At the outset, I admit to being a long-time fan of Chantel McGregor…I bought her two previous albums direct from her web site (I always do this if possible as it means more money for the artist to enable them to go on and make more great music) and as an elderly fanboy, bought the deluxe editions with t-shirts and signed photos….all on display in my music room (OK, dining room with all of my CDs and memorabilia.) She is a bit of an enigma to many as, in numerous people’s minds, guitar heroes do not wear floaty dresses…well, personally, I think she looks comfortable and, when she plays, from the first chord you know she can wipe the floor with many, many guitarists whose image suits the less imaginative. I mean, who else could have had a song written about her years before her birth…I am referring, of course, to the Big Bopper song from 1958…”Chantel in Lace”. Apart from the ponytail it nearly works if a little convoluted: look it up and I apologise for my weird sense of humour!
Following on from two very good blues/blues-rock albums (2011’s Like No Other and 2015’s Lose Control) she has just released a live album recorded at one of her favourite venues, The Apex in Bury St Edmunds, and cunningly called it Bury’d Alive. If you’re familiar with her albums and incendiary live shows, then you will be delighted with this genuinely live recording and if you haven’t heard her yet, this is a damn good place to start. It was all captured on one night with no cutting from multiple shows, and no studio trickery just a true power trio playing a great set. OK, there’s no between song chatter nor are there any Trower, Hendrix, SRV or Bonamassa covers (there is one less known cover…more of which later) but she still communicates that remarkable ability to be able to sing and play like an angel or, just as easily, sing and play like a demon to suit the song in question and if you’ve seen her do Purple Rain, then you know I’m right. I know she has quite a few guitars, but the cover shows her trusty Ernie Ball MusicMan in, I think, Petrucci signature garb…lovely guitar but I prefer my Morse signature version…whatever, in Chantel’s hands even a knackered old Kays catalogue copy would sound great!
On to the performance and Chantel opens her set with Take The Power and she does just that, ably backed up by Thom And Colin who are psychic in their support and genius in the way they add flourishes to the drums and bass. The studio version has bite and imagination…this version is stellar. With a slow build and chords and plectrum slides all before the main riff cuts and the vocal may seem downplayed but she blossoms on the chorus. The solo is subtle, clever, innovative and worth the entrance fee alone…it is playing that sends shivers down the back even if it is far too short. Next song, Killing Time is also off Lose Control, and keeps the levels high with a great blues-rock riff and subtle chorus. The bridge is rock solid and returns neatly to that rapid-fire riff…no real solo, but the playing of all three keep you enthralled. Like No Other starts quiet and the bass behind Chantel’s sweet picking is brilliant. Her voice is on point as she pours emotion into the first verses and then the guitar joins in properly with equal emotion. The solo is a joy to hear with not too many notes as she uses runs and hammers to evoke the pain in the lyrics. Caught Out ups the pace and power again as Chantel belts out a riff any guitarist would be proud of…yes, it has a touch of the Joey B’s about it but with an almost indefinable edge that makes it unique. The solo intro is nearly all chords and just so clever and then the wah pedal solo shows dexterity I can only dream about (it didn’t last long enough!)
Whilst, Eternal Dream is a lovely four-minute song on Lose Control…live, it extends delightfully to a nine minute plus, free flowing piece that, after the slow first half, the band obviously enjoy and put everything in to. It has a majesty about it, the way her angelic vocals and subtle picking build to an extended piece of guitar playing that could have lasted for the whole album…it is that good and I’m guessing the audience were even more mesmerised than me. The short, sharp rock of Lose Control returns to riffs and choruses that draw you in and the staccato inserts before and during the short solo show three people totally at home and on form. The next track is the near thirteen minute Inconsolable…the only cover on the album, starts fairly faithful to American folk & rock singer-songwriter Jonatha Brooke’s original, (no, not a misprint: Jonatha is an American singer/songwriter. She has around a dozen solo albums available and her music features in such places as Disney and, as with this one, on the original film, Buffy The Vampire Slayer.) Chantel’s reading is entrancing as acoustic guitar and heavenly vocals give way to electric, on the extended (but not by enough!) instrumental section. Listen also for further evidence of the quality of the bass and drums as they stay nailed to the rhythm but still find room for some brilliant flourishes behind that gorgeous lead. We are treated to slow carefully picked notes from across the fretboard as well as the high bends and rapid runs…it all fuses together to provide a solo that many guitarists (male or female) out there would do well to listen to…this is how it should be done.
Your Fever stays mostly true to the album version but still rocks like a rocky thing, without losing that blues base. It is looser and the short solo is evocative of the dust and sand in the lyrics…somehow. April is a new song and, throughout its eight minutes, shows (perhaps) that Chantel’s next album is underway and will be a further development of blues based, intelligent rock. It starts slowly with volume controlled notes and cymbals and rolls resonating before clear picking brings the main melody around echoed notes that will suggest prog to some, but it is blues-rock and a rather astute example of it. This instrumental is enchanting throughout and as I am running out of superlatives for Chantel’s playing, it’s damn good will have to do. Walk On Land has the same lovely sway of the album version and adds some bite in the glorious solo….now that is what I call sustain! Closing the set with the wonderful Freefalling from Like No Other is a good choice…it’s a rock song of quality and the trio add some grit and make into an exuberant song to end what must have been one hell of a night.
This is an album that is best enjoyed in one sitting so that the full impact of the melding of styles and the contrasts of blues, rock and, yes, prog can be fully realised. Equally the individual tracks can be welcomed and enjoyed…but remember, this was truly live and there are only three of them. The odd mistake I did hear just added to the atmosphere and the whole thing provides one of the best-paced and accessible live albums you are likely to hear this year. From the first note to last, I was ensnared by the skilful and emotional playing that Chantel brings to every song…wonderful stuff. Buy this and then buy her two previous albums if you don’t have them already. You won’t be disappointed…after all, anyone who can make the Fluffy Mac song, Rhiannon, sound better deserves to be heard.
(The ‘fumbled fingers’ this time brought up a song I forgot I even had…the 1968 incarnation of Aerosmith known as Chain Reaction with the pop-rock of When I Needed You was a happy diversion.)
NINEdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Take The Power
- Killing Time
- Like No Other
- Caught Out
- Eternal Dream
- Lose Control
- Your Fever
- Walk on Land
Chantel McGregor: guitar, vocals
Thom Gardner: drums
Colin Sutton: bass
<strong>Produced, mixed and mastered by</strong> Wayne Proctor at Superfly Studios.