33 Records [Release date 02.03.18]
‘The Blues And I Should Have A Party’ is as much a thematic statement of the band’s musical intent – let alone history – as it is a specific title track about a troubled relationship.
Thus: “The blues & I’ve been friends for so long, We might as well start a party.”
There’s an undoubted whiff of irony too, because for all the despondency that the blues might bring, it’s equally a catalyst for some good-time music. And it’s very much the latter interpretation that holds court on a generous 13 track album that makes a real statement about the band’s musical ability.
Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion revel in the flow of ‘Way Down In The Caves’ and impressively explore the deeply entrenched ‘You’ve Changed’. They enjoy some superb band interplay on ‘You Don’t Live Here Anymore’ and lean into the pleasing groove of ‘My Handsome Man’.
Rob Koral’s arrangements are the cornerstone of an album that stretches the contemporary blues palette to the limit. They get the best out of a road tested band and give the set its essential vitality.
Blue Commotion is the impenetrable sum of its parts, as each musician contributes fully to their signature sound, dominated by Zoe’s impassioned phrasing.
There’s a mix of relationship songs, straight blues, and a brace of emotive outings that dig a little a bit deeper lyrically.
‘You’ve Changed’ for example, gives Zoe plenty of room to wrap her expansive blues phrasing round the lyrics: “Something’s missing from your smile, Now it seems you can beguile, What was our special place, Is now an empty space.”
Similarly, Zoe immerses herself in a lament for her late mum called ‘The Memory of You’. In truth, it might have been something of a sprawl, were it not for her focussed and emotive performance which serves the song well.
It also gives the following ‘Time Waits For No One’, an extra impact. Rob Koral again proves to be the master arranger, on a spacious effort which has a perfectly weighted slow-build that leads into a two line lyrical resolution: “Nothing’s ticking but the clock on the wall, Time movin’ forward, can you feel the pull?”
The meaning of the lyrics are also superbly evoked by the band’s eloquent playing.
Blue Commotion take us on an energetic musical journey, underscored by some coherent sequencing. There’s a lovely balance routed in a layered sound. It’s counterweighted by a collective drive and topped by crisp solos that never overstay their welcome. This is best exemplified by the title track, which mirrors a confident road tested combo that likes to explore every possibility in a song
Keyboard player Pete Whittaker’s Hammond glues everything together in such a way that you don’t notice the absence of a bass player, especially on a seamless groove like ‘My Handsome Man’.
Perhaps an accentuated bass line might draw the listener in a shade more, but for the most part, a combination of effervescent drummer Paul Robinson and Koral’s ability to switch from peerless rhythm into expressive solos, means the band bring a hefty presence to bear on well chosen material.
Keyboard player Whittaker further stars on the lovely retro sounding shuffle ‘Tell Me You Love Me Too’, which recalls the younger Steve Winwood in The Spencer Davis Group.
And while Zoe Schwarz’s clear diction helps brings alive the lyrics, the album also benefits from a bright sonic quality that helps capture the band’s spark, energy and drive.
Listen for example to the funky relaxed groove of the closing ‘Thank You’. The guitar and organ meld together mellifluously either side of Robinson’s tom-tom fill, on a track on which the band refreshingly shows its appreciation for its audience.
If ‘The Blues And I Should Have A Party’ doesn’t quite have the immediacy of its predecessor ‘This Is the Life I Choose’, it is certainly more adventurous as it delivers dynamic vocals, deep grooves and fiery solos on meaningful songs.
It would be easy to call Blue Commotion ‘player’s players’, but that would be to overlook both their originality and an adventurous spirit that gives them every right to be regarded as being in the vanguard of contemporary blues. ****
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 20:00
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