Saturday, March 16, 2019

Kyla Brox - Pain & Glory

Well, wow.  Before you even get to the music, Pain & Glory makes an impression courtesy of the artwork by Daren Newman and the glossy packaging.  On the front cover drawings of Kyla Brox are embellished with stylish calligraphy to form the locks of her hair out of song titles, while her name and the album title are in embossed lettering.
So does the music live up to the expectations created by the cover?  Broadly speaking, yes it does.  With 16 songs lasting just over an hour there’s plenty to get your teeth into, mostly leaning in a soul-funk direction but with some welcome variations along the way.
It’s an impressive team affair from her regular band and the additional musicians, including the excellent Haggis Horns.  But of course it’s Kyla Brox whose name is on the cover, and the quality of her vocals certainly justifies the billing.  Her voice is versatile enough to bring different flavours to her preferred bluesy, soulful domain.  On the likes of ‘Sensitive Soul’ she
Sensitive soul Kyla Brox
can take on a modern soul guise, á la Lisa Stansfield perhaps, adding shots of falsetto to its steady beat and slight but still appealing chorus.  In a similar vein are the slight ‘Manchester Milan’ and the stronger ‘Don’t Let Me Fall’, a good un’ that develops from a subdued opening into a strong melody, with extra bonus points for a precision-tooled guitar solo from Paul Farr.  But in a gutsy middle eight she veers towards Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings territory, which really hits the spot.  And indeed on the earlier ‘Bloodshot Sky’ Brox really channels Sharon’s urgency, on a slice of forceful funky soul with a push-and-pull riff and tasteful undercurrents of harp from Clive Mellor.  The opening ‘For The Many’ is also in the tough funk zone, a clarion call to “Believe the youth, they know the truth” with some Stevie Wonder-style clavinet from John Ellis, that nails Brox’s colours firmly to the mast.  ‘Let You Go’ is also a strutting affair, with a bit of urgency and Brox in a lower register, nicely done but ultimately less significant.
Kyla and the gang can also reach for a slinkier feel though.  Tracks like ‘Compromise’ and ‘Lovers Lake’ would fit neatly into Ana Popovic’s latest album Like It On Top.  The former recounts the challenges of motherhood, while the latter is a particularly tasty number, relaxed and breezy with a convincingly smooch vocal.
But there’s also room for the infectious, horn-parping jump blues of ‘Bluesman’s Child’.  With a catchy arrangement that recalls ‘Good Rockin’ At Midnight’, Brox sounds like she’s having fun as she relays her experience of growing up with the dad of the title.
The title track fashions a soul ballad from a simple, satisfying melody.  But better still are the likes of  ‘Choose Life’ and ‘Away From Yesterday’, both of which are sweetly reflective in tone.  ‘Choose Life’ hints at the closing cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, with fittingly tasteful piano from Ellis and spot on vocals once again from Brox, some big open notes perfectly selected.
The album feels padded out by a few songs.  Somebody should have been ready to wield a scalpel, and strip out the less weighty numbers in the service of more focus and sharpness.  But even with that reservation, Pain & Glory is a more convincing body of work than its predecessor, Throw Away Your Blues, producer Sam Brox deserving credit for a big, rich sound.  Kyla forms a convincing songwriting team with guitarist Farr and bassist husband Danny Blomeley, and together with drummer Mark Warburton and their other collaborators they clearly know their green onions when it comes to putting the songs across.  If funky soul is your kinda thing, then go get this brand new bag of it. 

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