Album Reviews

Jools Holland – Swinging The Blues Dancing The Ska

(Radar) UK release date: 7 November 2005


Jools Holland. Never one of those names that springs to mind when you think of musical innovators. But the quiet man of music is up there (for me at least) with the likes of John Peel, Charlie Gillett, Andy Kershaw and Annie Nightingale for bringing new music to the attention of the masses, and it will be a sad day when he ceases to spread his infectious and genuine love of music of all shapes, colours and sounds.

Famed for his Later With… Beeb programme heralding in new musical talent from across the board and around the world, and for his days as ivory tickler supreme for East End sorta-punks Squeeze. This has been an enduring side project that hoovers up guests from Later into appearing on traditional R&B, jazz and boogie woogie fare that ain’t gonna change the world, but will creep into a foot-tapping, smirk-inducing, guilty pleasure as the beast takes away all the musical cred you built up over all these years. Grrr.

The Jools Holland Big Band has come a long way since it initial birth in 1987 when it comprised of just Jools and former Squeeze drummer Gilson Lavis to become todays eighteen piece monster. Probably more of a live experience than a recorded one, this serves a tasty intro to the world of unchallenging but proficient and heartfelt R&B. Not for everyone, but for those already converted this will be like honey to the bee.

Guests here include Solomon Burke, Beverley Knight, Ruby Turner and long-time collaborator Sam Brown, all shining in their own particular way. Jools takes over vocals a number of tracks, most effectively on the cocked-hat boogie of You Don’t Love Me with a classic chugging rhythm that drips attitude.

Jools favourite Sam Brown crops up to killer effect on three cuts that benefit from her blast of a soul voice. The stalking bruise of blues Seven Acts of Mercy slinks along like a midnight cat and packs some punch on Juice Head Blues with its stomping blues holler to drunken men receiving their comeuppance to the penultimate celebratory swoop through Something’s Going On.

Dancing Mood busks along on a ska-tip, Casbah Blues does exactly what it says on the tin as it snakes from a jazz cellar in a fug of smoke before coiling back down again.

The Blues Brothers ‘standard’ Everybody Needs Somebody is given a roasting by soul legend Solomon Burke before criminally fading out just as things feel like they’re about to set fire. Similarly Jools winds things up with the valedictory We Shed A Tear that sounds like a New Orleans funeral triumphalism in its acceptance of finality with a shrug of the shoulder and a wink of the eye and he’s gone, fading out of sight.

Indeed this is the only fault that the sneaking suspicion that this could sound sooo much better live and the best fun was had when the music fades out through the sanitation of the studio process. But that’s a negligible criticism when the good times roll so well and make the bad times sound soo damned attractive too. Get some drinks down you, slap this on and shed your music snobbery for some back to basics frolics from where it all started. Boogie on ska-head Holland!


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Jools Holland – Swinging The Blues Dancing The Ska