Get Along Records [Release date 14.05.18]
Having established herself as a Janis Joplin influenced rock chick with emotive autobiographical lyrics, Dana Fuchs celebrates the launch of her own Get Along Records with a surprisingly soulful album built on the conceptual foundations of hope and perseverance.
In doing so she’s shifts her emotional focus from blues-rock to soul, while relocating from New York to Memphis to immerse herself in the Stax sound of the past.
‘Love Lives On’ is a lurch towards the commercial mainstream that soul now occupies. It’s both a pragmatic and a creative move with which to look for a fresh (albeit retro) context for her heartfelt lyrics.
The album has a slow building linear feel. with a backbone of interlinked styles from the opening soul tinged blues-rocker of ‘Backstreet Babe’, through the soulful title track ballad, to the penultimate cathartic release of ‘Same Sunlight’.
Jon Diamond’s exuberant guitar break and the booming horn stab all flow seamlessly on this cut, before an unexpected bookend with a cover of ‘Ring of Fire’.
Bolstered by a big horn section, tight arrangements and plenty of focused material, Fuchs consistently delivers good phrasing with plenty of emotion. As a result, ‘Love Lives On’ has all the essential ingredients for a high calibre contemporary roots album.
The only problem seems to be the band’s retro view of soul on an album that never quite makes up its mind whether to stick or twist.
‘Love Lives On’ works hard to find equilibrium between Fuchs ability to capture the moment, while adhering to the mission statement of a Stax influenced album with that fat Memphis sound.
The album demands patience and a modicum of empathy on redemptive tracks like ‘Faithfull Sinner’ and the catchier ‘Battle Lines’.
The former is a deeply felt song full of self reflection, as she phrases emotively over muted horns, while ‘Battle Lines’ is easily her most accessible song, but a notable departure from the soul template.
It embraces an Americana vibe with a lightness of touch in sharp contrast with her lived in lyrics: “I know a hard rain’s bound to fall, making lovers so strange, my eyes are tired I’ve seen it all, the battles remain.”
‘Sedative’ is also slightly outside of the thematic box. The stripped down arrangement and Kirk Smothers’ earthy baritone is neatly juxtaposed with her echoey vocals which evoke a restless night.
An overly familiar horn intro to ‘Calling Angels’ locks us into pleasant, but a gospel tinged mid-tempo soul outing, which is just about rescued by a decent hook and Rev. Charles Hodges’s organ sweep.
If the opening ‘Backstreet Babe’ serves as reminder of both the style and survival subject matter that got her this far, then the following ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Fault’ falls short of her mission to bring new vitality to a soul setting.
It’s a stop-time arrangement with an overbearing horn arrangement and sudden fade that doesn’t let the song breath.
‘Sittin On’ is much better. It has a pop sensibility and a call and response section with rising bv’s. The guitar volume swells and punchy horns support the song rather than dominate it and almost make you forget the rather ordinary hook.
The title track has a classic Otis Redding set-up and plays to her strengths as a husky voiced balladeer, on an emotive confessional about her late mother and the circle of life. In terms of song craft alone, it’s an album highpoint, but might struggle for crossover appeal because of its retro Stax sound.
‘Sad Solution’ glides seamlessly on the back of Jon Diamond’s uplifting solo and a repeated hook. Tracks like this make you realise the album as a whole is built on a range of emotions, moods and feels that span the present, past, particular and general.
‘Ready to Rise’ is an example of a song about the here and now. It has a lovely percussive intro from Felix Hernandez as Fuch’s razor blade vocal stretches effortlessly across the track into a funky hook.
Much like the album, it’s a slow burner which subtly draws us into the vibe and resolves itself on an anguish outro.
The acoustic ‘Fight My Way’ offers belated light relief and restates her intention to make the most of things.
‘Love Lives On’ is built on survivors instincts. It’s shot through with hope and plenty of soul. It may not be a game changer, but it’s certainly an album that promises rich reward from her new soulful direction. ***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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