Album review: VOODOO ROOM – Tension City Blues

Voodoo Room - Tension City Blues

Grooveyard Records [Release date: 27.11.20]

This is one of those projects when the stars align and the perfect power trio teams ends up on a guitar driven label whose gods are guitars slingers such as Jimi Hendrix and Robin Trower, Hendrix and the like.

The fact that Voodoo Room make their living outside of albums like this playing Cream and Hendrix also helps, as both influences bubble their way up on a set of hard rocking tracks with decent lyrics, a powerful rhythm section and Pete Orr’s fret work artistry.

The band is the magnificent sum of its parts, but there’s no denying Orr’s virtuosity as he pours everything into his solos on tracks like ‘Electric Blue’. The ‘live in the studio’ feel, strains at the leash, in marked contrast to the slicker tracks before.

This album is a celebration of the power trio, in which drummer John Tonks provides the power and vitality. Bassist Andy Tolman locks into the grooves with a number of pulsating bass lines on a succession of shuffles and riff driven pieces that will please blues rock guitar fans.

Orr is a criminally overlooked talent who on the evidence of this album has much to give outside of his well known association with Hendrix.

There’s plenty of variety here and it’s not until three quarters of the way through the album that they might have thought about a tad more variety.

In fact they probably deliver that one track too late with ‘Share The Blues’,  a subtly paced and exquisitely played smoking blues. It rises from an acoustic and organ opening via a flurry of scat singing to become a passionate booked-end to a high charged album, as Orr squeezes out every last emotional nuance in his vocal.

They set out their stall on the wah-wah driven intensity of ‘Cold Love’. Orr’s clean vocal is in sharp contrast to his imposing guitar attack, on a funky groove with call and response bv’s that flows into a defining wah wah solo.

‘Shock’ references the band’s Cream and Hendrix antecedents and ‘No Problem’ is a great example of a road tested power trio, while the sub-psychedelic ‘Headstrong’ showcases Orr’s Eastern flavoured tone and works towards the closing mantra “Moving on in one direction.”

‘In The Net’ is better still, with some deft acoustic, crisp cymbal work and a mellifluous 70’s west coast feel, counterweighted by a Latino undertow and The Allman Brothers tones.

Orr dips into his locker full of tones to bring fresh impetus to a succession of riff driven pieces with melodic depth, on a linked series of song with coherent hooks, that makes ‘Tension City Blues’ a fine album.

And if ‘Playing With Fire’ – an ordinary song given extra input by some fine band interplay -  and the very live in the studio ‘Electric Blue’, and the slide led shuffle ‘ Why Do You Keep Me Guessin’ are not very memorable, they are still fine examples of a locked in power trio who gives themselves plenty of soling options.

There’s contrast again on ‘Double Six’ which could easily have been plucked from a Sonny Landreth album, and the hugely impressive title track, which opens in a blaze of harmonics and features more Allman style harmony guitars on a up tempo shuffle.

The imagery laden, rapped out introductory vocal evokes the song’s urban feel and you can see why it became the title track.

‘Tension City Blues’ the album,  proudly wears its musical influences on its sleeves and with the backing of the guitar friendly Grooveyard records, this album could well make splash in the rock-blues market.

It’s well worth investigating. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra


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