Tuesday, 22 May 2018

"Lancashire Hustler" by KEEF HARTLEY (January 2009 Esoteric Recordings CD Reissue and Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…Got To Be Happy…"

Despite his natty leather hat and Cherokee jacket look on the front cover of "Lancashire Hustler" - and Deram's reputation as a Hard Progressive Rock label - this obscure Seventies album is essentially a Soul-Rock LP - and Esoteric's wonderful new remaster of it only hammers that home.

Originally released on vinyl in May 1973 on Deram SDL 13 and featuring 8-tracks - the UK vinyl album has always been hard to find (as has much of his output). So it's nice to see this January 2009 CD reissue do it proud...

1. Circles
2. You And Me
3. Shovel A Minor
4. Australian Lady
5. Action
6. Something About You
7. Dance To The Music

Remastered for CD from the original analogue tapes by Mark Powell and Paschal Byrne - "Lancashire Hustler" by KEEF HARTLEY on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2101 (Barcode 5013929720121) is a straightforward transfer of the album (38:43 minutes). I've raved about these sound engineers before - both have huge numbers of reissues under their belts and they've done their usual bang up job here - great presence and clarity. The 8-page booklet reproduces the inner gatefold on its centre-pages and has short but informative liner notes by Keef Hartley himself.

All tracks excepting the instrumental "Shovel A Minor" feature ELKIE BROOKS and ROBERT PALMER (then with VINEGAR JOE) on backing vocals with the mighty JESS RODEN on Lead Vocals. Other band members include Junior Keer on Guitar and Vocal, Jean Rouselle on Keyboards, Mick Weaver on Organ/Moog, Phillip Chen on Bass and Hartley on Drums.

It opens with the slow "Circles" sounding not unlike a Soulful Robin Trower with James Dewar on Vocals. The separation of the instruments and vocals is a bit harsh but amazingly clear - especially Jean Rouselle's lovely piano playing. Things get even more funky for "You And Me" where there's almost as Ashford & Simpson feel to the moog and brass jabs - while I've always loved the chipper instrumental "Shovel A Minor" sounding not unlike Greenslade going into boogie mode if you can imagine such a thing. It has brass pumps - guitar flicks that go all B.B. King - it's almost fusion too in places - hard to pin down but a blast nonetheless.

Things slow down again considerably for "Australian Lady" where again the brass accompanies a moody vocal and a floating keyboard note complimenting lovely guitar flicks floating over it all. It's unbelievably mellow and given the Deram Label rep for Progressive Rock almost wildly out of place (it even has a witty Take 3 piano interlude at the end). "Action" is probably one of the best `rawk' tracks on the album - featuring fantastic guitar work and a raspy Robert Palmer adding real muscle from behind to Roden's lead vocals. It's near six minutes sounds at times like Free or Humble Pie with its drum and bass breaks.

Back to Trower funky with the choppy fazed guitars of "Something About You" and its mellow keyboard breaks. It ends on the massively upbeat Motown feel of "Dance To The Music" (a cover of the Sly & The Family Stone classic) that finally lets Elkie Brooks loose on the vocals and features great Steve Winwood Spencer David Group keyboards. It last over six minutes and despite its frantic need to sound like everyone's having fun - I'm not sure it works though I think Sly would approve of the odd-sounding Moog solo.

You wouldn't call "Lancashire Hustler" a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination and those looking for Hard Rock or Prog should look elsewhere. But if you like your guitars Soulful and Funky like Robin Trower or Free or Humble can be on a good day - then hustle this little forgotten nugget into your life real soon...

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