Ooh, here’s one I forgot about until very recently, Blues Pills; I bought it, grooved along to it, it made the hallowed turf of my top 11 LP’s of 2014 and then, for no good reason apart from musical gluttony I sort of forgot about it for the last 2 years. That is a sad fact that reflects badly on me and not at all on the quality of this LP.
How to describe Blues Pills? how about Full Tilt Boogie backing Amy Winehouse? or maybe a young Janis Joplin fronting Free? or just in their own terms, as a drop-dead great Swedish hard rock band with an excellent vocalist?
The band take their inspiration from the early 70’s, injecting plenty of volume and hurt into their rollicking tales of gypsies*, heartbreak and good times/bad times. The three musical chaps involved (two of them being ex Radio Moscow dudes) Dorian Sorriaux (guitars), Zach Anderson (bass) and Cory Berry (drums) have it all down to a fine art, able to play it tastefully sorry and even better raucously wild.
Before you rush to man the accusatory cannons and load them with retro grapeshot, hold fast. Yup this is ‘classic rock’, but hey there is a reason they call it ‘classic’, man; this is brilliant. This is not challenging new music, but that does not diminish its qualities one jot.
Let’s face it the Blues Pills may occasionally stand on the shoulders of giants but they really do not sound like any of them, there’s enough of their own grit and spin here to avoid any accusations of museum-piece-ary.
Take the barnstorming album opener ‘High Class Woman’, which kicks down the doors to start things off on a real high. Just, wow. Second track ‘Ain’t No Change’ lopes into view on a decidedly limber drum and bass shuffle, before Sorriaux adds some spicy licks and the whole tune catches fire when Elin Larsson hoves into view to sing the living bejeezus out of the whole concoction. Now there’s a voice for you – as strong as you need, as silky as you crave; all basses covered.
The band break the wah-wah pedals out for the space truckin’ likes of ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Black Smoke’, to excellent effect. The former has me twitch dancing away like a brown acid casualty down on Yasgur’s Farm, especially when Sorriaux really lets rip at the end, the man can play. Ditto the great ‘Astralplane’, which benefits from some great squalls of guitar.
The Blues Pills tracks that stay with me longest after the platter stops spinning tend to be the more contemplative ones, rather than the hard chargers. Take ‘River’ for example, where we get treated to a slow moving drama courtesy of Larsson’s perfectly judged vocals – she never over sings a note**, never commits the heinous act of mistaking volume for passion, it is all about the control. See also LP closer ‘Little Sun’ and my late night favourite ‘No Hope Left For Me’.
I won’t bore on about it all in too much detail, nobody needs that. Suffice to say that Blues Pills is a great, atmospheric album. A perfect soundtrack to a late night glass of the hard stuff in a darkened room, watching the Christmas lights flickering on the blinds. There are a couple of gentle missteps here, nothing too glaring, but mostly this is the sound of a really good tight band, recorded really well^ giving a great performance. There really are times when that’s all I need in the whole wide world, a class act.
A note on the rather fabulous artwork by Marijke Koger-Dunham, which was a real pull for me, especially on this double picture disc edition – WOW!! I was a fan anyway from her work on Incredible String Band 5000 Spirits and the Hollies Evolution, her painted guitars for Cream and the various bits and pieces she designed for Apple. Go here to ogle more wondrous stuff. Oh and the cover art here won the inaugural Lou Reed Memorial Award for semi-nudity on a LP cover. Word up.
*fair play to Blues Pills, they are the first band to write about mysterious gypsy women since Ronnie James Dio had intensive courses of hypnotherapy and CBT to get over his major obsession with them in the mid 80’s.
**over singing will be a capital crime when I am inevitably elected as emporer of Earth.
^the production by Don Alsterberg (also producer of my fave Graveyard LP) does another fine job here, the sound is like getting into a warm bath at times.