Lee Rogers releases Gameblood; blue collar rock from a hardman gentler than he knows.
Release Date: 13th May 2022
Label: Zenith Cafe / Membran
Format: CD / Digital
I always love when folk are touted as the new this or the new that, or where they have their place of origin tacked on the name of a more established artist, as if being their representative in that place, channelling the same vibe. So, back in the last century, we had all the new Dylans, still something that can become a soubriquet some fifty years on. Then there are all the various Springsteens, again of which there have been a few. (My favourite has always been Colin MacLeod, I should say, sometimes and strikingly called, on occasion, the Stornoway Springsteen, but I digress.) Anyhoo, this chap seems to be another being inserted into the footsteps of one Bruce S, with, like MacLeod, some reason and rationale to the claims staked. From Northern Ireland, is he, I wonder, the Carrickfergus Springsteen, which skips neatly off the tongue?
No youngster like the talented North Shields Springsteen, Sam Fender, Rogers has been plying his trade a year or three. This is his second record of new material, but it has been a long and lonely sixteen years since that debut, Drawing Clocks, gainfully otherwise occupied in his other trade, as an ink artist, winning awards for his tattoos. I feel it has been worth the wait.
Everytime opens the disc with a rolling rocker, with a clarion call vocal, clearer and less gruff than the Boss, allowing greater connection with the lyrics, including a cheeky “blinded by the light”, thrown in for good measure. Classic falling downstairs in a wooden suit drum fills come courtesy Paddy Lavin, with bass from Simon Francis, the guitar from Rogers himself. Additional backing comes from the producer, himself no stranger to our pages, Gareth Dunlop, whose own album was reviewed here not so long ago. Silent Songs then slows things down, a reflective mid-tempo paean to finding yourself. By first getting lost. Synthesisers give a Human Touch feel to a very human song, a gentle repeated piano motif helping imprint it on your ears. His vocals now in a slightly lower and less frantic register are very appealing and moreish. Uneasy Love brings in a further singing voice, a narrative style for a shimmery story song that, of all people, and with no offence, reminds me of a huskier Cliff Richard, when he was in his 70s second imperial phase of hit singles. Great ending.
The House is another 70s throwback, with antique synthesiser sounds, ahead a waltz of nostalgic whimsy. Again, I am finding Cliff unable to leave my train of thought, having to remind myself that the run of songs from Miss You Nights through Wired For Sound are actually pretty good. But it is back to Bruce, or Bob Seger for Life And Lies, with a lovely line of drinking a whisky “so we both taste the same”. A simmering thrum of a song, it could be one for those who enjoy waving their lighters in slo-mo at concerts. Haunted follows a similar furrow of the angsty road warrior with an honourable heart. In truth, it is all getting a little derivative, needing a kick up.
Clearly having sensed my thoughts, next track, Homeward Bound, not that one, is a whole bound forward. Another power ballad in construction, the individual layers segue into each other well, Rogers’ voice a hoarse and husky salve, that soothes any emerging frustration. A blizzard of retro guitar sonics add a counterpoint, but the vocal is the key to this one. Won’t Find Me is loosely a blues, and with echoes, vocally and in substance of Chris Rea, and that I can buy into. The longest track on the album, it is end of the evening whisky sipping music. (Sorry, whiskey that should be, mindful of the performers roots.)
Fools Gold reeks of a thousand songs just off the tip of your tongue, none the worse for that, and I’m realising most of these songs would be capable of a solo performance, unplugged, maybe the preferred territory for the singer? I don’t know the truth of that, but I’d like to hear, especially this one, and the last two, presented that way. Old chum Foy Vance, another production client of Gareth Dunlop, pops by to add additional vocals to closing track, Barefoot In The Basement. Neither because of that, nor despite that, this is the strongest song here, along with the opener, and is a great place to leave the album, on that high point, likely to demand a repeat play at some stage. And with due deference to Mr Vance, it is the backing vocals of Nathan O’Regan that really pitches up the mood of this song.
If there is a question as to Gameblood and why that it is the title, Rogers explains that this is his term for that fighting spirit that inhabits hard men about these islands, cuing all manner of Jackie Leven songs. Rogers’ father, part Romany stock, actually like Leven too, was one such man: “as hard as the road he walked on”. However, he also had the softest of hearts and an unconditional love for his wife and family. Many of the songs here inhabit the heart and minds of such men, and the places they frequent. It is that second quality that seems here most to win through, as the overall thrust is of gentle power. There is some contradiction in that and, perhaps, also in who Rogers himself wants to be. His team clearly see him as Springsteen. I see him as a shyer soul, and perhaps, minus some of the bombast, it might become an overall more digestible record. But, cast such fancies aside, pour that Jamesons and play that last track a few more times, on repeat.
Oh, and here it is!