BLUES IN BRITAIN MAGAZINE, DEC 2019
Martin McNeill's Bottleneck Blues
Railway Hotel, Southend
Blues slide guitar too often conjures up open-tuned verSions of Shake Your Moneymaker delivered full-tilt in the style of Elmore James or Hound Dog Taylor. Martin McNeill's slide style is far sweeter; close your eyes and you could be listening to a lap steel player.
This is the first occasion I had seen Martin since the recent release of his acclaimed album Cat Squirrel, which made a considerable showing on the IBBA chart. Alongside him were his trusty rhythm section of JJ Zarbo on upright bass and backing vocals pus the Cadillac Kings' lomg-time drummer Roy Webber and guest artist Steve West Weston on harp and vocals.
An extended intro led into Jimmy Reed's You Don't Have To Go, which set the scene for the rest of the afternoon's gig. Steve Weston's fat chromatic harp tones underpinned a rich version of Ray Charles's Unchain My Heart (from the new album), then into a rolling take of Rock Me Baby where McNeill's slide lines interplayed nicely with Weston's harp.
Again, the two soloists swapped lines and harmonised on the instrumental Hucklebuck. A change of tempo came with Rain Down Tears before clicking back for Clothes In A Matchbox. The finale to the first set, Summertime, showcased a rich chromatic harp solo that rightly attracted rich applause.
The second set got under way with the familiar strains of Dust My Broom but everything was kept nicely in check in place of the frequent "boogie bar" treatment. A swinging take on Prof Longhair's She Walks Right In was followed by Sonny Boy Williamson's Early In The Morning, then a faithful performance of Rick Estrin's My Next Ex-Wife.
Steve Weston took lead vocals and roused the audience into a touch of community singing on Pink Champagne before an extended Bright Lights Big City saw some solo exchanges between McNeill's slide and Weston's harp.
The session closed with a well-received version of Rolling And Tumblling delivered in the style of Watch Your Step.
McNeill's gigs are never less than well-polished and his vocals are clear, articulate and urbane, very English without any attempt to sound American.
Roy Webber and JJ Zarbo are always well in-the-pocket, allowing the soloists a firm foundation to display their craft. A great gig for a lazy Sunday afternoon with abeer or three!
A slide guitarist par excellence, Martin was the perfect man to put us in the right mood. He finished an all-too-brief set with an excellent rendition of Chain of Fools...
Raising the bar
We try to set the bar high for our gigs, but tonight we raised it even higher with the fantastic duo that was Martin McNeill and Steve West Weston. Great evening with a sell-out crowd...
EMSWORTH MUSIC CLUB