If you haven’t heard of Lawrence Lebo, it may surprise you to learn that Lawrence is a lady of the blues with a voice brimful of soul, passion and a range that enables her to take any song and make it her own. She grew up in Los Angeles and, as with her music, she took life by the scruff of the neck by performing as and when she could whilst struggling as a single mother. That fortitude was further illustrated when in the 80s she put herself through Grove School of Music in LA and then returned to college in 2000 emerging with BA honours degree in music. This inevitably informs her music today and on this, her sixth album, those influences give us a short but sweet collection of six self-penned songs and one cover. The album is called Old School Girl, and on it she delivers a mix of blues and R’n’B that evoke the Stax days of old…that, and the use of traditional (or ‘old school’ recording techniques) probably suggested the title? (Her previous output all included the words “Don’t Call Me Larry” in the title: you have been warned!))
On this latest release, she is backed by a formidable band, including her longtime partner Denny Croy on bass. Together they supply a well crafted and well produced 29 minutes of blues/soul bliss.
Opening song, You’ve Got A Secret, sets out the stall from the off…a lovely picked guitar over organ chords backed a by a solid rhythm and then a voice which is drenched in emotion as she tells of a deceitful lover. Add into that guitar and keys solos that impress but also, most importantly, fit in with the blues/soul emotions and compliment the song’s message…brilliantly. The title track, Old School Girl, is a bang up to date 50s classic in waiting…if that makes any sense! Here Lebo name checks Etta James and BB King as “they rock my soul”. It is a mid-paced blues with those keys and guitar doing it again as she weaves a lyrical tapestry over it all in a voice that is redolent of the time and yet it is all Lebo. Next up is a cover of the famous T Bone Walker song: Stormy Monday gets the Lebo treatment with a daring yet brilliant interpretation that is closer to the Allman Brothers version than the original. It is still different as she opens it with just a sultry vocal over some delightful B3 before a gentle bass and brushed drums slink into the background. The backing then jumps up in pace for an excellent harmonica solo and then a guitar solo of such compassion and effectiveness you will be listening to this on repeat. As the vocal returns so the pace drops again and you just sit and absorb the emotions. The next track, Stop Shouting Your Business, takes a left turn with an accordion intro and a zydeco based song designed to get your foot tapping. This is listed by the FCC (the American Federal Communications Commission) as explicit although I detected only one word that this overzealous body might have taken exception to: that word was sh*t and I wasn’t offended at all. Give Me A Try injects a touch of funk into what is essentially a mid-tempo shuffle and we again benefit from B3 and guitar laying down brilliant backing. A slighter faster Texas-styled shuffle next with, Bad To The Core: another superb vocal performance and a guitar solo that, with slight distortion, fits perfectly with the style and the lyrics that tell us that Lebo “used to be good, but now I’m just bad to the core”. Final track proper, Happy Anniversary, Baby is a keys orchestrated master class in 12 bar blues ballad writing. Her voice is just lovely and that guitar solo is stunning; add in another harp solo of quality and this is a celebration to share. (As it is my Ruby (40th) Wedding Anniversary this month, I will be playing this to my dear wife as part of ours…I was 12 when I got married…honest!). The final track is another run through Stop Shouting Your Business but with the censors causing the shit to change to shhh… At least you can get another dose of Cajun without skipping back.
In summary, then, we have seven supremely well-written soul-tinged blues performed by a band of ridiculously talented musicians wrapping their musical skills around a voice that engages, entrances and entertains.
This is essential for anyone who loves their blues with a helping of soul delivered in a fresh and professional way.
(One final word…if Parlapiano is a real surname and if it translates as it does in my mind to talking piano, is it possible to have a more apt name!)
TENdoodle paws out of TEN …
- You’ve Got A Secret
- Old School Girl
- Stormy Monday (T Bone Walker)
- Stop Shouting Your Business (explicit)
- Give Me A Try
- Bad To The Core
- Happy Anniversary Baby
- Stop Shouting Your Business (clean)
Lawrence Lebo: vocals
Denny Croy: bass
Larry David: Keyboards, harmonica
Tony Mandracchia: guitar, banjo
Steve Mugalian: drums
Ed Eblen: drums
Carl Byron: accordion
Sasha Smith: Hammond B3
Phil Parlapiano: Hammond B3