Album review: BABAJACK – Babajack Live Summer 2015

BABAJACK – Babajack Live Summer 2015

Self release [Release date 10.1o.15]

‘Babajack Live’ starts out as a blues album – all wailing harp, rough-hewn slide and hypnotic rhythms on homemade instruments – but quickly develops organically into a body of music with more depth.

The background to the album is that it was originally meant to be recorded at the Albert Hall, but circumstances dictated otherwise, leading to a last minute change of venue.  In that context both the band and producer Paul Long have done remarkably well to nail an essential live album full of Becky’s edgy vocals,  the ensemble’s rip-roaring percussive style and their inspired interplay.

The band explores layers of expansive Afro-rhythmic textures with a Delta blues feel, shot through with a rocky edge.  The kick ass rhythm section of drummer Tosh Murase and Adam Bertenshaw push vocalist and percussionist Becky Tate and the harp playing guitarist to the limit.

It helps of course that their material is an amalgamation of roots-rock, blues and folk that some might call tribal fusion.  It’s a musical hybrid that readily lends itself to their intense version of ‘Gallows Pole’, a number that runs the full gamut of styles from folk to blues and rock.

It’s easy to identify Babajack as a jam band who eschew structure for feel and spontaneity. But that would be to overlook their musical complexity, comprising sudden tempo changes and a subtle use of dynamics that gives tracks like the extended ‘Coming Home’ its impact.

The song’s break-down pairs Julia Palmer Price’s gently bowed cello with Becky’s  emotive vocal. An if there are moments when you are not sure where the band is going, it gives them a definable edge. Julia returns later to add some ethereal sounds on the beautifully crafted ‘Breathe’, which is a perfect title for a short atmospheric piece full of poise and presence

‘Bababajack Live’, shifts from acoustic blues roots through moments of rocking intensity to ride roughshod over expectations. On ‘Falling hard’, the emphasis is on Becky’s tremulous phrasing and Trevor’s sonorous harp. The duo stretch the song over a rock solid backbeat, as the track ebbs and flows from quiet emotive moments to polar opposite explosive dynamics. The pregnant pause at the end of the song is that of an audience collectively catching its breath!

Becky tells the crowd that: ‘some people say we’re not really blues’ , and then they offer the perfect musical riposte with groundbreaking music that draws on several musical traditions and fuses it all together in their own inimitable style.

And having established a rhythmic template for their music, the band strips things down on ‘Hammer & Tongs’  to just the voice and lyrical harp on an arrangement in which Becky’s phrasing is everything.

If there’s a downside its simply that a surfeit of mid-tempo rhythms is in danger of overloading the senses, though the band seems to be aware of this in the way they explore different dynamics and a variety of vocal attacks.

On ‘Rock & Roll Star’ they build a brusque groove on the back of a big rock drum figure, tempered by funky bass licks. A mid-number Steger rap gives the effect of layered vocals on a track that comes closest to capturing their unique style.

‘Back Door’ features Trevor on harp, slide and feverish rhythm as the band stretches out, while the sheer intensity of ‘Gallows Pole’ earns them a deserved raucous reception.

Brave, Imaginative and never less than inspired, ‘Babajack Live ‘ is a timely reminder that great music will always stand above  the industry’s attempts to box and label it.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00


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