Ruf Records – 2016
16 tracks; 53 minutes
Londoner Si Cranstoun is a rising star of the rock and roll/vintage scene in the UK and this debut on a major label will introduce him to a wider audience. Si has reworked numbers that have worked for him live on stage and blended those with some new tunes, so existing fans will find something new to enjoy while those new to Si can see what he is about. Si wrote 14 of the tracks here with just two covers. Si handles lead vocals and plays guitar, bass and keys, with Mez Clough on drums, Stewart Panaman on bass, Don Faulkner and Drew Davies on saxes, Jon Radford on trumpet and Patrick Hayes on trombone; keys are either Paddy Milner or Neil Casey, guitar Simon Picton or Jay Gipson.
The album opens in grand style with the title track which opens with the chords from “Jailhouse Rock” before the band comes in, piano pumping, saxes underpinning Si’s excited vocal – completely infectious rock and roll! “Vegas Baby” is even better with a nod to Jackie Wilson on the ‘rrrring’ chorus, the catchy rhythm backed up by doo-wop vocals and a fine horn chart, possibly the pick of the whole album. Most of the tracks are short and sweet but “Nighttime” makes it to the five minute mark, the piano providing a blues background to Si’s impassioned vocal which draws on Sam Cooke’s style to good effect, as does “Around Midnight” which has a superb horn arrangement. Si can also do ballads as on “Right Girl”, a classic 50’s ballad with insistent piano and another solid horn arrangement. With so many tracks it is not possible to comment on everything here but there are several tracks to which attention should be drawn, if only to demonstrate the range exhibited. The upbeat doo-wop of “Jukebox Jump” is great fun, latin rhythms feature on “Elize The Brazilian” while “Run Free” takes us close to soul rhythms with superb horns. “Skinny Jeans” is a comic tribute to a shapely figure and Si even finds room for his own ‘Christmas record’ in “A Christmas Twist”. Si’s father was a promoter of ska music back in the day and “Commoner To King” draws on that background with a loping ska beat on a possibly autobiographical song.
The two covers show some of Si’s influences. Billy Swan wrote many songs in the rock and roll vein and “Lover Please” is reprised here. Louis Jordan’s “Big Bess” is one of his less well known tunes and the band does it full justice with the baritone sax at the bottom of the arrangement, the trumpet at the top and tenor sax taking solo honours, piano twinkling away as Si sings the lyrics excellently, another standout track.
Possibly the oddest thing is that the CD is released on Ruf, a label best known for the rockier end of the blues spectrum so this CD is a departure for the German label. If rock and roll and the sounds of the 1950’s are your thing, do check out this very enjoyable CD.