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Album Review, Blues In Britain, Issue 255, March 2023

Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion: Good Times (reissue) - RKUK/Proper Music

This is essentially a remixed/remastered re-release of a 2012 UK album with a definite 'live in the studio' feel. I never heard the original but this one sounds great! The original is tweaked, three tracks dropped in favour of new recordings but with no personnel change. Schwarz has a powerful, rough-edged vocal and attention righty heads her way but other talents will out. This big-band effort is full of first-rate instrumentalists grabbing regular stints in the spotlight. Take a bow Rob Koral (guitar), Si Genaro (harp) and Pete Whittaker (Hammond) for letting rip with verve, subtlety and skill, all underscored perfectly by drummer Paul Robinson and Rodney Teague on bass. Regular sax and trumpet add to the jazzy blues feel. This is no backing band, everyone's in this together. But Zoë Schwarz is the name on the cover, co-penning most of the numbers with husband Rob Koral. Their 'The Me Back' is a great opener, rolling in alongside a neat guitar signature and vibrant solo. Schwarz tackles covers with confidence and class. Her vocal style is perhaps best suited to Koko Taylor's 'That's Why I'm Crying' but Billie Holiday's 'Fine And Mellow' is reverential and controlled, expressive vocal running through gentle gear changes led in part by Robinson and ratcheted by Whittaker's sweeping Hammond. Genaro's harp leads in a swaggering 'You Shook Me' and he also solos with aplomb on this perfectly paced cover of this Willie Dixon/JB Lenoir song. Schwarz shows Bobby Parker's 'Blues Get Off My Shoulder' is safe in her hands. The three new tracks are all originals, complementing the set and revealing even greater confidence and obvious panache. 'Broken Heart Blues' is a stomping live-track finale. Finally, congratulations to all for the brave stab at putting 'The Beatitudes' to music, slow blues/jazz rather than upliftingly spiritual but heartfelt nevertheless. Blessed are the bluesmakers?
  • Words by: John Bottomley