The new disc ‘Means of Escape’ was recently nominated for Best Album of 2019 in the European Blues Awards, as well as being included in Joe Bonamassa’s personal Spotify Playlist of music from musicians who are keeping the Blues alive. It was recorded in as few takes as possible says the English guitarist behind it, in order to keep the live feel. Here we are then to test out just how well that live CD vibe aimed for by Danny Bryant matches a room full of Blues fans on a chilly November evening at The Harmonie
I’m standing in front of the stage at 7.15 pm and it’s looking like a half-empty house in the concert hall at Bonn Harmonie. A half-hour later though and I’m relieved when I stand on tip-toe to see that behind each row of heads is another row of heads – all the way to the back of the hall. A relief, because Danny Bryant is one of those musicians who cares very much about what he plays and plays it better every time I see him (he was pretty good to begin with I might add). For his last visit, he brought a full horn section – not the cheapest way to tour Europe, but for Danny Bryant it was the music more than the money that counted. An experiment that was so successful that in a few days time there will be a video live-recording done in Bielefeld to follow on the heels of that 2017 audio recording made largely here in Bonn. Tonight though it’s back to the essential Blues Band formation of bass, drum and keyboards. I enjoyed the Big Band sound – but I’m more looking forward to this evening’s show and I am not to be disappointed.
Most people take a while to play themselves into the set. Test the sound, and wait for the amps and the fingers to warm up. Not Danny Bryant though. Within a minute of the Bluesy opener ‘Holding All The Cards’ he’s taking a solo. Blues will, of course, play a major part in this evening’s music, but there’s so much more to enjoy too and especially from the new numbers. ‘Tired of Trying’ was inspired by Walter Trout and how often do I hear Walter’s name being mentioned as a mentor and inspiration? It’s only been a couple of weeks since Laurence Jones was telling us how Walter had told him to keep passing on the Blues baton. How Mike Zito had his bad habits turned around by Mr Trout. It seems like a generational thing: Muddy passes it onto the likes of Johnny Winter and Walter who pass it on to Laurence and Danny, who pass it on to? Time will tell, but Danny Bryant is shaping up well to be a 21st Century Blues hero for sure.
Life is the best teacher as they say and the best songs this evening are mined from experience. ‘Where the River Ends’ was, says Danny, written a while ago after a friend lost his daughter. It’s only now seen the light of day because only recently was Danny able to put the song together how he wanted it. It comes early in the band’s set, and leaves me wondering just how they are going to keep this level of intensity up for another hour plus.
They do bring it down a notch or two, as with ‘Nine Lives’ and the story of Danny’s cat ‘Collins’ (named after Albert and not Phil in case you were wondering!). While the intensity drops, however, the musicianship certainly doesn’t. Bryant manages to give the impression that each and every number counts. Nothing is ‘just’ thrown into the set. Each time, the suitable guitar is selected seems to be thoughtfully selected- even though it’s a choice between red Strat or white Strat (the exception being a Gibson Firebird that Danny uses for the encore). Notably absent is the blue signature Fret-King model of old.
A tuner is clipped firmly to each guitar headstock and meticulously adjusted before each song. No ‘Close enough for Rock ‘n’ Roll’ here. When you are as intense a player as Danny Bryant though, and every nuance in every bent string, is calculated, tonal accuracy is paramount. That’s certainly the case in this evening’s highpoint, ‘Painkiller’. It’s on the Bigband CD too, but the less-is-more principle fits this classic Rock Ballad perfectly. The number is dreamily set up by Stevie Watts on keyboards – a master of spine-tingling piano and Hammond runs. Bassist Paul Mallatrtat and the seemingly ever-smiling Dave Raeburn on drums know exactly when to come in and when to back off as Bryant coaxes every sound with a careful choice both from his vocal cords and his Stratocaster. One of those songs that, when it finishes, is met momentarily not by loud applause but by pure gobsmacked silent wonder at the beauty of it all – and only then by a torrent of loud and frantic applause.
On an evening with so many good new numbers from the new CD to enjoy it was great to hear older numbers like ‘Painkiller’ in their Blues Band formation setting again. ‘Guntown’ from 2014’s ‘Temperature Rising’ was called out for during the evening too and Danny happily obliged. Indeed, the set-list on the stage floor was apt to be re-written and shifted around at any time. Not on the original list at all was another high-point in ‘Little Wing’. Yes, it does have lyrics, albeit, about butterflies and moonbeams, but even when Jimi was singing them they seemed just to be a line on which to hang exquisite guitar runs. It’s true of pretty well everything Hendrix did, and the reason that so many gigs from so many excellent musicians contain their ‘Hendrix Moment’. Most players would claim they play these numbers because they are great Rock songs, but truthfully, by playing Hendrix any guitarist is surely saying “Measure me against the best!”. Except maybe the man centre stage this evening for whom music is, as his new disc attests, a means of escape. What better way to escape than play some Jimi – if you dare. Danny Bryant dares, and takes ‘Little Wing’ on a varied flightpath indeed; from screeching howls to whispering breaths – all from the same six strings and with the breathtaking dexterity that makes it look almost easy. Almost…
With a polite and very English “Goodnight, and thank you so much for coming out this evening” the evening’s music is brought to a close. “My pleasure entirely” are the words that come to my mind as an Englishman lucky enough to have been in Bonn tonight. A ‘topping’ performance in fact from a man highly rated yet still highly under-rated. I heard a Harmonie regular outside the Hall debating on whether or not to visit the show. He didn’t. Big mistake.