Kokomo – Workhorse | Album Review

Kokomo – Workhorse

Boatshed Records – 2022


10 tracks; 44 minutes

I believe that this is the first “blues” album I have heard from New Zealand! Having heard a number of Australian bands who have tended to be at the rock end of the blues spectrum, it was a pleasant surprise to find that this is a collection of songs with interesting lyrics, set against subtle, understated backing, generally on the boundaries between country blues and folk. The band has produced no fewer than fourteen previous albums and dates back to the early 90’s, but reckons that this is the album they have always wanted to make. Based in the Bay Of Plenty, the band consists of original members Derek Jacombs (vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin) and Grant Bullot (harmonica, washboard), joined by electric guitarist Santiago Rebagliati, bassist Nigel Masters and drummer Ian ‘Beano’ Gilpin; Grant Winterburn guests on organ on one track and piano on another and Alan Norman plays the accordion where heard. Derek wrote all bar one tune.

The title track sets out the band’s stall with gentle, acoustic guitar rhythms with plucked electric accents, the harmonica adding a slightly wistful feel, entirely in keeping with the lyrics: “I should have been a workhorse, working just for you, for a minute of your love I would work my whole life through”. Derek has a very clear, semi-spoken style, a hint of gruffness in his vocals, but all the lyrics are clearly intelligible, even on first listen.

“Something Funny Going On” has a more blues-based sound with strong harp work, the band harmonizing well on the choruses, the song taking a wry look at the recent pandemic, people wearing masks and not knowing how the disease might affect them. Derek then recounts a chance encounter with a stranger at a gig and his tales of ancient statues, but Derek does not care, he knows that life will go on and “Bars Gonna Close”, a lively song with some fine guitar work from Santiago, well underpinned by piano. “Driving After Midnight” goes back to the quieter style, harp and the accordion giving the song a gentle feel before the country blues sound of “Born To Bad Luck” and “I’m Going Fishing” in which Derek invites us to join him in his happy place.

Stately mandolin leads us into “Sundog”, a mainly acoustic tune dedicated to “a big ole dog” before the band takes us for a ride to get some “Highway 29 Blues”, a song that warns us that “Highway 29 is a vale of tears, something lost and never found again”; the music suits the lyrics with dobro and harp providing a mournful sound over an acoustic base. “The Ballad Of Kowhiterangi” is a folk tune written and sung by bassist Nigel whose very English accent rather takes you by surprise as he speaks, rather than sings, the tale of an old farming community where life was a whole lot simpler than modern times. Derek returns to lead the band on “Room With A View”, another gentle tune that recalls French chanson, perhaps due to the harp playing in a low style that sounds a little like violin, plus accordion and piano!

Overall this is a pleasant listen with good variety of instrumentation and interesting songs. It is not really a blues disc, though it certainly contains some blues elements.

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