Nell Bryden – Live From Iraq

Album Review | 157 Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5

Released not so much as a follow up to the Second Time Around album but more of a token of something to put us on with, until the new studio album comes out later this year, Live From Iraq, gives us a taste of Nell’s vibrant and energetic live shows whilst she entertains troops in the Middle East. Updating the efforts of the likes of Dame Vera Lynn, Bob Hope or Marilyn Monroe before her, Bryden appeared to be only too pleased to undertake three weeks of shows at several Forward Operating Bases in Iraq during October 2008. Bryden is at pains to point out that this tour was not politically motivated, but insists that bringing a bit of rock n roll to people far from home is what it’s all about. And so with vague memories of Bill Graham and a handful of dancers jumping out of a chopper into the heart of darkness, bringing a touch of glamour to the nightmare of Apocalypse Now, we are once again at the confluence of entertainment and war. If I were a soldier out there, fully accustomed to the delights of a bunk room strewn with fellow sweaty souls, hurtling towards the end of yet another ‘tour of duty’, I would be highly delighted to have Nell Bryden come along and sing in the naffi (which is an acronym for British Navy Army & Air Force Institutes, in case you mis-heard me). Knowing her audience well from the get-go, Nell delight’s the American Armed Forces’ complement of grateful deadheads gathered at Camp Falcon just outside Baghdad, with a rip roaring take on the traditional “I Know You Rider”, setting out the tone of the show from the start. Commuting between other Forward Operating Bases at Camp’s Mahmudiyah, Kalsu and Victory as well as at the Cropper Detention Center, doing for all intents and purposes the same job as Johnny Cash did at San Quentin and Folsom Prison in the Sixties, Bryden chronicles her experiences in a daily ‘blog’, printed in the accompanying booklet. Life on the road is known to be tough in rock n roll, but Nell Bryden calmly reports on how her trailer ‘shakes with the booms of outgoing artillery’, literally relocating her bed in the process. Probably better than incoming artillery though, eh Nell? The most startling thing about the performances on Live From Iraq, is that the band, made up of Brooklyn musicians Eric Lindberg (guitar), Mark Stewart (bass) and Bryan Bisordi (drums), was gathered together as a pick-up outfit on the eve of the tour as her regular band promptly pulled out at the last minute. Determination prevailed and Nell Bryden went on the create an atmosphere of raw and sweaty blues, utilising her trademark alto on ten outstanding songs from a handful of self-penned songs such as “Second Time Around”, “Tonight”, “Meridian” and “What Does It Take”, together with some timely crowd pleasers in “House of the Rising Sun” and “That’s Alright Mama”. Particular highlights though come in the form of two blues classics, first of all the powerful Muddy Waters composition “Forty Days and Forty Nights” and finally a stripped down solo version of Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail”, giving the boys a break and bringing the set to a close.