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Nine Below Zero – 'Avalanche' Album Review


1. I Wanna Be A Wannabe

2. Ter Wit Ter Woo

3. Race To The Bottom 4. Hey Siri! (Go ** Yourself)

5. Austerity Blues 6. Roots And Wings

7. Zebulon

8. One Of Sour, Two Of Sweet

9. Picture No Sound

10. Recycle Me 11. Breadhead 12. I Drink But I Don't Get Drunk

Nine Below Zero formed in 1977, and I was first aware of them when I heard a copy of 'Third Degree', their third album, which had the iconic '11+11' on it. This is the song they performed when they appeared in a new anarchic comedy, The Young Ones. I remember thinking then, that I must be cool because I knew the band, and that was one of my favourite songs at the time. Well a lot of albums have followed and the band have been gigging ever since. I have seen them several times, the last time supporting Squeeze and their friend Glenn Tillbrook has had a small hand in this album.

They really started to gain traction in 1979, so this album marks their 40th anniversary and they will be touring again on the ‘Are We There Yet?’ 40th Anniversary tour.

Stalwarts of Rhythm and Blues, you will not be surprised to find RnB on this album, but it also has shades of Soul, Funk and even dips a toe into Southern Rock of sorts. It is a varied album covering topics such as austerity, government, obsession and social media instant celebrity. The only real constant is that all of the tracks feature co-founder, Mark Feltham’s glorious harmonica playing.

There is a lot of classic Rhythm And Blues. The opener, ‘Wanna Be A Wannabe’ is pure harmonica driven Blues with very humorous lyrics about the talentless façade of social media, where everyone thinks they can be social media celebrity. This was very very reminiscent of '11+11' for me, with its relatable lyrics and catchy hooks. Dennis Greaves main vocal is well backed by Charlie Austen and Mark Feltham’s harp blasting. ‘Austerity Blues’, opens with a nice Blues piano, backed by horns. Austerity is nothing new and that is the point of this song. 'I Drink But I Don't Get Drunk' is a barroom Blues number laden with piano and horns, and a pretty nifty guitar solo. Of course Feltham’s harmonica is ever present, as the sax and trumpet duel for prominence. ‘Roots And Wings’ is a simple crisp Blues ballad, which shows off Greaves deep Blue vocal, complimented with almost a gospel backing.

There is a funky side to this album too. ‘Race To The Bottom’ has some funky guitar licks and Austen’s voice acts as a foil to Greaves gravely vocal, it has a similar message as Austerity Blues. Sonny Greaves’ percussion, punctuates the track.’ Picture No Sound’ is funky Blues with Feltham’s fuzzy mouth organ and a driving guitar riff, propelled by the percussion.

This album really showcases Charlie Austen’ soulful voice. ‘Ter Wit Ter Woo’ is ridiculously catchy, and the vocals are unmistakably Tillbrook, who co-wrote this with Greaves. An almost American twist laced with soul. This is a real stand out. ‘Recycle Me’ is another Austen solo and another stand out. You can hear the emotion in this tale of a terminally ill, 13 year old girl, wishing to be an organ donor. Greaves and Austen come together on ‘One Of Sour, Two Of Sweet’ which is another impossibly catchy number. They share centre stage with this accomplished duet. The vocals are on point, as is the backing music.

Then there are the individual tracks that do not fit in the above catagories. A third of the way through the album is a seventies style Jazz Funk instrumental. ‘Hey Siri! (Go ** Yourself), has a lot of Hi Hat, funky guitars, harmonica and horns. What’s not to like? ‘Zebulon’ is a slice of Americana with Greaves and Austin singing together. The Southern Rock is replaced by Blues driven Rock with ‘Breadhead’ which has clever and humorous lyrics coupled with sublime guitar hooks and bends.

With 'Avalanche' Nine Below Zero prove yet again that forty years of honing your craft, makes for very good Blues indeed. They have gone a long way from that Mod band on the Young Ones. Having said that '11+11' is still one of the best songs of its type. There is not a bad song on this album. 'Avalanche' was recorded with a big band, and it has a big band sound. All of the numbers will sound great live, which is where Nine Below Zero have always come into their own. So the ‘Are We There Yet?’ 40th Anniversary Tour promises to have brilliant shows with musicians on top of their game.

Review - Tony Creek

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