Sunday, 18 October 2015

RAB NOAKES

CD Review

I'm Walkin' Here

Scots musician Rab Noakes doesn't do things by halves, when he was putting this double album together he wanted to create a collection no one else could make. 

Rab Noakes
Pic Brian Aris
Not a bad goal to aim for but then when you have a musical pedigree such as Noakes', an early member of Stealers Wheel where he encountered Gerry Rafferty, you realise it's not so far fetched a claim as you may think. For this big collection Noakes clearly shows his wide range of influences and those he has influenced from his skiffle roots, which he has dragged into the 21st century, to his folk creations, his blues renditions and even his occasional country sound.
The first disc is mainly new stuff from Noakes while the second draws on numerous sources.
He has also surrounded himself with an impressive collection of musicians and singers to help him and for whom some of them, such as Barbara Dickson, have been greatly influenced by Noakes' music and style.
Noakes has been round for nearly 50 years and, now aged 68, this is his 19th solo offering.
There is a built-in retro feel certainly to the first disc which although is definite isn't quite anchored in the past, a little like Jake Bugg whose past influences are clear but you can feel the contemporary in the music too. From the opening bars of Slippin' Away you get a feel that it was put together in one take and in a ramshackle makeshift studio which gives it that rawness and edginess. There is that skiffle element on Out of Sight which has that beat where you almost expect Johnny Cash to start singing. Very similar is the title track but he has somehow disguised the style of the song so it seems like you know in which period it belongs but you can never quite put your finger on it. For a man in his seventh decade he has a remarkably fresh voice and contemporary feel to his work which is quite disarming because you seem to think I remember this from... then it dawns on you that no you don't, it's new. It's a wonderful gift to be able to play with listeners' musical psyche like that, and Noakes does it so well.
There is a good ol stompin' bluegrass sound in One Dog Barks, the only criticism is that it feels too muted and you almost feel like Noakes should let himself off the leash and really go for it.
After checking your hearing is still working, A Little Time Left finally comes in as a gentle instrumental where you are tempted in the refrains to start singing Here Comes The Sun. Noakes keeps things low key with No More Time where he sounds more than a little like one of his muses Woody Guthrie, even the style of guitar playing is reminiscent of the great man.
Barbara Dickson and Rab Noakes.
Pic Nordoff Robins
Noakes goes real contemporary with Out Of The Blue sounding like something plucked right out of the Britpop era, having that Beatlesesque sound.
He slows things right down for Believing Is Seeing where there is a pretty close match with some of Fleetwood Mac's early stuff.
Noakes is soon back on the rock-a-billy/skiffle sound with Where Dead Voices Gather and the beat comes straight out of the early days of rock 'n' roll, you can almost see him on the screen inside a boxwood cabinet with a flickering black & white screen. (Don't Say) Money Doesn't Matter, this is probably the purest of Noakes' songs where there are only his fingerprints on the ballad. With Two Days in may he takes out the first disc and with the opening bars you get a cross between the urge to start singing A Horse With No Name and thinking this is Pink Floyd.
The second of the discs has collected from all over a little like a musical junkyard and let's face it who doesn't like looking around junkyards.
The opener Buttons and Bows is a great song from the 1940s and will forever be associated with Bob Hope from the film The Paleface and respectfully enough Noakes plays his version straight and true to the original. This kicks off a diverse collection which Noakes has drawn from a wide range of sources and given his own particular treatment and, as well established as a lot of the songs are, Noakes has managed to improve on them.
Tracks such as Don't Act Like Your Heart Isn't Hard, Goodbye Booze and All In Down and Out Blues, Noakes manages to keep the retro feel but at the same time giving it a contemporary slant, especially with the latter which comes from the 1930s and Noakes sings it somewhere between Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.
Noakes continues his musical journey with Cliff Richards' Travellin' Light this time giving it more of a country feel.
Your Clear White Light is a strong ballad inspired by Alan Hull of Lindisfarne who died at the tragically early age of 50. Noakes makes it sound almost like a 1960s protest song. He pulls out a great version of The Guernsey Kitchen Porter, which was written for a TV series, and gives it that gritty, urban blues feel which almost segues into the slower blues rift of That's The Way The Whole Thing Ends on which he duets with Emma Pollock who also provides some incidental whistling.
This gives way to some really gentle and slick guitar picking for Moonlight and Gold where Noakes shows the softer side of his gravelly style of singing.
Noakes' style of guitar playing is best described as minimalist and none more so than on Goodbye where every note is perfectly fitted into its place with real precision and his melancholy style comes to the fore with a just a hint of Leonard Cohen mixed in there.
Freight Train is one of those songs every folk singer or band has covered at some stage and Noakes' version is gives a little more gravitas to what was always a light ditty.
Noakes' new album
If you want an example of how versatile and eclectic his musicianship can be then Only Happy When It Rains is turned into what is close to a torch song and once again his economy on the guitar is so effective. The penultimate track, Two Sisters, is very traditional with Noakes giving it a sort of angst which is somewhere between Donovan and Dylan and it's among one of the best tracks on the second of the discs.
Noakes goes out with one almost everyone will know or has heard at some stage in their life Bye Bye Blackbird and again Noakes gives depth and a sense of melancholy which is uniquely him to what is essentially a fairly light and showy song.
Noakes is the kind of musician who could turn his hand to any song or piece of music and what's wonderful about his style is it not polished or glammed up in any way and you know these tracks are sung by him because he feels the music. His influences are myriad and his skills and visions for songs equally so. He set out to put together and album which no one else could do, and the question is did he achieve it? It would be a clever man who could argue against him being successful in this endeavour.

I'm Walkin' Here is out now on Neon Records.