After fourteen albums, you would think that such an accomplished and gifted singer would be more widely recognised. So, if you haven’t come across Layla Zoe before, then her latest release Nowhere Left To Go is a perfect place to start…quite simply because the ten tracks illustrate why her nickname of “Firegirl” is so suitable and the all-original set takes you on a journey through the blues, gospel, and then throws in the folk and rock (sometimes all in one song) providing the blend that we know and love Layla for.
Canadian born and influenced by her father’s love of blues she started singing at an early age and joined her father’s band on stage at fourteen. Thus began a career that would take in most of North America and Europe…unfortunately we won’t benefit immediately with live shows due to the pandemic, but at least Layla, with the help of crowdfunding, has pulled together some serious talent and managed to record and produce a high-quality album during these testing times.
The opening song begs you to imagine a tent revival in the 30s but with state of the art recording equipment! Pray has that atmosphere and, although an untypical choice for a lead off track, is attention grabbing to say the least as Layla’s vocal captures and enraptures, and the piano illuminates the melody.
The title track is up next and, although it’s about horrendous wildfires, it could well be an allegory for humanity’s other failings; it’s all wrapped in a mid-tempo slice of quality blues-rock; riff, fiery vocals, stomping drums, the brilliant guitar solo is all present and very correct…love it!
Sometimes We Fight adds some quite soulful moodiness as the keys wash over a lovely bassline and Layla gives impassioned voice to the trials of relationships, which we can all relate to. The organ solo is fitting and yet in opposition to the message with its almost seaside feel but, when Layla adds a (too) short harp solo it just all works.
Don’t Wanna Help Anyone features the extremely adept Alastair Greene (look him up on Bluesdoodles) and, over the excellent bass and vocal he adds his usual flair and dextrous fretwork and, together, they deliver some delicious blues-rock. This is as close to Stone The Crows as you’re likely to find..and that is the ultimate compliment.
This Love Will Last moves the pace into an unlikely blend of proper R’n’B with a country tinge…I’m pretty sure the dog barking at the very beginning is the subject and, if so, as the owner (or should that be owned by!) of two Westies, I fully approve and, by the way, so do they. It also has a very neat guitar solo to help celebrate canine canoodles.
Susan is a piano and organ-driven ballad that embraces blues, a hint of jazz and a lot of soul in the vocal. Little Boy brings us back to blues-rock with a genius riff that shifts to funk behind the verses and in the clever guitar solo.
Might Need To Fly is a slow-burning ballad which, after a neat guitar intro, has a restrained Layla vocal extolling the virtues of motherhood (dog and human), the blues and food amongst others. Her falsetto shows her true range and emotive style is not all the Maggie/Janis that she is so often compared to; she is…Layla.
Lies is pure class; from the first pluck of that upright bass, it’s just Brandi and Layla being brilliant. (A Brandi Layla is the ideal name for a cocktail…mmm, I might just invent that tonight!) The lyrics should be enforced listening for every politician too.
The final track, Dear Mom, backed by imaginative mandolin, fiddle and the multi-tracked vocals is as good a song about one’s mother as you’re likely to find and, it’s honest too, not all sweetness: it addresses the inevitable, which is particularly potent to me as it’s just over a year since I lost mine.
Although Layla strays occasionally from the blues and its roots, it’s never that far away and she piles on enough emotion, passion and loads of other shuns that it is criminal that she isn’t more widely recognised…maybe this one will do it as it has lots to satisfy us blues lovers but has enough of a mix to appeal to a wider audience…here’s hoping.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws: A truly Wonderful album that crosses the genres and the ages to deliver an engaging, professional and entertaining album.
Tracklisting and composers:
Pray (Layla Zoe, Jackie Venson)
Nowhere Left To Go (Zoe, Venson)
Sometimes We Fight (Zoe, Bob Fridzema)
Don’t Wanna Help Anyone (Zoe, Alastair Greene)
This Love Will Last (Zoe, Dimitri LeBel)
Susan (Zoe, Fridzema)
Little Boy (Zoe, Guy Smeets)
Might Need To Fly (Zoe, Smeets)
Lies (Zoe, Brandi Disterheft)
Dear Mom (Zoe, Suzie Vinnick)
Layla Zoe: vocals, harmonica
Brandi Disterheft: upright bass
James Stephens: fiddle
Bob Fridzema: organ, piano, Wurlitzer
Dirk Sengotta: drums
Guy Smeets: guitars
Gregor Sonnenberg: bass
Dimitri LeBel: guitars
Alastair Greene: guitars
(The iTunes run on track was actually more Layla but, next in line was one of my all-time favourite blues/country bluesmen…Leadbelly…so I let it run on to the glorious Good Morning Blues and even more wonderful slidey Packin’ Trunk.)