Released by: Taller Records
Release Date: 8th November 2019
Genre: Blues, Blues Rock, Americana
Troy Redfern – Guitar (Right Speaker)
Jack J. Hutchinson – Guitar (Middle)
Mike Ross – Guitar (Left Speaker)
Jack ‘Ulysses’ Browning – Bass
Darren Lee – Drums
1. El Sueña del Águila (A Dream of Eagles)
2. Pintura de Luna (Painting the Moon)
3. Tres Hermanos (Three Brothers)
4. Hotel Toledo
5. Banda Sonora (Soundtrack)
6. Flores Rojas (Red Flowers)
7. Tres Hermanos (Reprise)
Three of the most exciting up and coming names in blues-rock unite once more to produce the spontaneous instrumental masterpiece that is Hotel Toledo. This is the second album release from the triple-guitar frontman line-up, following on from last year’s heavily Southern-influenced Mahogany Drift. This particular offering floats away from the swamplands of the deep south and takes us to the exotic climes of the Mediterranean with a dominant Spanish theme.
Firstly, I feel a brief introduction to each guitarist is necessary to establish what we’re hearing on this recording. Troy Redfern is a free-spirited slide guitar player hailing from the rural Herefordshire-Welsh borders, citing his influences as Johnny Winter and Hound Dog Taylor. Jack J. Hutchinson is an established blues guitarist originally from Leicestershire. He’s been gigging and recording for almost two decades and spent his formative years in the North West before relocating to London in 2005. Mike Ross was born in Durham and now resides in West Sussex. He has a considerable back catalog of solo work with a penchant for riff-soaked Americana. The ‘three brothers’ are joined by drummer Darren Lee from the Mike Ross Band plus Jack Browning, who although usually plays guitar, offered up his bass skills to this project.
So let’s rewind to the Autumn of 2017 where the initial collaboration of the powerhouse trio occurred: Mike Ross recalls “We were all drawn together because we kept getting mistaken for each other! I guess three bearded and long-haired guitar-slinging singers can be easily mixed up! Jack and I had known each other for a while already and had collaborated previously – I played a lot of the bass on his album ‘Paint No Fiction’ and we’d sat in with each other’s bands here and there. Troy, I didn’t know so well but he seemed a nice guy and had also sat in with my band previously so we decided to book a few shows with all three of our bands playing, starting with ‘The Space Blues Extravaganza’ at the Half Moon, Putney on September 2017”. Recognizing the powerful impact of multi-guitar bands such as The Allman Brothers, Little Feat and the Black Crowes, RHR emanates this charismatic coalescence perfectly with their own unique individual styles.
Back to the album in question which was recorded entirely live in one studio session on a day off during their last UK tour, producing seven completely new and improvised instrumentals with each one being created from scratch out on the studio floor while the recording light was red. Of this session, Troy says “The process of recording the new RHR album was a refreshing experience, compared to the way you’d normally record an album. Absolutely nothing was written before the session, so everything you hear was constructed on the day, with musical themes, motifs, and improvisations being born very organically at the moment. This was one of the most relaxed, inspired and creative recording sessions I’ve been involved with”.
Mike comments “I wanted to create a space where each of us could play our hearts out about, so I pre-planned with producer Paul Winn exactly how to set up studio – everything from the positioning of amps to the exact mics I wanted to use on the drums. This meant we wasted very little time in getting ready to, allowing us to concentrate on the music with a minimum of interference”. Troy adds ”This was a no headphones, all live performance of brand new material with each of us able to see, hear and feel each other’s presence in the same space without distraction”. ”It’s unique – I’m proud of it” says Jack, who agrees that there’s something special about collaborating with other like-minded musicians, making kick-ass music with no egos present.
As for the heavy Hispanic prominence, Mike says “We’ve all previously toured Spain thanks to Javier at Dwaves Events, our Spanish promoter. Spain is huge with varied terrain, everything from mountains and desert to thick forest, deep rivers, and blue seas. That means that there’s a lot of traveling hours between towns and cities – a lot of space to get lost in. We all came away from those tours changed by the experience. Spain is a country that is full of light & positive energy. They’re an incredibly passionate nation as well as great music lovers and people never seem to be in a hurry. That has had a big influence on me personally and subsequently on how I saw the RHR recording session going”.
The album certainly has elements ranging from siesta all the way through to fiesta, varying from the sublimely mellow to harsh and wild, very much like the Spanish landscape. Mike adds “So much in life is competitive, anxious and hurried – I wanted to create some music that could give folks a respite from that”. When the recording was finished, Mike spent a couple of days with engineer and co-producer Paul Winn editing and mixing the tracks before heading out on his second full-band tour of Spain with a bunch of as-yet-untitled rough mixes in tow. He spent the next fortnight listening to the tracks over and over while travelling the highways and byways of Spain and gradually the idea of giving the songs Spanish titles came to him.
The sleeve artwork sets the scene perfectly, depicting a bovine skull between the mirrored image of two eagles perched majestically in front of flowering cacti. It was created by the Spanish artist responsible for Nowhere Man Design who had previously made posters for Mike’s first Spanish tour.
The opening track, El Sueña del Águila, with its sultry introduction have RHR telling a tale of sweltering heat and stunning sunsets with grooves as heady and intoxicating as the wild-growing Spanish marjoram. Accompanied by a soulful bassline snaking its way across the plains, this epic 21-minute track builds to a climatic pulsing crescendo like an eagle soaring over the blistering desert. Next, despite its brevity, Pintura de Luna (just over 2 minutes by comparison) is a catchy earworm that holds a tight, punchy riff. Of the song Tres Hermanos (Three Brothers), Mike Ross says “It was kind of how I saw Jack, Troy and myself, kind of ‘united we stand against all comers’ I guess”. It’s a definitive musical self-portrait where RHR each have an opportunity to shine their light. Here we encounter hypnotic, frenzied, almost trance-like guitar with a Led Zeppelin ‘How Many More Times’ style impromptu breakdown sandwiched in between.
The next song, Hotel Toledo is a soulful, dramatic deep cut invoking images of dusty roads dotted with succulents under a scorching sun. The title track of the album received its name when on the tour itinerary, promoter Javier had written ‘Find a hotel – Toledo’ and it just kind of stuck. Banda Sonora is a melting pot of various blues styles where we get a real insight into the trio’s main musical influences, with echoes of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon in this raucous number. Flores Rojas combines serene melodies with some sweet shredding around a bass-heavy riff. Tres Hermanos (Reprise), plump with plenty of fuzz and slide closes this aural Iberian road trip and you’re left feeling like you traveled it with them. The end of this record is somewhat tinged with sadness as Jack has announced his departure from the band at the end of the year. This makes the album all the more special, although Mike and Troy are currently in the process of selecting another bearded guitar-slinging singer to take his place. Standing out like a mountain against a blue sky, this album penetrates deep into the souls of our three brothers, blending their styles to create something quite unique and magical in the world of modern blues.
Written by: Caroline Blood
My Global Mind – Staff Writer