Album review: LAYLA ZOE – The Lily

Cable Car Records [Release date: 30.o8.13]

Canadian blues singer Layla Zoe offers a highly personal take on the blues. She’s a confident singer with an expansive range, who finds the perfect foil in the shape of German blues guitarist and multi instrumentalist Henrik Freischlader.

There’s a subtle balance between her expansive phrasing and Henrik’s variety of tones, which shift from the jangling guitars of ‘In Her Mother’s House’, to the cool blues of the excellent ‘Gemini Heart’ and the bruising toned shuffle of ‘Never Met A Man Like You’. It’s on the latter track that they both coalesce thrillingly, as Layla’s visceral vocal is given the perfect backing by Freischlader’s taut accompaniment.

Layla knows when to emphasize a lyrics and add grit and alternatively when to hold back, in a mirror image of Henrik’s guitar playing.

If the acapella gospel Glory Glory Hallelujah’ is a brave opening track, it’s the perfect way to lever you into an album that flows with an essential vitality. ‘Why You Afraid’ could easily have been a cut from one of Henrik’s recent albums, until Layla leans into the song and works her way round the lyric with her effortless phrasing, adding a primal scream just before the closing line.  The song provides the litmus paper for the rest of the album, because even though it ebbs and flows from this point onwards, she’s offered you a glimpse of her ferocious Joplin style potential.

Henrik evokes Roy Buchanan on the opening licks of the slow blues ‘Father’ and adds a spiky solo, as Layla emotes the troubled narrative: ‘Father, where are you tonight, I’m on a stage, living my life, Father, can you hear me?’

The title track may be less intense but it is equally weighty as she brings a husky reading of her poetic lyrics: ‘Hold me close in the tallest trees, Hear my whisper on the ocean breeze, I will always be there’.

The duo rock out on ‘I Choose You’, as Henrik employs a slightly distorted tone to great effect, while Layla phrases eloquently. She gets low down and political on the uncompromising ‘They Lie’ and Henrik’s playing subtly mirrors her intent, before an unexpected plunder of her fellow Canadian Neil Young’s ‘Hey Hey , My My’. It’s the perfect finale to an excellent album and features a rare Henrik shred, before the track finally comes to rest in a bed of extended feedback.

‘The Lily’ is an album bursting with vitality, lyrical originality and the kind of spark that only comes when like minded souls connect. The live shows are surely worth waiting for, but in the meantime check out the album you won’t be disappointed! ****


Review by Pete Feenstra

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