Traditionally blues music has been associated with the deep south of the United States, originating in African-American communities towards the end of the 19th century. The artist would sing about personal woes in a world of harsh reality, giving rise to the blues standard opening line “I woke up this morning” followed by some sort of personal disaster or hardship. I’m not here to give a complicated and involved history of the blues, suffice to say it has evolved through many different forms including delta blues (named for the Mississippi Delta), Texas blues, Chicago blues and, following World War II, the transition from acoustic into electric blues that appealed to a wider audience. As the 60’s and 70’s passed, a hybrid form called electric blues evolved. Many of the modern greats including Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Joe Bonamassa are proponents of this recent form of the blues.
I must admit that I have a soft spot for blues/rock and it has come to my notice that I haven’t reviewed a blues album for Lady Obscure yet. The chance to write my first blues album review arrived in the form of UK band Crowsaw and their debut album ‘Smoke and Feathers’.
Started in 2012 by Rob Lomax originally as a covers band, Crowsaw soon found their roots changing to blues/rock, writing original songs which soon gained them a lot of attention. In October 2013 Crowsaw made it to the final of the Highway to Hell competition and won against 19 other bands consequently winning a place at HRH Blues. Having supported Uli Jon Roth and Skinny Molly in the run up to this event HRH also saw the debut of the band’s first album release Smoke & Feathers.
Crowsaw are Rob ‘Batdog’ Lomax (guitars and vocals), Elvin Robinson (drums) and Glyn Mason (backing vocals).
Right, let’s get one thing clear here, Crowsaw are not trying to re-invent the wheel or make water out of wine. The band deliver a hard and dynamic approach to the blues/rock genre and to performance and songwriting but, at its core, it is still balls out blues/rock and, to this listener, all the better for that!
The album opens with a couple of blues/rock standards, full of power and raw emotion. Upbeat and fast paced they rock and they rock exceedingly well. On Skin and Bones and Money you get an introduction to Rob Lomax’s whiskey soaked vocal delivery, oak smoked but with a bite. I love the sound of a power blues trio on song and this is what you get here, impressive drumming, pumping basslines and staccato riffing. When Lomax lets loose with his solos they are a sharp, iridescent shock to the cerebral cortex. This is proper blues/rock with a high-energy dynamism.
Title track Smoke and Feathers goes low down and dirty with a slow and dangerous riff that hits you deep in the kidneys. The bass and drums give additional menace but, when the darkness is lifted, the chorus has an aggressively upbeat feel to it with the guitar crunching a faster riff out. The solo is a slow burning thing of beauty it really gets inside you and works on your emotions. This song is a powerful blues standard that should be a massive live favourite.
Let me Know and Voodoo Temptation take a step back into the sharper, harder and faster paced blues of the first two tracks. On Let me Know the band take a trip back in time to a more Chicago blues style. Lomax’s vocals once again shine through powerful and complex, perfectly suited to blues music. The guitar tends to be less intense on the verses but doesn’t let the side down when it
comes to a scorching solo, as you’d expect. Voodoo Temptation has one major foot in the hard rock side of things. The guitar flashes through the riffs and the chorus is quick and lively. The drumming is precise and the bass holds everything together. Blues/rock with more than a hint of rock that gets the toes a-tapping!
Judas Head and Skytrain carry on in a similar vein, a determined and forceful guitar riff in cohorts with the powerhouse drumming and thumping bass. There is a halting and intermittent undertone that feeds both tracks and Lomax’s voice is as solid as ever, he has a roughened edge to his vocal delivery that is perfect for blues. More of that delicious soloing is a given on both tracks, the guitar almost having a life of its own and keeping well away from the formulaic.
Bitch Blues heads back to the dark, dangerous and moody feel of the title track. A crunching riff combined with a more prominent bass note and rock solid drums. This is seriously dirty blues with a solid hard rock edge. Lomax lets his vocal take on a meaner feel and it really works on this powerful track. I must admit I was waiting for him to sing “I woke up this morning…..” but, that’s just me! The chorus runs a bit quicker and ups the pace and the solo is the best on the album, it just burns through everything with a voracity that defies belief. It is another mountainous blues/rock track that should blow away a live audience. Dog of Nine is probably the most radio friendly track on the album and it has more than a hint of AOR to it. It is a catchy tune that does catch fire in places but tends to smoulder in others. My least favourite track on the album, it is a bit out of sorts with the more intensely blues feel of the rest of the songs.
The last track JFY (which is short for ‘Just F*ck You’) is another crunching blues/rock song that, obviously, has some interesting subject matter. It has one mother of a riff and the drums get seriously pounded throughout. The words are sung with a certain amount of emphasis and I would not like to be the person who the chorus is aimed at, succinct as it isn’t! The solo is as smooth as you get on a blues album and it is a great track to finish the album.
Crowsaw have delivered an impressively tight debut album with ‘Smoke and Feathers’, whilst there is nothing overtly different, the delivery and composition are excellent and it is great blues/rock album. I have a feeling that there is a lot more to come from this talented trio but, as an introduction, it doesn’t get a hell of a lot better than this.