Blues In Britain
by Moray Stuart
The Unicorn, Camden
An almost complete run through of Carl's new live album, The Road Divides, formed the basis of this show. Opening with the title track, Carl, Dave Marotta (bass) and Jason Smith (drums) laid out the eclectic mix that would be the pattern for the night: while basically a Robben Ford-style jazzy blues there were hints of the Grateful Dead's Terrapin Station, manic hoedown-style picking, plus the first of many lightning fast solos from Carl.
The Beatles' “Taxman” was the first given an upbeat ska-rhythm then slowed to dub-reggae for a noodling, spacey closing solo, whereas Jerry Reed's “Jerry's Breakdown” was rendered true to the original, with dexterous Chet Atkins-style picking. Chet's name came up in the introduction to “Henry's Farm,” an acoustic instrumental with a country twang written on the farm of ex-Wings player Henry McCullough. Another tune written on the road was the bagpipe-inspired “Highland Shuffle”: despite his disparaging pre-song comments Carl's solo nicely captured their sound in a striding jam band coda. A jam band feel was also present in the excellent “Slang Justice,” Carl coaxing a fast buzz-saw tone out of his guitar over hypnotic drums. More obviously bluesy material came in the shuffling “Chinatown,” the mellow slow blues of “New Year's Day” and Carl's solo encore rendition of Ray Charles' “Hard Times.”
There was a nod to his Supertramp days with the blues-rock take on “Bloody Well Right” complete with an extended drum solo over the riff to Hendrix's “Who Knows.” Carl's playing reminded me of fusion guitarists Mike Stern and Wayne Krantz, (both supreme players who mix a large dollop of blues into their jazz inflected solos) particularly in numbers like “Take One Step,” with its tricksy rhythm-changes and staccato, jerky chorus, the “Superstition”-style “You Bring Me Down” and the complex but breezy instrumental “Eastern Steppes.” Carl ended the night with a fine solo “All You Need Is Love.”
Guitarist friends were amazed I'd not heard of Carl before, and were distraught to discover that they had missed a rare chance to see him play at this little-publicised show! There was sufficient “word-of-mouth” though to fill the Unicorn with an audience plainly there for the music: I've never heard a crowd so quiet during the playing and yet so appreciative of it at the appropriate moments.