Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra - Hop The Wag (2000)




Released in 2000

If you like a bit of upbeat bassy, blues rock backed by a full on jazzy brass section with a large slice of boogie-woogie piano, you can't go far wrong with many of the albums by Jools Holland & his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra. The instrumental delivery is absolutely on the money, the sound quality is superb and they are just downright "good time" enjoyable albums. Various vocalists are used thankfully, because Jool's own voice is not great) and every track brings its own pleasure.

The opener, "Honeydripper" is a stomping "big band" with boogie-woogie overtones instrumental that gets the positive mood going right from the start. "Bloodsucker Blues" is a deep, funky blues with a great female vocal from Sam Brown and an irresistible hook. Great piano, bass and saxophone on it too. "T Bag Scuffle" is a lively, brass-driven stomper where, unfortunately, Holland's somewhat bleating voice weaknesses are show up. No matter though, because the music rocks so no-one really cares. Someone like Tom Jones would have made far more of this song. "Blue Guitar" is as bluesy as you would expect from the title, augmented by some powerful horns. Jools tries to make his voice bluesy on this one and he does a better job than on the previous track, to be fair, but again, imagine Chris Rea on vocals (it is not a Rea track, it just sounds like one, by the way). Some excellent trumpet soloing on here. He does a reasonable job on Bob Dylan's "It Takes A Lot To Laugh (It Takes A Train To Cry)" which is given a thumping brass, bass, organ and piano backing, to great effect. A saxophone solo too. "Lost Content" is a shuffling, rhythmic number with an extended instrumental intro with a vague summery, even Hawaiian ambience at times.

Then it is time for a couple of easy listening, jazz club standards - "The Way You Look Tonight" and "I'm In The Mood For Love". They are, though, changed remarkably. The former is given a lively, ska-style backing with some trademark, instantly recognisable trombone from ex-Specials Rico Rodriguez and a "Lovers Rock" style vocal from Sam Brown. The Caribbean groove continues on the latter with an even more kicking late fifties/early sixties-style ska backing. This is bringing the sound of 1950s Notting Hill on to this old 1930s jazzy tune. Very nostalgic. Jay Kay from Jamiroquai features on vocals here too.

"June Rose Lane" is a nice, brief piano interlude, and then there is the slightly bizarre "Loutette" featuring cockney spoken vocals from a bloke from a pub that Holland frequents, apparently, who sounds like an aged Ian Dury. A rocking piano on the track, but it is a tad strange, to be honest. "Watch It Baby" is another kick-ass powerful tune that poor old Jools just cannot match vocally, I'm afraid. The later Holland albums have guest vocalists on pretty much every track, so maybe he had eventually come to realise that a stronger voice will suit the songs better. "Don't Need No Job" is an addictive, fast-paced boogie-woogie. It is the sort of song that Tom Jones performed so well on his collaboration with Holland from 2004. The title track is an almost slowed-down swing instrumental number and, again, is mightily addictive. Just lifts the spirits. These musicians can play, for sure. Sam Brown is back for the obviously bluesy "The Blues Is A Feeling" and is most welcome.

"June Rose Lane" is reprised, with Holland and Brown on vocals and a sort of New Orleans funeral slow-paced rum and brass backing. "Panic Attack" is a stomping drum, brass, piano and organ-driven instrumental and "Remember Me" closes the album in unusually mournful fashion for what has been such an energetic romp. There is a great staccato piano solo part at the end from Jools.

As is often the case with relatively modern albums they go on just a bit too long. Ok, one is getting more music for one's pound, but in terms of listening, I prefer the short sharp hit of traditional 40-45 minute album. That no doubt come from listening to my first albums in the late sixties/early seventies.

B+ for the instrumentalists and overall ambience C- for Jool's voice (just a personal thing).

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