I conclude this round of swanking, righteous music from blues women artists with two emerging “forces of nature”: two women who inhabit their own songwriting and artistic determination with galvanizing force.
Out of Australia comes the devastating, gorgeous acoustic blues of Fiona Boyes, a women who has garnered countless Blues Foundation nominations and now confidently hits us between the ears with her new release, Professin’ the Blues, on the venerable Reference Recordings (“RR”) label (www.referencerecordings.com; www.FionaBoyes.com).
I have highlighted in the past many of the stellar recordings produced by “Prof” Keith O. Johnson and his team at RR, (utilizing his own hand built recording equipment and no monitors, isolation booths or overdubs) and Fiona’s “Professin’ is nothing short of a sonic spectacular from the Prof and the RR team. Boyes and RR have taken a page from the rewarding oeuvre of ace bluesman, Doug MacLeod (one of my favorite contemporary acoustic blues artists) and surrounded Boyes with the same spacious recording space (Skywalker Sound studio) and the same two swashbuckling musicians (drummer Jimi Bott and bassist Denny Croy) that Macleod utilized to such splendid effects on his own 2013 RR recording, There’s A Time [RR-130; get humming with “Rosa Lee”] and 2015’s Exactly Like This [RR -135].
This partnership makes for a spontaneous session that delivers Boyes’ special way with the blues in a tactile, airy landscape that invites you into her music where she grabs you by the collar and does not let go.
Boyes’ music speaks in tough, switchblade sharp fashion (of craggy hard times in love and life), with comic sly twists that will have you smiling while your toes are tapping to the contagious beat from Boyes’ resonator and cigar box guitars, and the whiplash of Bott’s drums and Croy’s pungent bass. Keep in mind that like all Reference Recordings, there have been no artificial boosts made to treble or bass in the recording, (what was played is what you hear!) so sometimes you do have to keep the volume dial set higher than usual.
But when you hit that volume just right, you’ll fall off your chair when Boyes strikes her first cords from her “detuned national reso-phonic guitar” and Bott hits his first thunder clap of bass drum on their opening “Can’t Stay Here No More” – a blast of walking-away blues. “One Rule For You” is a segue into the (short!) Trump era- a sardonic condemnation of power misused through sleight of hand, and laden with the band’s big-boned sound and Boyes’ pot-boiler rifts as she makes every note hit hard. Those guitars in Boyes’ hands are tough instruments of pliable heat. Her strings are punctual and yearning, (as on the slow boiling “Devil You Know” or her beautiful flowing ballad “Angels and Boats”) or sparkling and light as in Boyes’ comic leaps on “Lay Down With Dogs” (with the clickity-clack of Bott’s crisp washboard backing up Boyes’ howls) or the deliciously swinging “Love Me All The Way”.
Boyes’ voice is the consummate vehicle for her guitar and lyric mastery, delivering its impact with a powerful and sly style. “If I Should Die” isolates Boyes’ 4-string cigar box guitar against her crackling deep voice, burning with quiet passion on her ghostly lyrics. “Love Changing Blues” delivers a perfect synergy between her voice and her Maton acoustic guitar. They swirl together in a earthy blues journey with crisp rifts and hits of Boyes’ guitar body at every creative upturn of her sandpaper textured vocals. The all-piston heat of the band takes a final turn on their version of Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” as Boyes lurches and confesses accompanied by her resonant leaping guitar and Bott and Croy’s steadfast walking rhythms. This one is a powerhouse joy to hear and explore.
And, if feisty and powerful is the blues you seek, then look no further than the glory and soul of Sari Schorr’s blues-breaks-all-barriers voice. Sari Schorr’s latest recording is aptly named A Force of Nature [Manahton Records; www.manhatonrecords.com; www.sarischorr.com]. Schorr, a Brooklyn based (New York Blues Hall of Fame) singer, attacks these sizzling originals and covers with sweltering passion and an untethered, magnanimous voice. This recording is another audiophile gem where molten electric guitars and rock n’ roll blues are barely contained in a small studio space (located in Seville, Spain) where the buzz of amplifiers and big drum hits rule the night. As in Boyles’ acoustic masterwork, we have here the great synergy of a ferociously talented singer with her core electric band: Innes Sibun on guitars; Julian Maeso on keyboards; Nani Conde on bass and Jose Mena on drums.
From the very first eruptions of the blistering “Ain’t Got No Money,” Schorr and her band take flight and never let up. Take a close listen to Schorr on this number: she belts incredibly powerful and high without yielding (except with husky bravado) and she plunges low and easy with a carefree ease of expression. Sibun (a former guitarist with Robert Plant who is an immense force on this particular recording) adds his own spice with angular guitar flights while Conde and Mena propel the rhythm foundation. This is blues rock at its apex of expressive heat and bluster. The next cut, “Aunt Hazel” is another contrasting gem: a rollicking rhythm and blues number (with Quque Bonal’s rhythm guitar adding sharpness) that cuts deep and clear with Menza’s quick snare and cymbal work – sending Schorr into a vocal journey of great passion and leaping unleashed holds. The crisp rhythm and blues backbone also shimmies and shakes on Schorr’s “Cat and Mouse” with Schorr maneuvering her expansive voice in and out of Sibun’s sidewinding guitar solo. Turn it up and let the amplifiers sizzle and let them try and keep up with Sibun and Schorr’s frolicking highest reaches and holds.
Schorr gets a chance to partner with Walter Trout, (one of my favorite fiery blues rock guitarists – his magnificent Luther’s Blues [Provogue Records; www.waltertrout.com] is a masterpiece) on a version here of Trout’s “Work No More.” This is blues rock heaven with Schorr starting the number with a slow burning vocal presence and proceeding to take the lyrics by storm with her intense vocal holds (that go on forever with a flowing ease) while Trout compliments her perfectly with his own sizzling guitar holds and tumbling rolls.
The collective ferociousness of this band imbues other highlights on this recording: “Demolition Man” (with Sibun utilizing both slide and electric guitars to propel Schorr’s earth-shaking vocals and boogie) to their version of “Black Betty” – all slow rising passion on towering guitars, drums and Schorr’s torrid singing. There are a few less involving numbers on this recording (“Letting Go” and “Kiss Me” are a bit saccharine) but the classic “Stop! In the Name of Love” gets Schorr’s expressive vocals afire once again. Schorr and her band’s blistering soaring refrain on “Stop!” tells it like it is: here is another amazing woman blues artist who will take on the world on her own terms, righteous and ready for the next battle of wills. Schorr’s final soft ballad, “Ordinary Life” sings with shining self confidence in her strides taken forward into the rich pantheon of blues women singers.
NOTE: Ride the inspiration from these women blues artists and their stunning music to the Women’s March on Washington to be held on Saturday, January 21, 2017!