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Music Review: The Why & Wherefores – Alright

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Any band that lists their primary influences as Hank Williams, Tom Waits, Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, and Billie Holiday is surely worth looking out for. The Why & Wherefores may have the sort of name that isn’t particularly search engine friendly, but once logged on you will be opening the door on a name to remember.

Formed throughout 2006 from the partnership of singing guitarists Emily Druce, and Steve Jones, they have added three more musicians to complete the bands sound. Emily has been described by the UK’s Guardian newspaper as ‘an outstanding young blues singer,’ and the 'Queen Of British Blues.' She had already released two solo albums, The Guilt Trip in 2000 and New Day two years later, by the time she became involved in Druce & Jones.
None other than Ex-Manfred Man Blues legend Paul Jones, and whispering Bob Harris of Old Grey Whistle Test fame, promoted her music via the airwaves. This helped earn her support slots to the likes of veteran blues rockers The Groundhogs, and the late Lonnie Donegan. 

She met guitar maker and musician Steve Jones at the Burnley Blues Festival when she asked him to build a resophonic guitar for her. The pair then released the acclaimed debut album Songs From The Silver Room which featured legendary New York pianist Charlie Giardano.

Having worked successfully as a duo they decided to go for a more complete sound and added the tuba and sousaphone skills of Martin Wydell, drummer Marc Layton-Bennett, and John Barker who brings his lap steel talent, to form The Why & Wherefores.

This year sees the release of the album Alright which has caused quite a stir on the blues circuit. Martin Wydell adds a touch of brass band texture, while the lap steel of John Barker completes the sound. Emily possesses a voice that underlines just why she has gained so much attention since arriving on the scene.

Steve Jones’ vocals add an earthy blues, and his joint song-writing with Emily has developed even further and together they have produced eleven, highly impressive, original tracks. There is one cover on the album, Bob Marley’s "Lively Up Yourself," which adds a touch of reggae to the set.

This is a nicely balanced album of blues, rockabilly, swing jazz, latin, alongside a splash of soul, cool Cooder blues, and a little honky tonk. Despite the wide range of styles the result is a smooth running, ultra cool, and highly enjoyable experience.

The fleshed out sound of the band adds a whole new level of confidence and authority through skilful musicianship. This is a tasty, classy, and engaging album with many individual highlights. That sense of class remains consistent throughout and the band literally do not miss a beat.

Opening with the retro title track, we are soon into cool blues territory with “Black And White” complete with beautiful lap steel. A gloriously swampy “Rev Gal,” leads to the smooth swing of “The One I Left Behind.”

“Rough Diamond” adds another twist with Emily’s voice lifting the hairs on my neck. Magnificently backed by a superb arrangement, it acts as further confirmation that this group can deliver the many styles they are clearly inspired by.

“Wolf” livens it back up with a swinging duet between Steve and Emily. There is a Latin color in “Rollin & Tumblin,” “Illuminated” adds the boss nova, while the excellent “Way Out West” eases in with a smooth late night vibe, backed by a hypnotic bass line, and violin.

A muddy “I Thought I Loved Someone Else” has Steve’s vocals dueting nicely. “Last Go Round” again showcases Emily's voice and leads into their take on Bob Marley’s “Lively Up Yourself.”

This is an album that eases its path through several styles and moods and yet hangs together effortlessly. This is testament to the quality of the song-writing, and the accomplished musicianship. Emily simply nails each track in all styles superbly.

The Why & Wherefores may have a name that is hard to hold onto, but this album is anything but. Without even so much as a slight dip in quality they have served up an impressive release. Alright is just what it says, except you can now add ‘more than just’ in front of its title.

Have a listen on the bands Myspace page or visit their official website to buy the album and to find out about UK tour dates for April, May and June 2009.

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About Jeff Perkins