According to Google, the city of Norwich is renowned for a range of things, among them Delia Smith, Alan Partridge and Colman’s Mustard. It is not currently listed as being home to the richest-sounding blues-rock you’ll hear this side of the pond. But that could well change if this second album from consummate roots maestros Little Red Kings is anything to go by. The Magic Show Part One is a work of sheer sorcery that brings classic rock n’ roll right up to the minute in flawless, sumptuous style. Think bleached-out colours, rolling highways, 1967 Mustangs and faded denim shirts. Think sunlight on the windscreen, the smell of summers-gone-by and the taste of imminent freedom. But think also scrupulous arrangements, peerless performance wizardry and skilful song writing that, despite its nostalgic pedigree, conjures some coolly contemporary results. Now, that’s magic.
The fivesome make a sound that’s so warm and deep and delicious you just want to languish in it – that’s in no small part down to frontman and guitarist Jason Wicks, whose vocals come over all treacle-on-golden-toast and seem to marry the rock delivery of Paul Rodgers with the storytelling candour of John Fogerty. Layer on luscious, honeyed guitars from Dougie Archer and the top-end tone becomes a plush and lovely thing indeed. But when the proceedings kick off with the Stonesy, feel-good Harry’s Town, the springiness of the rhythm section (Harry Wickham and Ben Beach on drums and bass respectively) really comes into play – Craig Stevenson’s keys further fuelling the retro revelry.
The spirit of the blues is ever-present yet the outlets are imaginative and varied. Mama’s Boy, for instance, is raw and bare, all raunchy guitar echo and spare vocal passion. At the start, you feel it might just erupt into a T-Rex-alike rocker, but no: it sticks to its primal, visceral underpinnings, building and amplifying yet stubbornly refusing to overstate itself. Then there’s Weather the Storm, full of slow and aching intimacy that’s enhanced with sorrowfully beautiful violin. Judging by the band’s Facebook and Twitter feeds they play a fair amount of acoustic gigs in the local area: you can just imagine this one winding its spellbinding power over a packed pub as rain lashes the rafters in the background (though it clearly deserves a much bigger audience than that).
The power of the song writing – and their potential commercial appeal – is fully realised in Peppermint, a tour-de-force of wistful lyricism and melodic longing that channels the spirit of Creedence and spotlights every part of the band’s sophisticated mechanics. But maybe it’s on Almost Over, with its Spencer Davis vibe, and on Lose the Light, which rattles along a la classic Springsteen and never lets up, that the real magic happens. No illusions, no make-believe: just authentic, wonderful, well-played stuff. (For a flavour, see this version of Almost Over, recorded during lockdown).
Still, there’s no resting on traditional laurels: Norfolk Border is given profoundly dark treatment - all swirling atmosphere and haunting, spoken-word lyrics – while the title track and finale wanders confidently into territory that’s probably closer to Pink Floyd than anything else. It’s a million miles from the party blues of the opener, but gives some sense of the ingenuity to come.
Call it roots or blues or Americana – or just call it timeless, quality music built on incredible flair.
If this is only part one of the magic show you can only hope that part two will follow swiftly. Norwich as the new Nashville? Probably not. But if this band can’t put it squarely on the musical map then no one can.
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