Stony Plain [Release date 31.01.20]
Canadian blues -rock vocalist Sass Jordan’s ‘Rebel Moon Blues’ is a relatively speaking short album which despite some rather obvious song choices still rocks on several levels.
She transforms 7 blues covers and one original cut into something vital with her intuitive phrasing and an interpretive ability that digs deep for real feel.
She also attacks the material with her lived-in voice and uses a lyrical gender swop on songs originally performed by men.
The album was apparently cut in little more than 3 days and her road tested band support the arrangements perfectly by not over playing while adding their own oeuvre.
Then there’s the album highlight, the self penned ‘The Key’ which stands head and shoulders above the rest of the album, and reveals just what she’s capable of when she throws off the shackles of the genre defined covers.
She shifts from a relaxed intro to a gritty Tina Turner vocal on a piano laden hook of a funky mid-tempo peach of a track.
How ironic would it be if people picked up on this track rather than all the other covers?
‘Rebel Moon Blues’ could well be a significant album for the million selling rock artist, simply because she has the vocal chops to make an impact in a different niche market.
At times her vocals sound as if she’s straight of the very chitlin circuit where some of the older songs here were originally refined. She brings her whiskey enriched vocals – one part a female Rod Stewart rasp, the other the belligerent passion of Tina Turner – to bear on a live in the studio session that generates real spark.
Where her lived-in vocals arguably hit a career peak on her 1994 ‘Rats’ album, her voice was almost subsequently lost to the mainstream. In that regard, ‘Rebel Moon Blues’ provides her with a new meaningful context.
However, some of the cover choices could have been more imaginative. Outside of Steve Marriner’s earthy harp, there’s a palpable restraint at the heart of Willie Dixon’s ‘My Babe’ and a curiously mixed back guitar part in Freddie King’s ‘Palace Of The King’. As a result neither adds much to the originals or the glut of other covers versions out there.
Indeed last time I looked, the opening Sleepy John Estes’s ‘Leaving Trunk’ boasted at least 12 different versions. But the band’s live feel serves them well. It opens with someone coughing in the studio, before Marriner’s full toned blues-harp wail and Jordan’s sinewy vocals strike a perfect balance.
Most of the songs stick closely to the original versions, such as the hand clap and dobro-led minimalism of Keb Mo’s ‘Am I Wrong’, though JB Hutton’s ‘Too Much Alcohol’ is given a Johnny Winter style make-over by Chris Caddell’s slide and Sass’s coarse vocal. It all serves to put the spotlight on her vocals and she delivers with plenty to spare.
And having impressively worked her way through a down-home inflected blues set, she finishes with the Gary Moore rock-into blues anthem ‘Still Got The Blues’.
It’s not quite the big finish that you might expect, as the intro sounds a bit compressed, with perhaps too much reverence at the expense of inspiration.
However, Chris Caddell nails his second solo and Sass’s effortlessly phrasing leads her to a defining high register note, before a surprisingly laid back finish.
‘Rebel Moon Blues’ feels like something of a career stop-gap rather than a new direction. Sass Jordan’s one song contribution stands head and shoulders above the rest of the album, suggesting she still has much more to offer the rock market.
The fact that this album is aimed a new niche audience might just bring one of the great female rock-blues singer of our time some welcome success. ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
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