Monday, June 27, 2022

Supersonic Blues Machine - Voodoo Nation

The thing is, I’m a bit of an old-fashioned git.  I may be interested in hearing new sounds, but there are modern trends that feel alien to me.  I mean, when I was young there were bands and there were solo artists.  Sometimes a band member would make a solo album, to explore something different or whatever.  Band line-ups might change, and solo artists might recruit different casts of collaborators.  But there was none of this side-project bed-hopping you get nowadays, and I don’t recall many albums that featured guest artists on every other track.
Which brings me to Supersonic Blues Machine, which is the brainchild of Premier League
Supersonic Blues Machine get ready to do some interior decorating
Pic by Enzo Mazzeo
rhythm section Fabrizio Grossi (bass) and Kenny Aronoff (drums), originally working with guitarist and singer Lance Lopez, and on Voodoo Nation with Britain’s Kris Barras in those roles – plus a heap of guests, primarily adding guitar but here and there vocals too.  It has to be said, too, that these guests often add something to the equation.
Josh Smith, for example, may not particularly be spotlit on ‘Get It Done’, but he still contributes to the competing guitars, the playing off of ringing chords against bright licks.  It’s a good tune, cracking out a stutter-step Stones-like rhythm to become tough and direct.  And Eric Gales is just the guy to ratchet up the heavy menace of ‘Devil At The Doorstep’, with its twinkling piano and eerie noises, its deep and sonorous chords and mesmeric riff.  His subtle, quivering solo ups the ante with its spacey vibe, even if the track goes on a bit without progressing much further.
In a more soulful vein, Joe Louis Walker is in town for the romantic slowie ‘Is It All’, a duet on which JLW goes all Smokey Robinson with some falsetto vocals, with a bubbling Grossi bass line well to the fore, and a yearning chorus that’s well-suited to the female backing vocals that beef up just about every track.  And Kirk Fletcher is ideally suited to the soul-blues of ‘I Will Let You Go’, peeling off some clean and pure guitar licks that dart off at interesting angles, though Kris Barras doesn’t have the kind of smooth Robert Cray-style delivery the song calls out for.
But on the stomping mid-tempo affair ‘You And Me’, with its heavy chorus over churning guitars, King Solomon Hicks seems a long way from the BB King-style blues of his 2020 album Harlem, to the extent you wonder what he’s bringing to the party, other than a more airy vocal.  Meanwhile Ana Popovic may kick in with some howling guitar on the energetically shuffling ‘Do It Again’, with its bursts of harp bringing some extra edge, but it’s not really a distinguishing mark.  Moreover these two songs display some recurring issues: the former is overlong, and the latter has a rather predictable chorus.
There are good things to be found throughout, but the melody on the opener ‘Money’ is just adequate, and repetitive, and the same ordinariness applies to the tune on ‘Coming Thru’.  But ‘Too Late’ has a lot going for it, with its squirrelling riff, boinkingly percussive guitar backing, and a catchy if samey hook on the chorus, swollen by those impressive female backing vocals.  And the title track does nicely with its pulsing, circling bass and snapping drums, plus dashes of slide and piano en route to some fado-like female warbling that does ultimately pique curiosity before things rev up for a finale of clattering drums and squealing guitar.
Several tracks outstay their welcome though – another thing this old git really can’t adjust to is albums like this one running to 12 tracks lasting over an hour.  And I have the feeling that there’s a problem of identity going on at times here.  Some of the best material here has a soulful, at times funky side.  But that really doesn’t seem like home turf for Kris Barras –  a Brit who sounds uncannily like Jon Bon Jovi, and who Grossi describes as coming from a “British school of hard rock and blues”, citing Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher.  Well, hard rock sure, Fabrizio, but Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher?  Forget it.
You can tell this is the work of top-drawer musos, and the material always has something interesting to recommend it.  But for me Voodoo Nation is an album that never quite hangs together.  To make Supersonic Blues Machine work, I reckon Grossi and Aronoff need to dig out a compass and commit to a clearer direction.
Voodoo Nation is out now on Provogue Records, and can be ordered here.

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