Album Review, Blues Bytes, USA & 'Album Of The Month'From across the pond comes our Surprise CD of the month, Chameleon, by Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion.
This sixth studio album, Chameleon (33 Records), from UK’s Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion comprises 12 original and diverse tracks and continues the band’s inexorable trajectory to the top. It comes after nearly a decade of building a loyal fan base, touring extensively and writing and recording songs of increasingly sublime, melodic and technical virtuosity.
“Life Goes On” is a jaunty, catchy opener, Zoe’s voice sounding like no one other than Zoe Schwarz such is her unique formula of classical, jazz, blues and every other genre she has absorbed into her heart and creative imagination. The brass section is unleashed on the heavy riff-laden “Better Days,” the chanteuse’s powerful, evocative voice leading its explosive crescendos with dramatic intensity. The intriguing, poetic lyrics catch the attention they deserve: “All at sea, hopelessly adrift, and desperately waiting for the tides to shift, waiting for you to send me a sign, cast adrift no land’s in sight. I remember better days.”
The jazz-infused guitar and fluent Hammond interludes on “If Only I Could Be With You” complement the lead singer’s impeccable vocal range and timing. The absence of a bass guitar in the line up gives dexterous keyboard player Pete Whittaker the space to create a distinctive style which he achieves with aplomb, the fills and solos at times reminiscent of The Doors’ legendary Ray Manzarek.
Starting with a whisper on “Hello My Old Friend,” Zoe stretches her vocal chords to the limit as the mood changes dramatically during the song. By contrast, the up-tempo “Give Me The Key to Your Heart” bounces along nicely courtesy of Rob Koral’s dazzling guitar work. Rob has established himself as a major player on the UK blues scene, his magnificent axe work featuring strongly throughout the album. Zoe’s voice soars gracefully above the intricate, tasteful guitar and keys on the balladic “I’ll Be Here For You.” Reggae syncopations are to the fore on “I Hope I See The Day” and add further variety to the eclectic mix.
The deep well of blues tradition is never far from the surface so “When The Blues Come A Knocking”, Rob’s searing guitar shares center stage with Zoe’s edgy lyrical delivery. “Amazon Woman” is the ultimate road warrior song for the ‘super hero’ at the center of this apocalyptic maelstrom, Pete Whittaker’s swirling Hammond, Rob’s slash and burn axe and Paul Robinson’s dynamic, pulsating percussion generating the pyrotechnics.
“I Cry Just To Think Of It” is a tribute to the magnificent arrangements which permeate the CD, Patrick Hayes’ trombone and the tenor sax of Ian Ellis in perfect synchronization with the rest of the band driving towards its climactic finale. Chameleon is the best word to describe “Tell Me,” Zoe’s voice now possessing an almost child-like quality before changing to the coolly sensual tones of “Come And Lay With Me” with its calming, atmospheric background keys.
Just when the listener thinks it’s all over, a bonus track, or rather a piece de resistance, emerges from the ether which is so beautiful and inspirational it takes the breath away. Zoe is singing “Lover Man” and sounding uncannily like Billie Holiday in the 1940s. The manipulation of the phrasing and tempo, the timbre, the vibe and the improvisational skills could be straight out of Lady Sings The Blues.
Chameleon is an empowering, exhilarating, groundbreaking album which pushes and at times re-draws the blues boundaries whilst staying mainly within its conventions. When the award is handed out for the best blues recording of 2020, embracing innovation, passion, musicality, lyrical intelligence and vocal supremacy, Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion must surely be a strong contender.
- Words by: D. Scott