Album review: BYWATER CALL – Bywater Call

Bywater Call

Gypsy Soul Records [Release date 21.11.19]

Toronto is suddenly becoming a hothouse for new music with the enterprising 7 year old Gypsy Soul label at its heart.

While the emphasis is on the familiar foundations of southern roots rock, in the case of Canadian artist like Julian Taylor Band, Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar and Bywater Call they are forging a new form of Canadian soul.

Bywater Call is a Canadian band with a New Orleans influenced name which connects their Canadian roots with the musical and geographic influence of New Orleans, specifically the Bywater and Marigny areas of that city.

‘Bywater Call’ is an exuberant musical hybrid of rock, blues, New Orleans funk, r&b and southern soul. And while the focus is inevitably on the arresting vocals of Meghan Parnell, she is part of a road tested band with a vibrant horn section that is sparked by the significant dynamic guitar parts of Dave Barnes.

The album is shot through with the kind of off the floor energy that can only come from a busy road band. And while each track offers a different stylistic perspective, there isn’t a moment on this album when they aren’t pushing themselves to the limit.

They rock hard, lean on the horns for a soulful bent and always focus on Meghan Parnell’s voice to explore soul, blues and r&b intonations. There’s also a slight musical detour on ‘Forgive’, which is closer to The Band’s ‘The Shape I’m In’, rather than their normal southern roots rock style.

The 7 piece band enjoys jamming and digs deep for grooves while investing each track with the maximum possibility.

Sometimes the sheer weight of their powerhouse approach threatens to submerge a song. On the hard driving and very busy ‘Talking Backwards’ for example, Parnell has to use every last breath of her lung capacity to soar above an intense number that features a startling sax solo.

And in the best example of sequencing on the album, they trade power for feel on the soulful ballad ‘Bring Me Down’, before they unexpectedly transform it into a big slide guitar-led bluesy finale, which could almost be Tedeschi Trucks.

What makes Bywater Call different from their contemporaries is the way they visualize an album as a whole via significant building blocks. The 10 songs are the equivalent of an audio jigsaw puzzle where each piece is coloured and shaped to different, but interrelated ends, all conjoined by an integral soulful feel.

The band’s salient influences also criss-cross genres in an innovative way. They join the dots between the likes of Aretha Franklin, The Band, a significant New Orleans influence and a jam band sensibility.  They deliver an album that like a stick of rock has their own essential DNA running through the middle of it.

The opening bluster of ‘Arizona’ is the perfect introduction to what they do so well, with Parnell’s uplifting vocal underpinned by Adam Hindle’s intricate percussion and topped by Julian Nalli’s muscular sax solo.

But they also know the value of song craft, as on the evocative ‘Nightmare’ and the sublime ‘Home Town’, which could be Van Morrison: “Put all my money on a long white gown, and I’m getting lost in my home town.”

Much of the material lends itself to the band stretching out, best exemplified by the subtle push in the last quarter of ‘Silver Lining’, which suggests they can change gears at any time.

They save their best for the penultimate track, when they return to the southern soul of ‘Walk On By’. Employing a sparser production, the song is bolstered by a Barnes’s shimmering guitar tone as vocalist Parnell attacks the song with gusto, before a perfectly weighted finish.

The acoustic ‘Swing Low’ has a quasi-waltz feel with layered horns, organ, a lovely descending piano line and a subtle drum pattern. It all flows mellifluously into the kind of nuanced fade that suggest a journeys end.

‘Bywater Call’ revitalises the soul genre with a spirited performance on innovative material, all framed by a coherent production that finds the perfect balance between passion, spark and musical excellence.

File under nouveau Canadian soul par excellence. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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