The Band Plays On: Kossoff @ Long Street Blues Club

At Last – I’m All Right Now…..

 By Andy Fawthrop

 

I’d been waiting for this gig for quite a while. Bearing in mind my general antipathy towards “tribute” bands, I was feeling both excited and apprehensive. Being of, let’s say, “a certain age”, Free (and later Bad Company) had been my go-to rock bands whilst I was still learning how to grow facial hair, and what girls were for. Just hoping they weren’t going to spoil my memories….

The late Paul Kossoff, erstwhile guitar genius behind that 60s/ 70s band Free, was the inspiration behind tonight’s particular line-up. It’s now over forty years since Koss, one of Britain’s finest guitarists tragically passed away at the tender age of only 25 in 1976. The break-up of Free had been, in part, due to Paul’s ongoing battle with drugs. Only when Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke had gone off to the US to form the highly-successful Bad Company, did Paul come to his senses enough to form his short-lived band Back Street Crawler.

Terry Slesser – the voice of that critically acclaimed band, and a close friend of Koss, is now keeping alive the memory and the music of one of the greatest British Blues guitarists. Sless chose the guitarist John Buckton, of whom Simon Kirke said “If Free were to reform, John would be my first choice as guitarist ” to play this series of special dates reviving for the first time since the 70s the catalogue of Back Street Crawler songs, as well as favourite Free numbers.

And a packed Long Street Blues Club was very much the beneficiary. The night was opened with great local support act Jamie R Hawkins (sounding superb with such a great sound system at his disposal, and doing his third gig of the day!). Then two fabulous sets from the main band.

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The big advantage here was that Sless was actually a friend of Koss, and played with him back in the day, so the sets were liberally interspersed with genuine stories and anecdotes. This immediately lifted us out of the “tribute band” category, and into the realm of genuine homage. The focus was very much on early, rather than late, Free material. Whilst there was certainly time and space for such later classics as All Right Now (how could there not be??), Wishing Well and My Brother Jake, the emphasis was very much on the earlier more bluesy material with which Free originally gained their massive following. It was a real treat to hear I’m A Mover, Woman, Songs of Yesterday, I’ll Be Creeping and the stunning encore (as Free themselves used to do) of The Hunter.

 

All of this delivered with confidence and panache. But no room for anything over-polished – it was all down and dirty, reproducing that thick, squidgy bass sound, wandering round every number like a prowling wild-cat, superb screaming guitar solos and some spot-on vocals – a fruity, solid noise. Could have been in the room and all that. Nostalgia certainly – been good if Sless hadn’t kept mentioning “50 years ago” thanks very much! – but this material stood up to the test of time with some ease. Somehow the band managed to reproduce the sound of Free and Back Street Crawler with some accuracy, whilst still delivering it all in a fresh and full-on way.

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It goes without saying that they brought the house down. Ian Hopkins mentioned in his introduction that the band had been one of the more expensive he’d managed to bring to Devizes, but from this punter anyway it was a solid thumbs-up – definitely worth it! Off home happy and heading for the Free CDs on the shelf!

Another great night at Long Street Blues Club and looking forward to the next season already.

 

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Back on the Saddle!

Tipsy suggestions to those Saddlebackers at their gurt lush day festival at Devizes Sports Ground were poo-pooed from the off! With this year’s line up rolling out across social media, it’s easy to see they took my expansive notions as nonsensical dribble. A dance tent; yeah, right, circus and performing arts acts; get outta town, even a reggae stage is not to be. Feasibly, they know what they like!

With seemingly no plans to overinflate or cater for revellers outside their chosen target audience, this year’s Saddleback Festival drives surely on quality not quantity, and if good ol’ rock and blues music is what you want, and face it, it’s the most desirable around these backwaters, then it looks like Saddleback return to deliver.

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Deliver they intend to, on 20th July, at a busy time with The Full Tone Orchestra promising a free event on the Green and Melksham’s Party in the Park on the same date, Devizes Carnival, Trowbridge’s Once Upon a Time in West Fest and the Swindon Shuffle the weekend prior, the Beer Festival and Devizes’ first scooter rally at the beginning of the month, perhaps it’s a reasonable move for Saddleback to stick with the working formula of previous years.

No extra acoustic stage for local acts has been announced, like the “bolt-on” last year. While being just that, it was at least a presence for them. It’s all focus on who’s performing main stage then, and tribute acts seem to feature predominantly. The longest running, full-time professional tribute to Led Zeppelin, Whole Lotta Led headline; and we all like a lotta Led.

Significant changes to their original line-up from 1996, six years ago, has seen considerable progress with the Whole Lotta Led’s customary two- and half-hour shows, receiving international acclamation from Zeppelin fans. With over 1,300 shows under the belts, they’ve performed Stairway to Heaven more than any other band in the world, interestingly, including Led Zeppelin!

To truly dedicated fans who witnessed the real McCoy at their prime, Whole Lotta Led avoid wigs, costumes, and look-alike paraphernalia to focus on recreating the music to an astonishing level of accuracy. They’ve recreated some of Led Zeppelin’s legendary live shows; 2001 they performed the ‘Bath Festival’ set, in 2003 staged the ‘Earl’s Court’ tour, in 2005 they recreated Zep’s last shows in England with the ‘Knebworth’ set, performed the live CD ‘How The West Was Won’ in 2006 and in 2008 they completed the ‘2007 O2 Reunion Show’ tour.

In a similar fashion, Creedence Clearwater Review are the UK’s premier tribute to Creedence Clearwater Revival, capturing the feel, sound and atmosphere of the short-lived late sixties American band. With audience involvement, singalongs and plenty of rousing choruses the Review promise an authentic and power packed tribute to the Creedence legacy, sticking as closely to the album tracks as possible. There’s also a nod to John Fogerty’s solo career in the show.

To concentrate on original acts, most are Bristol-based, like Elles Bailey is that wonderful hard-blues chick we’ve covered on Devizine before. With a prolific and authentic blend of country and blues, Elles is the UK dynamite on the scene.

The second name to continually popup locally is Ruzz Evans, who since 2014, with drummer Mike Hoddinott and Joe Allen on upright bass make up Ruzz’s Guitar Blues Revue. The trio house a powerful, soul-injected mesh of Blues, R’n’B and Rock’n’Roll of retrospective energy. The opportunities to open for some class acts, from Rockabilly’s the Delta Bombers and the Rhythm Shakers from Vegas to Dr Feelgood and The Blockheads. Plus, the newly released studio album, Burn Out, which features Pete Gage from Dr Feelgood’s band, certainly shows enthusiasm, skill and passion; this one is going to get lively.

 

Also booked is four-piece blues/funk outfit, The Will Edmunds Band, who perform interpretations of classics from the likes of Robert Johnson, BB King, Albert King and The Meters. Their sound promises to be tight and fresh, yet retaining old-school mojo!

And that’s what we’ve been told so far. No mention of Jon Amor; surely, he’ll drop in, would’ve thought? Ah, one step ahead of you. The Friday before , 19th July, he’s at the pre-festival event at the Sports Club, where for a tenner you’ll get Saddleback favourites Innes Sibun and Jon, with Mike Hoddinott of Ruzz’s Guitar Blues Revue and what’s worth the entire weekend price-tag in my humble opinion, for all it’s worth, the awesome UK-USA blues conglomerate, Beaux Gris Gris who we’ve reviewed a night of before.

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A further tenner means you can camp for the weekend, from 5.00pm Friday 19th July, with campers asked to leave the site by 10.30am on Sunday 21st July. It may be whacking the total from £25, for a main ticket, to £45 for the whole shebang, and in all honesty the mods may have it cheaper than the rockers this year, the Scooter Rally tallying to £25 for the whole weekend with free camping, but a considerable donation of Saddleback is off to chosen charities Julia’s House and Care If, and going on the sturdy and reliable security, strategic setup and organisation that went into last year’s event, together with an awesome line-up, Saddleback will not go unnoticed, even if promotion of it seems somewhat lessened this year.

 

Here’s last year’s snaps to get you in the mood; all images by Nick Padmore

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Little Geneva take the Cellar Bar hostage for the Night

Little concern, Little Geneva fulfil expectations down the little Cellar Bar last night……

 

 

Awoke this morning and, on BBC Breakfast, witness middle-aged folk pulling themselves through an underground tunnel on a wheeled tea-tray, replicating the great escape on its anniversary. Unless you were there, or you’re Dr Who, you’ve no hope of comprehending the ambience of a smoky cavernous club at the eve of the early sixties British blues detonation any more than understanding the anxiety and fear to be levering through tunnel Harry to escape the prisoner of war camp.

 
Retrospective is big business, Hollywood ran out of ideas a decade ago, but replication is often forged and not without cliché. Yes, you could succumb to the paisley tribute act scene, or pay a king’s ransom for a blues legend in concert, but it’ll not capture the spirit of the era, or the artist in their prime. As generations roll genres gain acceptability, and the contemporary blues scene, though thriving, tends to centre around matured audiences, weary of intoxicating themselves and reluctant to shake a tail feather.

 
Yet if I squinted my eyes in the Cellar Bar last night, and allowed the music to flow through me, I’d be forgiven for pondering what it’d have been like to wander into a squalid nightclub in 1963 to hear The Animals, Kinks or Faces at their early stages, considering this is a close as I’m going to get.

 
I nod in appreciation that Little Geneva has simulated this, without cheesy or elderly representation. For this Bristol-based band with roots in Devizes aren’t here for pretence, this debut night is not passé, or deliberately treated with “tribute,” it is just a young band stripping back a sound to its raw roots, and thoroughly enjoying the attention it fashioned.

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It was the most crowded I’ve ever seen the Bear Hotel’s dungeon-bar, Sheer Music’s sell-out show breathes life into the promoter’s quest to retake its hometown, after successfully branching to larger towns over hill yonder. It’s like punk never happened down there, like The Who time-travelled and waltzed in, spontaneously agreeing to perform. From its off, the band chilled the expectancy in the atmosphere with a smooth vocal and percussion mallet drum solo, akin to Jim Morrison’s spellbinding moments, which hypnotised crowds of acid-tripping hippies.

 

 
Yet this had not occurred before, armed with just acoustic guitar, Jon Amor done his thing, and done his thing as proficient as to be expected by locals. The Devizes legend as support, soothing blues, acoustically covering songs from his latest album, Colour in the Sky, with residential witticisms like obtaining a 1am chicken burger from the Market Place. It is always an honour to witness Jon, as a New Jersey resident’s admiration for a Springsteen gig.

 

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This was raw, energetic blues-rock at its best, Little Geneva not covering known songs, least no classic immediately recognisable, just celebrating work done on their album, Eel Pie, in this explosive launch party; an awesome night, making the high bar prices at the Bear inconsequential, it’s a bucolic, rustic cavern of quality.

 

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If anything, I find myself reflecting on my father, for the sixties was his era, and common banter in our family that he was in an amateur band. Mocked by my mother claiming “they were rubbish anyway,” and my father’s shunning, suggesting, “everyone was in a band back then, it was just a trend,” it’s only now occurring to me if it really meant something more to him, hanging up his guitar to dedicate his time to being “Dad.”

 

 

Something I can only speculate, wishing I’d have had the opportunity to question him about his feeling towards it. Yet, it reflects the trend today, least I find locally, whereby twenty-somethings are taking to an instrument purely for the love, absent of my generation’s slouch into technology-driven repetitive beats. If there’s a growing trend for this, Little Geneva perhaps hold the belt now, and hold it under the influence of all which went before, but not in a contemptuous, plagiarising or cheesy method, but a renewed, lively manner.

 

 

So, if you missed this last night, I’d thoroughly recommend you track them down: April 14th for Record Store Day at Sound Knowledge, Marlborough, April 18th at club Thirty-8, also in Marlborough, and April 15th at St James Wine Vaults, Bath.

 

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Hot Blues on a Cold Night

Kyla Brox Band – Saturday 2nd March @ Long Street Blues Club, Devizes

Andy Fawthrop

 

Back up the road to the Con Club for Long Street Blues Club’s latest presentation – The Kyla Brox Band. And it was definitely worth the hike.

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Yet again Ian Hopkins had managed to get one of Britain’s top blues & soul bands in front of a Devizes audience on a Saturday night, and the crowd lapped it up. Winner of the 2018 UK Blues Challenge, Kyla’s reputation preceded her. And we were not to be disappointed -an outstanding performer with an incredible pair of lungs on her, knocking out some soulful, smoky and gritty lyrics. Her voice covered all the bases, from the cool, sexy drawl, belting through the mid-range rock chick style, to the high-end screaming wail of soulful pain. And the band behind her were as tight as a tourniquet.

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The three-piece featured the fluent guitar work of Paul Farr, some inspired bass playing by Danny Blomeley and tight drumming by Mark Warburton. Farr, in particular, impressed with some of his inspired solos, drawing wild applause from the crowd.

The absolute highlight for me was the final number in the first set – one of the best versions I’ve ever heard of the classic Etta James song “I’d Rather Go Blind”, with Kyla pulling out all the stops to press every emotional button. To say that she completely nailed this number would be something of an under-statement – worth the entrance money on its own. The material throughout varied from up-tempo, high-energy blues through to low and slow, crooning soul, and it was great to hear these different textures through the two sets. The band’s ability to turn up the burners, and then cool right down, number after number really demonstrated their versatility. k2

The only time I felt that the band put a slight foot wrong was the choice of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for the first encore – can this song that has been one of the most-ever covered pieces still having anything else left to give? – the answer, sadly, was a No from me. Fortunately there was a great up-tempo number to finish the evening off, and the minor damage was thus quickly repaired.

All-in-all another beltingly good gig, and a great night out.

Next gigs coming up @ Long Street Blues:

• Saturday 6th April Billy Walton Band – electric blues & Memphis soul
• Saturday 4th May Shemekia Copeland – passionate Americana roots & soul
• Friday 10th May Tom C Walker – young virtuoso guitarist
• Saturday 25th May Kossoff…The Band Plays On – fine, high-calibre tribute band

 

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New Band, Old Roots: Little Geneva

If Devizes folk have a love of blues, with a slash to rock, and all this I find a beautiful thing; Long Street Blues Club, the origins of Saddleback and of course our own legend Jon Amor, there have been occasions when a portion of visiting bands I take with a pinch. There’s cliché, whereas roots of blues are strictly raw, these convey the conventional, an earnest shot to commercialise to a middle-aged tolerable market, which in a way is fine and dandy, there’s clearly a thirst for it and historically such progress is natural.

 
You see where I’m coming from? At a time, Elvis was unacceptable, was edgy, now the rock n roll audience is pensioner age, consider it classic. Marlborough’s popular Jazz Festival fills with hoity-toity yet the rags of Scott Joplin at the time of their conception could only be heard in bawdy New York brothels. Similarly, I hear a once subversive, outrageous noise of nineties rave as a children’s TV cartoon theme tune.

 
From the crashing drums and thrumming guitar opening blast of “Key to Love,” there’s no doubt barriers have been stripped back. Echoes of raw energy from a time of yore rip through you, its two and a half minutes of screeching harmonica and growling vocals place you in 1967, under a blanket at an LA love-in. Little Geneva maybe newly constructed, but resonance images of The Animals, of Steppenwolf and the Stones with a truly proficient edge.

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Putting my point to them, they agreed, “we feel very similar to you mate, very similar indeed… which is why we made those recordings, and, in the stripped back/vintage way we did.”

This EP satisfies retrospective mod-culture and beatniks more-so than contemporary indie fans, I’d say; imagine punk didn’t happen. “All Your Love” slides you into the smooth classical/jazz stimulus of The Doors, yet “Yer Blues” harks the blues which would’ve inspired these aforementioned legends. “Someday After a While,” again breezy melancholic blues sound of Cream or The Animals. Five tracks on this EP, but from the first note I was hooked.

 

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Bristol-based, Little Geneva, name coined from a Muddy Waters track, only formed on the eve before 2019, conceived during a conversation between the Doherty brothers, Dave and Chris. Partisans of the UK contemporary blues scene for over a decade, they felt a need to get back on stage together, as part of a truly great live band; thus, Little Geneva spawned. Once the seed was sown, recruiting additional members didn’t prove a problem.

 
Chris, 32, and Dave Doherty, 36; both gifted guitarists, holding players such as B.B King, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton in high regard, headhunted Rags Russell, 32, (vocals/harmonica) who fronts the youthful and energetic band with an emotive and soulful vocal style. Zak Ranyard, 27, (bass guitar) and Simon Small, 33, (drums) provide the rhythm section’s high level of energy and power, driving the band.

 
Having completed this blinding EP, the band is set to record their first album at the beginning of March, as they look for clubs and festivals dates across Europe. But the bestest part of it all, the album launch gig is based right here, in Devizes. I had to ask them, the connection.

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You may know already, you see that’s where Devizine differs from being our town’s Time Out magazine, it’s a learning curve for me. There’s history behind this band, as individuals, Little Geneva members have opened shows for Ray Davies (The Kinks), John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival), Mud Morganfield and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Also sharing festival bills with The Red Devils, Jimmie Vaughan, The Hoax, B.B King and many others. But three members of the band began their musical relationship in Devizes, back in 2004. Chris, Simon and Dave went to Lavington Comprehensive.

 

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“We all lived in Devizes at the time our first band formed,” explained Dave, “and we were quickly recruited by other older stalwarts of the scene. We helped create a thriving music scene at The Bell by The Green around this time and it was, for a time, a great little scene.”

 
“They go right back to the beginning of Sheer,” Sheer’s creator Kieran Moore informed, “Check out a band called Hitchmo; that’s where it started.”

 
“That early band came to an end around 2008,” Dave continued, “and the three of us went our separate ways, musically speaking. We all met other musicians, worked with other producers in different genres and countries. Chris now lives in Cornwall, as does Zak. Rags lives in Bristol, as did I when I met him. Simon and I now live in Devizes, where we feel rooted. Bristol is the hub of our activities; it’s obviously a more connected place than Devizes. Devizes is our home though, and all three of want to come back here for our first show, and smash it out of the park!”

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It’s Little Geneva’s deep respect for, and knowledge of what made those early British blues recordings so energised, and exhilarating, coupled with the soulful spirit with which all members express themselves, that will make an unmissable launch date at The Cellar Bar on Saturday 23rd March. Initial reaction to this retrospective goodness was wow, great booking Kieran, but I see now, what’s news to me is a reunion, to a degree, for Sheer and aforementioned scene; indisputably making the gig even more poignant than simply this absolutely rocking sound.

 

I shit you not, it’s like being bought up with Neil Sedaka and suddenly discovering The Faces. Oh, and if you need more convincing, Jon Amor supports…. supports, I know, right!

Website www.littlegenevaband.co.uk
Email: bookings@littlegenevaband.co.uk

Facebook Event Page

 

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Kent Duchaine – Sunday 27th January @ The Southgate Inn

By Andy Fawthrop

“Great Lazy Sunday Entertainment!”

Dave & Debbie have done a really great job in putting The Southgate back on the Devizes musical map since they took over the pub last year, booking a wide range of great acts from Friday nights through to Sunday afternoons. These gigs are all free entry and, with a comfortable & welcoming environment and all beers at only £3 a pint, it’s a no-brainer to get one’s arse up there to enjoy the musical fare on offer. Sunday afternoons in particular have become one of my favourites – a view obviously shared by the local cognoscenti – for the place was again packed with happy customers.

This Sunday last we were treated to a fabulous session from Kent Duchaine, a man described by Mike Harding as “a legend in his own lunchtime and a REAL bluesman”. I use the word “treat” advisedly, as the man turned out to be one helluva all-round entertainer. Not only did he play some wonderful stripped-back delta blues on his 1934 National Steel guitar Leadbessie, he also connected absolutely with his audience. Every break between songs, every intro, every outro, the man was talking, talking, talking about his life, his travels, his experiences, his deep love of the blues, the music he loved, the blues players he had met an known. And not without a good dose of self-deprecating humour. It was an education just listening to the man. Fascinating. And what a voice! The guy obviously gargles with lumps of granite in his throat! Whether talking or singing, to hear him, (and to look at him) I guess you’d say he’s “well lived-in”, and a well-travelled troubadour.

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Lots of Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, and all the rest of the great bluesmen, just flowed out of him all afternoon. Kent spoke and sang; Leadbessie drawled and crooned. The punters lapped it up.

Absolutely perfect laid-back blues for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Perfect entertainment.

If you’ve not been up The Southgate lately, time you checked it out!

Next gigs coming up @ The Southgate:

• Saturday 2nd February Drew Bryant
• Friday 8th February Clock Radio + The Jelas Live
• Saturday 9th February Tim Manning
• Friday 15th February Fake Walnut Dash
• Saturday 16th February Guilty Pleasure

 

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Rick Estrin & The Wildcats – Saturday 26th January @ Long Street Blues Club, Conservative Club, Devizes

By Andy Fawthrop

 

Back to the top of the hill to The Conservative Club aka Long Street Blues Club to catch the last date of the UK tour by Californian band Rick Estrin & The Wildcats.

The advance billing was impressive, and the short UK tour had had several sold-out dates. Not sure this gig was technically sold out, but it was certainly pretty rammed in there.

Ian Hopkins had written: “Overflowing with talent and bursting with bravado, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats have created one of the blues’ most instantly recognizable sounds and no-holds-barred styles. With the world-class talents of harmonica master, songwriter and vocalist Rick Estrin, guitar wunderkind Chris “Kid” Andersen, keyboard wizard Lorenzo Farrell and dynamic drummer Alex Pettersen, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats serve up sharp and incisive original blues and gritty roadhouse rock ‘n’ roll.”

So there was much to look forward to, and a lot to live up to. The room was packed and buzzing with anticipation. The crowd were royally entertained by local singer/ songwriter Joe Hicks (always good value for money), and suitably warmed up. Finally, after what seemed a longer gap than usual, the band took to the stage and belted out the first number.

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Estrin himself cut an impressive figure at the front – smartly dressed and coiffed, leaning into the mike, and delivering a high-energy performance. Within minutes there was the trademark howling harmonica, backed by driving keyboards and rhythm section. The band were always tight and well-drilled when the songs needed it, but not afraid to cut loose in the breaks either. Think growling, witty, street-smart vocals – often reduced to almost a gravelly whisper, occasionally a haunting drawl – then lashing back out into a full-force vocal delivery. The band itself dropped the sound back at times allowing Estrin to strut his stuff and to paint his pictures, but then returned in full force, producing a wonderful dirty, muddy noise of driving California blues. Yet this was far from being a one-dimensional blues band – we had some great jazzy/ improve passages, and a longish monologue from Estrin himself at one point. Technically impressive, laid-back, grooving and absolutely whip-smart stuff.

And the crowd – not surprisingly – absolutely loved it. As did I – another great night at Long Street Blues. If I had one minor criticism it was that the set was (compared to many bands I’ve seen at the venue) relatively short – just over the hour. I think we could all have done with a bit more!

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The band’s latest album is Groovin’ In Greaseland, which I think I’ll be checking out shortly. https://rickestrin.com/

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