Album review: KYLA BROX – Pain & Glory

Kyla Brox - Pain & Glory

Pigskin Records [Release date 29.03.19]

Kyla Brox’s ‘Pain & Glory’ is the perfect showcase for one of the great blues singers of her generation.

From the striking artwork to the the nascent songcraft of Kyla and her bass playing partner Danny Blomeley, it’s an excellent album that straddles a melange of blues, gospel, soul, jazz and funk, all brought to life by her evocative phrasing.

Her ability to effortlessly hit a note and soar at the right moment is sometimes offset by some intuitive phrasing behind the beat to bring a bluesy inflection to bear on material that is both imaginative and in part autobiographical.

‘Pain and Glory’ has an organic feel born of her years of working with musicians that share her musical vision, which is to focus on the possibilities of a song and to bring inventive expression to meaningful lyrics.

Brox won the 2019 Euro Blues Challenge and represented the UK at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, a timely reminder of both her talent and presence on a Brit blues scene she first graced as a teen in her dad Victor Brox’s Blues Train.

In that regard there surely must have been a strong case for ‘Bluesman’s Child’ to have been both the lead and title track. The gospel intro gives way to a wonderful leading opening line: “Too many hours in the back of a van”, before an autobiographical tale about both her dad and a lifestyle that she embraced on her own terms.

This is both lyrically and musically a defining track with an uplifting arrangement that frames arguably the best song on the album.

No matter, the opening ‘For The Many’ has its own qualities, being a horn-led, funky keyboard driven piece topped by Kyla’s effortless phrasing.

The challenge that this album sets her is to find material good enough to showcase her superb voice and ‘Pain & Glory’does so with plenty of variety. At its best there are a handful of outstanding tracks that perfectly match her voice and fulfill the band’s potential.

The title track for example, is an organ led ballad that focuses on her expansive phrasing and brings emotive expression to a love song.

‘Sensitive Soul’ too, is a subtly arranged slice of loping funk and a late night radio friendly song with nuanced horns and very subtle bv’s.

Better still, is the cool soulful arrangement of ‘Compromise’, which is topped and tailed by a lovely guitar figure. The confessional ballad is well suited to her intimate style over an annoyingly familiar organ riff.

The sultry outing oozes feel and benefits from the perfect arrangement, right down to the staggered piano part and uplifting guitar solo. And right at the centre of it all is Kyla Brox’s emotive voice. Such is the dynamic of the song that the instrumental break fills a void left by the absence of her voice which eventually returns centre stage. It’s simply perfect.

Sam Brox’s production never lets his primary focus shift from her voice, while he also illuminates instrumental flourishes where relevant.

‘Lovers Lake’ has a similar atmospheric feel – all whispered vocals, intricate guitar and a Steely Dan style rhythm track – but it feels like an engaging sketch rather than something weightier with a potential resolution.

However, as with a number of tracks here it fits the overall musical landscape seamlessly, and the bridge adds a beautiful contrast to a subtly propulsive groove that draws the listener in.

Each track feels like an integral part of an old school album, in which the ebbs and flows of the tracks are part of a greater whole.

She’s equally good on big band arrangements as on close-to-the-mic ballads, but you suspect she’s happiest on the international roll call of ‘Manchester Milan’, confident in her warm phrasing as she wraps her vocal round John Ellis’s piano line and some distant sounding horns. There’s no denying her stellar vocal on heartfelt lyrics and judicious horns that suggest a love letter to a person unknown.

And while the consistently good vocals and her band’s intuitive interplay is all about restraint and focusing on songcraft, the band percolates on the Latino and percussive feel of ‘Devils Bridge’, complete with a Santana influenced guitar solo.

The ensemble comes into its own on the stop-time ebullient big band shuffle of ‘In The Morning’, with its stuttering rhythm and horn arrangement.  She once again soars over a big arrangement with ironic lyrics. A cleverly built musical tension is neatly resolved by Tony Marshall’s grainy sax solo and some rather brusque ‘call and response’ bv’s, to give the album a welcome shot of energy.

The closing brace of tracks feel like the perfect book-end with the New Orleans influenced ‘Top Of The World’ featuring Clive Mellish on blues harp, while her impeccable cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is again well suited to her warm timbre.

The song has been well covered by many of her contemporaries, but she still has the ability to bring her own style to bear on it, as she slips from the melancholic to the joyous in one line.

Kyla Brox has plenty of time to reach for perfection, but ‘Pain & Glory’ is a significant step along the way. Aided by Paul Farr, the fast maturing Brox/Blomeley songwriting partnership gives the album its coherent feel, while the band’s intuitive input forges some superb arrangements, which will doubtless be expanded in a live setting.

‘Pain & Glory’ sets new standards for a singer who has the ability to go all the way. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra 

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