Whilst touring the excellent ‘temperature rising’ album, Danny Bryant paid tribute to his friend and mentor Walter Trout, then recovering from surgery. It was a moving moment in an excellent show, and it seems fitting that Walter, now recovered (and riding high on the back of the blistering ‘battle scars’ album) should lend his skills to a track on Danny’s new album, ‘blood money’. Of course, blues aficionados already know full well that Danny needs no guests to add fire and fury to his work – his name has long stood for a level of passion and power that few can match – but the blues community is exactly that and to hear the two friends going head to head on the title track is a truly life-affirming moment and a monumental start to the record.
Opening with a flanged beat, ‘blood money’ is a mid-paced track, fuelled by Richard Hammerton’s keys as Danny and Walter scar the surface with aching guitar leads. A song of great depth, it takes a good few listens to fully appreciate the interplay between the two master musicians and it’s hard to escape the notion that Danny, always reliable, has pushed himself to even greater heights on this outing. Kicking into a full-blooded blues groove, ‘Master plan’ has a taut Muddy Waters feel with Danny’s distorted riff placed front and centre and his voice full of grit. It’s impossible to keep the foot still as Dave Raeburn lays down a cracking beat and when a blistering solo emerges over the top of the track it’s a moment of sheer blues bliss. Slowing the pace is the beautiful ‘slow suicide’ which harks back to the more measured work of ‘temperature rising’ and which sees Danny’s voice crack under the emotional weight of the subject matter. A beautiful piece of work, ‘slow suicide’ juxtaposes subtle acoustic splashes with more Neil Young-esque electric solo work to great effect and the result is a haunting track that demonstrates the range and deftness of Danny’s touch. ‘Unchained’ shows a different side to Danny, as the band bring out the funk with Alex Philips excelling on the bass and a horn section joining the line-up for added soul. Next up is the smooth instrumental ‘on the rocks’ which is an homage to Albert Collins and which is as near to perfect a summation of exquisite blues playing as you’re likely to hear anywhere in 2016.
The second half of the album opens with ‘sugar sweet’, a hard-rocking beast that will undoubtedly swing even harder in the live environment. Cutting loose with rare abandon Danny and his band sound like they had a lot of fun cutting this track and, with its scything riff and rich organ swirls, it’s a highlight of the disc. ‘Fool’s game’ is no less powerful with the rhythm section thundering away as Danny delivers one of his grittiest vocal performances. Drawing comparisons with Walter Trout at his most bombastic, ‘fool’s game’ is simply a great, hard blues monster that will move even the most apathetic listener with its potent riffs. With a more traditional feel, ‘Holding all the cards’ is a gritty blues number that pays tribute to Jimmy Reed and which features some typically excellent solo work from Danny who, once again, sounds like he’s having the time of his life recording this album. Another treat appears next as former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden appears on ‘just won’t burn’, and, as you’d expect, Danny and Bernie cause sparks to fly as they alternate solos. Bernie once again proves that his soulful playing is undiminished and Danny gives him plenty of space to shine on a track that will have admirers of the guitar solo in ecstasy. The album ends on a quiet note with the gentle ‘Sara Jayne’, a poignant ballad that aches with a sense of lost love.
Harder edged than ‘temperature rising’, ‘blood money’ is also, arguably, the better album thanks to the soaring highlights of the title track and the stunning, air-guitar inciting ‘just won’t burn’. It’s not the guests that make ‘blood money’ so wonderful an album overall, however. It is a combination of Danny’s intensely personal style of song writing and his unparalleled ability to truly inhabit the songs he plays. There’s so much to admire here, it can’t possibly all be absorbed in one sitting, and, like Danny’s previous efforts, there’s the feeling you’ll still be finding new elements to love in the record years down the line. ‘Blood money’ is, quite possibly, Danny Bryant’s best album yet and it is an absolute pleasure from start to finish – what a way to start the year!