Tread lightly before dismissing the blues as crusty old timer territory. With the likes of Gary Clark Jr, Oli Brown and Chantel McGregor making waves in the last year or so, it’s become increasingly clear that blues has a definite place in new musical output. Maybe it’s a reflection of how fundamentally timeless the genre is, maybe its the next stage in the continuing retrospective side of British music. Either way, blues is enjoying a fresh overhaul, from a cohort of young musicians – who appreciate the true heart of the field, but have new ideas about how to make it sing.
Joanne Shaw Taylor has peddled her Stevie Ray Vaughan-infused brand of blues-rock for a few years now – raising impressed eyebrows in muso world. You don’t like to jump straight to the ‘ooh-look-a-girl-playing-electric-guitar’ schtick, but in an overwhelmingly male-dominated genre it’s difficult to not be excited at how accomplished she is. And while her three records offer solid, quality material, live settings are where she really shines.
Not that tonight’s crowd at Leicester Square Theatre need any convincing that she can hold her own. “Rock it Joanne!” a guy in the audience shouts. “But of course…” comes the smiling reply from Joanne, before she dives straight into a hard-rocking Soul Station. It’s non-stop, it’s LOUD, it’s fantastically satisfying.
Yes, she has a quality set of soulful pipes, and yes, her shiny, shiny blonde locks would give any Pantene model a run for their money, but ultimately it’s all about the guitar. And what a guitar she plays. She did fast, dirty blues on debut release White Sugar, as well as drawing on cleaner sounds – emulating from a telecaster-dominated guitar rack. Now, taking it further, the 2012 live Shaw Taylor is a hard rocking beast to be reckoned with, armed with an arsenal of mean licks and sexy riffs. And a big old Les Paul – the guitar of Jimmy Page and Slash – is giving her earlier work a serious shake-up.
There’s no fucking around with Joanne Shaw Taylor’s performance, and she clearly relishes every minute of it, but she’s not cheesy either. Her playing has a classic sophistication about it, but also a freshness and fearlessness that gives her a full-on but engaging and confident, live style. A cover (one of just two covers in the entire set) of Manic Depression sees her deliver a blistering solo, in fittingly Hendrix-esque style, laced with colourful, prettier lines that add intrigue to blues-rock beef.
Elsewhere, tracks like Beautifully Broken show a funkier side, driven by a husky, almost Motown quality in her voice. And the likes of Diamonds in the Dirt and the soulful Almost Always Never offer tender moments, in an all guns-blazing set.
A Fender strat sits in the rack, waiting, but remains untouched until the very end, when she grabs it for a joyously received closer of Dead And Gone, leaving the audience very happy indeed. There’s no doubt that Joanne Shaw Taylor is best enjoyed live, so if you fancy sampling one of the UK’s serious young blues talents make sure you check out one of her gigs because you won’t find better anywhere else.
Joanne Shaw Taylor’s UK tour continues until 28 October, her third album Almost Always Never is out now, for more information visit joanneshawtaylor.com
Polly Glass @Polly_Glass
Picture: Al Stuart