6 fresh guitar artists you need to hear in March

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(Image: © Szymon Góralczyk)

This month: Kris Barras, The Contortionist, Steve Hill, Cassels, Delphina Kings and Lullaby...

Kris Barras

UK’s southern-rocking blues champ

Devonshire rocker Kris Barras’ first passion was guitar, thanks initially to his father’s Gary Moore records. When an early career in the shred scene started to wane in his early 20s, he turned his hands to MMA, fighting in Vegas, appearing on Sky TV and winning the majority of his bouts.

I really don’t think I found myself until my late 20s. At heart, this is who I have always been

As such, this is a blues-y player that has faced, quite literal, brow-beatings. “I think the biggest thing I’ve taken from MMA is the discipline and the commitment,” says Kris. “For years, I’d have to get up at five in the morning and go for a run and then do a full day of work. To have that dedication for so long and be committed to getting half-decent at something really helps.”

When Kris opted to leave the MMA world, it was the guitar that came calling again, but this time the songwriter focused on the blues and classic rock that had first inspired him. “I thought, ‘Let’s just do a demo and see what happens’,” he confesses. “My original aim was just to play a couple of decent gigs, but it’s gone mental from there.”

Two albums have followed, most recently 2016’s Lucky 13, with a third – produced by Josiah Manning – in the pipeline for spring and Kris has quickly gathered a dedicated fanbase for his formidable Southern-style playing and bold, classic rock-tinted brand of blues. “People say to me, ‘Don’t you wish you did this when you were 21?’ But I couldn’t have back then. I don’t think I had the musical maturity and, not to sound cliched, but I really don’t think I found myself until my late 20s. At heart, this is who I have always been.”

  • For fans of: Dan Patlanksy, Aaron Keylock
  • Gear: 1984 Fender Strat

The Contortionist

Twist and turns in the name of progression

Progressive rock is, by definition, an evolving beast. US band The Contortionist started their career at the heavier, mechanical end of the spectrum but third album Language and this year’s Clairvoyant have redefi ned their sound – interspersing climbing riffs and dark tumbles into Steven Wilson territory with a Deftones-like dreaminess.

“We’re always trying new things,” says guitarist Robby Baca. “That’s why our records are almost like a diff erent band each time around.” This thirst for diversity has seen Robby and co-guitarist Conor Maynard continually stretch their abilities as players and composers. As such, Clairvoyant is packed with sensational solos and clever composition. “I’ve always been pursuing chord knowledge,” Robby tells us. “We’ll keep pushing the envelope of what is interesting to us.”

  • For fans of: Tesseract, Anathema
  • Gear: Ibanez Prestige 6 and RG and S

Steve Hill

Master multi instru-mentalist

We’ve seen some multi-tasking setups in our time, but one-man Canadian blues-rock band, Steve Hill raised even our eyebrows. There’s an off set Teisco pickup on his Les Paul Jr, which splits the signal to an octaver and bass amp. Then there are the pedal-controlled drums, cymbals and the drum stick and maraca on the headstock…

“All of that while playing a bassline with my thumbs, guitar with the other fingers, singing and sometimes playing harp too,” adds Steve. “Gone are the days of jumping around on stage!” Nonetheless, his stomping blues playing is attention-grabbing enough – bagging the songwriter a slew of awards across three albums in his native Canada. “It’s hard work. But it’s worth it,” reflects Steve. “I can express myself a lot more by doing this than by just playing guitar and singing.”

  • For fans of: AC/DC, Bad Company
  • Gear: 1959 Gibson Les Paul Junior TV

Cassels

Who: Oxfordshire punk-type Jim Beck
Sounds like: Poetry from a cul-de-sac. Jabbing suburban apathy in the gut with smart lyrics, canny hooks and stonking riffs
Gear: Fender Mustang, Blackstar HT Metal 60, Danelectro Reel Echo
For fans of: IDLES, Muncie Girls
Hear: Hating Is Easy

Delphina Kings

Who: Manchester’s Chris Gibson
Sounds like: Irresistible indie pop. Think Suede, but raised in the North West with an un-ironic appreciation of grunge riffs
Gear: Fender Telecaster TC-90, G&L Asat Classic, POD HD400, 1980s Vox AC30
For fans of: Suede, Peace Hear: Like You

Lullaby

Who: London guitarists Lewis Knaggs and Nathan Grace
Sounds like: Foos-infused heaviness with a nasty sideline hurling-out distorted lead work
Gear: Lewis - Les Paul, Vox AC30. Nathan - Jazzmaster, AC30
For fans of: Dinosaur Pile-Up, Fangclub
Hear: Why Don’t You Love Me

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