It’s always good to hear a British-made blues album that stands up against recordings made on the other side of the pond. That in itself is not unusual. After all, the Brits have been making great blues albums since the early 1960s when the UK helped resurrect the careers of several American greats who at that time weren’t exactly being embraced by their homeland. Nevertheless, when a modern day release matches what our American friends are putting out I still like to shout about it. I reckon Essex-based bluesman Martin McNeill would have been in short trousers during the first British blues boom but well over a half a century later he is helping keep the genre alive and in the process breathing new life into it. Since
retiring from the newspaper business a few years back Martin has concentrated on honing his craft as a musician, so much so that he is now regarded as one of this country’s very best bottleneck guitarists.
Martin and I share similar tastes in music which is why I have been drawn to his various takes on the blues. He is passionate about the genre and that comes across in his playing. His is no poor imitation of what came out of the Mississippi Delta in the first half of last century. Quite the reverse in fact. He stamps his own authority on the country blues of the past and some more recent closer-to-the-mainstream material from the likes of Don Covay, Fleetwood Mac, Nick Lowe and Ry Cooder. Cat Squirrel is the title of Martin’s latest album. It’s his third and was recorded at Rooks Yard in Southminster, a new studio run by Automatic Slim’s Tim Aves and his good buddy Pete Crisp. I must congratulate Tim and Pete on a very classy production. Martin’s beautiful guitar work is very much to the fore of course but I must also flag out some fine harmonica work and, of course, his warm vocal style. There are no fillers on this 9 track release. If I had
to pick a favourite it would have to be a coin toss between I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine and Chain Of Fools. Martin is very much in solo mode on this album but is often out and about with various musicians in different formats. Martin’s versatility has helped him become one of this region’s busiest performers.
Check out www.martinmcneill.co.uk to find out when he’s next playing near you. Do go and see him and don’t leave without buying a copy of Cat Squirrel – you’d be nuts not to! While I’m on the subject of Rooks Yard I’d also recommend another recent release recorded there. Costa Rican
bluesman Jose Ramirez laid down three of his songs there when he toured Britain earlier this year. He was backed by bassist Rob ‘Tank’ Barry, drummer Paul Lester and harmonica man Giles King so it’s fair to
say he was in very safe hands. He’s called the EP The UK Sessions and it’s a release he should be very proud of. T im and Pete spent 18 months building their studio and it’s already producing quality recordings on a regular basis. Suffolk group Goofa Dust, Essex outfit Richard Townend the Mighty Bosscats, American guitarist Mark Riley and Trev Turley’s Mojo Preachers are among recent clients while Tim tells me Automatic Slim will also be recording there in the very near future. Go to www.rooksyard.co.uk to discover more about this welcome addition to East Anglia’s recording scene.