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The Franck Ash Band - Caught in the Act – Live in London


8 tracks/59:03

French by birth, Franck Ash is guitarist and singer who is now based out of London. He has played in a variety of settings, most notably in backing Screamin' Jay Hawkins during the latter stages of that legendary performer's life. Ash was the featured guitar player on two Hawkins recordings that included a live, two disc set done in Paris. Following his tenure with Hawkins, Ash has pursued a solo career that has earned him several European blues awards. The third release under his name finds him in front of an appreciative crowd at the Blues Kitchen as the grand finale of the club's Rhythm & Blues Fest.

In the liner notes, Ash states that the band didn't know they were being recorded. No matter as their opening salvo is a rocking version of “Well Alright ”, a tune that was a hit for Joe Williams backed by the Count Basie band. Ash lays down an energetic vocal before Moz Gamble takes over the spotlight, generating some heat on the organ. There's another verse before Ash unleashes a solo full of lightning quick runs up and down the fretboard with Gamble matching him note for note. Next, the group jumps right into a funky revision of “Hoochie Cootchie Man”. The rhythm section of Lamine Guerfi on bass and Evan Jenkins on drums show they know how to establish a solid groove while Ash injects a soulful touch in his vocal and guitar solo as Gamble once again comps furiously in the background.

Later they tackle the Elmore James classic “It Hurts Me Too”. Ash forgoes the slide guitar, content to tear through another solo at a rapid pace before Jenkins gets a brief solo spot. One high point is a sensitive rendition of the Don Nix – Dan Penn ballad “Like a Road”, with a heart-rending vocal from Ash. The song hits a brief interlude and suddenly the band tears into “CC Rider” at a breakneck pace with Gamble delivering another memorable solo. Things begin to fall apart when the group adds “Got My Mojo Working” to the medley. Maybe listeners in England haven't grown tired of this well-worn standard. To these ears, even Ash's blazing guitar work fails to rescue the final segment.

The final cover finds Willie Dixon's “You Shook Me” sporting a thumping bass line and a driving beat that approaches the feel of Magic Slim and the Tear Drops. With the exception of the three songs in the medley, Ash takes partial songwriting credit. While he certainly has made substantial changes to the arrangements, one has to wonder about the fairness of laying claim to some recognized classics. Guess that's something of the lawyers to figure out.

There are three originals penned by Ash, with “Poison” featuring a propulsive drive and an expressive vocal from the leader, who bends his guitar strings with abandon. “Get Out” finds Ash in full Stevie Ray Vaughan mode but he pulls it off with an assist from the band, with Gamble once again providing a spark. The final track takes the band back into funk territory with Ash belting out the lyrics before each band member gets another brief opportunity to strut their stuff. Ash then thanks the audience before bringing the set to a close with one final outburst on his guitar.

There are plenty of live recordings that leave listeners saying, “I guess you had to be there”, as the excitement on stage fails to come through on the recording. Franck Ash and his well-rehearsed band don't have that problem. Their energy and enthusiasm is apparent on every track. And they bring a fresh approach to several blues standards. Hearing this recording has me hoping that I will get a chance to see the Franck Ash Band live somewhere down the road. That should be enough of recommendation for some of you to check this one out and see if you agree.

Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. He has been listening to music of all kinds for fifty years. The first concert he attended was in Chicago with The Mothers of Invention and Cream. Life has never been the same.

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