrain that captures all the latent aggression of Nirvana Unplugged.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable and overlooked album now – thanks Mercury – and is probably too esoteric to find itself at the top of anyone’s playlist but it is wonderfully expressive and originally constructed. It uses all its reference points and influences to terrific effect and rightly defines the category of Modern Blues.