MICK CLARKE – Big Wheel

Rockfold 2020

MICK CLARKE –
Big Wheel

A salty dog of British blues serves up arguably the best album of his solo career.

Last decade has seen Mick Clarke release records on a yearly basis, and while his chosen genre doesn’t seem to invite much variety, each of the guitarist’s works is captivating in its own special way. Still, pausing the pace to recharge batteries proved to be a wise decision for him, this pit stop resulting in “Big Wheel” – a tentative apex of the veteran’s route up to now. A usual mix of classics and originals, with an Elmore James motif running through the grooves, the album’s nuclear energy cannot help but move many a blues aficionado.

Revisiting a piece KILLING FLOOR appropriated for their first album and taking the cut back to base, Clarke sets things in motion with enviable panache as he rocks and roars through “Knocking At Your Door” whose rudimentary rhythm and half-hidden piano propel a six-string part to the fore and smear sweet patina all over Mick’s voice. The rumble may subside for the cover of Betty Roche’s “Trouble Trouble” yet the acoustic licks contrasting heavy riffs bolster the number’s nuanced menace before harmonica and bare beat increase the doomsday feel tenfold. Still, there’s a vibrant, kaleidoscopic delivery of Little Walter’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” to up the listener’s optimism: a rare thing for the blues, indeed.

Of course, there’s also fine fatigue in “Heard It All Before” to dim the lights, while the mood is much more frivolous on “Snappin’ At Your Heel” which offers a meatier sound, and Clarke’s reading of B.B.’s “I Stay In The Mood” is suitably boisterous, too. Slider rolling across the frets on “Full Circle” to link this instrumental with the sparse title track, the album’s finale, makes his twang irresistibly tasty, but “Just To Get Me By” gets by purely on its catchy drive – as do “Down At The Bridge” with its smile-inducing reminiscences or “Dog And Bone” that features cowbell as if to tell everyone: don’t fear Jack The Ripper!

The reedier “Mick’s Guitar Boogie” finds Clarke passing the tune to bass and ivories, and “Dead Leg Boogie” is as deliciously raw as only he can serve, with the wordless “Flyin’ Lo” fleshing it out with a dry interplay of the artist’s armory. If there’s a wheel, there’s a way so, judging by his robust axe-swinging, Mick Clarke’s wheel’s going to roll further up on the road. With a record like this, long may he run.

*****

August 19, 2020

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