Album review: ZOE SCHWARZ BLUE COMMOTION – This Is The Life I Choose


33 Jazz [Release date 10.03.17]

From the way she attacks the opening note of ‘Hold On’, to a sultry Nina Simone style finish on ‘Feeling Good’, Zoe Schwarz dominates a diverse album rooted in the blues but not bound by it.

Indeed, ‘This Is The Life I Choose’ is brimming with a sense of adventure and sundry possibilities that gives vocalist Zoe Schwarz the kind of breadth she needs to bring her interpretive abilities to bear on some wide ranging material.

And in an age when the blues genre is swamped by the over familiar and predictable, here is an album that reaches for lyrical primacy and musical spark.

‘This Is The Life I Choose’ is essentially a concept that reflects the band’s independent spirit and guitarist/songwriter Rob Koral’s lifelong commitment to the music he loves. This is the band’s 4th album and marks their 3rd anniversary, though the core duo of Schwarz and Koral has been working together for some 13 years.

All the more remarkable then, that the material on this album is as fresh and exhilarating as it is disparate and spontaneous.

For an album full of well crafted songs and tight arrangements, there’s still plenty of room for the band’s trademark jamming across 11 tracks and two bonus covers. It’s also significant that when it comes to the additional two tracks – a superb reworking of Jack Bruce’s ‘We’re Going Wrong’ and Anthony Newly’s ‘Feeling Good’ – it’s the band’s focus on the arrangements and Zoe’s interpretive abilities that shine through.

But back to the main concept, which provides the album with its stand out title track. It’s a heartfelt exposition of a musicians lifestyle with potent imagery that sketches a precarious existence in which the pay off is only ever the music. The song gives the album an essential thematic strand that glues together its emotional impact.

The slow drifting blues is suddenly ruptured by a big organ break and Schwarz’s exclamatory vocal line, either side of her own whispered and pristine diction. Rob’s defining guitar break pushes the song towards a worthy finale that evokes lyrical depth and meaning: “Discerning people, breaking the mould. The mainstream doesn’t live here, Dimly lit rooms, real life lives here, Walls with a thousand stories, Oh yeah, it’s the life I choose.”

The ebullient horn-led ‘I Can’t Live Like That’ is equally good, as the band stretches out impressively on a mellifluous melody topped by Rob’s warm toned solo.

Blue Commotion also pay scrupulous attention to the sequencing and flow of the album, both of which remain an integral part of the end product, almost in spite our download culture. ‘This Is The Life I Choose’ also benefits from an essential linear progression.

It’s kick started by ‘Hold On’ – a Phil Coles penned, doomed relationship song, voiced by Zoe over a barrelling guitar line – and is continued by the very catchy ‘My Baby Told Me So’, a triumph of dynamic sophistication on a whirl of acoustic-into-electric jazz guitar, sax, Hammond and a breathless vocal.

The band hits an emotional high on the inner city turmoil of ‘Broken’, and Zoe digs deep for an unflinching look at an abusive relationship on ‘Free From You.’

The band revels on the undulating swing of ‘I Wanna Get Something Started With You’ and cleverly fuses a tour band narrative with punk like fervour on ‘No Money In My Pocket’.

In complete contrast, the acoustic wash of ‘Call Of The Night’ owes so much to a beautiful arrangement on which Zoe excels, as Rob adds intertwined acoustic guitar and electric wah-wah over delicate percussion and cushioned cymbal splashes

‘This Is The Life I Choose’ is Blue Commotion’s best ever album. It’s full of innovative spark, virtuoso playing and a daredevil attitude that rides roughshod over musically related genres by placing the full impetus on song craft and lyrical meaning.

The band is of course safe in the knowledge that their own musical ability does indeed reflect a commitment to the life they choose.  ****

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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Power Plays w/c 10 January (Mon-Fri)
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ABOUT KINGS Heaven On Down The Highway (indie)
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LED BY LANTERNS Six Feet Down (indie)
KROOKED TONGUE Freaky Love (indie)

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09:00-12:00 BITE THE BULLET End Of The Line (Escape Music)
12:00-13:00 CRYSTAL BALL Crysteria (Massacre Records)
14:00-16:00 SEAN TAYLOR The Beat Goes On (indie)

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