February 9, 2024

Fans of British blues will probably know Slide guitar wizard Dave Kelly from both The Blues Band, which he co-fronted with Paul Jones, and his own Dave Kelly band, which has been active on and off throughout his illustrious career. Some may not know that he and his big sister Jo-Ann were integral to the original British blues boom of the ‘60s as part of John Dummer’s Blues Band, which doubled as Howlin’ Wolf’s touring band when the big man played the UK. Kelly’s career retrospective compilation 40 Years On – A Recollection was released last summer, but here he is again, with his new solo album Sun On My Face, due for release a few days before his 77th birthday.

Dave can rock with the best of them, as proven by his 40-year stint in The Blues Band, but this collection is pretty gentle, with the emphasis on country and with a distinct holiday camp vibe. I’ve been a fan for the whole forty years myself, but did a bit of a double-take when I saw the track list, including as it does a few ancient jazz standards. As it happens though, Dave strips most of them down to a basic set of chords, sticks a backbeat underneath, and just has a good time. The opener, for example, the Ella Fitzgerald classic Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love, is played as a 1960s rock’n’roller with standard chords and a boogie piano rocking in the background. Dave sets out his stall straight away too, with a stupendous exhibition of tastefully virtuoso slide guitar in the solo.

A selection of photos from the booklet insert, including at top-left, some of the band – left to right: Pete Emery (guitar), Lou Stonebridge (keyboards), Sam Kelly (drums), Dave Kelly (guitar and vocals), Homer Kelly-Tarrant (bass)

This is followed by a rendition of Dobie Gray’s Lovin’ Arms, presented as a pretty morose lament with a flavour of Richard Hawley, including a deep slide solo that I rather suspect is played on a baritone guitar. The first original number follows, the title track Sun On My Face, which was part-written by his Australian tennis coach, and finished off by Dave. Then we are back to the Great American Songbook with the classic old-time piano blues of Georgia On My Mind, written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in 1930, but perhaps most famous for Ray Charles’ version. This rendering includes a strident, rocking Hammond solo too.

The venerable Paul Jones appears for a spot of harp backing in Arthur Crudup’s deep south Mean Old Frisco Blues, then we hear Hank Williams’ I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You. A jolly number despite the heart-aching subject matter, this one brings to mind Status Quo’s version of Wild Side Of Life. The second original song comes next, a jolly ditty named Too Happy To Write, inspired by the observation that so much top-grade art is inspired by misery, it can be difficult to be creative if everything’s chugging along nicely.

Paul Jones returns for the wartime classic A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, which features some neat fingerpicked Dobro from Doug Cox and a touch of gypsy violin, courtesy of Steve Simpson. From My Ass In Lagrasse is another song finished by Dave after being started as a poem by a friend; highly evocative of a hot day on the coast, Dave croons it in a low growl, as more of a rap than anything else, which actually works really well. Even further into left-field, we are treated to Tramps & Hawkers, a Scottish folk song, presented here in a capella style.

Them Ole Crossroads Blues is an autobiographical number Dave wrote for The Blues Band’s final album So Long in 1922, but this version takes on an extra poignancy as his old compadre and mentor Tony McPhee, name-checked in the song, sadly passed away last year. Three more covers follow, The Temptations’ My Girl, with reverb-soaked slide in the background, a groovy, 12-bar shuffle version of Memphis Minnie’s Ain’t Nothin’ In Ramblin’ (recorded live at Sunbury Cricket Club in Greater London), and a highly unexpected and very unorthodox blues take on John Denver’s Country Roads!

The hour-long set ends with a re-recording of I Am The Blues, written by Dave and keyboard player Lou Stonebridge for the 2002 Blues Band album Stepping Out. I really enjoyed this set, and the contented-looking cover photo of Dave in shades, sitting with an acoustic guitar and a dog in a sunny garden in France. Although it may be presumptuous to say so, Dave Kelly sounds like a man who is pretty happy with life. May it continue to be so.

Sun On My Face by Dave Kelly is released 23 February 2024 via Repertoire Records