Wednesday, January 13, 2010

DENNIS GREAVES-Two Sides Of The Same Coin

To the average punter in the U.S., the name DENNIS GREAVES may not ring any bells, but to hardcore music fans, he is one of the finest Rock/Blues artists in the UK.

Emerging during the Punk era with his Blues/R&B outfit NINE BELOW ZERO, Greaves and the NBZ boys were one of the best live bands in Britain. Appealing to the Punk, Rock and and Mod crowds and bringing folks of all ages together under one sweaty roof was a feat that few bands could lay claim to!

After a handful of excellent albums (including the classic Live At The Marquee), Nine Below Zero split up, putting an end to one of the finest live acts of the late '70s and early '80s.

Shortly, thereafter, Greaves formed Mod/Pop rockers THE TRUTH and continued his live assault with a new batch of bandmates. After a slew of great singles, the band released their 1985 debut album, Playground.

While still energetic, The Truth's repertoire consisted of Mod-oriented Pop and Rock, sounding like a mixture between The Jam (who had already split) and Style Council (who were moving further away from the musical foundation that Paul Weller had created in The Jam). 

While some may have thought that The Truth were mere Weller copyists, that was actually far from the.... er... truth!  Greaves and Weller had obviously both shared a love for the same music growing up and those influences manifested themselves in similar ways in their songwriting.

Playground was, and still is, a joy to listen to, especially since American Beat has reissued it on CD!  Alongside co-guitarist Mick Lister, Greaves served up a delicious album full of melodic gems that truly excite the senses. They are joyful, uplifting and inspiring even after all of these years. "Spread A Little Sunshine", "Exception Of Love", "Is There A Solution" and the title track STILL make regular appearances on various mixtapes that I hand out to friends or play in the office.  The production might be a little dated, it doesn't take away from the songs.  Even slower tunes like "It's A Miracle" and "Always On My Mind" are top notch. 

Mixing Rock, Mod, Soul, R&B and adding some production polish may not have been new in 1985, nobody did it as well as The Truth.  The album remains an under-rated gem from an era filled with over-rated dirtclods.  Twenty five years on, it's great to be able to have it back on the market!

(For trainspotters, Truth keyboardist Chris Skornia had previously tickled the ivories for The Fabulous Poodles while bassist Richard Parfitt would later form the Britpop band 60 Ft. Dolls!)

By the end of the '80s, The Truth was no more and Greaves reformed Nine Below Zero with original member Mark Feltham, perhaps the greatest British Blues/Rock harmonica player of this generation!  The band went back to gigging and recording throughout the '90s and into the millennium.

In 2009, Nine Below Zero released the excellent It's Never Too Late album on the Angel Air Records label.  While the band no longer play their R&B/Blues at a frantic pace like they did 30 years ago, Greaves, Feltham and rhythm section Gerry McAvoy and Brendan O’Neill are as hot as ever. 

Following up their Blues covers album, Hats Off (2004), It's Never Too Late represents the best of both worlds as it offers up Blues-based rock tunes mixed with some poppier tracks that have hooks that would make a trout farmer nervous! 

The album starts out heavy on the Blues ("Mechanic Man", "Breakin' Down") but by "Little By Little", the band are beginning to stretch out and let other influences start to creep in.  Standouts include "The Story Of Nathan John", "Hit The Ground Running", the funky title track, "It's Never Too Late", the poptastic "You" and, of course, the tasty, bluesy tracks that hold it all together.

The band sound like they are having fun in the studio, as opposed to many other po-faced Blues artists who seem to take their art a little too seriously.  NBZ know how to rock and enjoy it... and it shows.

So, now that you are familiar with Dennis Greaves, do yourself a favor and check out Nine Below Zero and The Truth for yourself!  Not many musicians can combine Blues, sweat, tears, conviction and Pop as successfully as he does...

Your lil' buddy,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

No comments: