STEVE PHILLIPS AND THE ROUGH DIAMONDS
NORTH COUNTRY CLUES
North Country Blues, Don't Let The Devil Ride, House Of The Rising Sun, Bad Water Rising, You're A Heartbreaker, Too Close, All Mixed Up, That Lucky Old Sun, Way In The Midnight, Born In Time, Lord Have Mercy, Midnight Hour Blues, That's All Right Mama, Miss You Blues, Till Kingdom Come
Not the most prolific recording artist around but when he does come up with a new album, it does tends to be worthy of attention. And this album may well be his best solo project yet.
A former member of the Notting Hillbillies alongside long-term friends and musical collaborators Mark Knopfler and Brendan Croker, Steve is very much a guitarist's guitarist and across each of these 15 numbers there is plenty of evidence as to why. But Steve is never flash and the high quality of musicianship on show is always used in the service of the song, never the other way around.
Perhaps the thing that stands out so prominently on this album is the quality of the material, mixing strong originals, with well-chosen standards and cover versions. These are all knitted together in an almost wilfully eclectic manner, where, for example, the delta blues stylings of Bad Water Rising is followed by a sensationally light western-swing version of You're A Heartbreaker before returning to the introspective gospel of Alex Bradford's Too Close. Dizzyingly ambitious, I guess, but it works.
Not that it stops there, the fun-time rockabilly version of All Mixed Up, is soon followed by deep and dark meaning-of-life thoughts firstly on That Lucky Old Sun and then with Skip James-like delta blues finger-picking on Way In The Midnight.
Other favourites include a cracking version of Bob Dylan's Born In Time where Steve sings in a style that owes more than a nod to his old Dire Straits buddy. Knopfler is again invoked towards the album's end by a beautiful reading the traditional Miss You Blues, before we finally bow out with a stunning slide guitar-led howl of protest that will be loved by those of you who, like us, went ape over the Charlie Parr album Barnswallow earlier this year.
And we can't leave without commenting upon the excellent contribution of The Rough Diamonds, Chris Parkinson (accordion, guitar and backing vocals), Burt Sawdon (double bass and vocals) and Jack Gibson (percussion and backing vocals). It sounds as though they and Steve had a ball making this album and here we have the chance to enjoy it with them.
Review Date: August 2013