'Red Hot at Peppers' - Blues in Britain magazine
What better to open the session than a blues milestone, planted in the mid '50s by Howling Wolf, 'Smokestack Lightnin'', with bass line and rhythm laid by Rick as Mark takes care of harp and his usual 'easy' approach to the vocals. Just enough grit in a smoked shell. A bit of Americana is slipped in, courtesy of Steve Earl's 'Hardcore Troubadour' before the blues core is unlocked with 'Key to the Highway', fingerpicking its way across country.
This delightful 'pick 'n mix' is a long way from being purist blues. One of my favourite quirky songs slips in, Tom Waits' 'Chocolate Jesus', arguably laid plain to the blues world by Beth Hart, but here performed with dark, burnt coffee grounds, overtones, a good 85% blend if not quite making the raw edged uncut bean level. Twin guitars bring out the distinctive sounds of 'Boogie Chillun', Rick remains silent letting his fingers do the talking, Mark infills with additional promo material for peppers, the pulsating boogie continues. Six minutes of the Hooker groove lead us into the high ground of hillbilly territory and 'Tom Ames Prayer' which gallops along quite nicely with plent of fast finger work.
A hefty but tightly bound parcel of 'The Weight' is beautifully packaged and put aside for Chuck Berry, who presented us with his 'Thirteen Question Method'. Not sure how that worked out for Chuck but Rick on slide makes fine work of decorating the song as Mark called the questions.
The fast moving ragtime of 'Skinnybone' encourages getting up to hit the dance floor, Mark dropping the lyrics to breath into his harp before the song pushes on over the labyrinth of Rick's finger work.
The whole of this album, on Rawtone Records, is nicely recorded. The sound is clean but still contains elements of the audience presence. As you would expect, fine musicianship is here in abundance with Rick's guitar work throughout, layered over with Mark's harp, guitar and vocals. Mark has that distinctive, crunchy peanut butter and marmite voice. Don't fret, it's a great pairing in this little gem. Maybe add some red hot peppers, it's the next best thing to a live performance.
Graham Munn, Blues in Britain magazine.