Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tom Killner: “Live” (2017) CD Review

Lately I’ve been listening to more blues and blues rock than usual, and I think that’s because of the sorry state of the world. I need music to absorb my despair and anger, and turn it to something better. You know? The live album from Tom Killner, simply titled Live, is full of energetic, heavy blues rock, with Tom’s rough vocals sounding like he’s giving it his all, like by completely draining himself he’ll be able to drain the world of its blues. That might just be my reading, of course, but I appreciate the effort and the energy. The songs here are covers, including several 1960s rock tunes, such as “Crosstown Traffic,” “Whipping Post,” “The Weight” and “With A Little Help From My Friends.” This is Tom Killner’s second release, following 2015’s Hard Road. It’s interesting to me that for his second release, he decided to put out a live album of covers. It was recorded at The Old School House in Barnsley, England. The band is Tom Killer on vocals and lead guitar, Jack Allen on guitar and backing vocals, Oliver Tallent on bass, Jake Ashton on drums, and Wesley Brook on keys.

The album begins with an introduction in which someone urges the crowd to make a lot of noise: “Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, as you all know, this is going out live. So I want you to make as much noise – dance, scream, shout – as possible.” Tom Killner then kicks things off with “Like It This Way,” a seriously cool song from the early days of Fleetwood Mac, when they were still a great blues rock band. Sure, I like Rumours as much as the next fellow, but I still think the band’s best material is that early work before the girls joined. Tom Killner does a really great job with this one, and I have to imagine the audience was dancing to it. There is plenty of good blues guitar work over that fun, pounding, moving rhythm, and the tune features some damn good jamming. That’s followed by Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee,” here titled simply “King Bee,” and introduced as “a little Muddy Waters’ track.” Muddy Waters did indeed record this song, but did not do the original version. This rendition by Tom Killner has more of a heavy blues rock sound than most renditions I’ve heard – a full, loud, driving sound. “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” is a song by Cage The Elephant, a song that Tom Killner included on his previous album, Hard Road. Tom’s rendition is somewhat slower than the original. My favorite part is that quieter instrumental section approximately halfway through; it always grabs my attentions, and leads so well into the rest of the song.

“Have You Ever Loved A Woman” features a really nice intro on keys by Wesley Brook. This one also has peaks and valleys, and Tom Killner does some interesting things with his voice on this track, sometimes getting a bit playful. There is some strong work on guitar, and more wonderful stuff on keys, with a lead section halfway through. This is one of my favorite tracks. It was written by Billy Myles and first recorded by Freddie King. That’s followed by a blues version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” There is still a bit of funk to it, of course, but it keeps pounding ahead. “People keep on dying/While powers keep on lying/World keep on turning/’Cause it won’t be too long.” Then halfway through, Tom Killner breaks it down, engaging the audience, having the crowd echo him.

Tom Killer delivers an intriguing and engaging version of “Cocaine Blues.” I’m so used to Johnny Cash’s version of this song, that at first I didn’t even recognize it. This rendition is much slower, meaner. It took me a while with this rendition, but now it is really working for me. This song was also included on Hard Road. Tom Killner covers two Jimi Hendrix songs on this album, the first being “Crosstown Traffic.” His version is fairly faithful to the original. The second is “Foxy Lady,” with the band stretching out a bit, jamming on this one. There are also band introductions during this song, as well as a little tease toward the end of the jam. He also covers a couple of Allman Brothers Band songs, the first a later number written by Warren Haynes, “Soulshine” (from the band’s 1994 release Where It All Begins). This song is kind of beautiful, and Tom Killner delivers a powerful and moving version. That’s followed by a much earlier song from the Allman Brothers repertoire, “Whipping Post,” which was included on that band’s first studio album as well as the Live At Fillmore East album (where the song clocks in at twenty-three minutes). The version here is only five minutes or so, but is still pretty damn good.

“The Weight,” that great number by The Band, is one of my all-time favorite songs, and on this album Tom Killner does a nice job with it, not trying to pump up the energy or add too much of a blues rock vibe to it, but rather sticking to the spirit of the original, which I appreciate. This is a song that always resonates strongly, with an inherent beauty. Here some of the lyrics are changed slightly (or perhaps forgotten), and there is good work by Jack Allen on guitar. The album concludes with a cover of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends,” this version certainly owing a lot to that great Joe Cocker rendition.

CD Track List
  1. Like It This Way
  2. King Bee
  3. Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked
  4. Have You Ever Loved A Woman
  5. Higher Ground
  6. Cocaine Blues
  7. Crosstown Traffic
  8. Soulshine
  9. Whipping Post
  10. The Weight
  11. Foxy Lady
  12. With A Little Help From My Friends
Live was released on June 2, 2017 through Cleopatra Blues, a division of Cleopatra Records.

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