Warrington three piece strike old notes in new ways, with their brand of blues from the muddy waters of the Mersey delta.
The blues is a genre which has seen it all, recycled it, copied it, and then repeated the same cycle all over again. It’s difficult to inject any originality into this brand of music; but with their blend of gritty riffs, modern rock songs, and a small dose of northern Englishness, the debut album from The Black Circles offers an entertaining listen steeped in influences from the Mississippi to the Mersey.
Lazy reviewers (you decide) will compare them with The Black Keys. “The” and “Black” in the name, a Beatles cover on their first album, rough guitars, and gruff vocals; but to make that comparison would miss the point. Modern blues doesn’t start or end with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, and the popular duo from Ohio borrowed as much from Howlin’ Wolf and distorted blues guitarist Willie Nelson, as The Black Circles do.
Album opener and title track ‘Hold On’, greets the listener with a big muddy riff and sets the tone for the rest of the record. The song chugs along for two powerful minutes before the chorus makes its one and only appearance, followed by one of those rare occurrences in modern rock music: a welcome guitar solo.
This trend continues on the next track, ‘Leave it all Behind’, which goes one step further by treating the listener to a lesser spotted bass solo. The extra rhythm elements of The Black Circles’ sound are what separates them from the trendy blues rock duos of our time, and makes them as much about the rock as they are about the blues. This track also hints at their Stevie Ray Vaughan influences, and in parts recalls the Texan’s version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
The added umph is evident throughout the album, but on ‘Same Old Road’ they show the subtler side of their rhythm in the breakdown midway through the song, which goes all U.S. alt rock on us for a few seconds, before kicking back in.
Guitarist Jesse Davey, of cult blues legends The Hoax, joins the band on ‘One Big Lie’ to add another layer of guitar, and you’d imagine that if singles were released from this album, this would be one of them. The following track ‘Don’t Talk Sh*T’ bounces along rather than rocks thanks to the bass riff which drives the song, leaving the guitar to fill in the gaps.
‘Don’t Go Troublin’ (my Woman)’ is pure blues in terms of song title, but again benefits from some good work between bass and drums which are heard at their most bare in the introduction. The latter part of the track shows off a hard rock edge, with some half-time drums and what feels like even more distortion!
The unexpected ‘Bloom’ is an altogether more relaxed affair. Ambling along for just over seven minutes, producing an effort which sounds like the Beta Band might have if they’d attempted this blues lark. The melodic outro will keep you listening for the duration.
A re-styling of The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ further showcases The Black Circles’ sound, and their Mersey roots, but it’s on their original compositions that they come into their own. Going further downriver, there are echoes of the Stone Roses circa Second Coming in some of the album’s guitar work, even if this isn’t as obvious as the other influences.
The album ends with the aggressive swagger of ‘Driving Blind’, and the more mellow ‘Pictures’. The latter comes across like a lazy relaxed version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”, thanks mainly to the picking and effects used on the guitar.
It’s another name to add to the varying list of influences you might hear hints of on this record, and whether the ones listed here appear by accident or design, they all come together to make the blues interesting again.
‘Hold On’ is available now, on iTunes and Spotify.
For Fans of: The Black Keys,
Download: Hold On, One Big Lie
The Black Circles (Facebook Page)
(The thoughts of any reviewer is the sole opinion of themselves and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of [WAM])