11 songs – 48 minutes
Ottawa-based Murray Kinsley & Wicked Grin have been making waves in the Canadian blues community for a few years now, including winning the Maple Blues Award for New Artist of the Year in 2014. Their third album, Stormy Water, follows on from 2013’s Shame On Me, and features 11 roots rock/blues songs, 10 of which were written by Kinsley himself (with the sole cover being Sleepy John Estes’ “Everybody Ought To Make A Change”).
Leaning more towards roots rock than blues, Stormy Water is a very impressive release. The band attacks the material with serious intent, focussing primarily on up-tempo numbers, such as when they come roaring out of the blocks on the first track, “Dance Pretty Mama”, with its hints of Aerosmith’s “Let The Music Do The Talking” both in attitude and also in the in-your-face production. Rod Williams’ swooping harmonica playing is particularly effective, helping to set the tone for the rest of the album.
In addition to being the main songwriter, Murray Kinsley also supplies lead vocals and guitar. The rest of the band comprises Rod Williams on harmonica and vocals and the impressive rhythm section of Leigh-Anne Stanton on bass and vocals and Liam Melville on drums and vocals. Guest musicians on the album include Alain McCann on piano and Hammond organ, Jason Jaknunas on percussion and Vivian Kinsley on additional back-up vocals.
Kinsley is a fine guitarist but it is his distinctive, world-weary voice that really sets Murray Kinsley & Wicked Grin apart. On a track like the throwback rock’n’roll of “Fast Fast Car”, Kinsley sounds more beaten up than Jim Rockford at the end of an unusually violent episode of the Rockford Files. Even on the upbeat “Shine”, with its entwining slide guitar and harp stretching out over the jungle beat of the drums, Kinsley’s voice sounds like it has come from a harsher altogether more brutal time and place, even as he exhorts the subject of the song to “Shine, beauty, shine.”
Estes’ “Everybody Ought To Make A Change” is perfectly suited to the band. Played as an upbeat dancing song, the last line of the stanza is all the more effective for its casual brutality: “Everybody, they ought to make a change sometime. Because sooner or later they’ll go out in that lonesome ground.”
Wicked Grin play everything with a biting edge. Even a love song such as “Let Me Love You” sounds ominously threatening, with its hints of the great John Campbell in the groove, with another fine harp solo from Williams. The shuffle of “I’m Mad” highlights Kinsley’s distinctive and winning voice and “Death If You Find Me” sounds like the bastard love child of Muddy’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and some early Led Zep. The ostensibly acoustic “You’re Gone” still carries an unmistakable air of foreboding menace.
Stormy Water is a very enjoyable slab of blues/rock, benefiting especially from Kinsley’s voice and Williams’ haunting harp. If your tastes extend to the rockier end of the blues spectrum such as early Aerosmith or George Thorogood, you will find much to enjoy on this release.