Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Nine Below Zero: 13 Shades of Blue

13 Shades of Blue
Nine Below Zero
Nine Below Zero have been around for a long time, blasting out British rhythm and blues in the good old style since 1977. Despite a hiatus in the 1980s and a number of changes in personnel - including, almost unthinkably, Mark Feltham, who was absent for nearly all of the 1990s - Nine Below Zero have proved they can survive against the odds and have clearly not lost their love of playing live. Their current tour started in September and is scheduled to stretch at least to the end of March 2017; I caught their blistering appearance at The Arc last weekend.

From the title, 13 Shades of Blue may sound like a continuation of the British blues style, but instead we find an unexpected degree of evolution, both in the material and the style of delivery. Doubling the number of their touring personnel from four to eight has allowed an expansion of instruments and sounds, allowing Nine Below Zero to broaden their blues horizons and embrace the genres of funk, soul and Cajun. The songs are all covers but this time they sound like never before. No fewer than 20 musicians are credited on the album and, incidentally, it is good to see Brian Bethell keeping his bass duties on eight of the tracks, despite not being up to the rigours of touring.

Track List

Don't Lay Your Funky Trip on Me
Watch What You Do To Me
That's What Love Will Make You Do
Don't Play That Song (You Lied)
It's Your Voodoo Working
You're Still My Woman
The Toddle
I'm Gonna Keep What I've Got
Crawling Up a Hill
I Want to Know
My Woman is Good to Me
Paper in My Shoe

Don't Lay Your Funky Trip on Me proves to be just as good an opener as it did when they used it to start the Arc show. Indeed, it was the starting point of the whole project. Dennis 'walked into a bar and heard the track playing in the background and thought, this is great; who is it?' Utilising the Shazam app on his phone to identify thew song, Dennis then shared it with the band, and 'so began 13 Shades of Blue.'

Glenn Tilbrook (collaborator on The Co-Operative album) is very much in on the act too. His studio was used to record the album and he plays sitar on That's What Love Will Make You Do. Glenn suggested recording Don't Play That Song (You Lied) and his intuition bore fruit, as this is one of the stand-out tracks on the album, partly due to the powerful guest vocals from Charlie Austen. 
It also showcases another aspect of the band's new direction, with the harmonica and keyboard merging wonderfully well.
Other notable highlights include Crawling Up a Hill (last heard here at Marsh Towers covered by Katie Melua) and It's Your Voodoo Working.
Despite the introduction of a plethora of new instruments, the songs are still driven in the good old style by the guitar of Dennis Greaves. Laying the guitar sound over the big band sound is something Brian Setzer has been doing for years (albeit it on a much larger scale). For Nine Below Zero, the change of style was a risk - but it has paid off. 13 Shades of Blue is a triumph and one which breaks new ground while staying faithful to their own style.

Keep up to date with the latest news and tour dates over at the official Nine Below Zero website.

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