Not to be regionalist or anything, but it seems to me that the recent revival of the live blues scene in the UK has been somewhat dominated by a glut of bright young things hailing from the South and the Midlands. Given the historic tradition of Northern rhythm and blues – particularly in the late 50s and 60s when the genre was first being reappropriated by the British working class – the lack of quality young blues bands and artistes from these regions breaking out and making a national impact has been disappointing (Newcastle’s Mitch Laddie being one of the few exceptions that springs to mind). But one band that are well on the way to redressing the balance (and one that we at Midlands Rocks have been championing for a while) are Manchester’s Snakewater. After a lengthy wait, their debut album proper has finally been released, and it’s a cracker.
The band have teamed up with legendary rock and blues producer Chris Tsangarides for this album (indeed, he rated the band so highly that after working with them in his studio, he signed them up and has released this album on his own Dark Lord Records label). Recorded over just one weekend in Tsangarides’ Dover studio, the album perfectly captures the sound and energy of Snakewater – with front man Bobby Grant’s guitar pushed to the fore and firing on all cylinders, the rhythm section epitomising the driving hard rocking blues backroom powerhouse that came to define british blues rock once upon a time.
Given Tsangarides history with the late great Gary Moore, it’s hard to not think of the man from time to time whilst listening to A New Breed – especially given that Bobby has made no bones of revealing the huge influence that Moore has been on his own playing – but the album and indeed the band are strong and talented enough to survive such comparisons. The track ‘Same Mistake’ on here seems to be Bobby’s unashamed direct tribute – the recurring melodic riff bearing many of the Moore hallmarks, the song slowly evolving into an epic and immersing hard rocking ballad, resplendent with a soaring mighty sustain-filled solo. If one man’s sublime use of the Wah Wah pedal were destined to drive Jim Dunlop sales to new highs then it’s Bobby Grant’s. He doesn’t only make his guitar talk, he makes it sing, cry and shout “Hallelujah!” from on the highest highs.
The overdubs are few and far between – there is no barrage of layered guitar tracks or synth padding, and there doesn’t need to be, because Bobby wrestles such a huge sound from his Les Paul that really one track is all you need. Ben Streets also deserves to be hailed as one of the UK scene’s bright new drumming hopes, his work here ranges from the subtle to the downright indecent. He shows perfectly that a good drummer does more than keep the time, he (or she) pulls the strings and pushes the buttons directing the song toward its highs and pulling it back from the brink when required.
Bobby’s voice has also come a long way since the first time I saw the band live, back in 2009, his confidence in his vocals has allowed him to truly open up and by doing so he has discovered a plaintive, down-to-earth, unabashedly British voice, which is just frayed at the edges enough – at times actually bearing similarities to fellow North-Westerner Ian Astbury. While it may not be the most ‘acrobatic’ on the scene, his voice is perfect in the context of the power trio.
The band’s hectic gig schedule over the last few years has finally seen them starting to get the grassroots appreciation they deserve, and in A New Breed they have the storming studio album to back them up. This is an essential purchase to any lover of blues rock, particularly fans of the likes of Moore and Bonamassa, and make sure you go to see the band live when you get the chance – you wont regret it. Three of the best young musicians out there combining to make one of the best bands. To quote the final, tongue-in-cheek, lyric on the album: “Ain’t no escape from the Snakewater blues…”
Rated 8.5 out of 10