25 min read

Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

Sadly, I missed the band when they played Nottingham last year. When I heard they were playing the Rescue Rooms this year I was determined to get and see them this time around.

Hailing from California the heart of Southern Blues (sic), this 5 piece are making big waves amongst the scene.

Having already toured the UK and Europe with previous album releases the band are here on a 12date tour with Laura Evans on the undercard. The tour follows on from the brief 5 date tour last September. With a new album, ‘Shine A Light on Me Brother’, released in September 2021, and singles, ‘Shine A Light on Me’ and ‘Everyday’ which graced the recent Planet Rock playlist.

The band have recently signed to Joe Bonamassa’s record label, KTBA records where they released the brand new single, ‘Waiting for Your Man’. With a slightly rockier sound full of renewed energy it’s a band high on my must-see list.

Getting there in plenty of time, I got me a coke and went through into the hall. Nice to see the friendly faces on the door again, I’ve not shot here for what seems like a few months now. As is usual for me of late, there is no guest list at the door, but being a known face, the guys let me in. I said I’ll pop back in a bit to check if the list has come down and to pick up my ‘pass’ for the growing collection. I went back a couple of times during the night, and even checked on the way out. No list no pass, bummer!

Ok so on with the show as they say. Laura Evans is up first, and shamefully I don’t know too much about this diminutive lovely. Laura quickly addressed that by saying she’s from the Welsh Valley’s and apart from her Country Blues singing she has appeared in numerous theatre, television and radio productions.

With Single releases that include ‘More of Me’ and ‘What’s Left of Me’ featuring on the American CMT network a few years ago to 2020’s ‘Running Back to You’ which topped the iTunes Blues chart. This being followed by ‘Drag Me Back’ which reached No2 in the UK Blues chart as well as featuring of Planet Rocks playlist.

Joe Coombs, Laura’s guitarist, wanders on stage a few minutes before she does. Settling on his ‘perch’ he sorts out his guitar, with a big moustachioed smile beams from his face as Laura enters. The crowd clap and cheer appreciatively as she approaches the microphone. Her soft voice melting the hearts of many as she stands there greeting the Rescue Rooms crowd, which for the undercard is good and full. Well done Nottingham!

Starting off with ‘Solo’, Joe Coombs strums away as Laura stands and delivers a vocal full of clarity and emotion. The confident delivery belies her seemingly almost timid nature. Smiling as she points around the room, arms outstretched as if giving everyone a big hug such is the warmth in her tone. Hitting the high notes there’s no faltering in her effortless delivery of this opening bluesy rock number. She quickly follows this with ‘Fire with Fire’ another track from her debut album. ‘State of Mind’ which is due out on July 1st this year, so another for the collection.

Taking a breather between songs she tells us of her ‘fondness’ of a particular Country great, that being the formidable Chris Stapleton of Tennessee Whisky fame. Laura introduces the next song as her take on his classic ‘Arkansas’.

A quick guitar change by Joe, and a jacket removal sees Laura standing a bit more relaxed as she kicks into this fun, slightly rockier number about having a good time in Arkansas. With its more upbeat delivery the crowd are enjoying themselves as Laura, arms outstretched teases the crowd, taking the microphone from its stand she’s now a lot more animated in her delivery, her face shows the emotion she puts into each song.

And a grand job she did to, if she hadn’t of credited CS you wouldn’t have known it wasn’t hers. The slower ‘Fool’ follows that dynamic piece, this a lot slower and emotive. Coombs gentle strums downstrokes on the acoustic, watching Laura from beneath a mop of long curly hair, yip I’m jealous. The song is greeted with a big round of applause and cheers from the swelling crowd.

‘Gone’ has another change in tempo as this bluesy song strikes out. Eyes closed, Laura is smiling to the fans, she reminds us the she is here as warm up for Robert Jon and the boys. Her blonde locks shimmer under the lights as she moves around the cramped stage, grapping the mic stand for support she closes her eyes, her hand above her head as she brings the song home.

The title track to the new album is up next. ‘State of Mind’ with its faster bouncy delivery, animated Coombs on acoustic, is at times looking like Ron Jeremy, high praise indeed, as he riffs out showing that he’s got the chops as he face pulls his way through the tune. Laura smiles as she delivers this number in an effortless manner. Her smile is infectious as she brings the song to an end.

Laura’s latest single is the ideal tune to bring her set to an end. This has a meatier feel to it. Arms outstretched she sings about owning it and being alright, a song of empowerment. Having watched the video for the tune it certainly rocks. The acoustic version is also going down a storm. It would appear there are fans in the crowd as the singing ‘I’m Alright’ requested by Laura is happening. Yes, down the front the beards and cowboy hats are singing along. A job well done.

A short set full of self-penned, semi-autobiographical tunes taking from her life and surroundings, all wrapped up in a blanket of clarity and warmth and delivered with skill and emotion and all from the heart. A great set and a pleasant change to hear a voice so clean and pure. I think I’m a new fan.

After the usual stage clean-up, we get ready for Robert Jon & The Wreck. Tonight, has been a relatively early doors. 20:30 comes about and the lights take on a darker hue, here we go, another night of chasing shadows. Bob Fridzema comes onto the stage and sits behind the keys, this ex-King King, and Sari Schorr keyboard player is standing in for regular Steve Maggiora who is away currently touring with TOTO. On good authority we’re told he’ll be back playing with the band from the 13th. As the rest of the band arrive on the stage.

Kicking off with ‘She’s a Fighter’, the band are straight on it, powering through this gritty opener, Robert Jon’s vocal is full of power, grit and determination, As, with eyes closed he leans back from the microphone during his delivery.

The thunderous bass is being delivered by sunglass wearing Warren Murrell as he smiles, dancing around his part of the stage, he shares licks with Robert Jon. Going into ‘Do You Remember’ from Last Light on The Highway with its intro which immediately conjures up memories of the Allman Brothers with the twin guitar harmony. Robert Jon’s voice is more delicate for this one as he sings about being free. The guitar of Henry James takes over on stage right, as eyes closed, he moves to the front of the stage and delivers a scorching outro to the song. The crowd like that.

While re-tuning for the next one Robert Jon remarks that he’s just noticed that the Rescue Rooms has a balcony, he also says it’s good to see so many familiar faces, which having played in Nottingham only once before is a remarkable achievement, a fact he jokingly comments on.

‘Hey Hey Mama’ follows from 2016’s Good Life Pie. This is a quirky sounding groove full of quacking guitar and Hammond organ. Drummer Andrew Espantman has a shuffle type beat going on punctuated with plenty of ‘bell’ crashes. A wah wah driven solo from James gives a flavour of what this man can play, he’s certainly delivering the chops, his stunning hair making him, at times, look like the late great Phil Lynott.

‘Oh Miss Carolina’ follows on, a slower start from this great tune, it still has the crunchy guitar mixed in with the piano and driving drum beat. And as Robert Jon delivers the gravel laden vocal you know James is winding himself up ready to let loose a delicate distorted solo, which he duly does. His tone is sublime as he soars and sweeps around the vocal and finishes with the Hammond organ sound swirling around the stage.

A visit to Shine a Light for ‘Desert Sun’ is next. A smoothly delivered song, sees the band tight as they follow the vocal as Robert Jon stands bathed in blue light, his eyes closed as he sings from the heart, the sweat slowly running from under his beaten hat. James on lamented slide guitar tastefully adds colour and depth to this fine song.

The poppin’ guitar riff of ‘Everyday’ follows, Fridzema, on keys, is rattling out a tasty melody on the ivories as Robert Jon, bouncy accompanies on vocals. The up-tempo song has James’s afro bouncing as he cuts some moves while delivering a fat sounding solo, his vibrato is ridiculous. The crowd are singing along to this party song as the it gets under your skin and makes you want to move. A super song that’s got the crowd dad dancing.

‘Whiskey’ follows, again this follows on from where ‘Everyday’ left off, and segues us into the latest single ‘ Waiting for Your Man’. This delivers the high energy that the band were looking for. Dirty guitar and driving bass line pump this song against you very soul. The combined guitars of Henry James and Robert Jon combine to give the tune plenty of meat as the Hammond swirls and soars before, James, lets loose with another stunning solo on the Firebird, the drums thudding along in the background as he does so. This frenetic song continues to build before finishing in a crescendo of guitars and drums.

‘Don’t Let Me Go’ is full of dirty distorted guitars. This being another from Last Light on The Highway. Henry James smashes out the licks effortlessly as the rest of the band provide the backing vocals, His fingers dance over the neck of his guitar, bottle neck on his little finger. Robert Jon holds on to a sung note as we get James sliding up and down the guitar neck, leaving us with a Hammond whirl and bass guitar riffing out before the lyric starts up once again, eventually finishing with Robert Jon holding onto the last word as the song dies out.

2018’s Robert Jon & The Wreck furnishes us with this next track, ‘Old Friend’. With its staccato stabs of music as Microphone holding Jon sings about his old girlfriend. This Southern song has James again on slide, at times sounding a bit Ry Cooderish as the song moves on. It’s a bouncy catchy number that’s wound up with the rescue rooms singing along, a crowd favourite for sure.

The new albums, title track is the penultimate track of the night ‘Shine A Light on Me Brother’ chimes out with it’s Gospel vibe. It’s got the crowd bouncing straight away as Bearded Robert Jon grooves at the microphone while delivering this catchy lyric. James cuts in with a stunning solo, again full of bottle neck slide, as Fridzema’s keys tinkle about in the background. Murrell’s smiling as he dad dances while delivering a solid bass. With a crescendo the song is done.

The night is finished off with ‘Cold Night’ from 2015’s Glory Bound. The intro builds slowly, while each instrument is play’s its part. Again, we get the Allman brothers guitar duet harmony as a sweaty Robert Jon takes to the microphone.

A pulsing drum beat provides the backbone to this early song. Tasty little guitar licks run about in the background, James has done a stunning job, never over playing. He and Robert Jon again play an effortless harmony which is the launch pad to James soaring with a sublime solo. The band are watching what’s shaping up as James is almost doubled over delivering screaming lick after screaming lick. This extended song has the band Jamming along and having a great time .

A steady kick drum powers along as the key’s play over the top as they challenge each other. A snare roll, increasing in speed brings the song into a climactic, blues driven, rock and roll finish. If the roof where still in place it certainly isn’t now as this 10minute + song has put it into orbit as more ‘Jessica’ sounding guitars bring the night to its inevitable close.

BOOM! What a night. Well worth the wait as it has given me the long Southern Blues ‘fill’ that I’d been wanting. The power of Robert Jon’s voice and the combined musicality of the band have delivered a stunning night. The happy crowd leaving the Rescue Rooms seem to agree with me.

If you’ve not had a chance to catch Laura or Robert Jon on this tour, then make it so. It sure beats sitting in at home.

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