Vanguard Roulette Part 2: Darren Jack and Ray Beadle Live – October 14, 2011

This was the second shot of my game of Vanguard Roulette, where I pick a number of acts I know nothing about and go along for the ride.

The night after discovering Boy Outside, I was back at the Vanguard for Australian bluesmen Darren Jack and Ray Beadle.

Beadle was supposedly the support, but as I tweeted when he left the stage, he left Jack with a lot of work to do.

Looking for all the world as if he were fresh out of Chicago (all natty hat, sharp outfit and smooth styling), Beadle is astonishing. And a little research shows why. He’s been around the traps, playing with BB King’s house band for a time for starters. I believe his list of credits and associations is pretty illustrious. So I guess that gives a sense of the quality we’re referring to here. There would be loads of people who know a lot more about him than I. He’s been a regular on the festival circuit and has his own touring band from what I can gather. But on the night I saw him, it was just him and his guitar. My favourite kind. Although there were backing tracks to help create a fuller sound when needed.

Listening to him now, it’s clear he comfortably straddles all kinds of blues but for this show he tended more toward soul blues, with funk and jazz in the mix. He did his own stuff as well as a little George Benson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. And what a vocalist. His voice is perfectly suited to those sorts of songs – a higher register that also set me in mind of Harry Connick Jr. It’s a smooth, clear and rich sound and he has lovely control.

I’m not qualified to critique his guitar work, but it’s well above your average player in terms of technical skill and the use of the woodwork for rhythms and other effects. I’ve known other guitarists like that and I love what they can create out of what is essentially a wooden box. It’s exquisite to watch.

And he’s one of those genuinely likeable guys. Slick, confident, a smile at the ready and that true showman’s style.

He also knows when to stop. I admire great musicians who love what they do and can pick up a riff and run with it. But I get incredibly annoyed when a solo becomes a marathon of selfishness. It bores me rigid. Thankfully, Ray Beadle gets it. He’ll chase a riff in a couple of directions, which are usually incredible adventures and most rewarding, but he doesn’t sacrifice the structure of the song. He gets back to the job at hand and keeps his audiences engaged. And credit to both he and Jack – and Boy Outside for that matter – they also know when to end the song.

With an ending.

Don’t get me started (but I’m looking at you, Ben Harper)…

Darren Jack is out and about promoting his new album Better Place and he’s close to the whole package. He’s got the looks, and he’s a very talented player. The write-ups refer to his voice as powerful. That’s not a word I would have used. But it’s good.

Like Beadle, Jack also has that genuineness and self-confidence of a seasoned showman. It’s a pleasure listening to guys like him who get that they’re good and are truly glad you’ve come to see them without being self-deprecating about it. Whilst modesty can be very endearing, those who accept their talent and make no apologies for it are quite a refreshing change in a self-conscious world.

By any standards, Jack is a great player. I understand he does do some acoustic but this set was entirely electric, with the traditional setup of drums, electric bass and keyboards in back. The style starts with classic electric blues, but also melds into blues rock. It’s the popular side of the genre and it’s excellent. Although there were a few moments where I thought Stevie Ray Vaughan was being channelled, so there’s some bite and edge as well. He’s undoubtedly accomplished.

And I love those little moments that show how into the music they are: a couple of times, the drummer had to pull them back so they could fit some lyrics in after Jack had gone out too hard from the gates. They’re nice moments – real and raw.

I mentioned earlier that I would not have called his voice powerful. From what I can tell, it emanates from his head and throat, so it lacks depth and hence power. But it’s a perfectly serviceable blues voice and bottom line is you forgive him for it – just like you forgive someone like Eric Clapton or Mark Knopfler for not being the greatest vocalists of their time. I’m currently listening back to ‘You Choose’ and ‘Ways of a Man’ and I’ve just realised he reminds me a little of Shane Pacey from the Bondi Cigars.

Meanwhile, Jack’s band was tight and very talented. All seasoned, all disciplined and they ran like a well-oiled machine. Unusual setup with them entirely on Jack’s left and him off to his stage right. Not used to seeing a frontman not at the front. Overall, it was an excellent blues show – and those who love it got what they came for. I really enjoyed it.

I’m afraid my photos were entirely rubbish – grainy at best, so here are a couple of links to learn more about Darren Jack and Ray Beadle.

Vanguard Roulette 1: Boy Outside Live – October 13, 2011

I’m playing Vanguard Roulette at the moment.

Picking random gigs that are on nights I can get there, and just going along for the ride. Excellent way to shake yourself out of your usual music choices and see what’s around. No guarantees.

I have 6 gigs booked – 6 chambers if you’re a Deer Hunter fan – and the first shot was Thursday night.

It was Boy Outside launching his latest EP, supported by The Falls and Little Bastard.

I got there just in time to hear the last of the Falls’ songs. The person on the door was well impressed and from what I could hear I was inclined to agree. I have since had a listen on their MySpace page. They’re acoustic folk, and they sound pretty good. Nice harmonies. Realised later I was sharing a table with one half of the band the whole evening. From what I heard, they would have been the perfect lead-in for Boy Outside.

Instead, we got Little Bastard. Great name. These guys are undoubtedly talented. They call themselves a ‘hoedown collective’. And from what I have read they usually have a full band behind them. However on Thursday they were restricted to a mandolin, fiddle, percussion and acoustic guitar.

I’m not sure if it was this pared back form. Maybe they weren’t working with their usual sound engineer. Certainly there’s not a lot of info available about them, so maybe they’re just starting out (I gather at least the mandolin player is a relatively new addition). I’m really wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt. But essentially they didn’t do anything for me. There was great energy, but no obvious hoedowning. Also couldn’t quite pick up on the cheekiness or mischief I was expecting based on the name and description.

And their set seemed to have only one gear…around third. Engine labouring a little to get to that efficient cruising speed.

The guitar was harsh and overpowering. The effect was like being hit head-on, rather than being surrounded and carried. This was mitigated a little with a change to a warmer-toned guitar towards the end of the set. And the last song wasn’t a million miles off Justin Townes Earle’s style, of whom I am a huge fan. I know they can sing – they blended nicely together on occasion. Essentially it felt like a jam session at a folk festival rather than a polished gig. Maybe they also need to think about their set structure – a bit more light and shade. I know lots of acts have based careers on doing the same thing over and over again, but I, for one, get bored way too quickly.

But that’s what the roulette game is about – you get what you get. And I’m richer for the experience. I don’t think I’m going to love everything I see. Where’s the fun in that?

That said, Boy Outside was a completely different proposition. Quick back story: his name is Aidan Cooney and he’s the former frontman of a garage band called Lincoln Brown which wove many folk, blues and country influences into an alternative rock sound. They toured the UK and Europe for a number of years. He’s since moved to Sydney and the Boy Outside moniker signifies a different sound and approach. Thursday was the launch of his new EP Hush of the City.

He wears his influences on his lapels with the alt country look going on, but the sound is much more diverse. I was immediately struck by the sparsity – early Chris Isaak came to mind. When you read up about him, he speaks of a dark melancholic sound with positive tones – so that comparison holds true for me. I heard a lot more there though and it’s a real mix: touches of Tom Petty, the gravel of Guy Garvey, moments of Mike Scott and then suddenly a flash of latter-day James Reyne. Hard to pin down, essentially beautiful.

He’s a quiet and charismatic stage presence, happy to let the music talk but also engaging.

And the band Cooney put together made the most of the space, creating an intimate atmosphere with muted drums, double-bass and semi-acoustic lead with Cooney on acoustic rhythm. They are a very fine example of a close-knit unit, working effortlessly together with lovely little fillers and embellishments that colour in the lyrics and carry the story along.

If I have one quibble, it was the choice of the encore. I believe it’s a song he’s carried with him for some time. As he said “Some songs stay around…”. It clearly has a lot of meaning for him, but it just left what was otherwise a great experience a little flat. However this is a tiny complaint.

I did buy the EP and I’m definitely favouring ‘Asleep behind the wheel’ and ‘Left a light’. Though not a live album, the EP production captures the essence of what we experienced and I’m looking forward to hearing more from this guy.

So that’s it – round 1 of Vanguard Roulette was a most excellent success – looking forward to round 2…

Boy Outside on MySpace

Lincoln Brown on MySpace