Without realising it, I’ve always had a love of blues-based rock but it’s only been in recent years where I’ve properly delved into it. The band which did that was Blues Pills with their debut album (ironically, the first album review I did for Moshville Times) so it’s only appropriate I take a look at their new offering, Lady in Gold.
And what a mighty album it is. In no way, shape or form could this be called Blues Pills II. It would be too reductive. It’s an evolution whilst the multi-national band hold onto their essential sound. Title track “Lady in Gold” starts off with a brooding, ambling intro with Elin Larsson’s inimitable voice wailing over piano notes, tearing into her vocals with her usual ferocity before the song transforms into something even more splendid. Despite dealing with the inevitability of death, it’s one of the album’s more upbeat numbers, musically. There was a small section of fans when the single was released saying “This isn’t Blues Pills” or “They’ve sold out”. Are you kidding? It’s the perfect example of a band reaching their next natural progression.
Now, Blues Pills look to envelop more styles into their bluesy DNA, mainly those that are loose cousins of their genre like jazz and soul. The most notable of the latter feature on tracks like “Burned Out” and “I Felt a Change” with their stripped-back nature. There’s even a gospel-like number in the shape of “You Gotta Try” with Larsson hitting peaks and valleys on her vocals with ease, backed with a female chorus, to the point you can imagine a proper gospel choir backing the Swede.
There’s a real sense the band have grown into their skin between the first and second album, knowing not to re-tread old ground. The whole album features short, punchy numbers, drawing away from the more psychedelic and progressive tones found on the debut and it’s really benefitted them. It’s one of those albums where you blink after hitting play and the final track plays its final notes.
A cover of Tony Joe White’s “Elements and Things” closes out the album and having heard it last year during their UK tour, it’s taken on a new life. Far more reined in and refined, it benefits from losing a couple of minutes, making it a leaner and far more impactful song, even if it does end rather abruptly which leaves you blinking for a few seconds as you expect some sort of climax to follow it.
It’s a marvel how guitarist Dorian Sorriaux gets the sound he does from his guitar and as I’ve said before, he should be up there with the greats in years to come; easily one of the best blues guitarists around right now. This time, he lends his deft hand in a more subtle way and it’s hard to pick out his best work on Lady in Gold but “Rejection” may just be his best work to date.
However, the focus shouldn’t be all on Larsson and Sorriaux as Zack Anderson flexes his bass chops to their full limits on songs like “Won’t Go Back” and “Little Boy Preacher” with their dark and brooding tones, making for some ominous moments. And last but by no means least, we have André Kvarnström on drums, making his recorded debut with the band. He locks in well with Anderson to make a solid rhythm section, his own personal shining moments on songs like “Gone So Long” and “Bad Talkers”. Between the pair of them, they hold their own and quite often get time to shine where Sorriaux holds back.
Admittedly, Lady in Gold may not have the initial impact the debut album had but as you listen to it, it grows, sticking its needles into you, intent to make it flow through your veins. With definite signs of growth, bringing in new twists to their blueprint, Blues Pills are the definition of a band being greater than the sum of its parts.
Lady in Gold is out on August 5th