ASHWYN SMYTH, BROADCASTER AND CHAIR OF UK BLUES FEDERATION:
A wonderful bottleneck guitarist. I'm a great, great admirer of Martin's work; he's a stunning bottleneck guitarist. A great performer. Wonderful new album...well worth getting.
PHILL THE QUILL REVIEWS LATELY I'VE LET THINGS SLIDE
Martin McNeill is a name that my regular readers will know by now. His new album Lately I’ve Let Things Slide, is the second of two excellent new acoustic Blues albums that I’ve been sent for review recently – the other being King Rollo’s Easy Street (see my previous review #52). In fact, I was pleasantly surprised when Martin said that he had an album on CD to send me, because I didn’t even know he’d been in the studio! Back in January when I spoke to him at a Milton And Farrow gig (see my review #33), he said that he’d never really been too involved with recording – although he had released an earlier album about fifteen years ago (which I haven’t heard). Well I’m glad to say that his remarkable talents are on record once more with the release of this fine collection.
There are twelve tracks on the album – mostly covers; but every one reworked in Martin’s inimitable style. One song however, is penned by Martin himself. He sings all vocals; and plays all guitars and harmonica. The title is well-chosen, as bottleneck slide is what this opus is all about – Martin being a master of the art.
The title track starts us off. Its a sad, yet somehow amusing, Nick Lowe song that Martin has given a Blues-style make-over, with the bottleneck slide technique for which he is well known. It works well; and prefigures what’s to come.
The second track, the old Blues classic ‘You Gotta Move’, (an old classic made famous by Mississippi Fred McDowell), has coincidentally been included in both Martin’s and Rollo’s new albums. And as I wrote in the previous Blog entry, although many have covered the song, each has done so in their own distinctive way. Certainly, Martin’s version here, can also be added to the long list of fine covers of this old Blues number – but no; I won’t be drawn into which I prefer!
‘On The Road Again’ is of course the old Floyd Jones song made famous by Canned Heat back in ’67. Martin has reworked it; and its good. And I must say I prefer it to many other versions (including even the Canned Heat one – because I never really liked the vocals!).
Keb Mo (real name: Kevin Moore) is the writer behind the next song ‘Keep It Simple’. I must admit I’m not too familiar with his work; but thanks to Martin I’m now a little wiser! Lovely sound on the lead on this one. And another old classic, the RL Burnside song ‘Going Down South’ gets the MM treatment next!
‘Pickin’ The Blues’ is a chirpy little instrumental; again covered by many – including the greatest of all slide guitarists – the legendary Elmore James. But Martin does the old master proud on this one. This is followed by two more oft-covered old staples: ‘Rain Down Tears'; and ‘Waiting For My Baby’ (another McDowell number).
‘Mad With me’ is the one song in this collection that is penned by McNeill himself; and its the only chance we have of seeing how deeply all this Blues has entered his psyche! And to be honest, if i didn’t know it was a McNeill song, I’d assume it was an oldie that I didn’t know! So he has certainly showed himself to be a good song-writer on the strength of this one. He also demonstrates that he’s a decent Harp player too. It compliments the oldies nicely!
The Gary Nicholson / Guy Clark penned ‘Leap Of Faith'; and another Keb Mo song ‘I’m On Your Side’ are up next. Both covers are well arranged and satisfying to hear – nice Harmonica again on the latter. Then finally two old songs are cleverly fused together: the haunting instrumental ‘Paris Texas’ by Ry Cooder; and Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ (without the lyric).
Martin’s vocals are unusual. He manages to pull off the most unlikely thing of singing Blues songs with an English accent – but still making it sound right! I don’t know of anyone else who can do this. He has a relaxing voice and easy, clear vocal style too. Quite pleasant to listen to.
The album was recorded by Jon Webber at JWS Studios. The cover is of the card and plastic gate-fold type which I prefer; with photos by Tim Hubbard and The Dim Locator; plus a basic track listing with writer credits.
If you like a bit of acoustic Blues, then you’ll love both this album and King Rollo’s too; and I can highly recommend them both. I’m looking forward to seeing both of these quite remarkable Bluesmen again at gigs ASAP. Martin regularly hosts Monday Blues At Peggy Sue’s Music Bar in Leigh-On-Sea in Essex with a different special guest every week. For all his other gigs (including with his band Bottleneck Blues), see his website…….
* Phil the Quill's blogsite: https://philthequill.wordpress.com
WHAT THEY SAY...
"Thank you for a superb performance at the festival.
I hope that you enjoyed it as much as the audience, really great vibe and atmosphere..."
Rye International Jazz & Blues Festival director
"One of the country's best bottleneck blues players, ever. Incredible playing, absolutely fantastic..."
BBC Radio Kent
"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. It was nice to be reminded that it was Aretha Franklin who first introduced us to this Don Covay number..."
TONY BELL, GRAPEVINE MAGAZINE (on Martin's appearance supporting the James Hunter Six at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich).
"ONE OF THIS COUNTRY'S FINEST BOTTLENECK BLUES GUITARISTS"
BBC Suffolk presenter and music promoter
WILKO JOHNSON on Bottleneck Blues:
"They're a bloody good band. The whole of the band is really good. They're playing proper blues, which is quite a rare thing."
Wilko's comments come in an interview with Dave Collins for Level 4 magazine, when Wilko mentions watching the Bottlenecks at the Railway Hotel. Dave says "they never rehearse" (true), to which Wilko responds: "My philosophy exactly! With this kind of music if it gets too rigid you lose a lot. You've got to have a bit of floppiness in there -- let it happen as it happens."
"It was a great gig"
JILL WARD, Brasenose Arms, Cropredy
"Tonight at Peggy Sue's Music Bar, 1063 London Road, Leigh-on-Sea, was really special with Martin McNeill and Steve West Weston playing two blindingly good sets. This place is a little gem of a music venue - great atmosphere and really friendly people!!"
"Wonderful solo offering...very fine album."
Radio presenter HOWLING DICK
'Excellent solo acoustic set by Martin McNeill, who really held the audience. At times you could hear a pin drop. Check out Martin's new album." MIKE LIGHTFOOT
"Thank you for putting on such a great band together and the excellent performance. I'm so pleased that we got a good audience to do it justice."
"Martin McNeill and Ramon Goose amazed us at the Tuesday Night Music Club with a demonstration of the best in acoustic blues. Ramon and Martin were fabulous. I was quite honestly stunned by just how good."
"Great gig at the Railway on Sunday...just love the vibe"
"What a great time we had at Peggy Sue's"
REVIEW OF LATELY I'VE LET THINGS SLIDE,
BLUES IN THE SOUTH MAGAZINE
Martin McNeill hails from the east of England near Southend and is a stalwart of the blues scene in that area.
The punning title of the album betrays both its content and Martin's abiding love of all things ‘slide’. He even has named his band Bottleneck Blues.
This is a terrific album and an excellent showcase for Martin’s outstanding slide talent.
There are twelve tracks on the album. Only one of them is an original, but don’t let that put you off. The covers are reworked pieces with an original spin to each.
They range from Fred McDowell’s You Gotta Move, a tune which must have dozens if not hundreds of covers, to Keb Mo’s Keep It Simple. Martin manages to make both sound delightfully original.
The same is true of On The Road Again (Canned Heat) which here is nicely delivered without that falsetto delivery of the original.
Goin’ Down South is an RL Burnside original with a nice bit of reverb added to the guitar part.
Worth mentioning here the outstanding production of the CD. Recorded by Jon Webber at JWS Studios, the acoustic guitars are given a BIG sound with a lot of depth and the vocals are without exception nicely balanced.
The instrumental Pickin’ The Blues is an excellent workout, for me, because of its Hawaiian sound, coming as a reminder of the outstanding work of the late Bob Brozman. The only original is Mad With Me and is a delightful song with a kind of John Lee vibe,
This one is British blues at its best. Go for it! IAN McKENZIE
PHIL THE QUILL REVIEWS KATIE BRADLEY, CHRIS CORCORAN AND MARTIN McNEILL AT PEGGY SUE'S
My first trip to Monday Blues At Peggy Sue’s, this year, was a good’n to say the least. As usual, it was hosted by the inimitable Martin McNeill – this week with special guests: the incomparable vocalist Katie Bradley; and the impressive guitarist Chris Corcoran.
Now, Martin hosts his Blues night at Peggy Sue’s every Monday, and I must admit that I haven’t been there too often; but when I have, its always been very good indeed. But tonight’s show was, I thought, exceptional – even judged against the high standards I’ve seen set previously. It is a measure of Martin’s success at Peggy Sue’s that he is attracting ever bigger names from further afield. And long may that continue.
Katie and Chris, although both having their individual projects, collaborate often, and work very well together. Both are making quite a name for themselves in the UK Blues scene of late; especially Kate, who only last year won the British Blues Award in the Best Song-Writer category (for her work in collaboration with Dudley Ross); and was runner up in the Best Female Vocal category.
I arrived early and had a chat with the three performers and a few others of my acquaintance – including Russ Cottee of The Blues Spiders, (I’ll be writing about this band’s new album on my site shortly). All were friendly and approachable of course. Katie and I had a nice little chin-wag. I found her to be a genuinely amiable lady; who is open and modest. Hopefully I can get a proper interview with her some time later in the year (watch this space).
Martin and Chris began proceedings by opening with ‘It Hurts Me Too’ and followed with ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’. Then, with Katie taking up the mic and joining the boys, the trio launched into Jimmy Reed’s ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do?’ There then followed a remarkable set of (mostly) covers – Blues standards as well as lesser known numbers. They got through songs by such luminaries as Howlin’ Wolf; Willy Dixon; Memphis Minnie; Little Walter; Ray Charles; and WC Handy; plus others. A good selection of classics.
There was also; an excellent cover of Etta James’ classic ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ (which went down particularly well with the audience); ‘Hey Now, Aint That The Blues’ by the uniquely named Rubberlegs Williams; then one of Katie’s own songs ‘Be Careful With My Baby’; and a couple of instrumentals by the lads without Katie. But I particularly liked their renditions of Greeny’s ‘Need Your Love So Bad’; and Kansas Joe McCoy’s ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’ best of all.
At all times the performances by all three was classy and faultless. Martin’s slide work was superb as usual – which I have of course, documented before. To be honest, I wasn’t at all familiar with Chris before this gig. Katie said that as a guitarist myself I would like his work. She was right; I was very impressed by his consummate playing style, which seemed to accurately pick up on the vibe of the early Blues numbers that he covered. Add to this a good clear tone from his semi-acoustic; and some great lead guitar work too.
Katie herself sung beautifully – confidently and elegantly delivering Blues classics with ease for the small, but very appreciative audience. I never look for imperfections in anyone’s performance, but if I did, I’d have found none at all in Katie’s performance on the night! Both her voice and her vocal style are impressive. She obviously has a great knowledge of the great Blues singers of the past; but delivers in her own unique style too. She sings a little Jazz too, she told me; and I think that is discernible in her style as well. There is no wonder then, that she came second in the Female Vocal category at the prestigious British Blues Awards in 2015. She proved herself to be more than a bit useful on harp too – although she apologised for not bringing her best set of harps with her to the gig. We forgave her – she was fantastic anyway!
All in all it was an excellent little gig indeed – only marred by the fact that I had to leave early to go to work! Thanks to all the staff at Peggy Sue’s for fine hospitality as usual. PTMQ.
Quotes from a review of the CD Lately I've Let Things Slide in Blues in Britain magazine, Sept 2016:
"Outstanding fingerpicking and slide work ...shimmering, atmospheric slide ...classic blues sounds ...thoroughly enjoyable acoustic album."