Paul Gillings – Invisible Prison
13 songs – 49 minutes
Based out of Suffolk on the east coast of England, Paul Gillings is a skilled multi-instrumentalist who’s comfortable across several styles of music and a first-call sessions musician on harmonica. But he steps out of the shadows here to deliver this flashy set of modern blues.
Gillings’ interest in the instrument began at age 11, when he became enthralled by the play of his Scoutmaster at Boy Scout cookout. He soon joined a youth harmonica group, Random Sound, which gigged at events including the famed Glastonbury Festival and appearances on Jools Holland’s Happening TV show as well as the Mickey Mouse Club, TNN’s Nashville Now and ABC’s Good Morning America during U.S. tours.
A 1993 World Harmonica Championship winner in the youth blues/rock division, Paul’s worked in the fields of jazz, symphony, folk, indie rock and blues as an adult, primarily toiling in the studio before finally releasing a solo acoustic blues album, You Don’t Even Know, last year. He’s also currently a member of the gypsy folk ensemble Zingaro Blue, and is featured on their latest release, A Handful of Songs.
Gillings plays all of the instruments but drums on this CD, which is a major departure from his first release, substituting grungy guitar lines and roaring runs on harp for the clean, acoustic riffs he laid down previously. Paul wrote all 13 tracks here, which were recorded at his home in Lowestoft, then mixed and mastered at Blaze Studios in Caister on Sea, Norfolk. Nathan Luker handles percussion, and Danny R. delivers lead guitar on one cut.
Paul fires out of the gate with “Start Over Again” atop a speedy, driving boogie beat. Somewhat reminiscent of Sugar Blue on the reeds, albeit with far fewer pyrotechnics, he’s a powerful singer whose attack is both rapid-fire and clean as he describes being at a crossroads in relationship and wondering whether it’s worthwhile going returning to square one. “I Ain’t Never Played an English Song with an English Guy” picks up where the first number left off. Apparently, it’s based on a real-life incident when Gillings stunned a band in Texas with his skills after being invited to sit in on a Beatles tune.
The pace slows for “Are You a Have or Are You a Have Not,” which opens with stellar single-note progressions on the reeds before launching into lyrics that questions whether the person in question truly belongs. Paul’s chops are on full display for the mid-song solo. Boogie’s back on the front burner for the hard-driving instrumental, “KWS,” before “I Don’t Know When I’m Beaten” comes across as an unhurried shuffle propelled primarily with low-register chord progressions.
The stop-time “It Hurts Like Hell” is a medium-fast modern blues that deals with the dissolution of love affair aided by another clever hook on harp before a major aural shift with “Passed Me By,” a barebones tune with a regimental beat and a country feel. Up next, the original, “Help You,” borrows heavily from Blue’s “Help Me,” slowing the pace slightly and altering the theme to deliver a message to a woman that he can’t come to her aid because she’s incapable of doing anything for herself.
Paul’s guitar skills come to the fore for the opening to the slow blues instrumental, “3 Heads Are Better Than 1,” then yield to a quartet of different views of a problematic relationship — the melodic “I’m Never Gonna Change” the uptempo “It Beats Me Baby” the driving “I Gave Up My Evening for This” and the slow-paced “Waiting Blues” – bring the action to a close.
Available as a digital download through most major websites or as a CD through Amazon, you’ll serve a pleasant stretch in Gillings’ Invisible Prison.