Leigh Barker and The New Sheiks
Surrey Music Cafe,
In 1920s slang, a ''sheik'' was a hip gentleman - a man about town - with obvious romantic appeal. Leigh Barker's band The New Sheiks are five snappily dressed young lads and one sassy lass, re-creating the sound of early jazz and blues. They dig up obscure songs from the American South, polish them up and make them sparkle with life.They also incorporate new tunes, dressed in vintage clothes but delivered with a playful nod to the now. A case in point from Friday's concert: Sex With My Ex, a mischievous update on the flagrantly suggestive blues tunes sung by Bessie Smith and others.
Jessica Nicholas - THE AGE
Singer Heather Stewart's ability to stretch phrases subtly over the bar line gives her vocals a seductive, slightly world-weary quality, and her fiddle playing contains echoes of old-time country and folk styles.
The rhythm section (Barker on bass, Matt Boden on upright piano and Sam Young on drums) imbues each tune with a buoyant swing that can be nudged into a strut or swagger, while Eamon McNelis and Don Stewart - on trumpet and trombone respectively - sound crisp, airy, jovial and mournful by turns.
The second set of Friday's show saw the Sheiks morph into the Melbourne Rhythm Project. Seven impossibly energetic dancers (led by Ramona Staffeld and Grant Swift) took to the floor, blending tap and lindy hop in choreographed routines and improvised solos that demonstrated - in irresistible fashion - the once inextricable links between jazz and dance.
Leigh Barker & The New Sheiks - The Sales TaxLed by Melbourne bassist Leigh Barker, The New Sheiks is a splendid band that proudly specialises in a vintage form of jazz and blues that harks back to the early days of jazz, an era when the leading blues singers were formidable women like Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith and Victoria Spivey.
In this case, the singer is Heather Stewart (who also plays violin on some songs). The horn players riffing behind her, or stepping up to take a solo, are Eamon McNelis (cornet) and Don Stewart (trombone) – both perhaps better known as members of Flap! – while Barker’s mates in the swinging rhythm section are pianist Matt Boden and drummer Al McGrath-Kerr.
On this album, recorded variously live and in the studio, they all have great fun performing a variety of original songs and vintage classics. The latter include ‘Sales Tax’ and ‘Lonely One In This Town’ by the Mississippi Sheiks, Ellington’s ‘Come Sunday’ and ‘Creole Blues’, and a neat medley of Jelly Roll Morton’s ‘Jungle Blues’ and Robert Johnson’s ‘Love In Vain’. Impressive teamwork, lots of strong solos and vocals, plenty of fun.
By Adrian Jackson - Rhythms Magazine
"Early blues and jug band from a talented young violinist vocalist.
This is a refreshing new CD from Heather Stewart and her talented trio. It is a bluesy, jug band sound, but with Heather out front singing in her Bessie Smith tinged vocals it has an extra dimension to it.
This is the first 12 track album from the Trio. They have chosen to pursue a live-feel and it has given the CD an engaging vitality, a joy that is needed to succeed with jug band music. The album features a some Jug Band classics such as "Sitting on Top of the World", "Deep Blue Sea" and of course "Get Your Fingers Off It". There are a couple Of Heather's compositions and they fit right in with the style of the rest of the CD.
The Trio features Heather on violin, banjo-mandolin and vocals, plus Dan Dinnen (2009 BPOY winner) on guitar and harmonica and Danny McKenna on drums and percussion. What I liked most about this CD is Heather's vocals and violin. Female vocals and violin is not a combination you hear a lot of, and it makes a refreshing change. The vocals are strong but Heather has captured that longing that you will hear in Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie. I love the way Heather and the boys play this music with respect, they play the up tempo numbers with real verve and the slower numbers with great feeling."
Geoff Forbes, MBAS
"Heather Stewart was a big hit at The Juke Joint for the second year running in 2010. A classically trained vocalist and violinist, Heather found her voice in earthy, old-time blues, and what a mighty sound it is! The combination of skill and passion in her playing had the room abuzz and made a very hard act to follow for Mojo Webb and Abbe May. Heather’s is a talent that will make you re-think everything you think you know about the blues, and the festival came to a raucous climax when she was let loose in a jam; a set that was undoubtedly the highlight of the weekend."
Chris Leese, Mojo Inc
"MBAS is affiliated with The Blues Foundation USA, and are allowed to enter one CD in the 'Best Self Produced CD' competition. Over the past month, the Committee has had a tough job as they had to select one CD from the following entrants: Collard, Greens and Gravy, Shaun Kirk, John-Luke Shelley and High Speed Steel, Heather Stewart, Jules Boult, Jimi Hocking, Lloyd Spiegel, Black and Blue, Stevie Paige, Eddy Boyle and Mattiski.
The CD that was eventually chosen was Heather Stewart's album, "Get Your Fingers Off It!". Heather's CD will now be sent to Memphis, USA, where it will be judged in the worldwide 'Best Self Produced CD' competition (as part of the International Blues Challenge) in Feb 2011."
MBAS BLUESLETTER, Nov 2010