Everything You Are, Onika Venus

You remember being given some coursework, when back in higher education, with various objectives and your task was to choose one to complete? Not really wanting to do it, you go to the student at the top of the class, and ask them what they’ve done. They reply, “ah, not much,” and this gives you the cue to do absolutely nothing. Then, on the day of handing it in, they’ve unexpectedly produced the single-most awesome project, covering all the objectives in one ingenious combination, and you stand there with zilch, except a jaw hanging and an implausible excuse, which you made up on the bus coming in?!

I’d imagine Onika Venus to be just like that. Now Bristol-based, Jamaican-born Onika plays Trowbridge Town Hall on September 18th, so, given reggae is cited as an influence, I thought I’d check out her debut solo album, Everything You Are, which was released back in March.

The title track was chosen as Songsmith’s Song of the Year 2020, and it’s easy to hear why. I’ve not been this blown away by a female vocalist since discovering Minneapolis’s Mayyadda.

Immediately this pushed my buttons, but if this opening title tune is decidedly acoustic blues, with a distant harmonica resounding in the background, there’s a truckload more going on than the first impressions here.

The premise from the beginning is as simple as, Onika Venus has the prevailing soulful voice to carry whatever genre is thrown into the melting pot, and drizzle it over you like hot sauce. It only leaves you pondering how far she will take it. The second tune I pigeonholed as RnB pop, a contemporary Macy Gray or Erykah Badu, aiming for chart success. When I’m Broken carries this concept to a higher height, and is simply, the model formula of popular music every song should aim for.

Yet, three songs in and here comes the Caribbean influence. Friday Love has a clear mento feel, it’s immediately beguiling, a good-time chugging song in the face the despondent romance theme. This will occur again towards the middle the album with Who’s Been loving You. Again, with Shotgun there’s similar appeal, perhaps the most definable as “roots reggae,” and, for me, they’re the favoured sections.

But it swaps back to the mainstay for track four, steady soul with an orchestrated ambience; Everything has its Season, is the ideal equilibrium to bless that heavenly voice and compose this euphoric moment of bliss. After a surprising modern dancehall intro, we’re back to an acoustic guitar riff for the poignant The Storm, using sax to mitigate jazz. I Need You, though, has kick-ass funk, Ike & Tina Turner in their prime.

With only three tunes to go, just when you think influences have been exhausted, there’s a duet with a male voice, supplied by husband, Mark, Mary, sounds classic Americana, as if Joe Cocker just walked into the studio and said, why don’t you try this?!

To keep you guessing what the last couple of tunes will hold, yeah, folk is strapped onto soul, Reaper Man aches of Aretha Franklin, but by this point you just know Onika Venus can carry this off with bells on. Raising the bar of comparisons is justified, believe me. For when it’s funky I’d give you Randy Crawford, Chaka Khan, and when it levels with acoustic and folk, her voice dishes out notions of reggae heroines, of Phyllis Dillon or Marcia Griffiths, and the gospel finale, yeah, Aretha will be justified, if not Sister Rosetta Tharpe; it is this magnificent.

Yet, unlike all these aforementioned legends, the style here is not monocultured, neither does it jerk from genre to genre without consistency and flow. Onika Venus gives volumes to the eclecticism, and it moulds efficaciously into one melting pot, beautifully. Prior to this solo launch, in a band called Slyde, her voice customised their breakbeat, techno and house style, to great effect, and I can well believe it. The flexibility of her skill is captured here, I’d imagine as comprehensively as she chooses personally, and just as the student who bursts in effortlessly, with the homework complete and to an exceptional standard, Onika Venus makes this look easy!


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Song of the Day 17: Diana Leoport

What’s Spanish for “diva?” Oh, Google translate aptly says it’s “diva!”

Super sassy Spanish vocalised RnB-pop doesn’t come sexier than Mexican singer Diana Leoport’s debut single. Aching with masses of Latino promise there’s elements of Shakira and Gloria Estefan in this smooth tune. My glasses have steamed up!

Out on all platforms here.

And that’s my song for the day. Very good. Carry on….


808 Delavega; Contemporary Dancehall, Swiss Style.

Not to be confused with Howard Rosen and Jerry Gordon’s American jazz and blues record label of the same name, Evidence Music is a prolific contemporary reggae label with their recording studio in Geneva, Switzerland, but franchising and presenting many upcoming Jamaican artists. Ergo, while I’ve mentioned before the Swiss valuing archaic origins of reggae, with ska, rock steady and roots subgenres through labels like the fantastic Fruits Records, Helvetia also has a penchant for modern styles of Jamaica’s musical outpourings.

A decade prior to Bob Marley & The Wailers playing Zurich as part of their final Uprising tour, the presence of reggae was oven ready, in the seventies popular Swiss band Rumpelstilz produced Kiosk, with a definite reggae influence. Nowadays, the international market blends their own brand and traditions into reggae, and the Swiss are of no exception. Local artists Dodo and Jo Elle perform in the native tongue, and Zurich’s Rote Fabrik club plays a key role in promoting reggae.

Still though, back across the ocean reggae is never stagnant and rarely dabbles in retrospection. It’s progressive. I look now to Wellington Smart, aka selector Freddy Kruger’s Boot Boy Radio show after my own, to hear the latest trends via his label, Drop Di Bass and what I do hear is similar to Evidence Music’s DJ and producer 808 Delavega, on his self-titled debut album.

In tune with said progression, we’ve come along way from the nineties divide between dancehall and lovers, through the millennial cross-over inclination to include dancehall toasting in US RnB and hip-hop tracks, and we find ourselves today with a sound almost void of offbeat and one-drop riddims antiquatedly associated with the reggae of Marley’s heyday. An era where Damien Marley’s anthological dancehall is more important than his father’s. 808 Delavega embraces this, he’s passionate about hip-hop as well as dancehall, and founded Derrick Sound in the 2000s.

With Nicolas Maître and Nicolas Meury of Little Lion Sound, Derrick Sound was the mainstay for the formation of the Evidence Music label and it fast become Switzerland’s leading urban label. There the team involve themselves in a multitude of projects, 808 Delavega produces popular Jamaican artists such as Sizzla, Capleton, Morgan Heritage and Danitsa. Reflecting back on his excursions to Jamaica, he focussed on the innovative subgenres of afrobeat and trap to produce this fresh debut, and it’s certainly that.

I’m not going to suggest this is for everyone, our retrospective preconceptions of reggae persist, I’m suggesting forward-thinking youth, maybe already partly allied via current pop trends in dancehall which seen Sean Paul featured on a Little Mix track, et all. But in essence this is diverse, experimental, and underground, pulling the boundaries of RnB grind and dancehall even tighter. There can even be intros here which ring of eighties electro and electronica, and relics of garage house; imagine David Morales producing dancehall and you’re somewhere in the light of this interesting blend. How I think this works so well is the splinters of afro-beat, a beguiling genre I’m personally hot under the collar about.

Always held a penchant for dancehall too, though accepting the sparseness of the beats and uncompromising patois can sound alien to European and American audiences. 808 Delavega plays this down. The jargon is not misconstrued, and once the beat kicks in you’ll hear nothing of the of scarcity of millennial dancehall, but riddims which ride along smoothly, like RnB. Dancehall artists established and upcoming feature, yet even when legendary Beenie Man toasts on the subject of election violence, it adopts this ambiently slick tenet. It may be rather glossy but this breaths wide-appeal, beyond reggae aficionados.

Charly Black offers possibly the sparsest track, Eesah perhaps the most sensual. Throughout though it never frenzies and takes it mellowly and euphorically. So yeah, I like it (despite it makes mi waistline feel old!) for its innovativeness, and freshness.

808 Delavega album backlinks

Jon Amor is Cooking

Last time I saw Jon Amor he was queuing for Sainsburys. Sign of the times I suppose, would’ve much preferred to say we were in a pub or hall, and Jon was doing his thing. Capers, was what, he explained, he went in for. Those Mediterranean pickled berries, I figured; Jon is as epicure with his tucker as he is with his music. A new single, Peppercorn, expands the hypothesis; he’s cooking alright.

A contemporary blues performer with an established diverse repertoire, I was surprised upon reviewing his 2018 album, Colour in the Sky, of a distinctive and quirky fashion akin to late-seventies pop-rock in the more beguiling tracks; a drainpipe-suited Elvis Costello, of type, and songs as good to match. I’m thinking of the tracks Red Telephone and Illuminous Girl in particular, they don’t follow the archetypical modern bluesman manner, they’re upbeat, zany and define a certain panache emerging with Jon. I’m pleased to say Peppercorn doesn’t just correspond with this notion, but expands upon it.

Accompanied by video of crazy antics around his home, presumably recorded over his many entertaining lockdown live streams, with not only a rather perfected Ministry of Silly Walks tribute in snappy blue winkle-pickers, but an amusing puppet sequence to scream Sledgehammer at you. This is a quirky, catchy little tongue-in-cheek number. From Shanks & Bigfoot’s Sweet Like Chocolate to, more appropriately, The Soul Leaders’ boss reggae classic, Pour on the Sauce, food innuendo is no new thing in music; Louis Jordan nailed it in the thirties. Still with his demarcated and inimitable stylishness, here’s Jon’s own take on it.

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With a little slide-guitar intro, after thirty seconds it’s having it; immediately enticing and definingly why Jon Amor sets the local live music bar high. Though he is, the hybrid between man-about-Devizes-town and blues legend. At a quid from Bandcamp, this shiny example of why is a winning dish.


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Hold Tight, March Brings R’n’B Showcase at the Sports Club

Ah, hold tight, two preview pieces from me tonight; I’m an unstoppable steam train of broadcasts, choo-choo! Yet, I’m not sure this needs an introduction, not because we’ve been running the poster for it a while now, but if you’re in the know regarding Devizes links to blues then the line up at the R’n’B Bar at The Sports Club on Saturday 14th March will appeal no end, and you’ve probably snapped the tenner tickets already. If you’re new to said scene, then this gig would act as the ideal taster; digest this……

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Legendary bluesman Peter Gage, former frontman of The Jet Harris Band, member of Dr Feelgood who blew the roof off Long Street with Dave Raeburn, Paul Hartshorn and Pete Lowrey as The Pink Tornados in December, will headline. But come here, there’s more. The guitar maestro I’ve been raving about, Mr Ruzz Guitar and his Blues Revue will also be there, his trio backing, or blessing these otherwise solo performances. I swear his guitar is like a phaser in Star Trek, set to stun, and I’m still speechless after his performance at the Gate a number of moons ago.

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While Ruzz is Bristol based, and Peter resides in the west country too, both Devizes links to the contemporary blues scene also show up to do their thing. Innes Sibun, who we featured partnered with Marcus Malone as the Malone Sibun Band on the night they allowed me to roam free at the Long Street Blues Club, and be astounded by the quality of goings-on there. And of course, Jon Amor who is regularly featured here as, well, he’s regularly here, but more-so, because his talent is unsurpassed. Though I’m sure, as when such heroes meet, there will be a communal feeling and we’ll be treated to some improv and guitar-showdowns, rather than a balanced one-off-next-one-on scenario; least I’m hoping.

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All in all, this event is like pulling four bells in a row on the fruity; need I say more? See you there. Oh, nearly forgot, slow down, man; tickets on door or in advance from Sports Club.

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© 2017-2020 Devizine (Darren Worrow)
Please seek permission from the Devizine site and any individual author, artist or photographer before using any content on this website. Unauthorised usage of any images or text is forbidden.

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Live Album at the Louisiana with Ruzz Guitar’s Blues Revue

A cheetah can achieve motorway speeds, but not long enough to get off the slip road; worthless trivia, unless you’re an antelope. I like to think cheetahs listen to rock n roll; no, hear me out. Akin to this feline fact, those RnB and rock n roll classics are one short burst of energy. Fortunately for the artists the 78rpm record lasted a maximum of five minutes, and for radio play they’d cut it to little over three, any longer they surely risk congestive heart failure.

As the era passed to late sixties, psychedelia stretched recorded music to live and extended dimensions Little Richard could never maintain. Mellowing tendency matured rock, but arguably robbed its dynamism. Ah, come the eighties twelve inch single and the mega-mix, prompting the question; why didn’t Glenn Close choose the Jive Bunny to boil?

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Image by 
Jerry Tremaine Photography

Rare then it is, to hear a frenzied traditional rock n roll sound encompass ten minutes; welcome to Ruzz Evans’ world. Embodiment of Johnny B Goode, Ruzz can pick guitar like he’s ringing a bell, for an astounding period too. Due for release on 10th February, but available for pre-order from December 1st, I’ve been adoring this album recorded live at the Louisiana in Ruzz’s hometown of Bristol.

Forgive me for sustaining the rock n roll pigeonhole, for Ruzz has the quiff and is photographed in a teddy boy drape jacket. With backing from an incredible band including drummer Mike Hoddinott and upright bassist Joe Allen, the panache of Ruzz Guitar’s Blues Revue straddles rock and its namesake blues. Since 2016, when they added an awesome horn trio to the roster, we can add big band jazz to their style. That’s my thoughts while absorbed in this, of what Miles Davis did to jazz, or Pink Floyd to prog rock, Ruzz does to traditional rhythm and blues come rock n roll; the result is breath-taking.

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Bearing in mind his voice isn’t growling Tennessean, yet neither was Gene Vincent’s, rather quirky Bristolian, the vocals are sporadic, instruments reign. There’s an amusing conclusion to “Under Your Spell,” where 10 minutes of detonating electric blues is broken by a genuinely surprised thank you from Ruzz in said accent. This often amuses me, pondering, no, thank you, mate, I just clapped, you’ve just held me spellbound for ten minutes, the pleasure is all mine!

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In this instance I’m not even there, merely listening on my headphones, but still entranced. While they’re Bristol based Ruzz and his Guitar’s Blues Revue are no strangers here, and you can catch them at the Southgate (Nov 30th), White Swan Trowbridge (tonight 9th Nov) at the R&B bar in March at Devizes Sports Club. I’m quivering, ashamed after hearing this that I’ve not caught them live yet; an offence I will rectify, you would too if you hear this.

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Live at the Louisiana explodes from the off; the two, Hold It and Baby Please Come Home, for starters envelope all I’ve said, lively jump blues come big band rock n roll. Catchy, you’ll be lindy hopping before your first sip. Yet if Movin On groovily notches to allegro moderato, Back Home to Stay boogie-woogies again, and Sleepwalk is as dreamy as it suggests. The last two tunes, Sweet as Honey and the aforementioned Under You Spell embrace all we’ve so far said, making this release, I reckon, a treasure; fantastic!

With two self-released studios albums already under their big rockabilly buckles, and opening for Dr Feelgood, The BlockHeads, Kirk Fletcher and Bill Kirchen and Darrel Higham, they’re stamping an authority of quality worldwide. Ruzz has been honoured by being officially endorsed by Gretsch Guitars, and that’s what I perceive of him, the kind of obsessive guy who will turn any conversation to his labour of love, but when it’s this proficient, you cannot help but take heed. I’m off to find out what they can do in the studio, but with such a formula I think this live album captures the spirit perfectly.


© 2017-2019 Devizine (Darren Worrow)
Please seek permission from the Devizine site and any individual author, artist or photographer before using any content on this website. Unauthorised usage of any images or text is forbidden.


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Numb Tongues, Kings and Dukes

If you like your soul and blues with an authentic vintage feel, look no further than this new Bristol group, The King Dukes…. 

 

If Bristol wasn’t the birthplace of a “new cool” through electronic blues in the nineties, with the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead, it certainly led the way. I have to take a deep breath, fetch my pipe and slippers; this is a new era of anti-pop, an era of retrospective tendency, where traditional instruments override our technological desire of the pre-millennium. An era where technology is used only to market, allowing sounds to hark back to a time before drum loops, rap, and the DJ as king.

The king is dead, long live this exciting renovation, and long live The King Dukes. I’m honoured to give you the low-down, about their new journey. Formed in Bristol in April, a merger of a variety of local bands, including Crippled Black Phoenix, Screamin’ Miss Jackson and the John E. Vistic Experience, The King Dukes combine said talent and experience to create a unique, authentic sound, dipped in a heritage reuniting contemporary slices of British RnB with a dollop of Memphis soul.

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Set to unleash their debut album ‘Numb Tongues’ on October 25th, I’ve had a listen or ten, and can plainly see why it’s been picked up by UK label, Paratone, as well as French label QSounds Recording. Chatting to guitarist and frontman, Marc Griffiths, I asked him what’s in a name, predicting it might relate to Duke Ellington. While pondering he sent a YouTube link of a track not on the album. This song, titled King Cyrille, is Hammond organ boss reggae, akin to Harry J’s Allstars. It’ a tribute to West Bromwich Albion player Cyrille Regis. “The team used to come out to Liquidator,” he explained, “it’s in conjunction with West Brom, for their podcast, so we did something similar.” Momentarily contemplating the name possibly nods more to Duke Reid, Marc cleared it up, informing me they had a residency at the Old Duke in Bristol, “but that’s named after Duke Ellington.”

I can see why, aside this one-off tune, Numb Tongues is not only dependent on a classic RnB sound, there’s sprinkles of jazz, blues, yet formulated like Stax or dare I say it, Motown. It rolls out in a manner able to slip its tunes into a set of old-time soul unnoticed. Caril-Anne, for example, is up-tempo soul, beguiling through that recipe of yore, simplicity. Kid Gloves is another lively number, foot-stomping soul with a subtle nod to rockabilly akin to The Big Bopper. This one reminded me of Jack and Elwood Blues marching back and forth.

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But if this four-beat soul formula rings through tracks like I Gotta Go, and Gone, Gone, Gone is stepping, handclapping doo-wop reliant, Rub You The Right Way hooks into a blues riff taking me to Howlin’ Wolf, and True, True, True nods to bebop. This one has a sublime vocal by April Jackson, who holds a note like Etta James. Generally, the vocals are as polished as the aforementioned soul legends, yet grittily Caucasian, like Jim Morrison’s finest hour.

As a whole there’s much going on here, but whether there’s echoing vocals like the ballad, Dying Man, with a breezy jazz-come Otis Redding passion, or, like Marlo Cooper, it’s a blast of instrumental groove, comparable to Stax session musicians Booker T & the MG’s, it’s all stylised and flows superbly. In fact, it was mention of an Otis Redding post on their Facebook page which got Marc and I chatting; glad I did now.

With Marc and April, there’s drummer Dan Clibery, bassist Mandrake Fantastico, Henry Slim owning that Hammond Organ and Harmonica, and a fiery three-piece brass section with Joss Murray on Trumpet, Rebecca Sneddon on Tenor Sax and Sarah Loveday-Drury handling the Trombone.

Together they’re a force to be reckoned with. Throwing modern recording techniques aside and using methods for a fifties-sixties sounding album, such as recording a section with multiple instruments all at one time, and playing period-specific instruments, The King Dukes have captured perfectly this raw, vintage backline on ‘Numb Tongues.’

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We’ve seen a similar blueprint around our way with the brilliant Little Geneva, and if this is the trend then I’m in, hook, line and sinker. Although, naturally, those ol’ time classic soul songs never wane in appreciation, sometimes looking further afield to the rare grooves, like Northern Soul aficionados, often the tunes never make equal approval in production and quality. Numb Tongues meet this notion in middle; The King Dukes deliver fresh material with honours, and if heard in 1965 would surely be considered classics.

You can pre-save a copy of Numb Tongues here, there’s an album launch on December 7th at the LeftBank in Bristol; I’m keen to hear of anyone willing to bring these guys local for a gig. As you know Devizine doesn’t usually cover Bristol, too much going on and not enough hours in the day, but when it’s this good…….


© 2017-2019 Devizine (Darren Worrow)
Please seek permission from the Devizine site and any individual author, artist or photographer before using any content on this website. Unauthorised usage of any images or text is forbidden.


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