(4 / 5)
UK blues rock guitarist, singer and songwriter Danny Bryant had a dream. One which he fulfils with his brand new double live album “BIG”. That dream and career-long desire was to front a big band to play his own songs backed by more than just the normal drums and bass of his usual power trio format.
He got his wish earlier this year with a series of three concerts in Europe backed by a nine-piece band, including a four-piece horn section, re-working 11 of his own songs and two carefully selected covers by Willie Dixon (“Groaning The Blues”, which was originally recorded by Otis Rush) and Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”.
The album was recorded at shows in Germany and Holland in January 2017, the first time he had been out on the road with this band, and will be launched with a trio of shows in Belfast, Edinburgh and London this month (April).
The two discs mix the old with the new, modernised and re-shaped versions of his own work in a classic big band format, with a couple of blues classics thrown in for good measure. So after such a long time yearning to do this ambitious project, was he happy with how it tuned out? “I’m thrilled with the result,” says Danny.
He has been a pro’ guitarist and singer since he was 18, (he’s now 36) on the blues rock circuit across the UK and much further afield, picking up a loyal following and some famous friends and admirers. His main mentor from a young age was Walter Trout. When US legend Walter was within an inch of death and needed a life-saving liver transplant and the funds for the op’ and after-care, Danny and his wife Kirby set up a crowd funding campaign and raised a shed load of cash, which literally helped to save Walter’s life. While Walter was out of action, Danny fronted Walter’s band for a tour across the USA and Canada.
Danny has toured the world , making festival appearances in China, USA and many more countries, and he has released 11 records before this one, the most recent “Blood Money” in February last year (2016), debuting at number three in the official jazz and blues chart.
From the off, on the fiery opener “Temperature Rising”, the title cut of his 2014 album and his second on the Jazzhaus label, you can tell this was a labour of love for DB, and it would not have been as easy as it sounds for him to go from a power trio format to having nine players behind him.
The band gel together nicely on the 13 tracks, seven on disc one and six on the second CD; palpable chemistry indeed. They are: Alex Phillips on bass and backing vocals, ex The Hoax drummer Dave Raeburn, Stevie Watts on keyboards, Marc Raner on rhythm guitar, David Maddison on trumpet, Alex Maddison on trombone, Lauren Young on tenor sax and Mark Wilkinson on baritone sax. The album was produced by Richard Hammerton, his fourth with Danny.
They close with the superb Robert Johnson song “Stop Breaking Down”, where Danny’s back of the throat growl and vocal phrasing is the spit of his mentor Mr Trout, as it often is across the whole record. He introduces the band on this final number, where d the Hammond organ solo is as growly as the vocal, then a neat trumpet solo and some sizzling guitar licks. A very nice job on a song that is a good fit for him (check out the version by the UK band The Blue Bishops too.)
One of Danny’ own songs and often requested at his shows, “Prisoner of the Blues has been given extra flavours with this big band treatment, a standout of the set here. Danny channelling Joe Cocker for the gravel and gasoline vocal on the killer cut “Greenwood 31”, which would not have been out of place on a Cream album.
On some of his past albums and when I have seen him live, I have not always rated this guy’s vocals. A bit of an uneven listen for me. But here, his pipes are as strong as they could be, and he delivers a commanding vocal performance across all 13 cuts. He sounds relaxed and comfortable in his own skin, and the big band territory really suits him. His playing is innate and never borrowing others’ licks, and as an axe man, he is actually pretty under-stated here, but when he lets rip; you know all about it.
For some guitarists, being in front of a nine piece and all those horns might well be like being a kid in a sweet shop, and temptation enough to sling in countless OTT and over blown solos every few minutes, get too busy, cramp the arrangements and diminish the dynamics of having a large number of instruments to add colours. Hogging the spotlight and getting too rambunctious.
Not Danny. Not here. Not once. The light and shade is everything for this project, and that is down to DB and his producer. The boys done good, and where resources and logistics permit, aside from his three scheduled album launch gigs, he should take this on the road as much as he can. UK festival bookers, get on the ‘phone.
By Simon Redley
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’