As the horrendous Covid crisis continues to deprive music lovers of their live ‘fix’ and, more importantly, continues to deprive our beloved artists of their main revenue stream, at least we can get partway there by listening to some of the quality live releases that have been released and help keep those artists earning. The good news is that in February, we will have access to one of the blues world’s remarkable vocalists on her last outing before the virus changed the world…Layla Zoe put together a new band, picked a set list from across her career and took it out across Europe.
Retrospective Tour 2019 is the result and the thirteen songs over two CDs show a lady on top form with an equally talented band putting everything into every note…the shortest song is just shy of six minutes, the longest over twelve and a total running time of over 1hr 47 minutes! so the value for money rating is as high as the talents on show. The set was recorded in Bremen, Germany on November 27th 2019 and you will, like me, wish you’d been there as we travel with Layla through her classy catalogue.
In case you aren’t aware of the lady known as Firegirl to many fans, here is a summary: 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. It was during her time in Europe that Layla met and worked with noted guitarist Henrik Freischlader and the famed Thomas Ruf.
Now, prepare yourself for an emotional roller coaster ride as we embark on a journey through Layla’s passions, pains and memories taking in new blues, old blues, folk, and rock. I will only be selecting my personal favourites from this extensive work, but the ones I do not comment on are still very, very good. Pay particular attention to the musicians too as the production lets their considerable skills to shine through behind the atmospheric vocals.
If you need to check it out, listen to the song Bitch With The Head Of Red…the Free riffing, the killer bass lines and primal drumming sum up everything that is so bloody good about the whole album; although there follows a warning…the lyrics, while tongue in cheek (in every sense), do tend toward the mucky! This is so damn good that I’d buy the album for just these eight minutes.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…I won’t go through every track as this review would extend to a novel of Tolstoy proportions: instead I’ll pick a few highlights out of two CDs full of them.
The opener is perfect: She Didn’t Believe gives us some sensitive guitar and vocals and, perhaps surprisingly, that’s all. The vocal and guitar phrasing stay in harmony and track each other brilliantly for a sort of low key start that then moves into a rock solid blues/r’n’b song that will get you dancing…in your seat at least.
Slow blues of Don’t Wanna Hurt Nobody calms and antagonises at the same time as the gentle melodies from the band echo the oh so relatable lyrics. The pedal processed guitar solo is a revelation as it seems to tell the same story in the carefully picked notes.
Rounding off CD1 is the blues-rock of Black Oil with the ‘snaky riff that quietens cleverly to allow the full emotional vocals centre stage before we are treated to a brilliant guitar solo that also recalls the great Bernie Marsden to my ears.
Backstage Queen opens CD2 with some inventive guitar noodling before the riff kicks in with the sort of impact redolent of a certain JB. Another excellent example of song structure as Layla weaves the vocals around so neatly.
Ghost Train evokes Hendrix (Cross-town Traffic) and also slides away into funky guitar and spoken lyrics with another outstanding guitar solo slotted seamlessly into this funk rock-blues hybrid. I have always said that Bob Dylan is a great writer and that his songs always sound better done by someone else (controversial I know, but I can cite dozens of examples to prove it on top of the obvious Hendrix, Nazareth covers) and the sentiment is proved again as Layla closes the set with I Shall Be Released. No acoustic guitar intro, but a lovely keyboard interpretation of the melody heralds a smoky and smokin’ vocal from Layla: the following twelve minutes give us lessons in simple but effective bass and drums as the keyboard solo freaks out (in a good way) invoking gospel with attitude, and it’s rounded off with a thoughtful vocal-only section to further prove that Firgirl can really, and I mean really, sing and a superb piece of guitar improvisation.
So, I’m sure by now you have realised that I love this album and that it has pride of place in my Layla collection with its career-spanning set. If you don’t know the songs, after you have enjoyed them (and you will) buy up the entire catalogue…she’s worth.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – An essential record for Layla Zoe fans and a wonderful addition to anyone’s blues collection…hear her live and on top form with a band of real quality making it all seamless.
1. She Didn’t Believe
2. Leave You For Good
4. Don’t Wanna Hurt Nobody
5. Never Met A Man Like You
6. Little Sister
7. Black Oil
8. Backstage Queen
10. Bitch With The Head Of Red
11. Ghost Train
12. Hippie Chick
13. I Shall Be Released
Layla Zoe – Lead vocals and harmonica
Krissy Matthews – Guitar and backing vocals
Paul Jobson – Bass, organ and backing vocals
Frank Duindam – Drums and backing vocals
(The iTunes run on track this time took to one of the geniuses of blues of any era: the raw sounds of Leadbelly and Good Morning Blues reminding me that the music world owes this ex-con so much)