Thursday, January 22, 2015

Eilidh McKellar - 'Delta Devil Dreams'

I have to confess I'm surprised to find myself enjoying Eilidh McKellar's debut album as much as I have.  I'd seen her play live back in the Spring of 2014, and while she and her band were undoubtedly proficient, their efforts were compromised by a sound mix that was so loud and dense that most of the time there was no sense of light and shade.

But this album is intriguingly, refreshingly different.  What we have here is no straight ahead blues rock set.  Notably, McKellar has been given something of a leg up by means of appearances with Joe Bonamassa.  But anyone expecting her to serve up a homage to the ubiquitous Mr B is likely to be disappointed, subject to the occasional nod in his direction such as the slabs of guitar on 'Until The Sun Comes Up'.

Several of the songs here have the feel of KT Tunstall gone rock.  Opener 'Summer Daze' is as good an example as any, opening with layers of shimmering guitars, supplanted by a chorus underpinned by chunky guitar riffs and organ.  Meanwhile McKellar's slightly nasal drawl weaves its way over the top in a singularly woozy style; this is not to criticise - like Robert Plant, what she's singing about is often secondary to the use of her voice as an additional instrument in the mix.

The overall effect is a kind of "blues-prog", which obliquely calls to mind a band like Flying Colors, though less florid.  There are interesting guitar tones here, and space for the keyboards to feature clearly without straying into noodling.  In fact it's noticeable that McKellar disdains virtuoso guitar solos most of the time, in favour of instrumental textures.  There are variations though, such as the Purple-ish organ swells and Hendrixy guitar fills of 'Home'; the more laid back sound of 'Avenue E', vaguely reminiscent of Deacon Blue in more messed up mode á la Whatever You Say I'm Not . . . ; or 'The City', which emerges from squally territory akin to Them Crooked Vultures before weaving in more melodic passages.  Or even the chorus of 'Preaching Lies', which drops out of a stomping rhythm section to conjure up the sweetness of Smokey Robinson's 'My Girl'.

There's nothing here that really soars, or lands a knockout punch, and the quality levels aren't really sustained over all 14 tracks - the last couple don't really add much to the equation.  But these are the first steps in an adventure for Eilidh McKellar that will hopefully unfold successfully.  It's a set that scores high on technique, if perhaps less so on heart.  And that's okay for a youngster who has yet to live her life.

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