February 14, 2023

In 2018, while studying at university, long-haired Essex-born teenager Connor Selby released his debut album of blues music on the 3ms label. In 2021, a more mature, neatly-trimmed but still arrestingly youthful Selby self-released his second set. But now he has been signed to the mighty Provogue, this second album, simply titled Connor Selby, has earned a re-release, packaged as a deluxe edition with four bonus tracks, and it reveals a young blues star with great songs, a great voice and traditional bluesy guitar chops. Furthermore, in addition to playing his own shows all over the country, he is supporting no lesser lights than PP Arnold at the Jazz Café in February, and Beth Hart on her UK tour in February and March. It’s an astonishing rise, but this album shows that he’s well up to the task.

One of the aspects I find appealing about this set is that Selby doesn’t try to re-invent the blues – sure, he pulls in influences from other artists and genres, but this is unmistakably from the electric blues tradition, both musically and lyrically, cool and confident. It kicks off with a 6½ minute slow, mellow tune named I Can’t Let You Go, featuring a horn section and Hammond organ backing, with two screaming guitar solos. Falling In Love Again is an altogether more funky, upbeat affair, with a bouncy dual-guitar backing and a sweet, groovy solo, bolstered by those horns and also female backing vocals. If You’re Gonna Leave Me is another downbeat blues that starts in like Keb’ Mo’s Dangerous Mood, but the next song, Emily, veers into southern rock territory with its crunchy riff and rocking solo, with shades of Savoy Brown or Foghat – this is one of the highlights of the album for me.

Photo: Rob Blackham

The Man I Ought To Be is an ambient, bluesy ballad which starts off with a totally effects-dry, clean-toned guitar, before the organ and rim-shot rhythm come in. It runs to almost seven minutes, and is followed by the pop-country ballad Hear My Prayer, reminiscent of Mike And The Mechanics. The mood is lifted still higher by Show Me A Sign, a jolly, up-tempo funk-soul number, gospel almost, with a flavour of Sam & Dave’s Soul Man. The vocals are noticeably Jeff Healey in this one, with a fittingly rocky guitar solo. We’re back to the slow blues for the seven-minute Anyhow, before the aching ballad Waitin’ On The Day, with its jazz-brush drums, mellow electric piano and tremolo guitar. The album proper ends with the epic Starting Again, opening on a beautiful major 7th chord with a wash of cymbals. It builds to a big, soulful number without ever leaving ballad country, incorporating an equally expansive and heartfelt solo, before dropping at the end with no resolving chord or final note, so the album just teeters on the edge of nothingness.

It would be an interesting way to end an album for sure, but the first two bonus tracks return us to the familiarity of the slow blues; the second of these, Love Letter To The Blues, is very reminiscent of Clapton’s version of Ray Charles’ Hard Times, from his 1989 Journeyman album. My Baby Don’t Dig Me is an actual Ray Charles cover, with a definite savour of 1960s rock’n’roll, complete with rasping sax and echoey vocals; there’s an influence of Georgie Fame’s Yeh Yeh too. The set closes with The Deep End, a head-nodding, mid-tempo number from the pub-blues tradition; it reminds me of early Fabulous Thunderbirds, and is therefore, almost inevitably, another album highlight. Check it out at the foot of this page.

The youngster has already garnered a number of blues awards and been nominated for several more, and this set shows what he can do. Blues is still a niche market, and probably always will be, but there is always more room, and it’s great to see the tradition kept alive for another generation, especially at this high standard.