With "Now Playing" Vancouver-based Canadian legend Cal Batchelor has come up with a good album full of original blues/rock tunes. In this respect, the style of the band effectively reflects Batchelor's career. Batchelor, who spent several years based in the UK, has played in a number of rock bands as well as several blues oriented bands over the years.
The opening track ("Atlantic City"), which really falls more under the banner of progressive rock (Cream, anyone?), is a bit misleading, since it is not really representative of the rest of the album. The blues content is ramped up on the ensuing "Blues On The Radio," which is more typical of what follows. It sees Batchelor encamping in the territory occupied by the likes of John Mayall. The foundation for the band's sound is provided by the rhythm section of Jimmy Fergusson (drums) and Trevor Newman (bass). The stars of the show, however, are Batchelor on guitar and vocals--which are also strikingly similar to Mayall in some places--and Robbie King on keyboards. Most of the tracks feature one or more extended solos by Batchelor and/or King, which gives the impression that this is how the band play the songs live.
"Blues On The Radio" is probably the pick of the tracks featuring some good work from Robbie King on keyboards, and the horn section of Graham Howell (sax) and Tom Shorthouse (trumpet). Other tracks worthy of special mention are the rocking groove of "Questions," "Give Me A Sign"--reminiscent of the theme tune to a British TV series from the late 1970's called "Minder"!--and the lazy days feeling of "Days Like This".
Aside from the misgivings about the opening track, "Now Playing" is a solid album, which seems to be trying to capture some of the feel of a live gig. It is an album that rewards repeated plays which help to identify some of the more subtle shades in the band's musical style. "Now Playing" will especially appeal to blues/rock fans, with the scales tipped more towards the blues rather than rock end of the spectrum.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.