Album review: ELIZA NEALS – 10,000 Feet Below

ELIZA NEALS – 10,000 Feet Below

E-H Records LLC [Release date 17.02.17]

Eliza Neals’ brand of rock-blues shifts from hard edged noir narratives to emotive,  heartfelt and spontaneous moments that you might call blues expressionism.

It’s an album full of hard hitting colourful lyrics, unique phrasing and musical ebullience, never too far removed from her Detroit base.

And in those moments when her poetic lyrics are simply too impenetrable, she simply wraps her yearning voice round the words like ivy to squeeze every last nuance from her own efforts.

She attacks each song with total commitment, passionate phrasing and draws on raw gut emotion from deep within her soul.

She’s an opera trained singer who takes her extensive range into smoky bar rooms and dark alleys to paint evocative narratives that are given their full potential by a roster of 16 musicians, who miraculously all sound part of the same coherent album 11 track album.

Two things stand out about Eliza Neals, firstly she tears up the blues rule book and imbues her songs with unfettered spontaneity and a sultry delivery that always draws the listener in

’10,000 Feet Below’ is an album you immerse yourself in. The songs frame the narratives and leave the listener’s imagnation to do the rest. The subtle use of electronics, layered sounds and contrasting down-home moments, such as the opening ‘Cleotus’ and the acoustic flow of ‘Cold Cold Night’, with the heavy duty ‘Burn The Tent Down’ and the feral, Chicago blues influenced single ‘You Ain’t My Dog No More’, bring variety and subtle dynamics into play.

‘Burn The Tent Down’ is a good example of Eliza’s restless style, as she attacks the song without an intro and rocks extravagantly with repeated vocal phrases over her own bv’s. The chorus has an edgy feel that is subtly glued together by a wonderful combination of Neals’s strident piano, Glazers tremulous guitar and Paul Randolph’s luscious bass.

No matter where her phrasing takes her – occasionally her voice is mixed back into a wall of sound – she never loses her connection with the song.

When you listen to an Eliza Neals album and you’re buying into a unique take on urban rock-blues. It’s full of ‘in the moment’ minutiae, as on her stuttered delivery of ‘Dog’ and Howard Glazer’s full range of tone colours that brings variety as well as punch.

Her subject matter encompasses dark urban narratives. On the title track she’s unafraid to take on the devil, while she’s a “voodoo woman with a cross in her hand” on ‘Downhill On A Rocket’, a song with a universal subject matter.

She also beguiles us with the atmospheric, shared confessional intimacy of ‘Another Lifetime’. She’s joined by Paul Nelson on acoustic guitar on the beautifully crafted ‘Cold Cold Night’, a soulful sister track to ‘Southern Comfort Dreams’ from ‘Breaking And Entering’. She then breathes idiosyncratic life into Skip James’s re-titled ‘Hard Killing Floor’

Such is the eclectic nature of her musical sweep that when the band hits the lumbering groove of ‘Call Me Moonshine’, a rare mundane moment is effortlessly rescued by her close to the mic vocal and Glazer’ piercing guitar

’10,000 Feet Below’ is a gothic blues album that takes no prisoners. ‘Downhill On A Rocket’ is a big groove on which she again extends her vowel sounds to pursue another subtle vocal inflection. The marvellous Glazer hits a perfect wah-wah rhythm and embellishes the track with slide squalls on a radio friendly outing.

The extended finish of ‘At The Crossroads’ is an expansive showcase for her voice. Bathed in a distant sounding echo, it still resonates radiantly as another guest, the R&B legend and Hendrix confidante Billy Davis adds subtle guitar retorts to her vocal.

Neal’s  hypnotic piano line leads the song into a beautifully realized echo reverb outro. It’s wholly in keeping with an atmospheric album that bring a whole new dimension to urban blues.

The CD cover finds Eliza climbing out of what looks like a manhole. And if we’re none the clearer as to where the ’10,000 Feet Below’ leads us to,  you can be sure the album captures lightning in the bottle.

It strikes the perfect balance of light and shade, as she rocks hard, but also enjoys moments of subtle restraint. She finds an equilibrium somewhere between her passionately phrased lyrics and moments of almost emotional detachment, while the excellent musicianship and expansive production brings everything seamlessly together.

’10,000 Feet Below’ is a unique album and there’s nothing out there in the contemporary blues-rock world to compare. Eliza is an idiosyncratic songwriter and all the more adventurous for that. She backs it up with consistently good keyboard playing (switching from acoustic to electric piano and Hammond B3) and she’s a hell of a singer whose angular arrangements never leave room for the either cliché or complacency.

Right now Eliza Neals is the most original and hardest hitting voice to come out of the Detroit blues scene for years and that great musical city’s reputation should be all the stronger for album like this. ****

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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