Formed in 1994 by Kelly Zirbes (which apparently is pronounced like ‘service’ and is probably the reason she likes to be known as Kelly Z…that will probably be Kelly Zee as opposed to Kelly Zed!), the band has been treading the boards with their blend of, predominately, blues and rock. We looked at their quite lovely Can’t Take My Soul release in 2019; this new release, their sixteenth I think, is a great blend of originals, a couple of the Wolf’s, a couple of significant ladies of the blues and my favourite Robert Johnson track of all.
This ‘all blues’ venture is slightly unusual for Kelly and the band as their previous releases have always blended other roots music therein; no complaints from me as her voice is perfect for blues and the slimmed down band are crystal clear and excel in painting the backgrounds blue as they treat us to an all acoustic set of varied and classy songs.
Take opener Stronger for example: here is a song of hope in these pandemic times, the Western film score rhythms lay down a canvas for a superb lead acoustic (the solo is a tour de force) and the country blues of the melody that Kelly pours emotion into. Somebody In My Home is Howlin’ Wolf at a slow acoustic reading. The slide is delightful and the vocals, considering the original is a Wolf growl, is brilliantly realised…the slide solo, needless to say (‘cos it’s me) is genius and should lasted another half hour or so.
Heaven is a bouncy gospel, country-tinged blues with superb upright bass and more slinky slide. It isn’t about going to heaven, rather it’s a plea to remain on earth as “…I’ve got too many songs to sing; I ain’t ready for those wings.” more passionate vocals a neat picked solo.
Jealous Hearted Blues is by a lesser-known lady of the blues: Cora ‘Lovie’ Austin, to give her full name, was a driving force in the 1920s jazz (sometimes blues) scene and was a pioneering jazz pianist, as well as a composer and bandleader. She also backed numerous stars of the day…Ma Rainey and Louis Armstrong to name but two. In fact, if you’ve heard this song, it will probably be the Ma Rainey version; this reading is faithful yet fresh as the slide is there behind the verses, reflecting the (sometimes) humorous look at jealously. The slide solo is real, and by that I mean you can hear the bottleneck working hard to pull the delicious sounds from the guitar…another hour next time please!
Lost is a song about depression but with a hint of positivity too. Starting with earthy upright bass, the picked acoustic, then slide, then vocals…beautiful. Nature returns us to the Wolf and Kelly re-genders the lyrics of Wolf’s thought that it’s only natural for man to be unfaithful…well, women have that choice too. It transfers neatly into acoustic (especially the solos) as does the vocal treatment. The title track, Where And When, may evoke “driving along in m automobile” at first, but it becomes an acoustic, bluesy r’n’r song that takes you with it…and, need I say it? The solo is delightfully, simply complex.
Now to my favourite Robert Johnson track from his short, but hugely influential career: other versions are available too, Joe Bonamassa did an absolutely brilliant version on Driving Towards The Daylight, Clapton and Peter Green also do damn good versions too. The song is not about kidney or urethra problems; Stones In My Passway refers to (possibly) the hoodoo ritual of laying stones the target of the curse is bound to walk over, hence using the passway or alley referred to. Regardless, it is a fabulous song and Kelly’s version is fascinating…where most took the riff and played it heavier but complete, Perry and Doug pick it and back it with slide…it does work and, whilst it is unmistakably Passway, Kelly’s vocal moves it to another place. RJ is still the best though (with apologies to Kelly, Joe, EC et al!)
That Fool move into jazz/blues with some traditional but imaginative phrasing in the rhythm and melodies…nice! Black Eye Blues is Ma Rainey with her tale of domestic violence yet with an upbeat melody backing it…here it becomes Kelly’s skilful and tasteful interpretation and defence of Miss Mary Anne…one the whistling (to my biased ear’ole spoils it.
The final track, Ship, is a clever tale of rather than waiting for your ship to come in, it is actually waiting for you. Set to a lovely descending bass, it has oodles of atmosphere and the slide is again just great and Katy sells every word.
This is one of those albums that you may think is ‘another acoustic blues album’, but repeated listens reveal so many levels in the instrumentation…the bass is the bedrock, the acoustics a multi-layered stratum for the vocals to grow and flourish on top. Kelly’s best of the Lot(!)…so far.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a Wonderful bluesy album that will always be welcome. There is warmth, bite, and emotion flowing through…well worth adding to any collection.
Track listing (Composer):
Stronger (Zirbes, Robertson)
Somebody In My Home (Chester Burnett)
Heaven (Zirbes, Robertson)
Jealous Hearted Blues (Lovie Austin)
Lost (Zirbes, Robertson)
Nature (Chester Burnette)
Where And When (Zirbes, Robertson)
Stones In My Passway (Robert Johnson)
That Fool (Zirbes, Robertson)
Black Eye Blues (Ma Rainey)
Ship (Zirbes, Robertson)
Kelly Zirbes: vocals
Perry Robertson: rhythm guitar
Doug Pettibone: lead guitar
David Grover: bass
(iTunes decided to take me back to 1973 and the title track from a lesser-known band called Strawberry Path; When The Raven Has Come To Earth is part prog, part psychedelia and all rock…lovely!)