It's likely that many folk will be blissfully unaware of the important part that Geraint Watkins has played in the history of roots-influenced music in Britain over the past forty-plus years. This, despite the fact that he almost certainly will feature in the collection of any self-respecting music lover.
A product of 1950's South Wales, he began honing his skills on the pub-rock scene of the 1970s. Championed by Andy Fairweather-Low, who produced a 1979 album featuring Geraint and his group, 'Geraint Watkins & The Dominators', such was their allure that the 1980s saw them backing Shakin' Stevens, achieving national acclaim with innumerable hit singles. Session and live work saw him play with the likes of Dave Edmunds, John Martyn, Rory Gallagher, Dr Feelgood, Tom Jones, Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings and Nick Lowe, whilst he was also a member of pub band The Balham Alligators during its 15 year existence. Add to this the fact that that four of Geraint Watkins & The Dominators played alongside members of the Rolling Stones, together with other leading lights of the rock world, as Willy and the Poor Boys, a 'supergroup' initially formed to raise funds for the Ronnie Lane Appeal for A.R.M.S., and the scale of his work becomes more apparent.
More recently, anyone attending a Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler, Nick Lowe, Status Quo or Paul McCartney concert may have been unaware that they were enjoying the musical skills of Geraint, the go-to keyboard and accordionist-of-choice for these acts.
Being in such great demand, and the above only scratches at the surface, has obviously limited the amount of time available for solo work. In addition to the aforementioned early vinyl LP with Dominators, Geraint has only recorded four, much applauded, solo albums, Watkins - Bold As Love (1997), Dial W For Watkins (2004), In A Bad Mood (2008) and Moustique (2014).
The release, therefore, of Rush Of Blood, comes as a very welcome and indeed timely reminder of what a talented singer, songwriter and musician Watkins is. Of surprise is the fact that for this recording Geraint has found a new and unlikely collaborator in the form of Simon Ratcliffe of Basement Jaxx to push his boundaries even further. The partnership works in spades.
This latest album contains songs of such variety, at times genre-defying, as to nullify any narrow pigeon-holing or categorising , and this, in addition to its musicality, is a great strength. Add into the mix the contributions of first-class musicians such as Little George Sueref, Ste Brennan, Oli Savill, David Hartley and Martin Winning and the result is a potent, heady mix of top quality songs.
Thus you could be forgiven for thinking that opening song, which gives the album its title, is the soundtrack to a spaghetti western such is its richness, with dramatic strings, intriguing percussion and a soaring guitar solo underscoring Geraint's sonorous vocals, all of which manifestly evoke images of the film genre. Track 2, Hold Back continues what appears to be a journey in a time-machine, albeit on this occasion to a rhythm and blues infused heyday, featuring Little George Sueref on harmonica, bass and vocals.
Country is well represented by numbers such as Heart Of Stone, with sublime pedal steel from David Hartley and fine guitar from Geraint himself, and Middle Of The Night, a song which chugs along; Tristan Horne's string arrangements creating a widescreen sound over vocal performances which conjure aural images of an Orbison- Cash hybrid.
Slower tempo numbers, such as Heaven Only Knows and On The Nside, give ample opportunity to show what a fine voice Geraint possesses. The former showcasing a quite superb clarinet solo from Martin Winning, whilst the latter, with luscious backing vocals, blurs the line between soul, r'b and the blues to leave a memorable impression.
I Got The Blues, on which Watkins is credited with lead vocal and all instruments except clarinet, and Reason To Live which also features Geraint on all instruments and vocals, this time creating a creole/cajun-infused track, with keyboards, accordion and some congruous lead guitar playing, are both excellent tracks exhibiting his undoubtedly accomplished musicianship, whilst On My Mind, a bluesy outing which will have your feet tapping, features more tasteful pedal steel and harmonica, and to these ears recalls La Booga Rooga-era Andy Fairweather-Low; full-circle indeed.
The album proper ends with a further contrast in musical styles. Another Day Over, with its lush strings, lilting keyboards and vocals reminiscent of a 1940's or 50's crooner, intoning lyrics such as 'let's dance in the moonlight', presents as a song that would not be out of place in a romantic, black and white film of yesteryear. Whether intended or not, there is a pleasant symmetry in imagining that both the opening and closing tracks of the album create a cinematic soundscape such that they could both be at home as film soundtracks. The additional, un-credited, 'bonus track' is a short reprise of Another Day Over.
Rush Of Blood is an immensely appealing album. Geraint's love of, indeed passion for, music clearly shines though on this CD, the release of which will hopefully go some way to addressing his "Undiscovered treasure" and "Well-kept secret" tags.
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