Tis Rock Music Ltd [Release date 24.09.19]
‘Bury’d Alive’ is an album that celebrates honesty, integrity and intensity.
It’s honest because what you hear is what went down on the night. It’s full of integrity because Chantel McGregor champions new music and the intensity is at the heart of how she transforms her own songs into something different from what they were originally.
The combination of her own scintillating guitar playing, intuitive band interplay and Wayne Proctor’s cool set of ears means ‘Bury’d Alive’ is a great live album without the hype.
It’s also a real power trio album, as her rhythm section of improv bassist Colin Sutton and muscular drummer Tom Gardner push her to new heights.
And while it’s tempting to dwell on the highlights, it’s an album in which everything contributes to the greater whole. The subtly built set is like slowly climbing a mountain path which gets just that bit steeper with each turn.
And as she leads us to the summit we come across tracks like ‘Walk On Land’. Arguably a career highlight, here it feels more like the perfect fit in a musical jigsaw that reveals more each time you play the album.
It can also be seen as a macro version of her solos which build a tension and finally resolve themselves with a mixture of contrasting tones, shreds and a keen sense of dynamics.
Listen for example, to the way she finishes ‘Land’ with single note, or the way she attacks the magnificent instrumental ‘April’, as she moves from an eerie opening via a little echo to a fatter tone to sound like 2 guitarists. There’s a drop-down which curiously garners no response from the crowd who appear to be transfixed by it all.
And if there’s one minor criticism of the set, it’s simply that for a live album there’s no real sense of a connection with her crowd. The album title pun comes from the Bury St Edmunds Apex theatre. Everyone seems attentive, but a perhaps a little hampered by the surroundings.
No matter, ‘Bury’d Alive’ explores her Gothic lyrical imagery within a rock framework, think grunge, metal, alt. rock, prog, melodic rock and rock-blues influences.
She opens with a hint of grunge on ‘Take The Power’ on which she works hard to find her vocal range before soaring on the hook. She then ups the tempo with some feverish riffing on ‘Killing Time’ which builds to a pounding finale.
And as if to highlight a perfect exercise in sequencing, we’re levered into the marvellous ‘Like No Other’. The significance of the song title resonated from the moment it was chosen as her debut album title. It’s also a perfect example of her craft, from her well chosen lyrical themes to her music which draws us into the sudden push and elevated hook.
Colin Sutton’s imaginative bass lines also come to the fore, as he provides the perfect foundation for Chantel to build her solo impressively with a fuzz guitar tone.
Her shred on the Metal influenced ‘Caught Out’ is an influence that pops up again on both the AC/DC style opening riff on the drone laden ‘Your Fever’ - complete with a signature Blue Oyster Cult guitar line – and a Thin Lizzy influenced intro to the flowing ‘Freefalling’, which mirrors the title.
The wide ranging musical melange always supports the song. She never wastes a note and when she does step out and test the venue’s acoustics with some climatic solos it’s always to either emphasize lyrical bite or to resolve what has gone before.
Everything comes together at the half way point, when she covers Jeff Buckley’s ‘Eternal Dream’, which showcases her ethereal vocal on the back of an early Pink Floyd style drum pattern. And having got inside the emotive lyrics, she soars with a gnawing into jangling guitar solo that perfectly wraps thing up.
She uses contrast cleverly with an acoustic featherbed opening to ‘Inconsolable’, anther standout track full of poetic lyrics and a scintillating solo that builds and builds and leads a member of the crowd yelling out a primal scream, or perhaps he had a heart attack?
Undeterred she focuses on her vocal and intricate playing with her rhythm section in an almost waltz like feel before picking up the pace at the 9.20 second mark, as only a road band tested can, on what the yanks call a bad ass jam.
And still the set builds until we come to the guitar-led instrumental called ‘April’ – an extended new song on which her playing is simply raw gut emotion.
It’s after a track like that any reservations about her choice of a theatre for a live recording go out the window, as both her lyrics and solos demand serious listening.
Her combination of noirish lyrics and fiery playing may draw comparisons with Samantha Fish, but on the evidence of this album she’s forged her own direction. Most of the material may be more than 4 years old, but the band and the material has grown organically.
‘Bury’d Alive’ answers any lingering questions about her musical direction. Both her more introspective moments and the contrasting barn burning solos emotionally project her beyond her lyrical ideas into the stratosphere. For a musician of her talent it’s the only place to be and ‘Bury’d Alive’ is our ticket to the same destination. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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 2 August 2020.
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