Making steady progression from the guitar wunderkind that won attention as a teenager, Belfast’s Simon McBride threatens to arrive in the serious bigtime with this new album. A blues rocker of the old school, these eleven tracks (ten new songs, one old favourite revisited) open with a long note rising to a scream that sounds like an air-raid siren. A bomb alert and, sure enough, we’re bang straight into a host of blues rock fireworks, reminiscent of a whole host of early seventies heroes but, ultimately, very much Mr McBride’s own style. Consciously seeking a retro sound – from the technical point of view – these songs were part recorded in Belfast before the main guitar parts were added over in Annapolis, Maryland. It’s a proper power trio he has here, with Carl Harvey on bass and the splendidly explosive Paul Hamilton on drums; however the addition of Mia Simone on backing vocals for a few songs and the surprising use of trumpet and saxophone for one song (Alcatraz) suggest that Simon McBride might be heading in the direction of a big band sound, and he’s certainly got songs built for the big treatment.
I’ve never got too much into these blues guitar men, partly because too often they seem rather boringly afflicted with clichés and posturing. However Simon McBride clearly speaks his own musical language; there’s a sense of purpose to the power of his guitar playing, and the showiness is reined in by him knowing that the music needs to do something interesting. Listen to the guitar break in the middle of Heartbreaker, for instance, and you might be put in mind of three different guitarists in the space of a few bars as he slings in runs of notes that somehow you don’t quite expect, flights of imagination that lift you way beyond the chugging growl of the core rhythm.
Ever since Jimmy Page back in the day, it’s been almost obligatory to have a bit of acoustic contrast to the main event, and Simon’s song A Rock and a Storm has a suitably romantic lyricism about it, somehow enhanced by the work and whisky roughened rocker’s growl that he sings with.
The thing that really stands out with this collection is that the man sure knows how to write songs that hook in the brain; if the charts still did the kind of metal ballads that thrived in the eighties, then he’d be on a sure-fire winner with One More Try. It’s worth checking that one out just for the sheer pleasure of hearing how good that stuff could sound before Bon Jovi stepped in. My own favourite song here is No Room to Breathe. Some nice old electric blues guitar guides us in to a lovelorn blues song. With an impassioned vocal from the man himself, this builds easily into a monster of a track, an organ swirling away behind the guitar and Mia Simone helping to ratchet up the intensity, which, paradoxically, is achieved by allowing the guitar plenty of room to breathe – wonderful stuff. The world of blues rock has its tunnel vision aficionados, of course, and I think Simon McBride should carry them with him as Crossing the Line takes him to a broader public.
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