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Album Review : Bex Marshall – Fortuna

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Review by Taf Rock for MPM

Bex Marshall – a name from my past. It was Saturday 24th July 2010 – I found myself inside a marquee on a rugby pitch in the small Cumbrian seaside town of Maryport for what was at the time my favourite annual blues festival Maryport Blues Festival. Booker T headlined that night.

And they put in an exemplary performance at the end of a long day of blues. 

Earlier in the day my attention had been drawn to a new artist to me Bex Marshall. Coming to the stage armed with an Ozark 3515 resonator guitar accompanied by an upright bassist, keyboards and drums I thought this may get interesting and so it was proven to be as Bex and her band produced a mixture of upbeat country/delta style blues, her smoky/gritty vocal soon got me heading for the front of the stage where I stayed for the full set before venturing to the merch stand and buying a copy of her then current and second album Kitchen Table which had been released a couple of years previous in 2008.

It became an album I played to death in the ensuing months and grew to love the canny mix of heartbreak and humour displayed on standout tracks such as Kitchen TableRed LightBad Bad Girl and Too Much Rock & Roll. I had high hopes for Bex and relished the release of future albums. It was two whole years before the follow up 2012’s House Of Mercy was released. And then …. nothing. Bex from this reviewer’s perspective seemed to vanish and totally dropped off my musical horizon. 

Until now. Bex has kept us waiting a whole twelve years for the release of Fortuna her fourth album which was recorded at London’s Snakepit Studios and co-produced by Bex and Nick Hunt (Dave Stewart, Boy George, Placebo).

Amongst the musicians joining Bex on this latest release are Richie Stevens (drums), Toby Baker (keys), B.J.Cole (dobro), Aurora Manola (bass). Bex great friend Robert Eugene Daniels (aka Red Bass) features on five of Fortuna’s ten tracks. He sadly passed away during lockdown but not before Bex was able to capture some of his unique bass rhythms.

Bex commences proceedings Preaching to the Choir. Simultaneously released as a single March 1st alongside the full album Shola Adegorove features on gospel style backing vocals in a call and answer exchange with Bex. The soulful guitar of Bex is evident right from the off atop a fast paced rhythm and the keys of Toby Baker.

Originally appearing on Buddy and Julie Miller’s 2001 debut album as a duo Dirty Water provides the vehicle for Bex to demonstrate her Tina Turner influences with an incredible vocal performance the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll would be proud of herself. The original song is performed as a duet but Bex powerful and hypnotic vocals transform the song serving up a golden chalice of soul whilst maintaining the structure of the original recording.

Toby Baker’s keys briefly providing the sole accompaniment before Bex guitar signals the arrival of the band. ‘You might as well put out the fire with gasoline’ interjects Bex – there’s no extinguishing these flames as Bex turns up the heat with her towering vocals. With a cry of ‘I ain’t drinking no more’ she brings back memories of the Acid Queen at her best – the guitar crying in return leading the band in an energetic funked up refrain. ‘Drink the dirty water to the dregs’ as the song fades to its ultimate conclusion all too soon.

The blues rocker I Can’t Look You In The Eye is a co-write with Clarksdale’s Scott Coopwood who also provides an exceptional guitar solo, but not before Bex displays her talents on the guitar with a flawless exhibition of slide guitar for the duration of this song. No eye contact is necessary to appreciate the skill and talent on show here.

The lead single 5AM is based around a tale of a drunken late night fight with a lover. A bluesy ballad that serves up a sound you would swear had come straight out of the undiscovered books of some soulful blues legend of the past. However this self composed track brings a touch of polish to that sound, Bex and her band producing a tune that is full of freshness and bang up to date.

The guitar sound is as soft and smooth as the Jack Daniels that is sipped copiously in the accompanying video for the track. A gentle guitar intro, you imagine it is indeed 5am as the accompanying keyboards courtesy of Toby Baker enter the fray. Bex smoky vocals full of soulful raw emotion atop a superb bass sound providing the foundation for a track that’s as blues as it comes. ‘The dawn is breaking through … my heart is breaking blue.’ There’s no doubting the musical direction of this track. Bex guitar sound simply beautiful, the vocal filled with sorrow, blues at its finest. 

The tracks lengthy instrumental break displays the full range of Bex skill on the guitar. Uplifting before the despair of the vocal returns for another verse. ‘I made it through the night … I don’t wanna win this fight… Smash my glass down… my bottle hits the ground’. 

It’s a Jungle out there. Bex and the band take that well worn saying and humorously apply it to life’s experiences. Bar-room honky-tonk piano combined with sensational slide guitar licks set to a rockabilly beat against the perilous backdrop of a lawless society. ‘It’s feeding time … dogs on the prowl … lovebirds are dating… chimpanzees are hugging … creepies start to crawl … the alligators waiting for Tarzan to fall’ and making a guest appearance exclusively on this track ‘the gorilla’s on the fiddle’. A light hearted track that cannot fail to raise a smile.

Fed up of ‘listening to you babble away’ Bex ‘sticks her steak knife in’ and dines alone at a Table For One. The bass of Robert Eugene Daniels providing the groove throughout whilst Toby Baker keyboards also feature prominently before we ‘order a black cab’ to take us home.

Title track Fortuna is a turbo charged energy rich instrumental. Imagine watching a gig where the singer leaves the stage to take a breather leaving the band to exhibit their talents, each instrument enjoying a share of the spotlight in turn. Richie Stevens demonstrates his prowess at the back on drums with a fast paced driving beat, ‘Red Bass’ accompanying him on bass. Of course the singer cannot leave the stage as Bex has to provide the guitar. Prominent throughout, the resonator is her weapon of choice on this occasion. All served up with a side dish of keys.

Bex isn’tabout to ‘Lay Down ‘n’ Die’ as she ‘walks without shoes … down the highway to hell’ and displays a rockier edge to her music. A Texan blues style groove throughout Bex interjects a touch of those Tina Turner style vocals. ‘Everybody wants to go to heaven … but nobody wants to die’. So Bex ‘holds onto her dignity’, picks up her guitar and lets rip.

Scrapyard Dog – a slow plodding riff accompanied by keys forms the backbone of this track. ‘Tough as old boots … always got your head in the noose’. Portraying an angry, argumentative, pugnacious, scar-faced ‘cat of nine lives’. Thankfully the music supplied by Bex and her band on this tune is far more appealing and welcoming than the individual portrayed.

Featuring B.J. Cole on dobro in a tribute to departed bass player Robert Eugene Daniels When It’s Gone ends our album with a poignant warning. ‘Keep it on track … it never comes back’. Never take for granted what you have. Harmonic backing vocals help drive home the message. 

Bex certainly made us wait for this just her fourth album. But it’s well worth the twelve year wait. The soul drenched vocals depicting the sometimes difficult situations we find ourselves in throughout life in an upbeat, sometimes humorous manner adding light to often dark and heavy subjects. Funky, rootsy, bluesy even rocky at times this album has something for everyone. The largely self-penned tracks are immaculately delivered by Bex and her gifted band in an exceptional display of talent, virtuosity and vibrancy. 

Bex Marshall’s new album Fortuna is released by Dixiefrog Records on March 1st.

The album is available from www.bexmarshall.com and https://dixiefrog.com

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