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LARRY MILLER Unfinished Business LMIL06CD (2010)

Larry Miller

You want pile driving rock/blues with searing guitar, crashing chords and rip roaring songs about life love and the blues? Larry delivers. You like long, lean, linear, big toned guitar solos? Larry delivers. You dig passionate vocals with a life affirming timbre? Well in truth Larry tries hard and his rip roaring style pulls him through.

'Unfinished Business' is the business and after years of a hard working stop-start career Larry has finally delivered the groceries! Of course Larry has long been a contender on the rock/blues circuit. A fiery guitarist, charismatic performer with a sense of the ridiculous, he has in effect had two careers.

He made his mark in the mid 80's with his high energy pulsating live shows full of his unencumbered eccentricities and burning solos. He built up a fan base from the ground up but could never quite capture his live spark on his albums.

He quit as all around him became New Romantics and keyboard noodlers with dodgy haircuts, only to return as the planet spun on its axis and came to the realisation that Rory Gallager/Gary Moore influenced guitarists really do have a place in the world.

His comeback reached its zenith when he starred at the rain drenched 2009's Cambridge Rock Festival, turning a mud splattered festival with huge sound problems into his own personal triumph with an unprecedented 4 encores.

Given the above you could say that 'Unfinished Business' is his first CD to arrive with a critically loaded sense of anticipation. His recent albums such as 'Fearless' and 'Outlaw Blues' saw him inch towards his real sound, but 'Unfinished Business' is a defining album that captures his spirit in the claustrophobic confines of the studio.

It works so well because for the first time Larry seems to have found his equilibrium. His songs are strong, his incendiary solos burn with alacrity and above all he unravels a broad enough canvass on which to explore his finely honed rock/blues style.

'Unfinished Business' has all the raw power, irrepressible spontaneity and above all a new found sonic quality that pushes Larry Miller up the next rung of the recording ladder. And while you could argue 'Unfinished Business' does trade in a shade of his quirkiness for a dash more sheen, the end result is still 9 tracks of sizzling rocking blues that any fans of Gary Moore and Bonamassa will surely lap up.

But being Larry, nothing is a straight forward as it seems. The CD cover is apparently back to front with the understated black and white frontispiece being in complete contrast with the colour double page inlay, with Larry leaning in to a solo in front of three Marshall stacks. And it is that wholesome Marshall sound that looms large on an album crammed full of vibrant tones and coruscating solos.

Perhaps the main strength of 'Unfinished Business' is the pre-planning that has gone into the dynamics, the contrasting solos and expansive tone colours. Larry's fiery Gary Moore style attack on the explosive opening 'Mad Dog' gives way to a beautifully judged wah-wah inflected second solo which is neatly double tracked with a rhythm guitar line.

He follows that with the thematic 'As Blue As It Gets' which shifts from a slide led Dobro to hard driving rock in the blink of an eye with an album mission statement in tow; 'I Ain't From Mississippi but I'm a Bluesman, just as blue as it gets'. And who are we to argue as the man with the plan sets about exploring the ups and downs of life's rich tapestry.

'Cruel Old World' borrows the opening guitar line from Bonamassa's cover of 'So Many Roads' but it builds impressively on the back of the sharp contrast between Larry's piercing notes and Matt Empson's cool organ. Larry explores the full tonal possibilities of his playing and sings from the heart on a song that includes a mid-number dropdown.

The carefully constructed pocket of tension is broken by long luscious notes the like of which the early career Larry would not ha ve considered. Larry may be tortured by the notion of a 'Cruel Old World' but hey, if it leads to some great rock blues like this the suffering was worth it.

'Still Ain't Done with The Blues' further belts out Larry blues message over some dirt sounding slide while the title track is a riff driven powerhouse of a barn burner that you could image someone like Eric Gales covering. Larry's tougher vocals and nicely distorted Marshall tone is the stuff of contemporary Brit-rock on a belter of a track. 'Unfinished Business' maybe, but it doesn't get much better than this.

But there's more with Larry in acoustic mode professing his love on 'Covering Me' - all deliberate phrasing and twinkling notes - before another brief acoustic intro gives way to some more fluid soloing on the mid-tempo climactic rock/ blues ballad 'Delilah'. This is Larry as the mature artist with experience, feel, touch and tone.

His singing may be a shade one dimensional and lacking a shade of versatility, but this is the blues Larry style. Besides he does his real talking with his guitar through a mix of sustain, tone, note flurries and a revisit of Garry Moore's blues style to soar into the clouds. You can just hear the crowds yell Go Larry Go!!

He finishes with a brace of rockers. The searing 'Gambler's Hill' evokes the mid-career fire of Johnny Winter while the opening to the lyrically dark 'Helter Skelter To Hell' is drenched in harmonics and slide led Dobro before a bone crunching 'kitchen sink and all' rock opus. Rock fans will love the Zeppelin like power and wall of sound but might be slightly confused by the cluttered inner structure which an outside producer might have tidied up.

But you pay your money and you take your chance and like the album as a whole the 'Helter Skelter' finale rocks like a ten ton weight. He came, he saw and after two decades of rocking hard he conquered. 'Unfinished Business' is a career landmark for Larry and an album any self respecting rock/blues fan should have in their collection.

****

Review by Pete Feenstra

 


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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