REVIEWS

Sweet Soul Slide:

a CD to be savoured

BLUES IN BRITAIN, November 2021

Those familiar with Martin McNeill will know that his style of slide guitar is both distinctive and rare amongst UK exponents.

He coaxes some very sweet tones from his archtop guitars, almost in the manner of a lap-steel, as opposed to the ubiquitous and gnarly “bar-room slide”.

Martin has recently returned to the live gig arena, having battened down the hatches during the worst of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, he took to livestreaming on Facebook from his home where, for the best part of the last 18 months, he has delivered weekly sessions to a dedicated and growing audience.

As a veteran of the UK blues scene, Martin has garnered a considerable repertoire of blues songs coupled with a good knowledge of the material and the original artists. A remarkable aspect of his livestreams has been the absence of endless repetition.; quite a feat over such a long-sustained period.

So, to the album, which is just Martin with his trusty guitars and some harmonica (which we’ve seen him play on harp rack).

“The blues police might decry some of the material as falling outside of the genre but the clue is in the title”

Opener “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” is given an instrumental treatment: beautifully paced and evoking the classic Steve Cropper lines.

“It Hurts Me Too” takes us to more standard blues territory, delivered in McNeill’s relaxed style with some nice touches of harmonica, where the absence of harp rack allows him to apply some more sophisticated tones.

Thereafter, the hits just keep on coming. “I Heard it Though the Grapevine” and “Feels Like Rain” are faithfully interpreted. “Hallelujah I Love Her So” has some nice Ray Charles tones in the vocals, followed by a very soulful instrumental version of “People Get Ready”.

Some lovely harmonics open “Dark End of the Street” before the pace is lifted a shade via the Temptations’ “My Girl”.

Tom Waits’ “Picture in a Frame” precedes an equally measured take on “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”. “Wind Cries Mary” stays close to the Hendrix template before a nice take on Dr John’s “Such a Night”.

The album closes with “When the Rains Came”, a song from another UK solo stalwart.

Despite the limitation of self-accompaniment, the 15 songs are familiar and nicely paced to provide plenty of variation. The “blues police” might decry some of the material as falling outside of the genre but the clue is in the title of the CD.

The production by Pete Crisp at Rools Yard studio deserves mention; there are some nuice subtle “additives” that enrich the texture without distracting.

This is a CD to be savoured alongside a glass of something nice.

RUSS COTTEE

Quotes

” Very enjoyable CD with some absolutely lovely slide guitar” – Graham Taylor

” A masterclass in slide playing with great songs” – John MacKenzie

Lovely stuff” – Gary Grainger

A wonderful listening experience” – Tracey Knight

What a beautiful album. Even bought a tear to my eye on one or two tracks. Thanks for some wonderful music” – Paul Carnall

“Love the new CD, so mellow. Vocals, guitar, and arrangements spot on! Kudos!” – Stan Zider

“Terrific vocals and terrific guitar, every track” – Len Johnson

“Great album” – Chris Fosbrook

” Superb collection of songs and so many highlights. I will mention the version of Tom Waits’ Picture in a Frame as a particular favourite, but every single track is outstanding” – Adrian Thomas

 “Lovely and soothing” – Chris Richardson

“This guy is off the curve. Different slide. Open tuning with English touch…highly recommended” – Fernando Duran

“Such a down-to-earth performer and he makes music an absolute pleasure to engage with. A true joy of a musician” – Melanie Buchanan

Thursday Blues Club livestream:

urbane, easy on the ear

BLUES IN BRITAIN, July 2020

If you’re not familiar with Martin McNeill, his style of blues, either as a solo performer or with his band Bottleneck Blues, is urbane and easy on the ear (in the nicest possible way)

His music is largely framed around his prowess as a slide guitarist and his ability to evoke almost lap steel tones from his archtop.

McNeill took to doing Facebook live sessions very soon after the start of the restrictions and he has dipped into his considerable repertoire on a weekly basis, which he intersperses with nice anecdotes about the songs and acknowledgements to the watching friends and fans. Via the Facebook feed, we were taken into Martin’s study, where he used two archtop guitars (in different tunings), a harp rack and a trusty right foot to keep the beat.

A gentle version of Brownie McGhee’s Living With The Blues’ got things under way, followed by Junior Parker’s Next Time You See Me, where the harmonica rack made its first appearance.

The mood became a touch more serious with two Civil Rights-themed pieces (appropriate for our times), Odetta Holmes’s Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Set On Freedom, followed by an instrumental version of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come, both delivered with suitable reverence.

I highly recommend joining these Thursday sessions that entertain and soothe during these anxious times

The harp came back into play for Tarheel Slim’s No. 9 Train, before a soulful rendition of The Dark End Of The Street. A swift change of guitar beckoned a lively version of Lightning Hopkins’ s ‘Mojo Hand, whereupon Martin explained what a mojo hand is.

We then had a brief foray down the jazz end of the room for Duke Ellington’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, then back on the blues page with Rick Estrin’s My Next Ex-Wife.

We stopped off at Ray Charles’s You Don’t Know Me and Bobby Womack’s It’s All Over Now (in response to a request for something with a Rolling Stones connection) before the final number, Louis Jordan’s Blue Lights Boogie, which was a good showcase for McNeill’s slide abilities.

The hour runs from 9pm each Thursday and is a nice way to wind down the day with a well-chosen selection of material: even when he selected a song that might attract the attention of the “Blues Police”, he adapted it to his house-style so as to give a good variety within a common thread.

Martin maintained a nice interaction with folk as they appeared on the Facebook page (which included his Mum and Dad!) that helped draw you into the proceedings.

A special mention should be made of the fact that McNeill raised over £500 for the mental wellbeing charity the Cogwheel Trust through the sale of his CD Cat Squirrel during the month of June.

I’d highly recommend joining these weekly Thursday sessions that entertain and soothe during these anxious times.

RUSS COTTEE

CAT SQUIRREL CD: WHAT THEY SAY

(Cat Squirrel was shortlisted as record of the year in the 2020 UK Blues Awards. Copies are still available from Martin)

“One of the best blues releases I have heard in the past few years…correction, one of the best releases I have heard in the past few years of any genre” – JOHN GREGORY, Blue John Media

He can play a mean slide guitar…very fine songs, impeccably played” – NORMAN DARWEN, Blues In Britain magazine

Slightly languid but with a little eccentric underlying intensity. Lovely atmosphere, beautiful slide guitar player” – JOE CUSHLEY, Balling The Jack

“Beautiful sound that makes people fall in love with the guitar. Slide guitar par excellence, magnificent sound” – IAN McKENZIE, Acoustic Blues Club, Kansas City Online Radio

“An absolute delight. He is very much his own man and his latest calling card will only add to his long list of admirers and collaborators. The album has a sparse sound allowing every note to be heard and savoured” – STEPHEN FOSTER of BBC Suffolk, writing in the East Anglian Daily Times

“ExcelIent CD…I absolutely adore this gentleman. He plays most wonderful bottleneck guitar and is so under-appreciated. I’ve seen him live a number of times and I love listening to him” – ASHWYN SMYTH, Digital Blues (Ashwyn is UK Blues Federation chair)

Great guitarist! He’s cut a bunch of standards to great effect. I really like that” – PETE FEENSTRA, Rock & Blues Show

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