Review by Paul Sabin for MPM
One of the UK’s premier blues guitarists and founding member of Whitesnake, Bernie Marsden, has released a follow up to his `Kings’ album called `Chess’ which is the second in the series of inspiration albums.
This release puts the spotlight on the famed Chess label which released material by such greats as Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters who all helped inspire toward guitar greatness.
All the tracks contained within were recorded old style, with all the musicians together in one room over a period of days. The vibe and warmth created as a result really shines through here.
We start with `Just Your Fool’, originally penned by jazz and blues bandleader, Buddy Johnson in 1953, given a Chicago blues twist by Little Walter in 1960, and then covered by the likes of The Rolling Stones and Cyndi Lauper. Marsden add an element of rock to the proceedings with some sweet singing guitar parts but still includes wonderous wailing harmonica and a tight rhythm and blues backbeat.
Back In The USA’, a Chuck Berry favourite, whose driving freight train rhythm has inspired many a modern rock song is up next and once more Marsden does a fine job vocally and adds a little grit to the guitar part for good measure.
The brilliantly titled Little Milton track `Grits Ain’t Groceries’ hits the spotlight next. Marsden digs in with a powerful vocal delivery and the jangly guitar and Hammond organ drives this fast-paced song along. The staccato breakup of Muddy Waters `I’m Ready’ follows next and sees Marsden’s guitar playing oozing feel and emotion from every note.
Some sixteen-bar blues take centre stage next in the guise of Bo Diddley’s `You Can’t Judge A Book…’ This foot tapping, compulsive track demands attention as its simple lyrics and rollercoaster beat are totally infectious. Marsden provides some smooth slide guitar work on the Elmore James classic `I can’t Hold Out’ next.
Things slow down in the shape of the `I Won’t Be Hanging Around’ where a crisp clean guitar part punches out main flow of the song as Marsden’s reverbed vocal adds sugar on top.
The prize for the most original song title goes to `Fattening Frogs For Snakes’, written in 1957 by Sonny Boy Williamson. This funky blues number chugs its way along with a rhythm and beat that at its time was pretty out there but now can be recognised in so many songs in modern music culture.
The soulful wail of the harmonica dominates `That’s Alright’ initially before Marsden’s creamy Les Paul solo kicks in. This is a stripped back affair that really lets the song breathe and flow giving a great warmth to the track. Howlin’ Wolf’s `Whose Been Talking’ with moody guitar parts and dark Hammond fills make this a superb track and shows why Marsden is a master of the fretboard – understated playing tinged with emotion and feel.
We end the album with two Marsden penned instrumentals, `Lester’ and `Johnny’ which sees the bluesman flex his guitar muscles to the full. No reckless, lightspeed licks here, just a sweet singing Les Paul driven to breakup with each note fretted to perfection.
What is contained in this album not only showcases how tracks released in some cases over sixty years ago can still influence the current music scene but also chart Bernie Marsden’s own development as an artist. Elements of his playing in a stripped back form found here can also be directed linked to his various outings in Whitesnake and his other projects.
The tracks are well beautifully crafted and presented here and make this a treat for general blues fans and Marsden’s followers alike. We now await the next instalment of his inspiration series.
- Just Your Fool
- Back In The USA
- Grits Ain’t Groceries
- I’m Ready
- You Can’t Judge A Book
- I Can’t Hold Out
- Won’t Be Hanging Around
- Fattening Frogs For Snakes
- That’s Alright
- Who’s Been Talking
Guitar & Vocals: Bernie Marsden
Bass Guitar: John Gordon
Drums: Jim Russell
Keyboards: Bob Haddrell
Harmonica: Alan Glen