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Music Review: Matt Schofield – Heads, Tails & Aces

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The greatest compliment I can pay British bluesman Matt Schofield is that as soon as his latest album Heads, Tails & Aces came to an end I found myself reaching for my Rory Gallagher vinyl. To me Rory will always be one of the greatest of all guitar gods and Matt Schofield had quite simply set the scene for me to play those albums again.

Heads, Tails & Aces confirms all of those superlative soaked reviews that we read when he first appeared on the scene back in 2005 with his debut album Siftin’ Thru Ashes. When he followed that in 2007 with Ear To The Ground his heady mix of blues, New Orleans funk, and R&B, with the odd splash of jazz for good measure was the stuff of excited intoxication among the rock media.

Heads, Tails & Aces has him homing in on the blues, leaving behind some of the funkier elements of his previous two releases. The result is a stunning trip through nine original and two cover tracks containing some the best blues guitar I’ve heard in a long time. Whilst the US has Joe Bonamassa then the UK can doubtless be proud of its own Matt Schofield.

His playing has a smooth, seamless, and almost effortless quality to it that revive those memories of some of the greatest of them all. His playing is underpinned by the keyboards of Jonny Henderson, the bass of Jeff Walker, and drummer Alain Baudry, all of whom add their expertise to this fine album.

Matt Schofield started listening to the blues in his early teens. He learnt his trade working alongside Dana Gillespie whilst touring the UK, Europe, and as far away as India. When he formed his first band, a trio, he took a leaf out of Stevie Ray’s older brother Jimmie Vaughan’s book by not having a bass player. Instead it was covered by Jonny Henderson’s Hammond.

They released a low key, eight-track covers album entitled The Trio – Live. Despite being a low cost release it circulated quickly, receiving airplay on either side of the Atlantic, and Matt Schofield became one to most definitely watch out for.

His decision to focus on the blues for Heads, Tails & Aces shines a beacon on his extraordinary guitar skills. Within a few bars you can hear exactly why this guy has had experts excitedly declaring him one of the hottest prospects around.

The L.A. Daily News described him as, ‘the best blues guitarist from any country in decades’. Meanwhile Guitar And Bass magazine wrote that he was in the ‘top ten British Blues guitarists of all time’. Heady stuff indeed, so does this album live up to this tidal wave of appreciation?

The short answer is a resounding yes. This album is, for me, his finest hour to date and temptingly whets the appetite for what is surely to come. It has to be said that the opener, “What I Wanna Hear”, is precisely that. Next up, “Live Wire”, smoulders along nicely towards a soulful “War We Wage”.

“Betting Man” makes an early bid for attention amid this strong set before handing over to the slowly simmering blues of “Lay It Down”. At just under nine minutes this is a real album highlight. Despite knowing exactly where this standard blues line will take you the impossibly smooth guitar playing alongside the intoxicating keys of Jonny Henderson make it a fine example of all things many of us find irresistible about this style of music.

“Can’t Put You Down” picks up the pace with a touch of funk before the first cover, Freddie King’s, “Woman Across The River” eases in. The silky “Nothing Left” reintroduces a late night jazz atmosphere whilst “I Told Ya” takes the vibe even further leaving you cutting through the smoke to reach the bar.

“Stranger Blues” has Schofield stamping his mark all over this cover of Elmore James’ song. “Not Raining Now” eases us home to the end of a highly impressive album. Matt’s vocals are strong without ever over reaching and the band is as tight as whatever analogy surrounding a duck’s anatomy you would care to use.

Matt Schofield has delivered his finest album to date and one that leaves you feeling refreshingly safe in the knowledge that there is plenty more of this yet to come.

For more information, along with details of how to catch a gig call in on Matt Schofield's Myspace page or his official website.

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