Transcontinental band Blues Pills have only been around for five years, but these youngsters sound as seasoned and mature as bands twice their age. Their songwriting chops are more than on par with any grizzled veterans out there. To be clear: Blues Pills are not a metal band. They also aren’t a hard rock band. What they play is a fantastic blend of blues, soul, R&B, and hard rock, and boy is it catchy stuff.
Lady In Gold is just their second LP, following up 2014’s self-titled and highly respected debut. It incorporates a wider range of the above mentioned genres than the debut did, most noticeably soul and R&B (singer Elin Larsson is clearly a huge fan of Aretha Franklin), with added variety in the songwriting as well.
A stomping piano line starts things off on the title track, with Larson coming in to belt out the lyrics before the band joins, and we’re off to the races. “Little Boy Preacher” is another big-sounding number, complete with huge ’70s-style backing vocals.
“I Felt A Change” is the only slow song here, with Rhodes piano underpinning Larsson’s soulful delivery. It is a wonderful changeup from the relentless driving beats on the rest of the album, but the best songs on Lady In Gold are the uptempo numbers. “I Felt A Change” segues directly into “Gone So Long,” a slow-burning number that hints at what Adele might sound like in a rock band. “Won’t Go Back” is a killer tune with a Wurlitzer churning out the rhythm atop frenetic singing and drumming, replete with big background vocals once again. It’s sure to be a huge live hit.
“Rejection” is a soul-tinged rocker that opens with fuzzed out bass and kicks into a retro double-time beat. Album closer “Elements And Things,” an old Tony Joe White number, is another churning, driving tune with some fantastic guitar work and big Hammond organ growls, quite different from the original, that leaves you wishing the album wouldn’t end.
Larsson is certainly the star of the band, with a voice perfect for the music. Her delivery is authentic, with no silliness perpetuated by stars like Beyonce or American Idol contestants. She doesn’t oversing anything, but her power and control is evident throughout. Not to be completely outdone, the band holds their own, most notably young (only 21) French guitarist Dorian Sorriaux. His chops are tasteful and his feel for the beat is far beyond his years. And speaking of beat, the rhythm section of Andre Kvarnstrom (the band’s new drummer) and bassist Zack Anderson groove and swing like nobody’s business, never overplaying.
Once again, production was handled in Sweden by Don Alsterberg, and he delivers a warm, vibrant-sounding album that plays to the band’s strengths throughout. Effects permeate the record, but are subtle and appropriate, never overwhelming the performances. Heck, we even get some retro-sounding tape flange on “Bad Talkers,” a groovy R&B rocker that really takes off after some shaky falsetto from Larsson at the beginning.
There isn’t a weak track to be found on Lady in Gold. There are weak moments, to be sure: this is a young band, after all, and they’re not going to nail the arrangement on every song every time. Larsson has one of the best voices in rock music, and the band around her is tight and vital in their playing. Quite simply, Lady in Gold is the blues rock album of the year.
(released August 5, 2016 on Nuclear Blast Records)