Chris Youlden & The Slammers – Closing Time
For many long-time fans of British blues music, the name Chris Youlden will immediately conjure up memories of the early Savoy Brown albums – Blue Matter, A Step Further, Raw Sienna. It is Youlden’s deep, rich voice heard on classic tracks like “Train To Nowhere,” “I Made Up My Mind,” and “I’m Tired”. Parting ways with the band in 1970, the singer embarked on a solo career that surprisingly never managed to connect with listeners, despite four well-received releases.
As explained in the notes in the booklet included on this project, in July, 1987, Youlden went into the studio, backed by the Slammers, musicians he had been regularly appearing with locally. Drummer Malcolm Mills was a main catalyst for the project with help from Dave Briggs and Will Stallibrass on guitar, Paul Riley on bass, and Peter Jennings on Hammond B-3 organ on three tracks. They cut nine tracks in total. Four years later, they returned to the studio to try again, cutting six new songs plus redoing three cuts from the initial session. Stallibrass and Jennings were not part of the second session, with Geraint Watkins filling in on keyboards.
The disc opens with a tough version of the Lazy Lester hit, “Sugar Coated Love,” complete with some taut guitar licks, followed by a fiery run-through of “Number Nine Train,” Youlden utilizing a smooth tone for his rapid-fire delivery. “I Wanna Stay Alive” is a standout original that comes on strong, like a lost track from those long-gone days with Savoy Brown. The band shows it’s mastery of the Eddie Cochran style on “Nervous Breakdown,” while Youlden delivers a pensive interpretation of James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”. Stallibrass adds some mournful harmonica tones on “Fool’s Paradise”. Youlden expertly captures the resignation that comes from examining life’s mistakes. Then he sounds right at home while singing over the swinging rhythm on “Roll With My Baby”.
The 1991 session kicks off with a rousing cover of Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Ain’t Got You,” as Briggs fires off some hearty guitar licks while Watkins pounds the piano keyboard. “In The Middle Of the Night” is taken at a frantic pace, suffering from a muddy mix. But the band rolls along like a well-oiled machine on Jimmy McCracklin’s “Come On,” and Youlden dishes out a fine vocal. Another standout performance is found on “How Deep Is The Well,” written by Percy Mayfield. The singer showcases his versatility and vocal range on a memorable, jazz-tinged rendition. “Let’s Talk About Us” and “Sweet Love Of Mine” are rockabilly rave-ups, with the band obviously having fun. Three “bonus” tracks include “Roll With My Baby,” complete with a mellower arrangement focused on Watkins on piano, a second version of “Sugar Coated Love” featuring Youlden’s earnest presentation, and a cleaner take on “I Wanna Stay Alive” that lacks some of the menace of the previous version.
After listening to this disc, it is hard to figure out why someone as talented as Chris Youlden has faded into the mists of time. He and the band have an obvious connection, with Mills, as producer, keeping the instrumental solos brief to maintain the focus on Youlden’s dynamic voice. While these tracks may not equal his seminal work with Savoy Brown, they do further establish Chris Youlden’s legacy as one of the finest vocalists of the early British blues era.