Review by Cameron Arndt
Krissy Matthews releases this, his first live record, on April 14th 2017 and it’s a blast. Recorded at the brilliantly-named Freak Valley Festival in Siegen, Germany, it’s a high octane mix of hard rocking tracks, grounded in a clearly displayed knowledge – and love – of the blues. Backed by rattling bass and cracking drums, Matthews rips out visceral vocals and fierce guitar licks to a loudly appreciative audience over the course of 11 tracks – 8 on the album proper and 3 bonus numbers.
Over the past few years – or couple of decades really – there has been a proliferation of youngsters picking up a guitar and playing the blues. This perhaps stretches back to Johnny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd in the 90s (or at least that’s as far back as my memory goes!), but the rise of Joe Bonamassa, from his first gigs at 12 years old to his current blues superstar status, is surely now the template to follow… and many are doing just that, with guys like Lawrence Jones and Ben Pool, and girls like Joanne Shaw Taylor and Chantel McGregor all making a name for themselves. Talented as all of these (and more) are, there’s always the nagging question – usually raised by a ‘blues purist’ – over whether this is really blues? Or whether the answer to that question really matters? Much as Eric Clapton, Peter Green etc did in the 60s and 70s, the answer is probably to find a way to make the music your own, which today’s crop of rising stars have arguably done, with varying degrees of success.
Whether this is something that bothers them, or even something which inspires them, is for each of them to answer, but Krissy Matthews faces it head on in the first track from this new record ‘I wasn’t born in 1902, I didn’t pick the cotton from the fields… although my name isn’t blind boy, I got the feeling for the blues’ says the opening line. It’s a strong start, and a statement of intent – somewhat incredibly written when he was just 14 years old, and originally released on his second(!) album – the pointedly-named No Age Limit (2007). Now 24, with five albums under his belt, he has an incredibly wealth of experience, and shows it in the animated opening number. With a driving beat, slightly funky riff and a long, tricky and inventive guitar solo it’s a superb start to the album. His voice has, unsurprisingly, matured plenty since the studio recording and, though he doesn’t have the biggest range or most unique singing, he attacks each track with raw energy and passion, as well as just a touch of attitude – veering well away from any misguided allegations of bland impersonations of past masters.
The album, though unquestionably rooted in the blues, is very much a rock record and the intensity never dips as the three piece band fills the show with up-tempo tracks full of angular riffs and lots of variety in style. Tracks such as All Night Long have a great shuffling groove, courtesy of sticksman Sam Weston, while bass player Max Maxwell keeps everything pinned together with a big sound which fills out the space as Matthews launches into plenty more searing solos – check out the catchy Language By Injection, which features brief respite in the form of some lightly-played verses with expansive, clear singing, before a storming guitar showcase to cap the song.
Perhaps the best vocal performance on the record, and an intriguing choice, is the band’s re-working of Blind Willie McTell deep cut, Searching The Desert For The Blues. Here, Matthews sings unaccompanied for a few lines and really makes the track his own. A tumultuous breakdown with particularly inventive guitar work also helps!
The frontman shows even more depth in the excellent slow blues, The Soul Will Never Die. Written after meeting his hero, BB King, it’s a more subtle number, but still doesn’t lack for passion and energy and was, almost unbelievably, penned when he was just 13. It’s with these songs that Matthews really shows how much he cares for the music, and the luminaries who created it originally, even as he delivers a much more modern, rock-infused take on it.
Fairly short for a live album, the main show rounds off with a powerful take on Jimi Hendrix’s Freedom – a track Matthews discovered thanks to a Steve Lukather performance on German TV back in 2009.
The record isn’t quite finished there, with 3 bonus tracks recorded live at Gerd’s Juke Joint in Joldelund, Germany tacked on the end. These bring a few different flavours to the album, with the addition of a keyboard player and excursions into some slightly divergent genres. Hit The Rock has an interesting structure, switching gears from a weighty riff to a quick shuffle and back, while Roadside Blues is a hyper country number about Matthews’ love of touring. The final track, Bubbles And The Seven Phones is moving tribute to a friend he lost, with lashings of emotional guitar matching the feeling in the lyrics, all underpinned by the soft tones of the keyboard.
It’s a great, poignant ending to the album but, make no mistake, this is a swaggering, dynamic document of a pulsating live show. The sound of the CD is huge, particularly in the snap of the drums and the howl of the lead guitar. Krissy Matthews has taken his business seriously for a long time and, still at a very young age, he and his band have rounded up many of his best compositions, along with some meaningful covers, and created a definitive record of his career so far.
Krissy Matthews – Live At Freak Valley
Released Friday 14th April 2017
Available on CD, Download & Ltd Edition Vinyl
Order Live At Freak Valley from Amazon:
Krissy Matthews – March / April 2017 UK Tour
The Bullingdon, Oxford – Wednesday 29 March
The Chambers, Folkestone – Thursday 30 March
The Fiddler’s Elbow, London – Wednesday 19 April
Tring Blues Bar, Tring – Thursday 20 April
The Bear Club, Luton – Friday 21 April
The Fleur De Lys, Didcot – Saturday 22 April
Black Market, Mansfield – Sunday 23 April
Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff – Monday 24 April
The Arches, Coventry – Thursday 27 April
Live At Freak Valley: Tracklisting
1. Feeling For The Blues
2. I’ve Been Searching
3. All Night Long
4. Searching The Desert For The Blues
5. Language by Injection
6. The Soul Will Never Die
7. Bad Boy
9. Hit The Rock
10. Roadsick Blues
11. Bubbles And The Seven Phones