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Tom Rodwell
The Spitz - Jan 2006
Review David Atkinson. Photo Martin Harms


Tom Rodwell plays the blues. Often sounding like there’s a four-piece band playing, Tom’s approach is refreshingly rhythm-orientated. It’s all syncopation; there’s chiming Pops Staples and fat Bo Diddley chords jostling with stabs of slide or inspired yet brief single-note runs that always serve the rhythm of the tune. Clearly each song has a loose framework that is played with and improvised within – it’s about that moment, that room and what feels right.

There are no straight shuffles here, just inspired re-workings of mainly pre-war blues, forgotten spirituals, work songs and one-chord vamps. Tom’s amp groans and wheezes with heaving bass notes and shimmering, tremulous chords – rich in harmonics, at once scolding and emollient. His foot keeps time on a homemade wooden stomp box, which adds to the percussive feel and anchors the songs. There’s a lot going on and the urge to move is irresistible. Out of the rhythms drift some familiar lyrics and odd fragments of Howlin’ Wolf, Fred McDowell, John Lee Hooker and Junior Wells, but it’s like you’re hearing them anew. His voice isn’t the gravel holler you might expect but serves as a perfect counterpoint to the churning guitar and imparts the right amount of weariness and wonder to the lyrics.

Often the groove belies the weight and seriousness of some of the songs. Out Of The Wilderness, The Lord Will Make A Way, and Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You are somewhat at odds with the wine bar feel and trendy crowd. It’s a curious soundtrack to a Saturday night. However, this isn’t a gospel meet, it’s a party and all that’s asked of you is that you get down. This would have been easier if the Spitz management had seen fit to dim the lights a bit and move a couple of tables seeing as people had long since stopped eating. It would have helped the atmosphere a lot but did not detract from the quality of the music.

Seemingly without trying, Tom Rodwell manages to eschew the clichés that beset a lot of blues music and musicians. Well-spoken between songs and dressed in a dark suit, he cuts an unassuming but confident figure. His music isn’t a recreation of anything – it’s not like an old 45 captured in amber - it just taps into the feel and flow that makes all those old blues records so great and forceful. It’s by turns wild, angry, hypnotic and sensual. It’s as uncompromising as it is funky and some of the best live music I’ve heard in a long time.

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