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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Cardinal Black at The Trinity Centre, Bristol

Cardinal Black’s performance at the Trinity Centre, Bristol, was not only a testament to their skill but also a showcase of their connection with the audience. Each song seemed to carry a piece of their heart, and the crowd responded in kind, creating an electric atmosphere that was nothing short of magical.

On a chilly night under a dark velvet sky, in an hour and 40 minutes the band sang 14 songs and delivered an evening of roaring, soulful, moving and inspirational guitar driven alt-rock.

The Welshmen’s first album “January Came Close” is an unequivocal labour of love, combining rock and soul-soaked blues to magnificent effect – introducing singer Tom Hollister and the award-winning Chris Buck as world-class talents.

A year after unveiling the album after many years of friendship and working together, the cogs of the machine finally aligned, as vocalist Tom Hollister, guitarist Chris Buck, drummer Adam Roberts, added keyboard player Gregg Hollister, bassist Sam Williams and singer Tay Cousins, providing backing vocals that add an extra richness and depth.

One of the most majestic and soulful guitar players, Chris Buck creates a layer of soloing that pierces even the coldest of hearts. Fuse that with a band on another level of musicianship and you have something magical unfolding before you.

Cardinal Black have the blues by the shed load; gravelly and gritty yet anointed with a medicinally smooth wrap, exemplary perfection personified.

From the start, the rich vocals of frontman Hollister have an effortlessly bluesy tone, an almost soulful quality. He has a casual manner, bearded, bespectacled and flat capped, but an arrestingly rich and velvety soulful voice comparable to Terence Trent D’Arby, Darius Rucker or Andrew Roachford. But when you add the excellent musicians around him as well, we have a package that is musical bliss.

They open with two back-to-back bangers, “Terra Firma” and “Where I’ve Been”, with the blues-drenched accents, and the heart-rendering beauty of “Run” sees the low end from Sam Williams’ Rickenbacker swirlingly entwine with Hollister’s vocals, and Buck’s amazing guitar work, laid-back, and soulful.

With a tone that is melodic, but in your face — bright, urgent and edgy – he is an extraordinary musician. Like Jeff Beck, he uses distortion and feedback effects; intensified the effect of bending notes on the guitar; and widened the range of expression that could be coaxed from the guitar.

Drawing on such techniques, Chris can weaponize his strings to hit like a stun gun or caress them to express what felt like a brush of a feather. His work had humour, too, with licks that could cackle and leads that could tease.

His style, part-Beck, part-Gary Moore, is languid with plenty of breathing space between notes. It is not the note you play that makes it sound right but the note after it or the space after it. It is a joy that adds to the story telling of each song.

It’s at times during the set when Tom stops singing with words, Chris makes his guitar sing almost lyrically, his playing extraordinary and effortless. He doesn’t play the instrument so much as he uses it as a tool to channel emotions.

Chris, an honorary Bristolian after moving to the city, said he had been nervous about playing in his newly adopted home, after playing with Elles Bailey’s band in the same venue a year ago.

Then comes “Jump In” when backing singer Tay Cousins comes to the fore, Buck’s searing solos expand the allurement whilst Gregg Hollister’s keys embrace and “Ain’t My Time”, a mix of blues and gospel, where Chris lets rip, followed by a soulfully deep “Rise Up” with crisp and concise closing guitar solos, and the dreamy “On My Own”, a ballad from the first EP, when a delightfully rasping Chris riff complements Tom’s gravelly voice perfectly. What is also evident is the fun they’re having. The laughs, the jokes, the camaraderie.

The sweet solitude of “Warm Love” where keys man Gregg plays a supreme bit of piano, coupled with the raw powering blues of ‘Where Do You Go?’ and the cascading of “Tell Me How It Feels” form a fine triumvirate, a real sing along belter of a song that the crowd duly obliges as Tom encourages the fans’ participation.

Enter surprise guest Elles Bailey, from Bristol, who returns Chris’s favour by playing with the band and adding her beautiful voice to “Little Bird”, which is met with thunderous applause.

Penultimate song “I’m Ready” lunges from sonorous ballad to playful blues jam in four fantastic minutes. The band are in full flow with this number – a pounding solo from the percussive forces of drummer Roberts, it broods and builds and explodes to a crescendo while Elles adds to the mix, and Hollister piggybacks Cousins around the stage.

They end with their album closer, the gorgeous slow-building blues track “Tied Up In Blue”, a David Gilmour-esque solo from Buck lays waste to the venue. The rafters well and truly lifted.

Cardinal Black has produced something special, and their music will only gather more fans, and more acclaim. Wonderful musicianship, and a bond that goes back decades. They are, quite simply, one of the finest bands around right now.

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