Blues Matters! – Feb/March 2021
The blues and gospel are close relatives, both born in hard times when expressing pain with one and asking for redemption with the other were the foundations of the music we loved then, and still love now. This set of songs comes from the collaboration of Spikedrivers and Fran McGillivray & Mike Burke, and it harks back to the early days of both genres.
The great thing about blues and gospel is, you do not need to be sad or religious to really enjoy either or both, and in this case, a clever amalgamation. This, paradoxically, is a genuinely joyous collection of songs, the musicianship is understated but perfect for the underpinning of the songs, which is what the musicians wanted to highlight in making the album. The voices are completely individual, and each singer highlights the vocal strengths with their choice of lead vocal.
Fran McGillivray’s voice on Hear Me Talkin To Ya is careworn but feisty, and the light touch with the guitar solo is the proverbial icing. Tackling a genuine diamond-hard classic like Crossroads is never easy, but Ben Tyzack has the blues chops in his voice and guitar to create another arresting version here. It has elements of the Cream interpretation, and the band are right on the money behind him. The aching vocal from Constance Redgrave on St James Infirmary Blues underlines the simple fact that underlines the way these songs are played and sung – that everyone on here has a deep and heartfelt understanding of the medium they are working in – and hopefully they will join up together next year to tour this album, the blues (and gospel) community needs to hear these wonderful interpretations live on stage. The additional words have been added with taste and care, adding to the magic already in place.
The individuality of the re-workings of some well-known pieces is an absolute joy to hear, this is one of the finest albums I have heard all year. I urge everyone to obtain this album, you will be really pleased you did. Do not thank me, just send money.
Reviewer: Andy Hughes
Blues In Britain – November 2020
For those who enjoyed the tour, then this release will be very welcome to now have the joy of an album by them. If you didnít catch the tour no need to wait any more just get a copy of this wonderful album to enjoy again and again.
Saints & Sinners are Ben Tyzack, Constance Redgrave and Maurice McElroy, far better known to everyone as The Spikedrivers, and joined by blues duo Mike Burke and Fran McGillivray. Even before the tour they had worked together before on tour, but this is their first recording together, and it has been more than well worth the wait to have such a superb album by them. Other than one song by Ben Tyzack that first appeared in The Spikes ĎBlues Trashí album, all the rest of the chosen songs are a mix of both classic gospel songs and ĎThe Devilís musicí the blues, hence the title of the combined band. Songs from Robert Johnson, Mahalia Jackson, Ma Rainey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bessie Smith and Blind Willie Johnson among others, fill the set.
Things begin with Keep Your Hand On The Plough, opening with just a bell ringing before the rhythm section comes in with that sort of shuffle you associate with J J Cale, and featuring Ben on vocals. One thing thatís ideal from the band line up is that everyone takes vocals on songs, and most have backing vocals as well. Fran takes the vocals, on a song from 1941 Up Above My Head, often recorded but like all the songs on this release has a full fresh feel that draws all things up to date without ever losing respect towards the original versions. This larger line up gives them all they need for a fuller use of instruments. The twin guitar work of both Ben Tyzack and Mike Burke, often fills both speakers, and as Ben is such a superb slide player Mike more concentrates on chords or neat little lead lines.
Some of the songs although original now see added lyrics which adds just a little something to these new versions. The sound of both Fran and Constance sharing lead vocals on songs like Iíll Fly Away is more than worth the buying of the album alone, a pretty perfect match. The styles of music though make such an interesting mix from shuffling blues, to ragtime in Ďthe wonderfully titled If Youíre A Viper an old Stuff Smith song sung here by Maurice McElroy, a jolly little number, and one he has added some of his own lyrics to by the end. You almost surely know Crossroads Robert Johnsonís song brought to further fame via Cream and many others. Well, here we have a version full of freshness and ideas from Ben Tyzack, that opens with just voice and slide, but just when you feel your sitting comfortably, the band crack in with another shuffling beat that really lifts the song up as Ben says ĎItís hard to improve on so many classic versions, but I think weíve added something to the potí, you have this is one version of this well recorded song thatís up there with the very best, a great track.
Then we have the very jazzy St James Infirmary opens with banjo and a very 20ís feel all about it A song also known as Gamblers Blues, and with added flute as well, and youíd think it was Constanceís song it fits her voice so well, and her sense of joy and fun in singing. One Ry Cooder song that most slide guitarists have a crack at is Jesus On The Mainline, so itís no wonder Ben brings his version to the party. With Benís guitar sliding as smooth as silk and those background voices again this mounts to a stunning new version of the song. As good as the original.
We get one chance to have regular duo of Fran and Mike dueting together on Death Came A Knocking from 1939, but it was originally titled Travelling Shoes, but itís not a morbid song. This is a nicely paced gospel blues, and again Franís vocals are just wonderful. Things draw to a close with Fran back on lead vocals and everyone else joining in on a rousing version of Ainít Nobodyís Business way back from 1922 then by Anna Meyers and the Memphis Five. Well, thereís five great musicians and singers on this album, not the Memphis Five but whatever the UK equivalent to that is.
This really is a superb album, and surely among the best by anyone anywhere this year, deserves to be Traditional Album of the Year. Each song here feels like it was written for and by those involved. Itís one of those albums you just canít praise highly enough, and after the Summer weíve had itís an absolute must for lifting your spiritís high, and maybe joining in yourself on the choruses. The Spikedrivers and Fran McGillivray and Mike Burke are the perfect line up for an album, and do hope once things are back to normal they tour it again. In the meantime this is simply unmissable blues at its very best.
Reviewer: Pete Clack
Response from our friends and family :- )
John and Sandra Buttler – December 2020
Thank you for sending the new Saints and Sinners album which we received last weekend. Wow, absolutely love it, it was a cold day when it arrived through our letter box, so in the evening we pulled the curtains over, lit the fire, made everything cosy and had a lovely evening of outstanding music. The whole album has a lovely sound and is beautifully recorded, all of the instruments are crystal clear and the voices and harmonies are just spot on. By the time we had played the album for a third time, the ooh yea's on Train Done Gone were at the top of our voices, nothing whatsoever to do with the red wine!!!
Suzanne Freed - December 2020
Your CD now lives in the car. I was singing along this morning. It’s lovely
Robin & Angela Vick– November 2020
received new S.S CD all OK and must congratulate you all on a fine production. The key thing we enjoyed about the CD was the presentation of the vocals which was spot on. Look forward to meeting up with you all in 2021 at some point.
Doug and Sue Rushmer – November 2020
Thanks for CD. Love it. You should all be proud of it. Keep on playing it with our other other latest CD's New Bob Dylan & Bruce Springsteen Both very good.
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