Thursday, July 14, 2016

Album Review: Blues Pills - "Lady In Gold"

Let’s start by facing the truth of this thing – nobody has produced an album like this in probably forty or forty-five years, a pure revival of soul and rock and roll from back in the days when those genres walked hand in hand.  That’s what we’re faced with for Blues Pills’ new album “Lady in Gold,” a turn slightly away from the band’s blues namesake and embracing a more pop-slanted evolution in companionship with the blues’ closest cousin, soul.

At the headline of “Lady in Gold” is vocalist Elin Larsson.  Her voice comes through with the same kind of conviction in its tone as John Garcia – no, they don’t have the same timbre or sound, but her voice has that same kind of believability, which makes for a highly authentic listen.  “Little Preacher Boy” is where this comes through the most, taking what otherwise might be an average track and elevating it to a position of eloquence.

The album’s title track is the leadoff hitter and most robust selection to be had.  For all the good on this record, and there’s a lot of it, this is perhaps the only ‘excellent’ track, and if we’re being frank, it’s the primary reason to invest in this record.  The song is explosive and incredibly catchy, with a vocal hook embedded in the chorus that will pleasantly meander around the listener’s brain for days at a time.  The clever layering of the piece means that the Hammond organ (real or reproduced) sits subtly at the bottom, leaving just a hint of its presence in a few selected notes.

Blues Pills shows some credible variety in songwriting, most notable in the depth of emotion displayed during “I Felt a Change” and the transition to comparatively raucous appeal in “Gone So Long.”  The ability to write two songs with such variation is one thing, but the forethought to pair them together is what makes the combination work, and in reality floats the entire middle third of the record.

The bombast of the later track comes back two songs later for “You Gotta Try,” another track which asks us to get up and sway in time with the beat, bringing to mind shadowed memories and microfiche articles about rock clubs in the last century.   It is this kind of song that cultivated a musical scene which exhibited uncontested dominance for roughly three and a half decades.  No, that doesn’t mean Blues Pills is doing anything revolutionary, but sometimes the ability to inject life into a genre that’s been dormant for years is accomplishment enough, and such is the case here.

There are a few detractors to mention on this album.  First, it’s probably one song too long.  On a single listen, I managed to do all my household chores and have a conversation with my wife about plans for the next week, and then still wonder how many songs were left to go.  The answer was one, hence the conclusion that the album is one track too many.  Secondly, the B-side of “Lady in Gold” features a collection of well-executed compositions that all draw from the same cathartic songwriting well, resulting in a lot of songs that sound similar to each other and convey the same idea.  It’s a little like one of those old IROC races – entertaining, but everyone’s driving the same car.  In the digital age of 2016 when a song can be skipped with a mere touch, both of these are marginal issues at best.

Also, this may be something, it may be nothing.  My esteemed colleague in this venture, Chris C, was a deep devotee of the first Blues Pills album; if memory serves, he had it as a top three album for the year of its release.  I, by contrast, liked it but didn’t love it.  Now, the roles are reversed, as I find myself greatly enjoying this record (does it make the top ten?  Tune in in December to find out!) while Chris C is much more lukewarm on “Lady in Gold,” basically handing it off to me for editorial because he could not come to a solid conclusion (and there’s nothing wrong with that – we pass albums between each other without coming to a verdict with alarming frequency.)  So, opinions vary.

As we said at the top, Blues Pills has produced an album of some renown in a motif that’s been dormant for an awful long time.  If you’re a rock fan, rock revivalist or curious about the long journey of how we got here in music, “Lady in Gold” is well worth the time.  A great record.  (By the by, can we talk about how Nuclear Blast is quietly putting together a very strong throwback rock lineup?  Good work outta them.)

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