Zoë Schwarz has been a big name on the blues scene for a few years now, with her live performances particularly lauded by fans and the press. Now with her band, Blue Commotion comes an album that should lift all of them to the heights they deserve. The band got together in 2012, and this is their 5th studio album in six years; that is quite an output in a short space of time. Fortunately, there has been no sacrifice in quality, and The Blues And I Should Have A Party, has class and high production values by the bucket load. It is also a generous album with 13 tracks clocking in at over an hour.
The band is packed with talent and, even though there is no bassist listed, there are some fantastic bass lines behind some of the tracks and the sound they all achieve throughout fills any room with warmth and paints pictures with the sound they conjure.
Please Don’t Cheat On Me has a great bouncy riff and typical classy guitar from Rob. To my ears, this track is the only (very) minor disappointment on such a strong album; the lyrics and the vocals feel a bit disconnected. All is forgiven when the 6 minute plus masterpiece and title track, The Blues and I Should Have a Party kicks off. Majestic is the word…vocals, guitar and Hammond combine to give an object lesson in what blues is and should be. The guitar solo is simply superb, with notes all across the fretboard; no histrionics just sheer class. You’ve Changed is ‘Bassey does the blues’… in a good way. Zoë should do the next Bond theme, in fact, the singing is so powerful, they should write a movie to fit this song! It has an enigmatic, harmonic quality that is fleshed out by great Hammond backing and a solo of such depth and simple skill. The drumming is ingenious too; fills and flourishes you wouldn’t think would fit.
Way Down in the Caves is a true story of an unlikely venue, with lyrics written by blues promoter and broadcaster Pete Feenstra. Chislehurst Caves are actually old mine workings and, in the 1960s, provided a major music venue. The song tells of acts that appeared there “Hendrix, The Doors, David Bowie too”. That must have been one hell of a venue and here, the tale is conveyed in the lustrous tones of Zoe with Rob playing up a storm on a Marshall fuelled Les Paul. It starts off like the Stranglers had put blues into their repertoire. It also manages to evoke a flavour of some of the bands they name check in the lyrics, particularly the Yardbirds. Don’t Worry Blues has a conventional structure with an oft-forgotten appreciation of space. Rob again showing he knows how and when to play the right note and not go for unnecessary filling. With the expressive keys and subtlety throughout, I can’t help but think of Purple’s When A Blind Man Cries in the song’s atmosphere. Next comes a lovely guitar/bass/keys piece of interplay introducing Shout. This is pure 60s blues boom refined. A sort of slow progressive blues feel echoes through You Don’t Live Here Anymore. This is a beautifully sung recounting of a “hollow space where once a warm embrace”. A guitar solo of such thoughtfulness backs this emotion-laden song. We are quickly back in the groove, literally, with My Handsome Man. This has an infectious, catchy 60s poppy feel to it and will make any toe tap. A great up-tempo swing introduces Tell Me, the only sub 3-minute track here. The three musicians are obviously having a ball and you can’t help but be caught up in the fun. Zoe’s “pulse is way too high” as she mirrors the energy with a great melody.
Don’t Hold Back is next, and, although a slow paced blues, they don’t hold back! Unexpected key changes keep the song on the edge, reflecting the steamy blues behind the melody and lyrics. Although rooted in sadness, the next song was written after the loss of Zoë’s Mother, In Memory of You has an impetus behind the fascinating chord sequences. The genius behind this is the up-tempo beat that illuminates the words, where the subject matter would suggest something much slower. The solos again are pure fascination. The mood is lifted with Pete Feenstras lyrics providing the inspiration for Time Waits for No One. If like me, some social media applications leave you cold, then the theme will surely resonate… “Changing values with different peers, digital living with new ideas”. The music takes these words and makes them real. Beautifully sung and with the instrumentation utilising an oblique time signature, it just flows out of the speakers and transfixes. It has an early psyche feel at times with echoes of a very velvety Velvet Underground. Final Track, Thank You, is just that. The band thanking all of us lovers of music be it recorded or live. This song is so clever in its composition; expansive guitar, heavy Hammond, a drum kit tour and a wonderful vocal. This listener reciprocates those thanks. Zoë, Rob, Pete and Paul have supplied an album which delivers everything a blues lover could wish for. Zoe’s vocals are always striking, but the real revelation is the breathtaking playing by the band. Every song has clear demonstrations of skills so subtle and yet so damned effective. The first track remains a weak point for me, but the album is so strong overall, frankly who cares?
NINEdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Please Don’t Cheat On Me
- The Blues and I Should Have A Party
- You’ve Changed
- Way Down In The Caves
- Don’t Worry Blues
- You Don’t Live Here Anymore
- My Handsome Man
- Tell Me
- Don’t Hold Back
- The Memory Of You
- Time Waits For No One
- Thank You
All songs written by Rob Koral & Zoë Schwarz except on tracks 4 & 12 lyrics by Pete Feenstra
Zoë Schwarz – vocals
Rob Koral – guitars
Pete Whittaker – Hammond organ
Paul Robinson – drums & percussion
Recorded at Superfly Studios by Andy Banfield, Nottingham on 9th to 14th October 2017
Mixed by Wayne Proctor & Steve Wright at Y Dream Studios, Wales
Mastered by Jon Astley at Close To The Edge Mastering Design