Up until now I always preferred his music raw and acoustic as on ‘Man & Guitar’ (live from the Albert Hall) and his recent show in Bonn with just a choice between Jumbo Acoustic or National Steel for accompaniment. With his latest disc ‘All The Rage’ though Ian Siegal has managed to deliver that personal touch I love within a band setting. The new release is parts Waters, parts Waits, parts Wolf but ultimately all Ian Siegal.
Recorded over four afternoons and essentially ‘live’ in one Amsterdam room last August ‘All The Rage’ sounds for much of it’s length just that. There’s no doubting what has caused the rage much of the time either – ‘Eagle-Vulture’ makes it clear from track one. There aren’t too many Countries that bring an Eagle to mind and from it’s opening simple shuffle beat the songs power, as in much of this disc, is in it’s imagery and lyrics. “When the Eagle becomes a Vulture” is a clear statement of discontent/contempt.
‘Jacob’s Ladder’ continues the rage and displays all the typical hallmarks of an Ian Siegal composition – The Muddy Waters slide, mentions of roosters, mortal coils and biblical imagery as in Jacob’s Ladder – but there’s a Russian tilt in the tune too and it’s the extra level that makes this disc one of Siegal’s best ever for me. He actually has a concrete enemy to confront and with it comes the edge to ‘All The Rage’.
There has always been something going on and we have always been not exactly clear what it is – Dylan saw it on his ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’. Ian Siegal addresses it here in ‘The Sh*t Hit’ “There’s something going on and it ain’t exactly clear” he sings. All we do know is that it’s bad. Thankfully it’s all wrapped up in a very agreeable blues dressing courtesy of a band that could be Otis Spann on piano, Fred Below on drums and Willie Dixon on bass. There’s no better compliment I can give to these guys – Those four days and a live feel were perfect for this one.
‘Won’t be your shotgun rider’ sees a change of style with Dusty Ciggaar’s thick and chunky Country-style guitar (Ciggaar’s playing has long been a highlight on Siegal’s band recordings and on this disc it positively shines. Is Siegal singing this to Donald Trump or Theresa May? or maybe to both? I guess it’s your decision as to whether it’s both, either or neither that are heading us on a “road to wreck and ruin” although if your decision is ‘neither’ then this disc is not for you! It almost swings too heavily into pure Country territory for me, but Siegal’s smooth slide steers his ship safely back into the Blues harbour even if we never find out for certain where the storm blew in from.
‘Ain’t You Great’ continues the rage. Don’t be fooled by that pleasant cha cha groove – “The asylum doors are open” and, what’s worse “They found the biggest lunatics and handed them the keys”. Did I mention that I love Siegal’s lyrics? At his best he’s up there with Tom Waits for my money and on this one he’s well and truly up there with Tom. ‘One Eyed King’ also has Tom Waits dry wit about it’s lyrics and Wait’s flattened but oh so effective style of delivery. Great stuff indeed!
For the most part then this really is a disc where Ian Siegal gets to rage against the current political/social system but that’s not to say that there are no other gems to mine from ‘All The Rage’. ‘My Flame’ is that most perplexingly difficult of things to do well – a simple love song. Nothing too flowery here thank goodness. The best love songs just tell it like it is: ‘She Loves you, yeah yeah yeah’, ‘Love Hurts’ and ‘She’s The One’. Even on ‘Sweet Souvenir’ which is a somewhat more complex love song, Siegal plays with us as he offers to find the words for “A postcard written from the heart” only for the emotional ‘words’ to come courtesy of a beautifully crafted Ciggaar guitar solo.
I remember Ian’s reaction when I met him recently and remarked I was from Portsmouth. Something of the “I won’t hold that against you” was in the air. There aren’t too many answers to Ian’s thoughts on his ‘hometown’ on offer in the lyrics of ‘Sailor Town’ but the very first verse telling of a life growing up down by the docks – “Now it’s tore up from the floor up, just rich folks and parking blocks” seems to say all that requires saying. Of course Ian Siegal escaped via the musical path of Chicago Blues and it’s no surprise to hear the gentle howling of a wolf on the run-out to this one.
So there you are. Plenty of what makes Ian Siegal discs unmistakably Ian Siegal to be found. ‘If I Live’ being such a track, and a good one, with all the Blues swagger, biblical references, Howling Wolfs and Jimbo Mathus on a pounding Hammond organ. Everything that makes for a good Ian Siegal song in fact. What sets this release apart as a great Ian Siegal disc though, and Siegal’s best band effort to date, is that he has seemingly identified an enemy, and when he sets ‘all the rage’ he can muster at it Ian Siegal is one hell of a storyteller.