Gulf Coast Records [Release date: 21.06.2019]
Diana Rein’s 3rd album, ‘Queen Of My Castle’ is easily her best album so far.
Together with her kick-ass band which is driven relentlessly by her drummer/producer/writer Michael Leasure, she’s pushed out of her comfort zone to explore different, but related musical styles. She fills a broad blues-rock format with plenty of passionate singing, thoughtful lyrics and imaginative guitar work.
As you might expect from an artist born in Romania, schooled in Chicago blues, nurtured on the West Coast and whose Texas chops come from her love of SRV, she has an unfettered approach to contemporary blues-rock.
In that respect that respect the album has one minor flaw, which is that it sets out to be a blues album, even though it’s much more than that. As a result it doesn’t catch fire until about a third of the way in, which might test a listener’s patience.
However, patience is rewarded by 4 successive highlights, from ‘I Can’t Quit You’ onward, as she locks in the grooves to provide a requisite showcase for her lyrics and fiery guitar playing.
If ‘I Can’t Quit You’ suggests she’s capable of so much more than the tentative opening autobiographical blues of ‘Yes I Sing The Blues’ – albeit it has a telling moment at the 1.28 mark when her caustic solo reveals the sort of intensity and focus that she revisits during the course of an album – there’s also enough contrast and energy to retain our attention.
‘One Foot In’ also confirms her ability to step things up with some confident riffling and a bigger tone on her best solo so far. Her feverish note repeats evoke the tension of the unfaithful lover subject matter.
Then there’s the up tempo stop-time boogie stomp and nifty picking of ‘Walking Along,’ which could be Canned Heat, while ‘Pure Soul’ finds the band working up a head of steam as she contributes a perfectly weighted ascending solo as an integral part of the song.
By this stage she sounds much more confident than on the opening track, which must call into question the album’s sequencing.
Put simply, Diane Rein is potentially a crossover artist rather than a de facto blues singer, and the album running order should reflect that.
There’s even a case to be made for the opening cut to be the penultimate song as it reveals her true musical love, leading into the defining Stevie Ray Vaughan influenced instrumental.
No matter, ‘Queen Of My Castle’ benefits from a solid production with lots of head room, as drummer Michael Leasure provides the drive and power, but also subtly couches her voice with everything from a big wall of sound to driving rhythm tracks and a judicious use of bv’s and call and response.
Listen for example, to the riff driven breathless stomp of ‘The Midnight Line’, the hard driving shuffle ‘It’s You’ (complete with 50’s sounding bv’s) and the aforementioned boogie of ‘Walking Along’ with Dave Osti’s lilting bass line. They are 3 salient examples of how an exhilarating rhythm section can push a singer to new levels.
If there’s a downside it’s that Diana has a nasal timbre and limited vocal range. Over the course of 15 tracks she tries to compensate for this with an array of different arrangements, guitar tones and tempo changes, as explores an array of musical genres.
It’s her musical flexibility that gives the album its fluidity. So while on the slow blues ‘Chill Of the Night’ her voice is almost better suited to country, the punchy rhythm and funky self empowerment song ‘Worth’ gives her a different context for much better phrasing.
And just when you think you’ve got the measure of her adventurous spirit, up pops the unexpected heavy duty fuzz tone and tough riffing of ‘Heat’, a sub Sabbath piece that benefits from a pounding rhythm section that underpins her gutsy guitar playing.
She book-ends the album with ‘Zoe’, an instrumental homage to SRV, which serves to remind us that ‘Queen Of The Castle is a musical journey that stretches well beyond clichéd comparisons with her hero.
‘Queen Of My Castle’ is also an apt title for an artist who plays her vibrant roots rock music without a safety net. Most times she’s hits base and soars, but even on the near misses it feels as if she plugs right in and starts all over again in the true spirit of rock and roll. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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