What a difference three months touring makes. Last February the 2015 Blues Caravan/Girls With Guitars made a splash at the Skegness Rock & Blues Festival, but only got about 45 minutes to show what they can do.
A few months down the line and over 35 gigs later, their show has now been stretched past the two hour mark, and the three front line musicians have magically morphed into a fun filled band with real swagger.
The Blues Caravan / Girls With Guitars 2015 is arguably the best line-up in its 11 year history. Whereas previously label boss Thomas Ruf managed to pull together three disparate talents and make them work as a touring unit, this line-up featuring Heather Crosse on bass and vocals, Eliana Cargnelutti on guitar and vocals, the live-wire Sarah Johnson on guitar and vocals and the rock solid Jamie Little on drums gels together seamlessly.
The trio’s natural spontaneity and vibrant personalities is shaped into two long sets of well balanced, self penned, material complete with crowd pleasing covers. It’s a show worthy of the Blues Caravan moniker.
They dip into rock, boogie and blues and even resurrect Dave Mason’s ‘Feelin’ Alright’ for good measure!
The show opens with ‘Girl Band’, their power chord anthem, on which each band member sings a verse, before collectively hitting the chorus with a ferocity that underpins the mission statement of the song.
There’s no doubting the unique chemistry that fills the stage tonight. The band strikes a perfect equilibrium with band member bringing a different musical element to the set. Italian hot-shot guitarist Eliana Cargnelutti also has a much more powerful vocal range than her own recorded output suggests.
And while the band is the equal sum of its parts with everyone taking turns at the front, the effervescent Sadie Johnson hogs centre stage with the sort of unfettered energy levels that is the preserve of youth.
Heather Crosse adds perfect bass lines and deeply wrought soulful vocals on a mix of relationship songs such as ‘You Don’t Love Me Anymore’ and the funky ‘Why Does Woman Need A Bass Guitar’.
Eliana and Sadie harmonize seamlessly on their riff led co-write ‘Wish You Hadn’t Gone’. It’s a searing rock track which actually opens with an Eliana guitar figure and features a big solo from Sadie. It’s a great example of how all the band members fully contribute to the arrangements.
Eliana nails the vibe of the evening with ‘Why Do I Sing the Blues’ and plays a raucous instrumental boogie only for Sadie to reply with her own jump shuffle, ‘Give Me A Kiss’, on which Eliana peels off a muscular solo. Not to be outdone Heather Cross stars on the percussive Philly funk and soul of Gwen McCrae’s ‘Rockin’ Chair’.
Eliana also gets soulful on Warren Haynes’s ‘Soul Shine’, and saves one of her best vocals for Etta James’s ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’, before the band bring a sense of fun to the rejigged ‘Walking By Myself’, ‘Tore Down’ and best of all, the subtle percussive intro of Dave Mason’s ‘Feelin’ Alright’.
Heather reaches back to the blues for Willy Dixon’s ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ and just when they have apparently hit the ceiling, they veer into a ripping version of ZZ Top’s ‘Tush’.
Tonight the Girls With Guitars mould has been torn asunder and re-invented by a triple musical axis that brings together the often mutually exclusive elements of blues, rock, soul and fun!
How about a live album before they go their separate ways?
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos 1-5 by Adrian Gee
Photo 6 by Mark Hughes (MHP Studios)
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