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Rhythm & Booze Magazine, Chameleon album review, Feb 2020

Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion’s 6th studio album, from a band that was formed only 8 years ago, that’s quite a production rate, that few could match. Its a journey that started with Zoe, and Rob Koral, alongside Pete Whittaker, on Hammond, and Paul Robinson on drums. (Paul has an interesting CV, 19 years with Nina Simone, and has worked with Van Morrison, McCartney, and The Pet Shop Boys, to name but few) They are joined by Ian Ellis on tenor sax, and Patrick Hayes on trombone, which adds a certain New Orleans, swing to the album. 12 original and diverse songs have give birth to the title of Chameleon. Zoe and Rob explain, “It was a fun summer sitting in the garden with an acoustic guitar and a note pad coming up with these ideas. At the start of each project, the idea of coming up with another bunch of songs feels daunting, but to be honest, once the ball gets rolling it just seems to flow. The simplest of ideas can sometimes take on a life of their own and turn into the best songs of all. We don’t write songs to any formula or template we just pursue a ‘mood’ that happens to strike and take it from there. This eclectic bunch of songs are from the heart and represent a thousand different influences from a lifetime of music making, we hope you enjoy them.” The album opens with a the big sound of, ‘Life Goes On’, and Zoe is in fine voice, giving it the full Bassey treatment, the horns, adding dimension to the ambient sound. Zoe’s is fine voice, arguably more discernable on a recording, than live, with the differing acoustics, and extraneous noise. ‘Better Days’ brings a much more bluesy rhythm, driven by drum and bass, a lovely surging song that has Zoe, adding a bit of extra grunt. Rob takes a lead, as Paul is clattering those taught skins. A song to sink into. And enjoy. A fresh tint to the Chameleon’s skin, the rich Latino sound delivers, ‘If Only I Could Be With You’, Rob’s riff feeds into Pete’s Hammond, making its presence felt. Split the coconut, fill with Rum, and get into the groove. Another skin change, a slow soulful, ballad, ‘Hello My Old Friend’, I admit leaves me a little adrift, even with a nice guitar solo slotted in. Drums and Hammond bring a bit of shape, and Zoe opens up, building for a much needed big bold finish. Jazz fused R n’ B, drives with the rhythm of a train, Pete and Rob, ride the tracks, ‘Give Me The Key To Your Heart’, rattles along, to the tapping of your feet. Zoe turns back to the soul drenched Americana for the slow cooking, ‘I’ll Be Here For You’. Chameleon flips camouflage, slipping into warm Caribbean seas, to blend in some Reggae rhythm, with the jazzy delivery. Another tasty offering, that you just know is going to bring another shade, indigo, deep dyed, and delicious, ‘When The Blues Come A Knocking’, has every thing you want, infectious pulse, and slow burning lyrics. Zoe’s vocals soar high, dive down, demonstratively riding a rock vibe, ‘Amazon Woman’, is flexed and stretched, over keys and drum, Zoe rising like sun goddess to close. Much more sultry, with bluesy jazz lyrics, painted over the waves of drum n’ bass, ‘I Cry Just To Think Of It’, flows relentless, as Rob dips guitar licks, into deep waters. Paul sets up a blues shuffle, Zoe to purrs like a cat, a sultry, ‘Come And Lay With Me’, an invitation not to be ignored, horns blow in, Rob, and Pete have space to move, in this lush Orleans laced R n’ B, hip swaying song, Zoe having fun delivering her sexy offer. Stay on in there, because there’s a hidden track to be uncovered, a steamy, classic, absolutely beautiful, with Zoe exploring every nuance with the empathy it warrants. Chameleon, is perfectly titled, a pallet of colours to dip into, and a few to blend into different shades, allowing Zoe to demonstrate her vocal range. My preference is to a strong, saturated, colour swatch, but there are pastel shades in the pallet too, like, ‘Hello My Old Friend’, nicely crafted songs, just not for me. They are more than offset by the rest of the album, which is akin to holding a snake by the neck, as it wriggles around in all directions. Zoe excels as you would expect, Rob, Paul, Pete, do the business, with added shading in from the horns, bringing a touch of the ‘Big Easy’. The band have a big following, and I’m sure this new release will find its way into many a CD rack. Zoe Schwarz, duetting with Rob, or full, Blue Commotion, are a hard working Band, with tour dates stretching out across the year, plenty of opportunity to catch them live and witness some colour changes, as Chameleon is paraded on the road, a perfect time to collect a copy.
    • Words by: Iain Cameron