Before I start, I admit to being a long-time fan of Chantel McGregor…I bought her three previous albums (2011’s Like No Other, 2015’s Lose Control and last year’s brilliant live album, Bury’d Alive) direct from her website (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 (still in the bags) and signed photos….all on display in my music room (OK, dining room with all of my CDs and memorabilia.) Then the pandemic hit and, being as bubbly, lovely and bright as on stage, Chantel began to keep in touch with us via the new-fangled internet thingy! That communication has led to two new albums now on release…which means we now have Chantel No. 5; a sort of Eau du perform…I’ll get my coat!
I will shamelessly copy the liner notes so that Chantel can express the ethos behind these sparkling releases…she explains better than I could: “March 2020, the world changed and the everyday things that we normally did became a dream, the world went into lockdown, the pause button on life was hit, and we stayed at home.
So, I was sat there one night in my shed thinking to myself ‘what can I do to make lockdown seem a little bit brighter?’ After a while it came to me, ‘why not do a live stream so that I could stay in touch and connect with my lovely fans, they could connect with each other, and we all have a little bit of fun and music during a pretty gloomy time?’
At the time, I didn’t know that it would become a weekly thing, but the first session was so much fun that I thought I’ll do another one the following week, and then the week after that, and it became a weekly gig, ‘The Shed Sessions’!
At the start of lockdown, I was living in the North of England, so the sessions were just acoustic guitar and vocals, but when the government said you could move around more freely, I moved to the South of England and started collaborating with Jamie Brooks on keyboards, which meant that I could feature my electric guitar and a bit more improvisation. Because lockdown was still restricting studios being open, both albums were recorded at home, using a wardrobe as a vocal booth and then sent off to Wayne Proctor to mix and master.
The two albums are incredibly different, so it seemed appropriate to do two albums, one acoustic and one electric; ‘Volumes One and Two.’”
The first thing that struck me when I listened to these shiny discs was the quality of the recording bearing in mind her isolation and lack of studio facilities; although the fish did contribute by swimming majestically in the background…look it up to see what I’m blathering on about! Both of the acoustic and electric volumes have clarity that belies the setting and Chantel’s brave live performances of fan-requested covers and rejigs of her own, though not enough, wonderful material is a revelation.
Volume 1 is a good place to start and is the recording of the acoustic covers. It opens with an artist who, in my opinion, writes brilliant songs and then murders them when he records them…controversial I know but the voice and guitar style of Neil Young always jars my ears and teeth. In the hands of someone like Chantel however, his songwriting skills are obvious and can be appreciated all the more. She does Needle And The Damage Done and Harvest Moon by Young and the sensitive readings bring the lyrics to life as her acoustic prowess shines through. The central guitar section is just lovely on the former and her chord work on the latter may be faithful but has as a distinct character as her lovely, lovely voice. A threesome from Bonnie Raitt’s recordings (Angel From Montgomery (although it is a John Prine composition), Love Has No Pride and I Can’t Make You Love Me…I never thought I’d forgive the omission of the slide that Bonnie’s so damn good at but, give Chantel her due, she has adapted these beautifully and her vocal is again emotive and has a clarity and purity that is all the more astounding bearing in mind the live at home recording. There’s a couple of Fluffy Mac songs too (after Peter Green) which, when you listen to Chantel’s version of Rhiannon on Like No Other is no surprise: equally of no surprise is how she transforms and makes them her own. How about Hendrix’ Voodoo Chile, Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters on acoustic? Well, …Chile is pure genius and the latter is the lullaby it was intended to be.
Volume Two (or Chantel No. 5) has a couple of Chantel’s own songs that translate well; the fantastic April that, on Bury’d Alive was an eight-minute proggy blues-rock masterpiece, takes on a different hue…still electric in every sense with the volume control playing preserved but the lack of a full band doesn’t affect the stunning composition and playing skills backed subtly by Jamie on piano…one complaint: it only lasted seven minutes! This instrumental, in both incarnations, is a revelation of guitar skills and shows Chantel’s inherent ability to communicate with every note, bend and run…love it. Her other original, Walk On Land, was on her fine second album and reappraised on Bury’d Alive: here, with Jamies’ sensitive backing adding some depth, it keeps the majority acoustic weave and then the electric solo is different and exquisite as the bends and sustain keep the drama of the lyrics and send shivers down the spine. Elsewhere there is another Fluffy Mac song to compliment the two acoustic ones plus a couple of genius interpretations of proggy genius Steven Wilson’s Drive Home and the wonderful The Raven That Refused To Sing which, with guitar and piano, becomes as good as (better?) than the original. We also get a unique take on the show song Summertime from the pen of Gershwin…although I think Billie Holiday’s version is the source and, like that one, suddenly it isn’t cliched or weary: just piano and vocal until a simply beautiful electric solo that plays with the melodies in such a clever way. There are a couple of new ones to me by an artist called Jewel (I admit, I had to look her up on t’ internet) who has sold bucket loads but passed this old bluesy rocker by – anyway, she can damn well write a song and Chantel pours emotion through the carefully constructed words on Foolish Games which has something special even without a guitar.
I could keep heaping praise on these two albums but it is better if you just buy them and relax into a wide-ranging and atmospheric bunch of songs performed by a young lady of immense talent on the guitar but also a voice that will make you laugh, cry and all points in between as she pours her heart into every note…beautifully. There is something for every mood and, although not Chantel’s bluesy rockiness, they have the blues underpinning the well thought out and ‘transcribed’ songs.
These are essential purchases that I have, to be honest, begun to play on shuffle so that I cannot predict what’s coming next; all I know is I am never disappointed and when April appears I keep hitting repeat.
Bluesdoodles rating: 5 Doodle Paws – a stupendous couple of albums by such a talent that, although not blues or blues-rock, are essential listening for anyone that likes music for every mood played and sung beautifully.
Track listing – Vol 1 (original artist):
Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)
Morning Song (Jewel)
Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel)
Angel From Montgomery (Bonnie Raitt)
Gold Dust Woman (Fleetwood Mac)
Fire and Rain (James Taylor)
Can’t Find My Way Home (Blind Faith)
Love Has No Pride (Bonnie Raitt)
Harvest Moon (Neil Young)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Voodoo Chile (Jimi Hendrix)
I Can’t Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt)
Nothing Else Matters (Metallica)
Chantel on acoustic guitar and vocals
Track listing – Vol 2 (original artist):
Foolish Games (Jewel)
Drive Home (Steven Wilson)
Winter (Tori Amos)
Walk On Land (Chantel (Lose Control and Bury’d Alive))
Uninvited (Alanis Morisette)
Summertime (Billie Holiday)
April (Chantel (Bury’d Alive))
River (Joni Mitchell)
The Raven That Refused To Sing (Steven Wilson)
Chantel: guitar and vocals; Jamie Brooks: piano
(iTunes kept the blues going, but from a distant age as the wonderful Charley Patton regaled me with Tom Rushen Blues and the even better A Spoonful Blues.)