CD Review – Thomas Frank Hopper – Bloodstone

Thomas Hopper (1776–1856) was an English architect of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, much favoured by King George IV, and particularly notable for his work on country houses across southern England.

Nothing to do with Thomas Frank Hopper.

Thomas Frank Hopper. He is Belgian. He is slide guitar through a tube amp. He is old school rock-blues. He is old style rhythm and melody in a tight package.

The album was produced by Thomas Frank Hopper himself and recorded and mixed by Alexandre Leroy at Studio Six Brussels.

Off of the album two singles were already released in 2020: Into the Water and Dirtylicious. There is also Bad Business with the guitar of the famous (to Belgians) guest musician Frédéric Lani (Fred & The Healers). 

The lapsteel guitar of TFH is in all songs. Let’s just explore that for a mo. Lapsteel in country & western is a delicate, light and almost orchestral touch. Transfer the slide into the rock genre, and it is dirty and dangerous. And in the hands of the expert, it can be truly music-changing, as with Yes’ ‘And You and I’, Gilmour’s ‘Dark Side’ usage and let’s not forget Knopfler’s latter days Dire Straits. So what does TFH do with it? Let’s see….

Title track ‘Bloodstone’ sets the standard, combining groove, riff, acrobatic vocal performance and soaring slide and it’s chaotic ending leads into ‘Come Closer’, a hyperactive rocker and possibly the first of several Zep hints. ‘Dirtylicious’ has a bit of a ZZ swagger combined with one of those catchy wordless choruses. ‘Sweet Black Magic Sugar Babe’ brings the blues into the modern era and ‘Into the Water’ grooves nicely, with old-style rock riff, and mid-western tune. Solo guitar is classic blues, underpinned by gutteral bass, launching almost into a singalong crowd section. Three minutes in, after the second instrumental section comes a pleasant surprise – a rhythmic change into a slower, funky, psychedelic jazz riff complete with mute trumpet. A slowburn and slow fade leaving you wanting more.

‘Tomb of the Giant’ provides atmospheric acoustic respite, and ‘Tatanka’ seems to lift the old Spirit in the Sky’ riff, slow it down, and dirty it up. Worth mentioning at this point that TFH has a good voice, perhaps a hint of Franck Carducci? This song has another slight hint of Zep (no bad thing) and a clever light/dark verse chorus transition before a brooding, tribal bridge section with Gilmouresque (Animals) descending guitar chords back into the emotional chorus. Plenty to enjoy in this one. ‘Bad Business’ has a stunning rock riff and stuttering groove chorus, it’s spoken verses atmospheric and reverb-laden. A break into soaring slide guitar is inevitable, the chord change and rhythm acceleration a little reminiscent of Floyd’s ‘Money’ before going back into the tight chorus section and clever close.

‘Crazy Mojo’ takes its lead from a juicy slide riff, whether stomping or rocking, it’s two and a half minutes of full on macho, as is the chugging ‘Mad Vagabond’. ‘Savages’ is a speedier, funkier groove yet still fully blues-rock. Retro yet fully up to date. Catchy and almost punkish with a Cars feel (imagine if Rik Ocasek had sung this) I really enjoyed the slow-wheeling second section with descending bass run and space for glorious guitar fireworks and vocal excitement, again giving that slight Zep feel (a la Dazed & Confused). Closing track ‘Mississippi’ features slide in a more bluegrass setting, cleverly retro and evocative of the region the song is about. Just TFH and his guitar to fade. Nice.

With TFH what you see is what you get. No autotune, no click recording, just old-fashioned bluesy rock music. Well produced and crafted, live sounding, expressive, real and flawed (just like the best jewels). Hopper explains: “we like the old school rock style with old school riffs on the electric guitar. We do not hesitate to increase the gain to hear the sizzling from our tube amps, the real nature of the beast.”

This lot would have gone down really well at Herringthorpe Leisure Centre or even the old Tut N’ Shive! Quality music with real instruments and an album to revel in. Nothing to do with Georgian architecture but definitely well designed music.

BLOODSTONE tracklist:

Come Closer
Sweet Black Magic Sugar Babe
Into the Water
Tomb of the Giant
Bad Business
Crazy Mojo
Mad Vagabond

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