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  • Melanie Henderson

Retro-chic with heart and soul: the second album from J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls

If you’ve ever raked through the rails at a vintage fashion fair, the chances are you’ll have heard some suitably hip sounds in the background. Beggars Soul, the second offering from Surrey’s J Lee and the Hoodoo skulls, exudes just that kind of vibe.

On the one hand, there’s a feel-good Fifties energy that’ll make you want to dance like no one’s watching; on the other, there are rootsy, edgy undercurrents that may move you to don your hippest shades and strike a moody pose. Whichever way you go, the ten tracks here summon both swirly skirts with pick-me-up polka dots and dirty denim cut-offs complete with authentic oily fingerprints. And, as we know from classic movie scripts, sunniness-meets-sleaze is a combo that guarantees some intense chemistry.

It doesn’t take long for this band to send it through the roof.

It fairly smoulders on first track Baby Blue, a former Classic Rock Magazine track of the week, which has all the swing of a summer Saturday night along with the rampant sex appeal of a beaten-up biker jacket. Sparks fly on the title track, where the echoey, slightly distorted vocals add Stones-style attitude. And we reach incendiary levels on the hypnotic hip-grind of Come Home, which could well be the filthy-nailed distant relative of Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love – but this instant winner doesn’t require red-lipsticked models to set it ablaze.

Although there’s a clear affinity here with traditional rock n’ roll (frontman J Lee Barratt happens to be the son of Shakin’ Stevens) it’s a collection with broad appeal and big commercial promise. It’s no one-man vehicle, either: lead guitarist and co-producer Harun Kotch adds plenty of deeply bluesy licks and the able rhythm section (former Skin of Skunk Anansie drummer Wayne Riches and bassist Mike Hartness) shakes out the sparkle dust on some of the jive-tastic tempos.

On Highway we have twangy, hoary blues that smokes lazily along, whereas Let Your Hair Down is an out-and-out floor-filler sure to make even dance-resistant in-steps itch like crazy. Get Over You, meanwhile, has the dark edge of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, while My Baby Don’t Sing the Blues comes from the playbook of Bill Haley and Eddie Cochran.

Yes, you could call it retro-chic. But it’s also full of heart and soul.

You can dance. You can dig out your shades. But whatever you do you’ll be left in no doubt: J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls are just pretty damn cool.

Photo courtesy of Rob Blackham @

Beggars Soul is out on June 25

Watch the album trailer

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