Album review: VANJA SKY – Bad Penny

VANJA SKY – Bad Penny

Ruf Records [Release date 23.02.18]

‘Bad Penny’ is a 12 track rock-blues album on which the young Croatian guitarist Vanja Sky impressively crafts her own style. She’s a song driven artist with a locker full of licks who moulds the rock-blues format to her own end.

There’s lot to be said for fearless youthful energy and spark, as she let’s rip with a welter of guitar tones and contrasting styles. 10 original songs and 2 covers give her album ‘Bad Penny’ a very accessible feel.

Her songs rely more on spirit and honesty than lyrical depth, while occasional references to rock & roll allied with lashings of guitar is something you might expect from a guitar slinging rock-blues artist.

But there’s much more to this album than simply raking up old coals, as the effervescent Vanja Sky carves out her own niche almost in spite of the borrowed Rory Gallagher album title.

The CD feels like she’s been given a familiar template with which to work. It’s a slice of contemporary blues-rock framed by the experience of producer Jim Gaines and the catalytic guitarist, vocalist and mixer Mike Zito, while Laurence Jones also helps shape 4 songs. But it’s her own material that freshen things up with a raw energy and consistent focus.

She benefits from strong structures, decent hooks and fiery licks that always support lyrical meaning and song dynamics.

Her imperious jangly guitar on the title track for example, is matched by a gritty vocal which suggests she’s straining at the leash to deliver the very best performance.

Unlike many of her contemporaries she sounds as if she revels in the moment the red light goes on.

Her hard driving style works stretches to a swampy groove on ‘Hard Working Woman’, and the slick rhythm section of bassist Terry Day and drummer Matthew Johnson give her all the drive she needs.

‘Do You Wanna’ envelops us and rocks out John Fogerty style, as she adds one her best vocals on a catchy hook. She further adds cutting edge riffs on smoking track destined to be a live favourite.

She changes her guitar tone to a fuzzy drone, and brings a more vulnerable timbre to her vocal phrasing on the booming ‘All Night’. Her willingness to explore is self evident on ‘Hit Me With The Blues’. She overcomes the dreaded opening line: “I woke up this morning’ and a vocal wobble, on a spacious arrangement with cool dynamics to confidently emote soulfully. It’s the kind of song that you could imagine gathering depth from plenty of touring.

‘Inside Pain’ is an outstanding dreamy arrangement that features a big tremolo sound and a melange of chiming guitars. It’s a slow burner with a repeated hook and some subliminal guitar tones that linger well after its finished.

The title track showcases her energy and spark, while the cover of Luther Allison’s ‘Low Down And Dirty’ flies on the back of her slashing slide guitar work. Mike Zito takes the first verse, before Sky and a growling Bernard Allison take the song on. And if the mid-number rap sounds a little forced, the avalanche of hot licks effortlessly take the number home.

Her willingness to experiment leads her to the atmospheric ‘Married Man’, on which the musical arrangement again mirrors lyrical intent. The combination of intricate percussion, distant slide and a breathy vocal potentially crosses her over from blues-rock to Nashville.

The spirit of her music is writ large in her surname Sky. It evokes the kind of freedom of imagination to be found on a first class debut album that is well placed to revitalize the rock-blues scene. Well worth checking out! ****

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

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 23 August 2020.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 25 August 2020.

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