When great Australian male Blues singers are spoken of a generated list starts to grow. However for me among the best four are Matt Taylor, Dave Hole, Steve Tallis and Kevin Borach.
Certainly these four would be so very well known among music and blues aficionados.
The CD being reviewed features a man who is certainly on my list of the best five Australian blues singers – This artist is Barry Charles.
Barry has been on the Australian music scene over many decades but he first gained significant popularity in the early 1970’s with Winchester, a group that played at and, was well appreciated, at the notorious Station Hotel in Greville Street Prahran.
Barry has been involved in music ever since his years at Mornington High School in the early 1960’s when he bought a guitar and taught himself to play. It didn’t take long for him to join a local group playing the music of the Shadows and Duane Eddy.
However Barry’s talented guitar playing was beginning to be overshadowed by his voice. Appreciating the vocal abilities of the likes of Nat King Cole, Paul Robeson and Ella Fitzgerald, he started to take his singing seriously, appreciating the importance of the science of breathing and the use of the diaphragm and he began working with various exercises to develop and maintain his voice.
It certainly didn’t take Barry long to appreciate the amazing resonation and vibration his voice had and, for the audiences to begin to appreciate the fact that he had an amazing FIVE octave range, which put him in the same elite company as Axel Rose and Mariah Carey.
He was fast becoming known as an amazing vocalist, but Barry was also beginning to appreciate that he could also use his voice also as an instrument.
That discovery continues to underpin his music right through to today and when mixed in with a liberal smattering of skat singing, we in the audience, are set back on our heels in amazement.
With a strong foundation of driving blues rhythms, Barry uses his voice to engage us with a range of sonic auditory explosions that go from the deep down Tibetan Monk chants through to the soaring highs of the Motown singers.
This is thoroughly exemplified on his many CD releases and the available one’s are listed at the end of this review.
Now, to the review of his 2018 CD – “On The Edge”.
So let’s take a look at and a listen together, to this new release by Barry which is his most recent and indeed, the seventh of the currently available releases by him.
The format follows a growing familiar and sensible fashion of being more an extended play (EP) rather than a full album.
The value of this format is that is means the purchaser tends to get the best of the artists material, rather than the best with “fills”. It also means the artist can get their music out into the public at a lower cost and faster.
“On The Edge” is a 100% blues album and represents blues as sung and presented in the unique Barry Charles form. It’s full on with nothing held back. It is absolutely a high quality production with a vocality that is right “on the edge!”
It is abundantly clear that Barry is totally at ease with the musicians that accompany him on the EP and in fact Barry has performed with both Parris MaCleod and Peter Wells, and it shows.
Nothing is forced! The groove comes so naturally and the music is inviting, emotional and is of a very high class.
Accompanying Barry who provides all the vocals, are:
- Parris Macleod on keyboards, piano and rhythm guitar
- Peter Wells on guitar
- Greg Hose on bass
- Gordon Rythmeister on drums
- Chonyia – provides harmonies
- Robbie Amhaz on percussion on track 5
The album was Produced and Recorded by Parris Macleod at the Diamond Valley recording Studio located in the Diamond Valley, Queensland.
As the album producer, Parris’ placement of the instrumentation and his ability to capture Barry’s voice superbly means, he has bought the best out in Barry and crafted a gem of a CD.
The five tracks represent covers of three tracks written and played by other artists and two originals compositions by Barry.
Track 1 – I’m in the Mood for The Blues was written and performed by Ernie Johnson on his album “In The Mood” (1995). It’s a wonderful up-tempo electric blues track that immediately tells us that Barry has chosen his accompanying musicians with great care. The horn arrangements, although keyboard controlled samples, are arranged and played in a way that if we listen and close our eyes, we really can imagine a genuine full horn section.
The guitar work of Peter Wells is outstanding and the rhythm section of Gordon Rytmeister on drums and Greg Hose on bass are tight and really help kick this track right along.
Sitting on piano is Parris Macleod, who also contributes rhythm guitar. Now the music is lovingly and skilfully played, yet, what really sits us back on our heels is the power and emotion of Barry’s voice.
When you listen to the original version you get a wonderful clean piece of blues soul singing. With Barry’s version, when his voice kicks in we get a gritty, fully rounded dramatic bass-baritone voice that oozes feeling and demands our attention.
[Sample – I’m in the Mood for the Blues]
What a great track to kick off with!
Track 2 is an original composition – Broken by the Blues.
This track is nicely down-tempo and featuring some really soulful blues licks on guitar by Peter Wells. Barry reaches out and sets the scene of a man: sitting in a darken smokey lounge, confused, poring his heart out with the pain of a man who has suffered . . . suffered from the loss of a woman . . . suffering from the blues or . . . ?
It is up to us to immerse ourselves in Barry’s story to allow ourselves to manifest the imagery from the relationship pain each of us, as listeners, have experienced.
“I know tomorrow’s a new day
and I’m taking it away
and I just don’t get over all those mind games honey
you know . . . you used to play
yerrrr my heart feels so heavy
and my head feels quite numb
the shock of it all is something I know, I must overcome
I’ve been broken, By the blues
Bruised and confused
Do you have any idea what you put me through, yer
I’ve been broken, broken by the blues….”
[Sample – Broken by the Blues]
Track 3 – “What You Need” is the second of Barry’s compositions.
This is a great track to kick your heels up and dance to. Some nice slide guitar is once again supplemented by tight arrangements and features some of what might almost be called “Barry’s basso profondo” style – where he just drops into his amazing octave going deep down, reaching deeeep down into his boots, while all of which is supported by some nice harmonies courtesy of Chonitia.
[Sample – What You Need]
Track 4 – The Bluest Blues was written and played originally by one of the true modern day English blues greats – Alvin Lee and was first heard on his 1994 album titled “Nineteen Ninety Four”.
It would be too much to expect a better guitar rendition of this blues style ballad as played by Alvin Lee, but undeterred Peter Wells meets the challenge and does a sterling job. When it comes to the vocals, to my ears Barry’s vocals just leaves the original for dead.
It’s the longest track on this EP, running for 5:35 and is a real delight to listen to. It does showcase the arranging skills of producer Parris McLeod and confirms Barry as singularly, one of our great blues singers.
[Sample – The Bluest Blues]
The final track is titled “You Mean Everything To Me” and was written by Duke Robillard [Michael John “Duke” Robillard], who was a member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
This might just be my favourite track, if I can find a favourite among so many fantastic tracks. It has a real Latin-American feel, and the guitar style as played on this track by Peter Wells is often reminiscent stylistically of the great Carlos Santana.
Yet, there is no denying it’s blues roots with some wonderful piano playing by Parris Macleod and some very tasteful percussion by Robbie Amhaz. This track really demonstrates that Barry, even within the blues genre, he has a wide range of vocal styles.
[Sample – You Mean Everything To me]
Barry’s voice just oozes emotion and this is not something that cannot be faked or learned. It comes from not just embracing the blues, it comes from a lifetime of steeping oneself in the blues. It comes from experiencing life to its fullest, so not just reaching great heights of happiness, but also the depths of despair.
Now Barry has such an eclectic and original style and one album can never showcase his talents. But if you have never heard Barry live or recorded, this is a wonderful introduction to him.
If you are familiar with him and his singing, then you will automatically be drawn to this EP.
It’s no wonder he excels. Barry has honed his craft over many decades and has worked with some of the best in Australia and, overseas, including an ad hoc band in Jamaica with the line-up including Dave Mason, Hall and Oats and Alvin Lee.
That’s pretty damn fine company!
We might debate for a long time what makes a singer an iconic singer. In my mind, when it comes to Australian blues singers with unique vocal abilities and a power that is right “on the edge”, then Barry Charles stands among the best we have.
This CD deserves to be in the collection of anyone who enjoys the best in Australian music and certainly, the best in the Australian blues genre.
Visit Barry’s website for more information –
“On The Edge” is currently available on both iTunes and Amazon and Barry is currently negotiating with CD Baby.
However Barry is open to being contacted through his web site and providing a signed copy for no extra cost than the CD would be if purchased anywhere else.
Barry has quite a catalog of releases but in addition to this latest release “On The Edge“, there is a backlist of available CD’s.
BARRY CHARLES – CD BACKLIST
something goin’ on out there . . .
Eight tracks – ﬁve new original tracks -including the title track – and a couple of old favourites that have been on my repertoire for some time. The album came about when an old friend, and great musician, called and offered a few days recording with him in his new studio. Basically it’s a solo album, but with some really nice added touches from Andy Cowan, Andy Baylor and Haggis Maguiness.
A Cordial Collision
A trans Tasman collaboration with extraordinary harmonica player, Haggis Maguiness. They met iniatially when Barry was playing at the Bay of Islands Jazz ‘n Blues festival and followed up with performances both in Australia and in New Zealand.
Equally competant on both diatonic and chromatic harp – once you’ve heard Haggis play you know you’ve heard something special.
under the inﬂuence –The Songs Of Tom Waits
A gift of a Tom Waits album, from his brother converted Barry to Waits’ compositions and singing style. Barry’s unique interpretation has evolved with live performance, “Thanks Tom! I’m only the messenger . . .”
And a tasteful contribution from Tim Finnigan on double bass.
Northern Shores A wholly original CD – acoustic blues
REVIEW . . . ‘a man who started with an amazing voice has been on long journeys into sound and of fearless experimentation to get where he is with this really great CD. What’s amazing is that he does almost everything – vocals, guitar (he’s just so impressive and expressive), and harmonica – with Tim Finnigan on double bass’. [Music Scene with Andrew Tucker]
Away from it all
and now for something completely different . . . no words!
Barry uses his voice as an instrument to capture moods and images of the Noosa lakes and river system. Originally composed to accompany an exhibition of his photographs.
Barry’s ﬁrst CD, it is a mixture of the big ballads and original compositions that Barry was performing then, circa 1995. Studio recording with backing on all tracks by Sunshine Coast musicians.