- The Producers (l-r: Ray Drury, Harry Skinner, Biff Smith, Dave Saunders)
They may have had a seven-year lay-off in the middle, but The Producers have come of age with an album of elegant, modern blues-rock.
London Blues is every bit as cosmopolitan and unexpected as the city for which it is named. From the pulsing rock of Drive This Car to the slick, reggae-flecked Little Miss Sunshine, decorated by singer guitarist Harry Skinner’s delicate fills that echo Al Anderson’s landmark mid-70s work with The Wailers – he even finds space in the song to accommodate a rich, Beatles-esque bridge to the lilting outro section.
Formed in 1990, The Producers spent that decade forging a formidable reputation on the Brit-blues circuit, scoring opening slots with the likes of Robert Cray, Ray Charles and Dr John, as well as sessions for Paul Jones’ Radio 2 show. Having shed the shackles of the provincial blues, the band pushed long and hard for acceptance from a wider field, but to no avail. They split in 2002, leaving behind a series of progressively more challenging and innovative recordings that are only now being fully appreciated.
Public pressure and the absence of anything they enjoyed more persuaded co-founders Harry Skinner and Dave Saunders (bass) to follow their calling and reform The Producers in 2009 recruiting keys man Ray Drury and drummer Biff Smith. London Blues is their first album together.
And it’s a commanding creation. Harry’s voice has seasoned into a striking instrument of its own devices, recalling peak period Steve Winwood, maybe with a dash of Joe Cocker and even Paul Weller’s much improved latter day vocals. Skinner’s prowess as a guitarist has never been in doubt, but on London Blues his playing is more restrained and in the graceful, string-filled 6:8 ballad Love Gone Bad the less-is-more approach compares favourably to Steve Cropper in his prime.
Smith and Saunders make a solidly sympatico rhythm section, particularly on The Money Lender, a rollicking tour de force in which their fluid interplay provides a firm foundation for Drury’s fat organ stabs and guest pianist Ben Water’s rollicking boogie-woogie piano figures.
Elsewhere, British R&B icon Andy Fairweather Low (pictured above between Harry and Dave) contributes effective but unobtrusive guitar to the gutsy roll of The Wrong Way Home and Paul Lamb’s harmonica perforates Tell Me Why and the robust album opener Coming Back For You.
The blues has always been best appreciated as a starting point for the diaspora of contemporary music and in London Blues The Producers have assimilated a maze of influences that trace their roots back to the blues. It’s the most complete album of a distinguished career that feels like it left the crossroads a long way behind and is now mapping uncharted territory.
- Available now at www.producersbluesband.co.uk