775402 Records DK [Release date 13.07.18]
‘Unstoppable’ is The Voodoo Sheiks’ 3rd album in 8 years and continues their quest to cement their unique style on the rhythm and blues circuit. It’s arguably their best album so far. It’s solid, dependable and at its best is exhilarating.
The band is led by the two pronged attack of harp playing vocalist Slowblow Dave and fiery guitarist Adrian Thomas. It’s all locked together by the tight rhythm section of bassist Andy Pullin, and drummer Spencer Blackledge who brings heft and subtle dynamics to a wide range of humorous songs with meaningful lyrics.
The band has made a quantum leap from being a crowd pleasing support band to becoming established headliners with thoughtful self penned material.
‘Unstoppable’ is a reference to their unflagging musical energy and lyrical creativity which infuses all 12 tracks with real purpose, albeit an occasional lack of sonic intensity and Slowblow Dave’s limited vocal range robs them of a bigger impact.
He’s an expressive singer who is good at nailing ironic lyrics, but his range is exposed as on the folky intro to the Trump era satire of ‘Black Hearted Orange Man’, on an otherwise well phrased dark tale: “Satan had a makeover, heard what his spin doctors said.”
He’s at his best on the riff driven opener ‘Hard Again’, which has a great hook: “The jack went all the way in, and blues came out. The jack went all the way in and the rhythm and blues came out.”
It’s an album highlight that nicely encapsulated the band vivacious style and sets a standard that they work hard to maintain.
Together with the double tracked, guitar-driven ‘Quintessentially Moro’, The Sheiks top and tail a solid Brit r&b album to good effect.
At their best they rock hard with evocative lyrics on a mix of stylistic diversity and quirky songs, but they can’t always shake off an over bearing element of restraint, especially on tracks like ‘Bullet in the Post’, on which a tempo change does little for the dynamic of the song.
The riff-led ‘Sack Of Stones’ is the opposite, making good use of harmony vocals, staccato guitar and a deep toned harp, before a hard riffing solo.
Thomas also adds a blistering solo on the eco-themed groove ‘Save!’ in a stellar moment when he switches to wah-wah and fills the track with real presence. However, the arrangement almost loses its way as it stumbles into unexpected boogie.
The stop time ‘Kaleidoscope Girl’, is predicated on a walking bass line, but it lacks the kind of intensity that gave The Fabulous Thunderbirds their durability. Yet it’s a great song, and played live and without a hint of the above circumspection, ‘Kaleidoscope Girl’ and ‘Hard Again’ will surely become live favourites.
There’s a more compressed sound on ‘Resonator’, which features one of Slow Bone’s best vocals with tight rhythmic support, while ‘Coming Off The Rails’ is a welcome up tempo rocker, with brief harp and guitar double lines to match the ironic lyrics – “You got an overdraft bigger than a third well debt, using short term loans as a safety net.”
Then there’s the tight as a drum ‘Tunnel Vision’, an old school rocker with a harp blast, and a tic-toc beat that Slowblow Dave cleverly emphasizes on the outro.
The band’s warped sense of humour bubbles up on the S & M narrative of ‘More Than A Little Bit Twisted’ and there’s a welcome keyboard layered depth to the dark tale of ‘Black Orange Man.’
‘Summertime’ features a Spencer Blackledge, Bo Diddley style drum pattern, on a song with a great opening line:”Another grey summer day in a grey northern town.”
The combination of lyrical focus and song supporting solos give the album its flow. All that’s really lacking is more of the beefier layered sound allied, greater studio confidence and better arrangements.
The hard driving closer ‘Quintessentialy Mojo’ for example, unexpectedly leads to low key finish that barely reflects what’s gone before.
We await a live album with a sense of anticipation. ***½
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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