(4 / 5)
There’s a shed load of so-called blues rock merchants on the UK pub and club circuit right now, and some are churning out albums that make mediocrity seem really appealing. But they don’t even attain that!
There’s also the young whipper snapper guitar “hero” who comes up overnight, makes all the headlines and gets tipped as the next Clapton and the next SRV et al, does OK for a year or two, ego takes over and then he shows his true colours and releases “new” music that is eff all to do with the blues, and alienates his existing fan base who get the right hump on social media. End of a decent career before dues were properly paid.
Then there’s the old buggers whose back goes out more than they do these days, living on yesteryear’s success, often fleeting success at that, and often a star name whose members now include one or less of the original line-up.
Then there’s Mike Brookfield. Second album, simply titled “Brookfield”. (Now that’s called branding!) The Englishman who now resides in Dublin can really play that geetar, and he has a voice that doesn’t let the side down, as many of guitarist-come-artist do. He looks a bit like Bryan Adams with his blonde, rockabilly hair cut. But the similarity stops there…
The album stays true to the blues, and it rocks like a beast when it needs to, but it is not the same old, same old that everyone else is doing. The track list thankfully doesn’t replicate the set list from hell either; with the obligatory Freddie King/BB King/Howling Wolf/Muddy Waters/SRV covers, along with self written material that holds the attention and interest about as long as a Donald Trump speech will.
No. This is 11 tracks of what he calls “burnin’ blues rock” where he sings and plays guitars/bass, and is joined only by drummer Andrew Lavery. Mike wrote all the music and Horslips drummer/lyricist Eamon Carr penned the lyrics. Mike takes producer credits. It is the follow up to his debut album, “Love Breaks The Fall” which dropped in 2015 and attracted much praise.
Mike Brookfield’s background is an unusual one for such a virtuosic master of the blues and rock fretboard. He spent the 1990s playing in the pit for various top West End musicals in London. At the turn of the century he moved to Ireland, and while acting as a Music Coordinator at RTE (television), where he worked on shows and events such as The Café, the Meteor Music Awards, the Childline Concert and The Late Late Show, he performed with many international artists.
The opener on the new album, “A Message For Willy Johnson” rocks along at a pace and nails a fine groove. Mike throwing in some tasty licks on the free spirited solo, nods to 1970s rock-blues stars such as Jimmy Page and Mr Clapton, methinks. The song pays tribute to country-blues legend Blind Willie Johnson.
Second cut in, “‘Beaten To Death By The Blues”, felt a bit messy in structure to me and didn’t offer him a solid platform for the vocal phrasing. But he delivers some cool lead licks and some measured slide. Here and across the album, Mike’s style reminded me of Andy Powell and Ted Turner, and the later addition to Wishbone Ash, Laurie Wisefield, with his soaring solos and technical skill.
A heavier rock vibe on “Zombie Craze”, Coverdale-ish on the vocal on an infectious hook, which gets into Deep Purple territory. A very nice ambience created on the slow blues ballad, “Suitcase Blues”, where Mike’s guitar skills come to the fore. There’s a slight country blues core within the layers of this standout track. Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore vibes. The vocal is the strongest yet. Production values faultless. The fact there are only two musicians on this track is actually pretty impressive. It loses nothing at all. This slower cut gives some light and shade to the harder and more rocky numbers among the set.
Talking of Gary Moore; the bluesy ‘Don’t Close The Gates’ would fit him like a glove. It leans slightly towards “I Need Your Love So Bad,” – the Peter Green/early Fleetwood Mac song, penned in 1955 by Mertis John Jr. and first recorded by his brother, the great Little Willie John – in melody and structure. Nice slide licks which add texture, before Mike’s versatile lead solo.
Ethereal, delay and reverb-soaked guitars swirl around in the intro to “Living In A Better World”, before wah-wah and drums, bass and lower end of the register guitar parts come in to propel a commercial, mid-tempo, soft rock track along nicely. Some strong guitar work from Mike on the squealing lead breaks. This will become a popular and oft’ requested track in his live set, I bet.
Whitesake, Guns N’ Roses and Bon Jovi vibes on this easy-on-the-ear, radio-ready, stadium rock cut, “Letter From The Devil”, which if you stripped it down and used acoustic guitars instead of the rambunctious electric rock riffs, you’d have a very presentable country tune. A fine vocal where Mike displays another side to his pipes. Strong lyrics from Eamon Carr. One of the best tracks of the 11.
When this next one kicked off, with its menacing, pumping bass line and slow 12-bar blues structure, I was waiting for the vocal to come in with: “The gypsy woman told my mother before I was born, I got a boy child comin; he’s gonna be a son of a gun….”, Muddy’s done-to-death, “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man”. But no, it’s Mike and Eamon’s own song, the classic format, slow blues style, “Hi Class Shoes”.
They rock out on the funky “Gun Crime”, before the penultimate track, the Chicago blues feel “This Restless Heart’, which weighs in mid-tempo, and has Mike singing his own harmonies, which add value nicely. Nods to 50s rock and roll on the vocals, for me. But the sizzling guitar work moves it on into the 60s and 70s blues eras. Proceedings are closed with the perfectly acceptable, ‘Written In Chains’.
Guitar nerds bang on about tone, about the gear the player is using – axe, amp, effects pedal and even what bloody strings – and all the stuff me and most other non-players do not give a Nun’s chuff about when listening to music. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it what I like or dislike? End of consideration, for most people. But…………….I make an exception here and say his tone (I know, I know…) and his mastery is special. At times, he put me in mind of one of my guitar heroes, in tone and skill; Mr Bill Nelson. With Bill’s soaring blues and rock riffs that defied gravity, and sent shivers up and down my spine every listen on record or live with his band Be Bop Deluxe, back in the 1970s and early 1980s. Mike sounds just as classy as Bill did, for me.
The guitars cut through like a bitch and sound like they would on a stage through an amp or two, and are not sanitised in any way by studio skulduggery and a megla-maniacal producer who likes his shiny electronic toys a bit too much!
But for me, the best thing about this album and his guitar playing is not what he did, but what he didn’t do. He left lots of space, he didn’t fill in all the holes with showboating and fret-board masturbation. I am quite sure he could do a hell of a lot more and we ain’t seen nothing yet, in his mind. But he didn’t need to do more to impress.
The material and the performance overall, is a pretty even listen. The vocal is not quite as consistent as the musicianship, and some of the songs provide a much better vehicle for his vocal instrument than others. But vocally; it’s an 8/10 compared to a constant 3 or 4/10 that many, many other blues rock singers are churning out lately. Even some of the bigger names, I may add (naming no names…).
“Brookfield” is not reinventing the wheel or giving us anything brand new. But it does skilfully polish up the blues rock format that has become stale, dull, predictable, and a tiresome listen, when wading through the countless CDs/streams and downloads I get sent daily/weekly/monthly/annually lately by artists, music PRs, record labels, record pluggers and others. Where they are hailing something as “exciting”, “awesome”, “unique” and “destined for stardom”, but turning out to be as appealing and enticing as a box set of party political broadcasts from the last General Election. I vote for Mike.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’