and Friends - After Paradise DVD
Review by Bruce Stringer
British blues legend Snowy White assembles a support cast of old friends and newer faces, pulling out tracks from his 30 year back catalogue of hit solo work and exploratory blues material. Some songs – including the international light rock hit, “Bird of Paradise” – have rarely been performed since the mid-1980s and there are even some lost gems, like Peter Green’s “Slabo Day,” which White recorded on back in the late 1970s.
It should be pointed out that there is a mildly dark humour that runs through White’s writing: a travelled wit and soft sarcasm, as well as an intricacy quite uncommon with the superficiality of modern re-digested blues. This is one of the definitive differences in the way British blues has evolved compared to other branches of the style. It has a genuine lineage from the roots of B.B. King and Muddy Waters (in White’s case, JB Lenoir, as well) and the evolution can be seen in other artists such as Chris Rea and Peter Green, which may be one of the reasons for their continued popularity.
This DVD release comes as a digi-pak to fit snugly in the collection alongside White’s CDs, is Region 0 (designed to play on most PCs and DVD players worldwide) in full-frame format (4:3) with concert running time of 1 hour 42 minutes plus bonus behind the scenes footage.
Let’s explore the set one song at a time.
I’m Getting Ready
This is a very interesting opener to the set: one of only a small handful of non-White compositions, Ruud Weber sings and plays guitar with moderate backing and sets the pace for some outstanding performances. With an implied relationship between he and Snowy (similar to that of Willie Dixon and his guest performers), Weber lets loose with unbridled passion and some moments of earnest emotion, allowing White and his team to build with dynamic fortitude. It is a nice start to the concert with its distinct underplay.
Taken from the No Faith Required album, this piece sets a quiet mood which is interesting as the concert does not open with all of the fire and brimstone of a massive rock show but draws the crowd through subtler means. John “Rabbit” Bundrick’s organ delivers a gospel-like quality well matched to White’s dry talk-singing style. When the impact is due Jeff Allen’s drums produce a thunderous roar as the sustained guitar notes soar above, touching down softly to a cathedral-esque atmosphere and a fading of sound into the swimming reverberation. A mainstay in White Flames Band sets since its inception, Midnight Blues manages to deliver on that late night smoky bar mood the title promises.
I’ll Be Moving On
This, the third blues number of the set, is in actuality a re-working of a rock number (with funk overtones) from the Little Wing album. Performed here with a bouncy 12/8 feel, the timing works well and the lyrics now have a different implied meaning (thanks to the change in mood). White has a history of re-working his own songs until they are ready to record and then beyond that, once they are recorded (an important case is the difference in live versions of “That Ain’t Right”). Rabbit plays a standout performance of rotary-speaker organ lines, soloing on with crazed abandon, always animated and pushing the boundaries. The band is tight and the mix is bright and punchy for this interesting musical vehicle.
Red Wine Blues
In 2008 the Snowy White Blues Project released a CD filled to the brim with traditional electric blues numbers, continuing – in spirit, if not in body – the foundation set by White’s Blues Agency almost two decades before. Reminiscent of blues staple “Thrill Is Gone,” the classic blues elements of drums, bass organ and soulful solo guitar are ever present in “Red Wine Blues,” with plucked, fingerstyle guitar lines embellishing. Possibly the most addictive element in White’s guitar work is his ability to create a conversational style. The guitar seems to be in verbal communication, pausing briefly before calling out then quietly mumbling tacit agreement with the tinkling of Max’s ivory (plastic) keys or Rabbit’s playful organ phrases. Here we are witnessing the birth of a new blues classic!
Straight out of the Blues Agency songbook, “Judgement Day” features Ruud Weber on vocals and is an up-tempo number which could easily be mistaken for a late-1960s B.B. King composition. White tears up the fretboard with his characteristic sound, pick-up selector in mid position to allow brief moments of ever-so-mild feedback to emerge. His customary clean tone and vibrato occasionally enters Roy Buchanan territory when he hits those scorching highs. Max Middleton plays a wonderfully full piano solo with elegantly timed themes and melodies. Jeff Allen’s crisp, taught drum sound truly embodies the tight format of the Agency sound. This was one of the standouts from the great Change My Life album and this live version adds new flavor to an already existing palette of fine taste.
Blue To The Bone
Returning once again to the Blues Project – and some more tasty licks with traditional John Lee Hooker-type guitar melody – this short 12/8 stomper receives an enthusiastic crowd reaction. Kuma Harada switches from bass to rhythm guitar as Weber takes on the role of bass player. Actually, the whole show is an interesting concert of musical chairs as Walter, Harada and Weber switch instruments and roles.
An interesting side note is that White’s 1957 Goldtop has really started to show its age with peeling lacquer and flecks of vintage gold that sparkle in the light – evident in the close-up shots. This is another memorable track in this lengthy yet exciting show.
In the mid-1970s British blues legend, Peter Green, was making a comeback so enlisted White and some of his playing mates to back him on his classic release, In The Skies. “Slabo Day” featured White on lead guitar, while Green backed him. This version pays homage to Green and the minimalist compositional style is explored with finesse and mastership of arrangement technique. Juan Van Emerloot’s percussion work is on par underscoring White’s legato playing style, each playing off the other with subtle musical passages. The underplay builds a certain anxiety, especially considering the extended running time of this Green gem, and is a definite must for any Peter Green fan interested in his comeback material.
Tears in My Eyes
White’s playing is not unusually expressive on this number. In particular, his extended plucking of the bent B-string draws climax with an emergent resolve from the D as it gradually releases to the 13th fret C, drawing an outburst of reaction from the audience who are obviously impressed by White’s skills at bending notes, squeezing every sap of juice out them before moving on. Such control is rarely displayed above the million-mile-an-hour brigade of flash over substance but this is White’s mastership of the instrument and a major draw card for his fans. A nice touch during this (and a few other select songs) is the mixture of colour and black and white, which is mainly used during White’s close-ups. The John Mayall-composed “Tears…” falls as a well placed gem amongst the blues songs and signifies the end of the first half of the show, where Allen takes a break from his duties the drum stool.
At this point in the DVD, White takes a step back from his immensely impressive catalogue of blues and introduces three tracks form his debut solo album, 1983’s White Flames, “Lucky Star” being the most commercially oriented (aside from the hit single, Bird Of Paradise). Also, enter: Richard Bailey. His contagious happiness puts the band in good humor; his drumming tight and expressive as he relives the role he played some 30-odd years previous to this excellent performance. “Lucky Star” is probably most notable for White’s guitar solo coming after two keyboard improvisations, so he is able to bring the song to a close without letting the fireworks off too early.
Bird Of Paradise
Rarely played live, White’s chart-topping single has never sounded better. With so much scope to expand on the original arrangement (with so many guests to work with), the sheer magnitude includes the orchestral string synth parts, pad synth sections as well as emergent backing vocals and rhythm guitar parts normally limited in his three and four piece lineups. White’s guitar sound is sublime: unwinding echoed tones snake their way through the audience with invisible tentacles. His mixture of signature passages and modern inflections maps his exploration of a dreamy ocean of atmosphere and soul, all the time reaching further depths of expressiveness. An absolutely brilliant performance, this song alone would warrant the purchase price!
The Journey (Parts 1 & 2)
The smooth, free time introduction of “The Journey” is a splendid environment for White’s melody which shifts to a higher octave as Harada’s pulse of plucked Fender bass carries the straight 4/4 pattern. His bass has seen better years but the punch that it produces is still as acute as the vintage it represents. Bailey’s drum solo (reminiscent of his work on Jeff Beck’s “Scatterbrain”) signals the bridge to the syncopated, moody Latin-influenced second chapter. The extra percussion parts make for a lively performance, accenting the minor key moodiness. Although only used as an album and B-side track there is quite a scope for a piece like this to have vocals and extend it to a viable lyrical song. As exciting as this is, in a flurry of bass and piano notes, Bailey’s tom-fills bring “The Journey” to a close.
Similar in arrangement to the modern live version of “Land Of Plenty,” Max Middleton’s atmospheric piano passages reverberate beneath the tight percussive rhythm section of Bailey and Latupierissa. A nice sub-bass sound fills the bottom end as White verbalizes his message before entering into some nice octave then delayed single-note fretwork. “Falling” is another moody piece, in a similar vein to John Martyn and reminiscent of Middleton’s solo work.
On The Edge Of Something
Funky, mildly dirty and obviously lots of fun, this piece has a tongue-in-cheek humor and head-nodding permissiveness. White’s story telling – often overlooked as simplistic blues - is both thought provoking and filled with philosophical musings. This track could easily be mistaken, at first glance, to Ian Dury’s classic British underground anti-pop song, “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick.” The lyrics deal with excess and temptation and, as the beat goes on, the song gradually diminishes, continuing the funk into a fadeout. Notable for its differences to songs so far, this track has definite radio potential and deserves further, repeated listening.
On this instrumental, Middleton plays a fine solo on his electric piano setting White up for some impressive British slide work. Although not an obvious feature of his playing, it is surprising to note that White’s slide guitar work does appear quite frequently in recordings and in the more recent live shows. The guys are obviously having a lot of fun with melodies and themes appearing and then disappearing, each taking their own turn. It’s a wonder White hasn’t explored this territory in a more involved way since his 1980s solo releases because he has managed to evolve the Santana-Latin sound to something new and exciting. This extended piece is also notable for Thomas White’s conga playing, which is tightly woven to match Bailey’s drum parts.
Can’t Get Enough Of The Blues
Jeff Allen returns on drums, Ruud Weber on vocals and the whole cast appears back on stage to close the show with a huge version of this number, sourced from the Highway to the Sun album. White’s Elmore James impression is a great laugh and there is an amount of audience participation during the central solo sections. The dynamic in the drum and percussion corner drives the restless rhythmic antics of the lads and there are some interesting moments of key and mood change to maintain positive interest. The song is a fabulously good fun, modern blues number (with a similar angle to B.B. King’s “How Blue Can You Get”) and an upbeat closing to a well-conceived show.
For something completely different, the band leaves to head backstage while White remains to show appreciation to his audience with a few kind words. It’s always nice to see a personal side to any artist – one which adds character to the image seen onstage and on screen. White is just one of a dwindling number of quietly spoken gentlemen of the rock world and is as genuine in real life as the image he portrays through his songs.
At The Crossroads
The encore to (and completion of the DVD) is an extended version of a track embodying White’s tonal culture lifted from the debut solo album, White Flames. With all of his friends backing him, the minor overdubs (previously only realized on the album’s recording) are explored and extrapolated. White’s lyrics are an oft overlooked asset: his storytelling and philosophy of moderation compliment the musical platform and “At The Crossroads” is a prime example of his attitude to life and the surrounding environment, which is often both hypocritical and self destructive. There is a rounded Latin funkiness to the track – especially noticeable as the band members are introduced – and the characteristic British underplay is evident (even in Bundrick’s playing!) and is possibly one solid reason such great musicians can retain the chemistry and balance required to pull off such a great show.
In short, this set an exciting and nostalgic walk down memory lane through Snowy White’s impressive solo career.