Carolyn Fe begins the healing process on Sugat Ko

From the Philippines to Canada is a long way both culturally as well as geographically. Carolyn Fe made that journey with her parents at a very young age and has absorbed the best of those worlds and throughout her extensive and varied career has used them to bring a wonderful diversity to all she has touched. She has been a professional dancer, choreographing for her own professional dance company and even owned and operated a dance school offering classical ballet, tap, jazz and aerobics tuition. Carolyn also made many acting appearances and has her own theatre production company too. Eventually the pull of music proved too strong and she began to perform, initially as Mama B, before going solo with the Carolyn Blues Collective, although she still finds time (somehow) to work on theatre, film and TV.

Her latest release, is her fourth, and is called Sugat Ko which, in the Tagalog language of her birthplace means “My Wound”…the title, incidentally is pronounced “sue-gat go” and sets the mood for the lyrics as she shares the highs and lows, the pain and passion of her life to date. She has brought with her an accomplished band of musicians to help translate her vision and ideas of how to interpret and meld the blues with her Philippines heritage and the myriad of other influences from her other artistic endeavours.

It opens with the ballad styling of One Minute To Midnight; a folk based song with acoustic and slide and later, subtle drums, admirably backing Carolyn’s soulful vocals. It is a simple song and Carolyn has made a strong epistle out of it…it is one of those you think is just mmm, but then it gets hold and won’t let go, despite the darkness of the lyrics, the way it’s sung and the innovative slide solo make it an excellent start and better than a minute earlier! I Can’t Breathe surprises after the initial calmness with a blues-rock riff that shouts quality and the wah guitar injects a touch of funk: the deep register vocal adds weight to a distinct message of equality. The guitar solo is a contrast too with the lower strings employed before a more ‘traditional’ solo… one of each from the guitarists. Sugar opens with heavy drumming patterns and then echoed guitar that is blues-rock but the spoken vocals takes it into a more soulful direction and, together, it becomes a sort of psychedelic rock song that you can imagine early Lou Reed doing. With all of the spoken lyrics, it shouldn’t work…but it does and it becomes more mesmerising on repeated listens. Jerusalem’s Thorns is, unsurprisingly, a field song, gospel based blues that starts a capella until, halfway through, the drums cut in and we get a drum solo! This is so wrong and yet it has an atmosphere that makes it vibrant, sad and energising…just call me an oxymoron! Bring You Water is back into blues-rock riffery and follows a relatively standard structure, but that means a nice guitar solo…so no complaints here. Howzat is not an indication that Canada is a hot bed of cricketers…instead this electric blues song is simply superb…even if lines such as “She runs out in her Jimmy Choo’s sinking into the grass, cement, that’s all she can think of… ” means nothing to me. The guitars are a little too far back in the mix but the first solo is inventive as sustain over out of sync drums scatters the sound in a neat way. The second one is smooth toned by contrast and works well too. Yet again Carolyn and this excellent band have created a paradox…it shouldn’t work; I shouldn’t like it…but it is unique, enticing and I love it. Wanna Say We’re Through is pure funk guitar but the odd tremolo keeps it different. The vocals are sweeter than the message and Carolyn makes full use of her understated approach to great effect and one of the guys adds the male side of things…but there is no apparent winner or loser. All That Matters changes textures again with an almost dreamy intro as the cymbals wash the background and subtle guitar chords punctuate the sadness of the song in purposely-discordant ways that, combined with a couple of brilliant solos, again take us willingly into an unfathomable but fascinating atmosphere. Nothin’ Doin’ puts some jazz into the blues as the acoustic guitar patterns bring Django to mind and also features a breathy and effective vocal with every note hitting a sweet spot. The acoustic solo is crystal clear, clever and could have gone on for another few minutes for me. The closing track, Prayer, is a piano led gospel ballad with more field song touches that take it to another level as the emotion pours out through the vocals. This is another song I shouldn’t like, but when it sends shivers like that down the back, it has me by the heart. I’m not certain as to the strings, arrangement or who plays the piano, but I have an inkling that Carolyn’s friend, Angie Arsenault, a vocal coach and performer co-produced the song and played said instruments.

In no way is this a standard blues album but with the versatility and adventurous approaches on display, it is a hell of a good album. It is unlike virtually any other album in my collection and yet it still embodies my musical loves…blues, rock, blues and blues! It remains difficult to categorise but, suffice it to say, one listen does not allow the vocal nuances, the deft playing from the band and the eclectic nature of some wonderful songs to be realised…let it percolate, infuse and via osmosis get into your head…then you will appreciate how good this really is.

NINEpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track listing:

  1. One Minute To Midnight
  2. I Can’t Breathe
  3. Sugar
  4. Jerusalem’s Thorns
  5. Bring Your Water
  6. Howzat
  7. Wanna Say We’re Through
  8. All The Matters
  9. Nothin’ Doin’
  10. Prayer

Musicians:

Carolyn Fe: vocals

Ivan Garzon: guitar

Brandon Goodwin: drums, vocals

Oisin Little: bass, vocals

Jean-François Hamel: guitar

Carolyn Fe begins the healing process on Sugat Ko

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